NEWS | Feb. 28, 2010

Dr. Tom Mehlhorn Named Superintendent of NRL's Plasma Physics Division

By Amanda Bowie

Dr. Thomas A. Mehlhorn has been selected to head the Naval Research Laboratory's Plasma Physics Division. He was the Senior Manager for High Energy Density Physics and Science Campaigns in the Pulsed Power Sciences Center at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico prior to his appointment as division superintendent on November 30, 2009.

In reference to his appointment, Mehlhorn stated,

The NRL Plasma Physics Division has a long and distinguished history. The NRL Plasma Formulary is an indispensible reference for the international plasma physics community. I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to lead the division in meeting the 21st century challenges of the Navy and our other customers, by building on the firm scientific and technical foundations established by my predecessors.

The Plasma Physics Division conducts a broad-spectrum experimental and theoretical program in basic and applied research in plasma physics, laboratory discharge and space plasmas, intense electron and ion beams and photon sources, atomic physics, pulsed power sources, laser physics, advanced spectral diagnostics, and nonlinear systems. Examples of the importance of the division research include ensuring energy security through KrF-driven laser fusion, detecting special nuclear materials using pulsed power systems, increasing hypervelocity railgun capabilities as a long-range naval ordnance, improving material properties, understanding the radiation physics of high power z-pinches for weapons effects testing, and modeling space weather to enable reliable operation of DoD satellites.

Mehlhorn began his career at Sandia National Laboratories in 1978 as a Member of Technical Staff and worked on a variety of projects related to the generation, focusing, and interaction of intense beams of electrons and ions with plasmas. In1989 he was promoted to department manager with accountability for intense ion beam research for inertial confinement fusion (ICF). From 1998 to 2006, he managed the High Energy Density Physics and ICF Target Design department including integrated target design, the development of a theoretical understanding of x-ray power scaling from Z-pinches; and the development of radiation-MHD, and hybrid plasma physics simulation tools. He also managed a Grand Challenge LDRD project studying advanced fusion concepts, their non-proliferation concerns, application to neutron effects testing, and use as a source for transmuting nuclear waste.

In 2006 he was promoted to a senior manager position in the Pulsed Power Sciences Center at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. where he was the programmatic lead for research in the Science Campaigns for the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), and managed 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 subcritical experiments at the Nevada Test Site.

Mehlhorn earned his bachelor of science, master of science and doctor of philosophy in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Michigan College of Engineering in 1974, 1976 and 1978, respectively. He received the 2004 Engineering Alumni Society Merit Award in Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences from the University of Michigan, is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and a Fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 2004 he received the Lockheed Martin NOVA award as manager of the team that produced thermonuclear fusion at Sandia's Z machine, a 2008 NNSA Defense Programs Award of Excellence for Z-pinch predictive simulation capability for Nuclear Weapon experiments, and another in 2009 for Isentropic Compression of Tantalum to 4 Mbars on Z. He also received a Sandia Award for Excellence in 1995 - For achieving a lithium beam focal intensity of 2 TW/cm2 and an Alan Berman Research Publication Award from NRL in 1983.

Mehlhorn serves on the Advisory Board for Plasma and Atomic Physics, at GSI (Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung), Darmstadt, Germany (2004-present, Chair 2006) and on the Nuclear Engineering Advisory Board of The University of Michigan (1996-1999), (2004-present). Since 2009 he has been a member of the University of Michigan College of Engineering Alumni Society Board of Governors.