Houghton Student/Faculty Pair Research at Los Alamos National Laboratory

September 13, 2023

Timothy Ockrin ’24 joined Dr. Katrina Koehler ’11, assistant professor of Physics, for the second year in a row as a paid intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Recently featured in the latest Christopher Nolan biopic, Oppenheimer, the Los Alamos National Laboratory builds on the legacy of J. Robert Oppenheimer to research solutions to national security challenges. “Ensuring that all nuclear material globally remains in peaceful activities like nuclear power and nuclear medicine is a multidisciplinary problem that requires constant innovation,” wrote Koehler in summarizing their research using low temperature detectors for nuclear safeguards. Koehler and Ockrin traveled to Los Alamos, NM to develop the Decay Energy Spectroscopy Analyzer (DESA) data analysis tool for the purpose of more accurately identifying the composition of special nuclear material. This software could allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to determine whether nuclear material has the same composition as what is declared.

Research experiences like these prepare Houghton students, including Ockrin, to pursue employment and graduate school opportunities with significant advantages over peers graduating from other institutions. While conducting their research this summer, Koehler and Ockrin reconnected with Adam Brown ’23, a recent graduate of the Physics program who secured a post-undergraduate position with Los Alamos National Laboratories prior to graduation thanks in part to his rich research background gained as a student at Houghton.

Photos from left to right: Ockrin, Brown and Koehler in lab LA-UR-23-29570 and LA-UR-23-27302; Ockrin with statues of Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves; Ockrin and Koehler by Los Alamos sign; Ockrin, Brown and Koehler in lab LA-UR-23-29570 and LA-UR-23-27302.

“This is Tim’s second summer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. It’s one of the very few places in the world where you have access to certain materials like plutonium. You work with world-class scientists on challenging, interdisciplinary problems and get a taste for what a full-time job doing research might look like.”

Katrina Koehler, Assistant Professor of Physics

Fun Fact:

Los Alamos was a secret city during World War II and a closed city until 1957.