Sandia LabNews

Two Sandia researchers receive E.O. Lawrence Awards

Sandia pulsed-power physicist Daniel Sinars and quantum information scientist Andrew Landahl have each received a 2021 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, one of DOE’s highest scientific midcareer honors.

Dan won in the category “National Security and Nonproliferation” and Andrew in “Computer, Information, and Knowledge Sciences.”

E.O. Lawrence invented the cyclotron, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1939, and two national labs today bear his name, said Susan Seestrom, associate laboratories director for advanced science and technology at Sandia.

“That two Sandia researchers have been acknowledged with that award in one year shows the significance of the contributions that Dan and Andrew have made to the Department of Energy in connecting science to mission — the essence of innovation,” she said.

The award honors midcareer U.S. scientists and engineers for their exceptional contributions and achievements in research and development supporting the missions of DOE.

Dan, who went from proposing experiments on Sandia’s Z machine to directing the facility, was cited for his “pioneering development of seminal X-ray diagnostics and their innovative application to Z-pinch implosions that transformed the experimental capabilities on the Z pulsed power facility and enabled novel, record-breaking platforms supporting our nation’s nuclear security.”

“Ernest Lawrence was both an excellent scientist and a great laboratory leader and is often described as the father of ‘team science,’” Dan said. “I am inspired to continue striving toward the ideal that he represents.

“I’m also incredibly grateful to all the people who work in the pulsed power sciences center. We have an amazing national treasure in our unique facilities. I am constantly humbled by the effort that people put in every week to make it all work, in the expectation that what we are doing on our facilities matters. I have always viewed my primary job as making sure that it does matter, and that the science we do each week serves the national interest.”

Andrew, bestowed the first Lawrence Award given in the field of quantum information science, was honored for his “groundbreaking contributions to quantum computing, including the invention of transformational quantum error correction protocols and decoding algorithms, for scientific leadership in the development of quantum computing technology and quantum programming languages, and for professional service to the quantum information science community.”

Andrew said he was thrilled and honored to receive the award. “I think it’s a statement not just about me, but about the growing role of the importance of quantum information science for the whole DOE complex,” he said. “I think it’s an acknowledgement of how important it is even for the nation, and particularly, the leadership of that coming from Sandia, especially in the area of quantum computing.”

The career of Dan Sinars

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STAR POWER — Sandia physicist Daniel Sinars has won an Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for helping transform the Z pulsed power facility to record a variety of record-breaking outputs supporting U.S. nuclear security, nuclear fusion energy and basic science.
(Photo courtesy of Sandia)

Sandia’s Pulsed Power Sciences Center is best known for conducting research on the world’s most powerful pulsed-power machine, the 26-million ampere “Z” facility — a 120-watt household bulb uses one ampere.

Under Dan’s tenure, experiments on the 104-foot-diameter machine have enabled scientists to better understand the effects of aging on the U.S. nuclear stockpile and of incoming radiation on stockpile and civilian electronics, among other information needed to keep the stockpile safe, secure and viable without the environmental costs of continued underground nuclear testing.

In a second area of scientific effort, increasingly powerful fusion experiments on the machine have blazed a trail closer to the still-to-be-reached goal of controlled high-yield nuclear fusion, with the promise of unlimited energy.

Also on Dan’s watch, Z machine’s huge pressures have been used to study basic science relevant to our universe, such as determining the presence of diamonds, known to be formed by carbon under high stress, on the surface of giant planets in our solar system; the behavior of black holes; alternate theories of the birth of Earth’s moon; the death of suns; and the amount of water in the galaxy.

While some of this work existed before Dan’s tenure, much has improved through his leadership and pioneering development of diagnostic techniques and experimental platforms.

Almost 20 years ago as a relatively new hire, Dan proposed and then used special crystals to help image what was happening in the maelstrom of energies present in Z’s target area as the large machine fired. The crystals successfully blocked almost all the radiation frequencies that had previously blinded recording devices. The remaining few frequencies could be calibrated to create high-resolution images.

Within a year, he had successfully collected his first radiograph of the early stage of an imploding wire array on Z — the signature experiment of that era.

Over the next several years, Dan made several significant improvements to this diagnostic system, which has been recognized as a major advance in the field. Enabling a wide range of science experiments, variations on the crystals remain the primary radiography diagnostic technique used on Z, and it has been adopted at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Other advances overseen by Dan included the implementation of several new fusion science platforms on Z. Some of these concepts for the first time combined large lasers and pulsed power in new ways to make laboratory fusion easier to achieve.

“In short,” he said, “I developed and used a wide range of novel X-ray imaging and spectroscopy diagnostics to quantitatively study Z-pinch implosions, paving the way for Z to become a hotbed of science as others built upon and greatly improved my initial work.”

The work of Andrew Landahl

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TRAILBLAZER — Sandia physicist Andrew Landahl is the first person to receive an Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in the field of quantum information science.
(Photo by Stephanie Blackwell)

Since joining Sandia in 2009, Andrew has helped spark the growth of the Labs’ investment in quantum information science, which has led to the construction of multiple quantum computers, sensors and transceivers. As a result of Andrew’s efforts, Sandia has forged a status as one of the top research institutions in the country for studying, constructing, testing and finding uses for quantum devices.

While computers are fast, quantum computers take shortcuts. They zip through certain calculations along fragile paths that conventional computers can’t follow. Their ability to do so makes them one of the world’s most anticipated emerging technologies — and critical for national security — because they promise to revolutionize multiple fields, including cybersecurity, energy, defense, manufacturing, finance and pharmaceuticals.

Among the key challenges to their development is overcoming decoherence, which is the tendency for quantum computers to revert to conventional, digital logic when disturbed by outside influences.

A distinguished scientist in Sandia’s quantum computer science department and a research professor in the University of New Mexico’s department of physics and astronomy, Andrew co-invented an efficient decoding protocol for quantum error correcting codes that can combat decoherence. This protocol and these codes are the basis of multibillion-dollar investments in the quantum computer industry. He is a recognizable figure on Capitol Hill, where he has briefed many congressional committees and individuals.

“The biggest surprise of quantum information science is that the laws of information are not what you think they are,” Andrew said. “And given how important information is in our society, that transforms the way we think about everything, from sensing to communication to computation.

“The fact that we can do things that would seem impossible with information by exploiting information at the quantum mechanical level makes problems that were once thought to be completely intractable simple, and we’re still working out all the things you can potentially do with a quantum computer.”

He and his Sandia colleagues continue to study ways to find and correct errors in quantum computers without disturbing their delicate balance.

“We have to ask the right questions. You have to have the right kind of test,” Andrew said.

But Sandia’s work in quantum information science goes well beyond correcting errors.

In 2011, Andrew led a landmark, $18 million project around building quantum computers, called AQUARIUS, for Adiabatic Quantum Architectures in Ultracold Systems. Both computers operated at less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. In addition to reaching its goals, the Sandia team invented new technologies in the process that allow engineers to build devices with atomic precision, which could have far-reaching impact across the semiconductor industry.

Andrew currently leads the software team for Sandia’s Quantum Scientific Computing Open User Testbed, or QSCOUT, which received a 2021 R&D 100 award for providing free testbed access to researchers around the world to study and test new quantum information technologies.

“Its purpose isn’t to be the most powerful quantum computer in the world, but maybe the most flexible,” Andrew said.

Andrew said there’s no way of knowing what the exact payoff of all this research will be in the future, but the possibilities are wide open.

“Quantum mechanics has been around for a long time, like 100 years,” Andrew said. “So, what does quantum information bring to it? It brings a new way of thinking, and that way of thinking, I think, pervades my life. And that way of thinking is to say, ‘Let’s not try to ponder what quantum mechanics is and what it means. Let’s try to understand what it is by what it does — by what you can do with it.’”

Lawrence Award recipients will receive a medal and an honorarium at a hybrid ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22.

The most recent prior Sandia recipients of the Lawrence Award are mathematician Pavel Bochev, who received the honor in 2014, and Sandia fellow Jeff Brinker, who received it in 2002. The award was not given out in 2017-2020.

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