NEWS | May 16, 2011

Dr. Thomas Mehlhorn Appointed to New National Research Council Panel

By Dom Panciarelli

Dr. Thomas Mehlhorn, superintendent of the Plasma Physics Division at the Naval Research Laboratory, was recently appointed a member of a new National Research Council (NRC), Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (DEPS) panel on the Assessment of Inertial Confinement Fusion Targets (ICF).

In this capacity, Mehlhorn will serve on the panel for a 24-month period as a technical resource to the NRC Committee on Inertial Confinement Energy Systems. The committee is tasked with preparing a report that describes the R&D challenges to providing suitable targets, on the basis of parameters established and provided to the panel by the committee. The project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In its report, the panel will assess the current performance of fusion targets associated with various ICF concepts in order to understand the spectrum output, the illumination geometry, the high-gain geometry, and the robustness of the target design. In addition, the panel will examine technology options, but will not provide recommendations specific to any currently operating or proposed ICF facility.

Mehlhorn reports, This assessment was commissioned by the DOE Undersecretary for Science, Dr. Steven Koonin, in anticipation of the achievement of fusion-ignition on the National Ignition Facility (NIF), at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as well in recognition of the excellent results that were achieved by the High Average Power Laser (HAPL) program, in which NRL held the primary leadership role. It is an honor to serve on this panel, which I hope will contribute to the positive determination of the readiness of the US ICF research community, to pursue an energy mission, in addition to the stockpile stewardship mission of the core National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) program.

The study committee is comprised of seven panel members. Joining Mehlhorn are Dr. John F. Ahearne, Sigma Xi; Dr. Robert C. Dynes, University of California, San Diego; Dr. Douglas M. Eardley, University of California, Santa Barbara; Dr. David Harding, University of Rochester; Dr. Merri Wood-Schultz, Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Mr. George Zimmerman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Mehlhorn received his bachelor's and master's degrees in nuclear engineering and a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan, in 1974, 1976 and 1978 respectively.

He began his professional career at Sandia National Laboratories in 1978, as a member of the technical staff working on a variety of projects related to the generation, focusing, and interaction of intense beams of electrons and ions with plasmas. From 1989 to 2006, Mehlhorn served in a number of management positions including: manager of the High Energy Density Physics and ICF Target Design department's, a senior manager in the Pulsed-Power Sciences Center, and finally, manager of four departments performing research and development in dynamic materials and shock-physics, high-energy density physics theory and modeling, advanced radiographic source development, and the application of radiographic machines to sub-critical experiments at the Nevada Test Site.

Mehlhorn joined NRL in 2009, where he assumed his present position. In this capacity, he oversees a broad-spectrum of research in experimental and theoretical plasma physics, laboratory discharge and space plasmas, intense electron and ion beam, laser fusion, ultra-short-pulse lasers, atomic physics, plasma processing, pulsed power sources, EM rail-guns, radiation hydrodynamics, high-power microwaves, advanced spectral diagnostics, and nonlinear systems.

His awards include: an NRL Alan Berman Research Publication Award in 1983; a Sandia Award for Excellence in 1995, For achieving a lithium beam focal intensity of 2 TW/cm2; the 2004 Engineering Alumni Society Merit Award in Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences from the University of Michigan; the Lockheed Martin NOVA award as manager of the team that produced thermonuclear fusion at Sandia's Z machine; and two NNSA Defense Programs Award of Excellence in 2007 and 2008.

Mehlhorn serves on the Advisory Board for Plasma and Atomic Physics, at GSI, Darmstadt, Germany, (2004 to present, as Chair in 2006) and on the Nuclear Engineering Advisory Board of The University of Michigan (1996 to 1999) and (2004 to present). Since 2009, he has been a member of the University of Michigan College of Engineering Alumni Society Board of Governors. In 2010, Mehlhorn served on the Dept. of the Navy (DoN), Space Experiments Review Board, as well as the University of Missouri, Research and Development Advisory Board.

He is a member of the American Physical Society (APS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The National Research Council (NRC) functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The mission of the NRC is to improve government decision-making and public policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health. Federal agencies, foundations, other governmental and private sources, and the institution's endowment fund individual projects. The work is made possible by 6,000 of the world's top scientists, engineers, and other professionals who volunteer their time without compensation to serve on committees and participate in activities.