Third-year mechanical and aerospace engineering Ph.D. student Dane Sterbentz is a recipient of the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s Laboratory Residency Graduate Fellowship (DOE NNSA LRGF). Sterbentz, part of professor J.P. Delplanque’s research group, is one of just four doctoral students across the country to receive the fellowship.
He will complete two 12-week residencies at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and receive a stipend, along with money to cover tuition and fees for his research. As a fellow, he will participate in professional development and have the opportunity to publish research and attend conferences, including the yearly program review in June.
Sterbentz’s research focuses on modeling phase transition kinetics at extreme pressures that occur in dynamic-compression experiments. Phase transition kinetics determine how fast a transition (e.g., liquid to solid) occurs given factors such as pressure and temperature. His current focus is on the phase transition between water and ice VII, a type of ice that’s formed when liquid water is compressed at extreme pressures.
“Rather than lowering the temperature of the liquid water, you’re compressing it so much that it freezes,” he explained.
Understanding these types of extreme pressure phase transitions is important to applications such as inertial confinement fusion, a method of producing nuclear energy that heats and compresses a fuel material (generally using lasers) to fuse sets of two atomic nuclei together to release energy. This model can also help scientists understand the behavior of water on exoplanets with high-pressure planetary conditions, where ice VII might exist naturally.
“Dane’s progress through our program has been nothing short of exceptional,” said his advisor, professor J.P. Delplanque. “His work, which has been presented at several international conferences and resulted in a peer-reviewed publication, is providing significant contributions to our understanding of phase transition kinetics at extreme conditions. He is a rising star in this field.”
Sterbentz is excited to continue his work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). He has been collaborating with Drs. Jonathan Belof and Philip Myint at LLNL since early 2018, but the fellowship allows him to work on-site at LLNL full-time for a portion of the year, with the possibility of renewing the fellowship for up to four years.
“It’s a really great opportunity to learn more about the lab and work even more closely with them on my research,” said Sterbentz.
The DOE NNSA LRGF program was launched in 2017 to promote research related to the stewardship of the nation’s nuclear stockpile, propel doctoral students into careers in the nuclear sector and support collaboration between academia, industry and national laboratories.