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CER Spotlight: Chris McGuffey

Assistant Project Scientist, High Energy Density Physics Group 

Quick Fun Facts:

Favorite International Destination:
Osaka, Japan, for it's beauty and impressive urban infrastructure. 
When not working, you might find Chris:
Favorite Quote: 
"We're lost, but we're making very good time." Paraphrased from Yogi Berra (famous American baseball player)

Spotlight on Chris:

Chris McGuffeyCan you describe your research?

I work with pulsed lasers, which are among the best tools we have for concentrating energy. The world's most powerful lasers can deliver brief pulses with 100X humankind's world energy consumption rate. I try to understand and control where the energy goes when a laser interacts with a target. Lots of exciting topics come into play including non-linear optics, plasma physics, nuclear reactions, and particle beam physics.

Tell us a bit about your path to get to your current position?

I was inspired to study science by my high school chemistry and physics teacher. I became interested in energy research/development/policy while studying engineering in college and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering. At the University of Michigan I worked daily with one of the most intense lasers in the world. This was an exhausting, but extremely rewarding and educational phase of my graduate term. I studied laser wakefield acceleration, which is a well-studied process in our field by which an intense laser can accelerate electrons to billions of electron-volts in about an inch of plasma. After completing my thesis, I joined the High Energy Density Physics group led by Prof. Farhat Beg here at UC San Diego. Since I joined the group in 2011, I have studied the physics of laser acceleration of protons and the prospects for them to initiate fusion.

What is a typical day at work like?

I work with a team of students and scientists. We design and carry out experiments and simulations that try to find new capabilities of pulsed lasers. I often sit in front of a computer and crunch numbers but I also often travel to lasers around the world and get to tinker.


What do you think a lay person with little to no scientific training might find most fascinating about your work?

With these short pulsed lasers, we might be able to initiate controlled nuclear fusion. Doing so would be an incredible scientific achievement and might eventually solve our unquestionable need to replace fossil fuels.


What are some of the challenges for researchers in your field?
When we shoot a target with a laser, our goal is to diagnose what happens in the instant before it completely explodes. That requires careful consideration of the multifarious failure modes that could happen in the experiment or interfere with important measurements. We have to choose diagnostics that can measure things evolving at nearly the speed of light and sometimes have to develop new tools and methods.

What is something your colleagues might be surprised to know about you?

I love watching movies and classic films. I've seen about 750 of the Internet Movie Database Top 1000.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into your field?

Follow your nose. Follow it to a research group with unique capabilities if you can