XTD-4's Amy Bauer

LANL staff member Amy L. Bauer is without question extraordinary. With a background in finance and mathematics, she has found ways to apply her skills and education to problems such as cancer, tuberculosis (TB), AIDS research, and national security.

Bauer grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois. There she earned her B.S. and M.B.A. in finance and M.S. in mathematics. In 2007, she graduated with her Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.

Her education in mathematics proved to be the most useful in real-life situations. According to Bauer, "I have a passion for applying mathematics to real-world high-impact problems." Her passion led her initially to apply mathematics to biology and to a biology-related internship with LANL as a graduate student. In the Theoretical Division's Applied Mathematics and Plasma Group, Bauer worked on a mathematical model for angiogenesis, a process whereby new blood vessels form in a tumor in response to signals from some of the tumor's own molecules. Those signals tightly coordinate and regulate the cellular processes of angiogenesis.

Understanding how cells make biochemical signals can lead to new hypotheses for cancer treatments. Bauer's research suggested a way to combat cancer by reducing angiogenesis, thereby starving a tumor of its blood flow and rendering it harmless.

Bauer continued to focus on biology as a LANL postdoctoral researcher. In addition to her work on anti-angiogenesis, Bauer studied blood flow through the carotid artery, which provides the brain's main blood supply, and the co-infection of HIV (the AIDS-causing virus) and TB. Although TB is a contagious infection of the lungs, it can spread to other organs and has become a leading cause of death when linked with the HIV virus. Most people who have TB will recover from the disease, but it can stay suppressed for years. If a person with suppressed TB also contracts HIV, the TB can be reactivated.

Understanding how the TB-HIV co-infection works can help researchers design drug and vaccine therapies. Bauer made a mathematical model of an adaptive immune response to better understand how HIV induces TB's reappearance.

In 2010, Bauer accepted a position at the Laboratory's Improvised and Foreign Designs Group (XTD-4), where she is learning the physics and design of nuclear weapons. "Amy came to our attention when a search of the LANL postdoctoral database identified her as a mathematician with molecular-level modeling experience," says Matt Kirkland, XTD-4 group leader. Nuclear weapons systems, like biological systems, are highly complex at the molecular and smaller scales. Understanding the behavior of these systems requires mathematical modeling at those levels, so the skills and experience Bauer gained by modeling biological systems at the molecular level would apply to molecular-level, and smaller-scale, physics research in nuclear weapons materials and to the development of better weapon-simulation tools. "Amy has made significant progress learning weapon design physics and is mastering the computational tools used in our group," says Kirkland.

Bauer says that her shift from biology to weapons physics was "an opportunity to learn many fields." She now works on a broad range of nuclear counterterrorism projects, including post-detonation nuclear forensics, in which samples of radioactive debris from detonated nuclear weapons are gathered and studied. She also studies foreign nuclear weapons programs. She and her colleagues analyze information about foreign nuclear weapons to assess the weapons' potential nuclear yields and their vulnerabilities.

Along with her colleagues, Bauer has contributed to better ways of modeling certain foreign nuclear weapons. Kirkland says that her contribution will help refine our understanding of foreign nuclear weapon technology. "Amy will play an increasingly significant role in our nation's defense throughout her career," said Kirkland.

Beyond the Laboratory, Bauer has taken up a number of hobbies such as ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ski patrolling, yoga, photography, and drumming. She has also given back to the community. She is creator of the K2 Women's Weekend at Pajarito Mountain, a charity event that raises money for people diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer.

As for her future, Bauer wants to continue building her expertise in the physics and design of nuclear weapons.

-Ashley Martinez

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