Women at the top of their game at NNSS

Women at the top of their game at NNSS

An anonymous historian once said, “Any discussion of history is by necessity a discussion of the future.” March is Women’s History Month, commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.

NNSS is proud to employ a great number of talented women who make history every day by helping secure our nation’s future. Here are six such individuals.

Marylesa Howard

Having earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Montana, Dr. Marylesa Howard wanted a career that gave back to her community in one way or another. “I always thought I would become a math teacher,” she said, “but applied mathematics for nuclear physics data problems is wildly interesting and challenging, yet still provides me opportunities to teach within the complex, as well as to work with students.” She currently balances work between an Experimental Physicist role for an upcoming subcritical experiment and technical management as a Group Leader within the Computing and Data Sciences Division, along with various other roles she holds.

Dr. Howard says the NNSS’s mission, people, and research all contribute to her passion for the work – it “contributes to the betterment of our community and our relationships with our allies.” On the clock, she enjoys writing programming code and the camaraderie among coworkers and laboratory partners, which she describes as a “community of colleagues, all seeking to support one another, to elevate the learning of individuals, and to join forces for the mission.”

Off the clock, Dr. Howard enjoys spending time outdoors with her family and dogs, camping, hiking, off-roading, learning to work on vehicles, and generally hanging out in the rain. Recently added hobbies are baking with her kids and traveling with them.

Amy Lewis

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill said it, and Amy Lewis is a big fan. She began her career in chemical engineering and quickly discovered that may not have been the right choice. “After discovering that I might end up estimating fluid through a pipe for the rest of my career,” she said, “I quickly switched to electrical engineering.” She’s never looked back.

Amy has been performing diagnostic development for Stockpile Stewardship with NNSS for more than 23 years. She’s currently involved with electrical optical design at the Advanced Sources and Detectors Scorpius facility but believes “the best part of my job has been the opportunity to do something different year after year. I’m still learning to do new things.”

At home, Amy mothers a 14-year-old competitive gymnast, whose focus stands in stark contrast to how Amy remembers her own behavior at that age. “She has so much more discipline than I ever had.” And when family’s not around? “I’m happiest watching elk graze a frosted field holding a cup of coffee.”

Amber Guckes

Dr. Amber Guckes supports ongoing activity in our Detectors and Instrumentation project, Neutron Diagnosed Subcritical Experiments project, and Site-Directed Research and Development (SDRD) program. With her vision on new techniques for advanced detector design, she has led a team of technical staff to develop a multi-layered avalanche diamond detector to improve our capacity to measure a fast pulse of neutrons and perform neutron time-of-flight measurements. She has also been awarded the position of SDRD Principal Investigator to develop a photoneutron target that could enable an entirely new set of diagnostics for future NNSS experiments. Dr. Guckes interfaces with industry and universities, combined with intern mentorship, to enable these next generation efforts. Her work also provides an excellent training platform and mentoring opportunities with early career scientists and engineers.

Dr. Guckes embodies the core values of the NNSS and NNSA as well as any young researcher in the national security enterprise. Her research has already had significant impacts on the way we design and qualify some of our most critical diagnostic systems. Dr. Guckes’ work is so innovative that it is being recognized and awarded internally here at the NNSS, at the National Laboratories, and externally in the broader research community. In addition to her outstanding research, she is also an excellent educator and mentor who is actively engaged in STEM outreach.

Hilary Tarvin

Hilary received her B.S. from the United States Air Force Academy in materials chemistry and her M.S. from the Colorado School of Mines in materials science. She spent eight years in the Air Force split between maintaining fighter aircraft and teaching both core chemistry and weapons chemistry back at her alma mater. Hilary joined the Special Programs Department at the Remote Sensing Laboratory in Nevada in 2021 as a Senior Scientist where she has worked on a number of non-proliferation projects to include biochemical pattern of life analysis, gaseous release detection, and on the remote sensing of various processes in the uranium mining, milling, and conversion life cycles. She likes to live by the quote, “I said, somebody should do something about that. Then, I realized I am somebody.”

When not at work, Hilary can be found in her garage where she is converting a cargo van into a camper or out hiking and rock climbing in the local area with her husband and her dog.

Michelle “Cameron” Hawkins

Dr. Cameron Hawkins has worked for the NNSS contractor since March 2004. She is a Senior Principal Engineer and is currently working as the Scorpius Commissioning Control Account Manager (CAM) for the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments project. She is also CAM for the C3 Launcher, a single-stage gas launcher experimental platform with diagnostics for shock physics experiments.

Prior to being employed by NNSS, Dr. Hawkins spent more than four years collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories scientists and engineers on a Stockpile Stewardship project funded by the Department of Energy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). She contributed to novel, leading-edge technology solutions at the NNSS’ Remote Sensing Laboratory by developing and fabricating unique mechanical assemblies. She led several independent design projects as well as leading technical personnel in assembly. While employed by NNSS, Dr. Hawkins received her Ph.D. that focused on the experimental and computational analysis of an energy storage composite ankle foot orthosis. In 2013, she became a full-time instructor for three semesters at Boise State University in the Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering department before returning to Las Vegas.

Dr. Hawkins has multiple publications pertaining to material characterization and analysis, one of which was published in the Journal of Applied Physics in July 2020 entitled, “Spall and Subsequent Recompaction of Copper under Shock Loading.” Dr. Hawkins obtained a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2001 and her master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2003, both from UNLV. She completed her doctorate in mechanical engineering at UNLV in 2010. She grew up in the Las Vegas valley and attended a performing arts high school where she focused on dance and is still actively taking ballet classes during her spare time.

To Dr. Hawkins, it’s the opportunity and challenge of solving the kinds of puzzles you can’t find anywhere else that excites her about working at the NNSS. “My job allows me to work with a broad range of individuals to solve unique and complex problems and benefit national security,” she explains.

Savitra Candley

Savitra Candley has been with the NNSS since 1999 and has worked in several departments in that time, including Planning, Project Management, and currently, Sustainability. She holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and certifications as a Project Management Professional, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, and a Sustainability Facility Professional. She puts all that experience to work daily as the NNSS Sustainability Manager.

“Our team’s active projects include implementation of EV charging, obtaining High Performance Sustainable Building certifications for new and existing facilities, annual energy audits, Earth Day and Energy Action Month planning and activities, and so much more,” she said of her department’s efforts. “It’s a lot of detail-oriented and very rewarding work, and it’s only possible thanks to my dedicated team members.”

Outside the office, Savitra follows the New Orleans Saints, enjoys watching movies with her family, and stays in contact with her sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., where she was first introduced to the fundamentals of effective leadership over 30 years ago. She says her primary role model and hero is her Father who is a retired army officer and minister that taught her the importance of strength, faith, persistence, and courage.

Words to live by? Savitra’s go-to is Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, DO better.”