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Jennifer Ladd-Lively: Building a better nuclear world

Jennifer Ladd-Lively picked the path for her scientific career on a single day in a high school calculus class.

“A parent who spoke to the class was a chemical engineer,” she said. “I knew then that was the perfect fit for me.”

Ladd-Lively followed that path to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she’s spent the past 16 years working in the nuclear fuel cycle and nonproliferation fields, including three years as a technical advisor to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, a key sponsor of ORNL programs. She’s led and managed more than 100 research projects to advance the science of national security in that time, coordinating teams that have spanned the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory complex. Honors have included a YWCA Tribute to Women in Business and Industry Award.

She brings that depth of experience to her role as head of the National Security Sciences Directorate’s Proliferation Detection and Deterrence Section, part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Division. The section’s work focuses on research and development to detect illicit nuclear activity, support the intelligence community, and provide forensics and response in the event of a nuclear detonation.

“There’s already amazing research being done here, and I want to maintain everyone’s ability to keep doing that,” Ladd-Lively said. “One of the biggest challenges with any organization is always overcoming the boundaries we create for ourselves that can keep us from working together. I want to foster cooperation across those arbitrary lines to keep us on the leading edge against current and emerging threats and so that we’re the first place a sponsor considers.”

As a woman in science, she knows about boundaries – and about overcoming them.

“I’m used to being the only woman in the room,” she said. “What my mentors ­did for me was show me that leadership is about giving people opportunities, putting trust in them to take what you delegate and be successful with it. I hope I can create those opportunities for people of any age, gender, or background to make great things happen here.”