Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

A summer of science

Future military leaders work on innovative projects around the Laboratory.
July 18, 2019
SARA students learn about high explosives from scientist Virginia Manner.

SARA students learn about high explosives from scientist Virginia Manner.

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“It’s important for these students to understand the science, engineering, and technology available at the Lab—the tools that can help them deal with problems they’ll face as military officers.”- Jon Ventura

By J. Weston Phippen

Each summer the Laboratory welcomes about 20 cadets and midshipmen from U.S. military academies and students from university Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Jon Ventura and Jeremy Best, of the Lab’s Office of Nuclear and Military Affairs, select these students for the Service Academies Research Associates (SARA) program. Each student will spend four to six weeks working with a Lab mentor on a project. “We believe it’s important for these students to understand the science, engineering, and technology available at the Lab,” Ventura says, “the tools that can help them deal with problems they’ll face as military officers.”

Meet four SARA students who are spending their summer at the Laboratory.


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Clockwise from top left: Jon Zimak, Connor Travis, Matt Critchley, Audrey Fernandez.

Jon Zimak
Chemical engineering major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Part of uprooting for the summer means adjusting to Northern New Mexico’s high-desert environment, which has suited Zimak just fine. “Being able to walk outside and go on a hike is insane,” says Zimak, who lives in Massachusetts during the school year. Before he returns to ROTC and his chemical engineering studies, Zimak is developing a Lab database that tracks fire-safety issues.

Connor Travis
Mechanical engineering major at the U.S. Naval Academy

When Travis heard of the SARA program, he remembered stories his father told him many years before. His father, a Navy captain, had visited Los Alamos and was impressed with its crucial work. “I thought it’d be a great opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes,” Travis says. This summer, the mechanical engineering major is working on a project to develop a handheld device that can detect plutonium and uranium.

Matt Critchley
Physics major at the U.S. Naval Academy

About 16,000 people apply each year to the U.S. Naval Academy; only 1,200 are admitted. Critchley not only got in but also is a Bowman Scholar, meaning he’s on a path to become a nuclear submarine officer. As a physics major, he’s studying photocathodes, materials that have applications in lasers, but until now he has only conducted theoretical research. “At Los Alamos,” Critchley says, “I’m looking at what photocathodes actually do. It’s a great opportunity.”

Audrey Fernandez
English major at the U.S. Naval Academy

“The Lab does a great job of placing us where our interests are and pairing us with mentors,” Fernandez says. As an English major who eventually wants to study medicine, Fernandez realizes that being matched with a good placement at the Lab was a little tricky. But the end result was perfect, she says; she’s working with stem cells to develop and test how muscle tissue reacts to disease.

To learn more about the SARA program, visit lanl.gov/sara.

To read one SARA student's account of his summer at Los Alamos, click here.