Graduation Year: 

B.S. Nuclear Engineering, 2002

Computational Physicist
Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory
Livermore, California

While living in Alaska in her teens, Teresa Bailey tagged along as an older sister toured the Oregon State campus. Without really thinking about it, she filled out an information card and selected some areas of interest. Several years later, a recruitment brochure for the nuclear science and engineering program at Oregon State just happened to fall out of a stack of mail from prospective universities. Although she knew little about nuclear engineering, she felt compelled to submit a last-minute application, and was accepted into the program.

Bailey was happy with the decision. “Oregon State’s is a smaller nuclear engineering school, but it’s a well-known one,” Bailey said. “We were trained to think about systems and how all the components are connected.”

Several years after that seemingly random start to her career in nuclear science, Bailey finds herself leading a team of scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory focused on using physics and computational modeling to simulate what, on a superficial level, can also seem like a random process – the transport of particles in nuclear systems. However, if her team’s simulations of this process are close enough to measurements taken of actual systems, they can be used to predict outcomes of unknown systems.

To simulate particle transport, Bailey and her colleagues write software to approximate the solution for transport through a trillion little pieces of space, and then stitch these pieces together to build a representation of the overall solution. “This gives us a prediction about what happens in a real system,” she said. “The more pieces we can solve, the better the prediction.”

And because the code is fairly general, the models that spit out highly accurate predictions of particle transport may eventually be used to drive advances in radiation shielding for power plants and in certain areas of medicine.

“Seeing the scope of technical challenges that a highly motivated team can solve is truly amazing,” she said. “There is nothing better than that.”