When Dr. Matthew Lanctot stepped into his role as a program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Fusion Energy Science (FES) Program it was not his first encounter with the organization. As a physics student searching for graduate opportunities, Lanctot came across the FES Graduate Student Fellowship. Now he manages a similar program at FES for postdoctoral researchers.
The FES program’s mission is to expand the fundamental understanding of matter at very high temperature and density in order to build the scientific foundation needed to develop an energy source based on nuclear fusion, the energy source of the Sun and stars.
“I hoped that this program would allow me additional freedom to select a doctoral research project at a state-of-the-art fusion facility and enable me to collaborate with world-leading scientists and I was not disappointed,” Lanctot said.
The program, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), took him from Columbia University in New York City, New York, to the fusion reactor facility (DIII-D) in San Diego, California, where he collaborated with faculty from his university as well as DIII-D research scientists. Alongside professors Gerald Navratil, Andrea Garofalo, and Holger Reimerdes, Lanctot contributed to research focused on experimental validation of models that accurately predict the magnetic topology of three-dimensional plasma equilibrium in a tokamak, a magnetic confinement device.
His research involved developing, installing and calibrating a plasma diagnostic that enabled direct measurement of 3D structures in the plasma. Additionally, he partnered with computational physicists and theorists to develop synthetic diagnostics to model his experimental measurements. This ultimately allowed a direct comparison between the measurements and theoretical models.
“Looking back, my key impression is that my project was diverse and balanced. The project covered many of the specialties experimental physicists typically assume in fusion energy research: diagnostician, data analyst and computational scientist,” Lanctot said. “This gave me a wide range of experiences, which later allowed me take on many different roles during my career.”
After completing his doctoral degree, Lanctot researched at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in a postdoctoral position before accepting a staff scientist position at General Atomics. Interacting with individuals in a variety of settings has proved beneficial in his current role as a DOE program manager.
As an alumnus of an ORISE research program and now a professional in the STEM field, Lanctot offers this advice to future applicants: “Don’t work every waking hour. It isn’t healthy. Also, learn about the field of project management. Learn how to plan your work and work your plan so you can make continual progress, which you can report to others on a regular basis.”
Currently, he uses the skills he developed during his participation in the ORISE program on a daily basis. The duties of a program manager include evaluating, selecting and managing research programs at many different institutions: national and international laboratories, universities and private companies. According to Lanctot, his present goal is to identify and implement new efficiencies that will increase the scientific productivity of the FES research portfolio.
“Without the ORISE opportunity, my career path would likely have been much different,” Lanctot explained. “Very likely I would not have had the same success while working in the field, nor would I have had the opportunity to develop the experience needed to function at a high level as a DOE program manager.”
The Fusion Energy Sciences Postdoctoral Research Program offers recent doctoral degree recipients the opportunity to conduct research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) fusion energy research and development programs. Participants acquire experience and training in areas of fusion energy science, interact with outstanding scientists and engineers, and have access to advanced equipment and facilities. Appointments are made to designated DOE laboratories, universities, and contractor fusion energy centers.