Hannes Richter

Achim Seifter - Austrian Physicist in Los Alamos

Hannes Richter

by Peter Pabisch

Skeptics call Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico the ‘devil’s kitchen’ because it was founded toward the end of World War II for the purpose of developing the atomic bomb. History has shown that the physicists were indeed so successful that the LANL still exists and has become one of the world-leading research centers for military and peaceful applications of nuclear power and productivity. It collaborates closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, and sends several LANL researchers to Austria’s capital on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly Austrian atomic physicists can also be found in Los Alamos. Since expectations while working in Los Alamos are so exceptionally high, it is rare for an Austrian to be recognized and promoted while doing research there. Dr. Achim Seifter is one such exception, recognized for his work on experiments using the most powerful laser source in the world and thermophysics, leaving no devilish impression at all. Born in Friesach, Carinthia, Dr. Seifter was educated at the college-preparatory high school for mechanical engineering (HöhereTechnische Lehranstalt) in Zeltweg. Following graduation, he attended the Technical University of Graz, where he received his first diploma in 1996 and his Ph.D.in 2001, graduating with honors. Immediately after receiving his doctorate degree, the University of Graz made him a research associate and one year later he was called to LANL and its P-23 Group (Neutron Science) as a visiting scientist. He advanced quickly - from Postdoctorate Research Associate (2002-2005) to a Regular Technical Staff Member of the Physics Division at the P-24 Group (Plasma Physics) (2006-2007). Since 2008 he has been a Member of the Accelerator Operations and Technology Division (AOT).

Achim Seifter has also had experience in teaching and supervising graduate students in experimental physics, optics and electronics. His list of research activities and accomplishments is impressive. “Accelerator tuning and beamline development at the 800 Me V accelerator,” and the “development of a spectral ellipsometer for shock physics application,” are just two projects chosen from an elaborate list of subjects.

His work in Los Alamos focused on “Diagnostic Development for Shock Physics Experiments” where, as a Postdoctoral Research Associate, he developed and helped to develop various pyrometers working in the visible and infrared spectral region. Pyrometry measures the thermal emitted radiance from a hot surface, which can be related to the surface temperature. Although Seifter’s work was restricted primarily to the civil sector, determining the shock and post-shock temperatures of samples as tin and steal also has implications for the military field.

Seifter also worked on “Inertial Confinement Fusion Experiments” (a potential candidate for solving the energy problem by creating helium atoms out of hydrogen – the same energy source the sun is using) as the Principal Investigator (PI) at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Rochester, New York. “My job as PI required involvement in the design of the targets, the design of the experiment (number, energy and timing of the laser beams) and the configuration of the diagnostics (magnification, exposure time, field of view, etc.).”

Seifter has recognized a number of significant differences between the U.S. and Europe in the field of research and development. More funding for research projects is offered in the U.S., and young researchers are given more responsibility, even when the project is funded for more than 100,000 dollars. In Austria, such funding is reserved only for the top professors, while young researchers are allowed to collaborate but not to independently head projects. On the other hand, education in Austria is very good and as an Austrian, one is able to compete with many graduates from elite American universities.

Achim Seifter has widespread interests and participated in several cultural activities during his spare time. We got to know and appreciate him when he agreed to give a guided tour in German at the Los Alamos Science Museum for a delegation of literary writers of the Austrian PEN Center in Vienna. Among these writers was Austria’s famous author and scientist Peter-Maria Schuster, who wrote widely on matters of physics and Austrian history. Seifter immediately found a kindred spirit because of Schuster’s writings about eminent Austrian physicists, such as Christian Doppler, Joseph Loschmidt, Josef Stefan, Ludwig Boltzmann, and Ernst Mach. The museum not only displays replicas of the first atomic bombs with their tragic and satirical names like “Fat Man” and “Little Boy,” but various other scientific gadgets of interest as well. It also highlights the ethical and historical issues of the atomic age, including the devastating destruction caused by the use of atomic weapons, and how nuclear technology can be applied more meaningfully in the future.

After seven years Achim Seifter will leave Los Alamos. He was recently assigned to the European Patent Office in The Hague in the Netherlands, where he will continue his career facing new challenges as a physicist.

Skeptics call Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico the ‘devil’s kitchen’ because it was founded toward the end of World War II for the purpose of developing the atomic bomb. History has shown that the physicists were indeed so successful that the LANL still exists and has become one of the world-leading research centers for military and peaceful applications of nuclear power and productivity. It collaborates closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, and sends several LANL researchers to Austria’s capital on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly Austrian atomic physicists can also be found in Los Alamos. Since expectations while working in Los Alamos are so exceptionally high, it is rare for an Austrian to be recognized and promoted while doing research there. Dr. Achim Seifter is one such exception, recognized for his work on experiments using the most powerful laser source in the world and thermophysics, leaving no devilish impression at all. Born in Friesach, Carinthia, Dr. Seifter was educated at the college-preparatory high school for mechanical engineering (HöhereTechnische Lehranstalt) in Zeltweg. Following graduation, he attended the Technical University of Graz, where he received his first diploma in 1996 and his Ph.D.in 2001, graduating with honors. Immediately after receiving his doctorate degree, the University of Graz made him a research associate and one year later he was called to LANL and its P-23 Group (Neutron Science) as a visiting scientist. He advanced quickly - from Postdoctorate Research Associate (2002-2005) to a Regular Technical Staff Member of the Physics Division at the P-24 Group (Plasma Physics) (2006-2007). Since 2008 he has been a Member of the Accelerator Operations and Technology Division (AOT).

Achim Seifter has also had experience in teaching and supervising graduate students in experimental physics, optics and electronics. His list of research activities and accomplishments is impressive. “Accelerator tuning and beamline development at the 800 Me V accelerator,” and the “development of a spectral ellipsometer for shock physics application,” are just two projects chosen from an elaborate list of subjects.

His work in Los Alamos focused on “Diagnostic Development for Shock Physics Experiments” where, as a Postdoctoral Research Associate, he developed and helped to develop various pyrometers working in the visible and infrared spectral region. Pyrometry measures the thermal emitted radiance from a hot surface, which can be related to the surface temperature. Although Seifter’s work was restricted primarily to the civil sector, determining the shock and post-shock temperatures of samples as tin and steal also has implications for the military field.

Seifter also worked on “Inertial Confinement Fusion Experiments” (a potential candidate for solving the energy problem by creating helium atoms out of hydrogen – the same energy source the sun is using) as the Principal Investigator (PI) at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Rochester, New York. “My job as PI required involvement in the design of the targets, the design of the experiment (number, energy and timing of the laser beams) and the configuration of the diagnostics (magnification, exposure time, field of view, etc.).”

Seifter has recognized a number of significant differences between the U.S. and Europe in the field of research and development. More funding for research projects is offered in the U.S., and young researchers are given more responsibility, even when the project is funded for more than 100,000 dollars. In Austria, such funding is reserved only for the top professors, while young researchers are allowed to collaborate but not to independently head projects. On the other hand, education in Austria is very good and as an Austrian, one is able to compete with many graduates from elite American universities.

Achim Seifter has widespread interests and participated in several cultural activities during his spare time. We got to know and appreciate him when he agreed to give a guided tour in German at the Los Alamos Science Museum for a delegation of literary writers of the Austrian PEN Center in Vienna. Among these writers was Austria’s famous author and scientist Peter-Maria Schuster, who wrote widely on matters of physics and Austrian history. Seifter immediately found a kindred spirit because of Schuster’s writings about eminent Austrian physicists, such as Christian Doppler, Joseph Loschmidt, Josef Stefan, Ludwig Boltzmann, and Ernst Mach. The museum not only displays replicas of the first atomic bombs with their tragic and satirical names like “Fat Man” and “Little Boy,” but various other scientific gadgets of interest as well. It also highlights the ethical and historical issues of the atomic age, including the devastating destruction caused by the use of atomic weapons, and how nuclear technology can be applied more meaningfully in the future.

After seven years Achim Seifter will leave Los Alamos. He was recently assigned to the European Patent Office in The Hague in the Netherlands, where he will continue his career facing new challenges as a physicist.