Fusion Physicist Named 2023 Corones Award Honoree

Ames, Iowa

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientist who has helped lead the drive to fusion energy breakthroughs is the 2023 recipient of the James Corones Award in Leadership, Community Building and Communication from the Krell Institute.

Tammy Ma, lead for the Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) Initiative and program element leader for High-Intensity Laser High Energy Density (HED) Science – Advanced Photon Technologies at Livermore, will receive her engraved prize and $2,000 honorarium at a program later this year. The award is named for the late founder of the Krell Institute, an Ames, Iowa, nonprofit organization that serves the scientific and educational communities. It honors a mid-career scientist – one who has earned a doctorate in the previous 10 to 20 years – who is making an impact in the three areas the award identifies.

A committee of Krell friends and employees chose Ma, who also is Livermore’s associate program leader for HED Laboratory Plasmas, citing her outstanding contributions to and leadership of the fusion energy science community.

“We’re delighted to recognize Tammy Ma, an architect of the growing fusion energy sciences community and a communicator with demonstrated skills in connecting with lay audiences,” Krell Institute President Shelly Olsan said. “Few mid-career researchers have a comparably strong record in all the areas Jim Corones prized.”

Since earning her Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, in 2010, Ma has helped advance fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, for scientific research. Her work has supported inertial confinement fusion (ICF) experiments at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a stadium-sized Department of Energy installation at Livermore that uses potent lasers to squeeze peppercorn-sized pellets of hydrogen isotopes, merging their nuclei and releasing energy. On Dec. 5, 2022, LLNL achieved ignition, producing more energy from the implosion than the laser energy used to drive it.

Ma won a 2013 Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering and a 2018 Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Research Award.

In her present position, Ma heads a group that works with universities and other institutions to advance the use of the world’s highest-intensity lasers for research into matter, astrophysics, fusion and other subjects. With the IFE Initiative, she helps guide foundational fusion energy studies at Livermore and in the wider community to support DOE’s drive to commercialize fusion energy.

Ma has helped build the HED and fusion communities, including establishing the IFE Virtual Collaboratory to encourage connections between private and public fusion programs. Among her many other activities, she serves on the DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, and in 2020 helped author a long-range plan for U.S. efforts in this area.

Ma is an active communicator, providing congressional and executive branch briefs and testimony, appearing regularly in popular media, volunteering at science fairs, and speaking to groups that encourage women to participate in science. She made numerous appearances to communicate the importance of fusion and NIF’s ignition achievement, including with CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes, and can be found in multiple YouTube videos.

Since joining Livermore and NIF as a postdoctoral research associate in 2010, Ma has served in multiple roles with increasing responsibility, including NIF staff scientist for HED science and technology; program working group lead for X-ray analysis in the ICF program; chair of the Livermore lab-wide Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program; and LDRD deputy director.

Corones, a renowned researcher and administrator, led Krell from its start in 1997 until shortly before his death in 2017, building an organization known best for the prestigious scientific workforce-training programs it manages: the DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship, supported by the DOE Office of Science, and the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration-sponsored Stewardship Science and Laboratory Residency graduate fellowships. Before founding Krell, Corones was at the DOE’s Ames National Laboratory, managed by Iowa State University, where he also was a professor. He held numerous lab posts from 1978 to 1997, including program director for applied mathematical sciences, program director for environmental technology development, deputy director and acting director.

The Krell Institute supports technology-based education and information programs with technical assistance, management expertise and communications products, and collaborates with agencies and institutions to foster the nation’s competitive advantage in science and engineering.