An Enduring Partnership:
LLE and SUNY Geneseo’s Nuclear and Plasma Diagnostics Development Laboratory
Research scientists at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) and physicists, chemists, and computer scientists at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo have enjoyed a dynamic and enduring partnership for close to 20 years, culminating in the formation of the Nuclear and Plasma Diagnostics Development Laboratory on the Geneseo Campus. Staffed by six faculty members and more than a dozen undergraduate students, the Laboratory engages in research projects on a part-time basis throughout the academic year and full-time during the summer months. The projects typically span one to three years so that the faculty and students can have a minimum of one summer’s full-time effort on each project. These projects directly support the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF), High-Energy-Density Physics, and National Ignition Campaign communities, which perform research at LLE on OMEGA, OMEGA EP, and the Multi-Terawatt Laser Systems, and the National Ignition Facility Laser System at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). As such, the partnership between Geneseo and LLE makes it possible for undergraduate students to participate in significant research and collaborate with scientists at world-class ICF facilities. While the work at Geneseo is a boon to the scientific community, the crux of its program is preparing students to continue toward graduate studies and research. “The undergraduate-to-graduate-to-professional pipeline is the real story here,” says Dr. Stephen Padalino. His former students echo that sentiment. “[The faculty at Geneseo’s] goal is to equip students to further their fields,” confirms Danae Polsin, second-year physics Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester and SUNY Geneseo graduate.
Dr. Stephen Padalino with LLE researchers that are Geneseo Alumni
The faculty at Geneseo, understanding and anticipating students’ prospective lives, makes sure they understand the rigor and difficulty of attaining a Ph.D. and of a life of research. By acquainting students early with the realities of academia, only those with certain determination remain in the program. This creates a unique environment composed of dedicated students and professors.
The laboratory exposure enjoyed by Geneseo students is highly sought after both by graduate studies programs and by potential employers, including LLE. “My experience in the summers is the reason I got this job,” says Joe Katz, Senior Laboratory Engineer at LLE and Geneseo alumnus, referring to his three years of lab experience with the Nuclear and Plasma Diagnostics Development Lab.
The exposure of students to national physics conferences goes hand in hand with lab experience. Presenting their research at these conferences offers the students access to the leading scientists in their field, preparing them for careers working with those same scientists. Katz comments about his experiences at multiple national physics conferences, “My first conference was extremely intimidating; I was around world-renowned scientists.” He adds, however, “If I didn’t have the connections, [being hired at LLE] would never have happened.” He continues, of the conferences, “to get your work into a presentable format and finish a thought—that’s a valuable thing.”
LLE’s funding support has created a viable and proven path from undergraduate work at Geneseo into graduate studies and the realm of research. Polsin remarked of this natural progression, “We meet people in the field and have already made connections with the scientists and researchers we will work with.”