Berkeley Lab

SCGSR Profile: Roland Hesse

Roland Hesse

Roland Hesse

The DOE’s prestigious Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program is enabling three graduate students to spend time in ATAP’s BELLA Center in 2022, including computational modeler Roland Hesse.

The SCGSR program helps prepare graduate students for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers crucial to the DOE Office of Science mission, by providing supplemental funds and an opportunity to conduct part of their thesis research at a DOE laboratory in collaboration with scientists there.

ATAP Division Director Cameron Geddes described the SCGSR program as “an important way for top doctoral students to connect with the team-science environment and leadership facilities at the national laboratories, while combining the strengths of research from their home institutions with those at the Lab to create new projects and capabilities.”

Hesse, a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is applying numerical tools to study particle distribution in intense standing-wave fields set up in plasmas by high-powered lasers.

Hesse works on computational models for understanding laser plasmas, focusing in particular on how to improve certain modeling techniques. His work has focused on developing a paradigm for redistributing computational resources according to kinetic activity, using a type of simulation called a Vlasov-Maxwell code after its mathematical basis. These codes are very well suited to the physics he is modeling, but seldom used in that field because they are so computationally intensive.

In his SCGSR work, Hesse, who has already written a one-dimensional Vlasov code, will apply his expertise to a better understanding of nonlinear wave-breaking. “The goal is to put what I’ve been learning about model design to use once we better understand the physics, and have structured feedback between the physical problem and the mathematical problem,” Hesse said.

“Electromagnetic theory is one of the more interesting things to me,” he added, “and a kinetic plasma is a place where you can toy around with that and come to a real understanding of what’s going on. ‘How does this work?’ That’s the thing that fascinates me.”

Connections among people make for scientific progress

Connections between Berkeley Lab and the academic laser science and technology community are key to matching top students with research opportunities. “This is a big SCGSR cohort, said Schroeder. “The faculty advisors are interested in collaborating with us, and SCGSR is a good mechanism to further that collaboration and do some good work.”

“In each case, the combination of the resources and expertise of the Lab with important new ideas move both the students and the research forward,” said Geddes.

Hesse was put in touch with his Berkeley Lab mentor—BELLA Center Deputy Director for Theory Carl Schroeder—by his graduate advisor Bradley Shadwick, formerly a Berkeley Lab scientist and now Professor of Physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Persevering through the pandemic

Hesse was originally headed our way more than a year ago, but the pandemic intervened, with Berkeley Lab going into its shelter-in-place phase as he was planning his SCGSR summer. More recently, he revised his plans… just as the omicron variant came along. The delays brought him close to the end of his doctoral studies, with graduation expected in December. As his work is more theoretical, Hesse is collaborating virtually.

SCGSR Application Cycle Begins

The Office of Science has opened applications for the next SCGSR cycle (deadline May 4). The prestigious and competitive program invites applications from current Ph.D. students who are in qualified graduate programs at accredited U.S. academic institutions; who are conducting their graduate thesis research in targeted subject areas; and who are US citizens or lawful permanent residents. ATAP encourages interested students to reach out to scientists in the Division to discuss potential projects.