Gordon Lau Leads, Motivates, and Educates
When computer scientist Gordon Lau arrived at Lawrence Livermore more than 20 years ago, he was a contractor assigned to a laser isotope separation project. His expertise in industrial controls systems quickly earned him an offer to work on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) as a full-time employee. “I was really excited about contributing to the Laboratory’s mission as well as being surrounded by individuals and teams involved in the scientific research,” he recalls. Today, Lau leads the Industrial and Safety Controls (ISC) team, which is part of the NIF Computing (NIFC) Division.
For the world’s largest laser system, the NIF ISC system operates with more than 30,000 control points for components such as tempered water, argon, amplifier cooling, vacuum control, radiation monitoring, and safety interlocks. “These diverse systems must be managed with precision to maintain NIF’s high-availability and extreme-environment capabilities,” explains Lau. The ISC team is responsible for the hardware and software that monitor and control the operation of machinery and associated devices in NIF’s industrial environment.
Lau serves as architect for the ISC system’s graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) while his team develops advanced capabilities, updates existing functionality, and improves process efficiency. He states, “Our system is comprised of over 75 PLCs and 5 GUI servers that present over 800 control screens to NIF’s operational users. The ISC system is the backbone of this facility, and NIFC’s highly competent and motivated engineers play an integral role.”
To enhance his leadership skills, Lau completed the Laboratory’s year-long Leadership Development Program. Participants are selected by Livermore’s senior management and guided through hands-on training and coaching. “The program gave participants an opportunity to learn more about our ourselves and harness the diversity, experiences, and strengths of our team members,” he says. “I plan on using this experience to shape my team’s, as well as the Laboratory’s, culture and direction.”
Outside of NIF, Lau volunteers as a Fun With Science presenter, demonstrating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts to local schoolchildren through interactive experiments and games. Coming from a family abounding in educators, he is carrying on this legacy by nurturing students’ interest in science.
Lau appreciates the Laboratory’s emphasis on work–life balance so he can spend valuable time with his own children. Born and raised in Hawaii, he attended Cornell University in New York where he saw snow and squirrels for the first time. As a member of the employee networking group called the Cycletrons, Lau has logged more than 4,000 miles on his bicycle every year—for two decades. He has taken up mountain biking to “tag along” on his son’s cross-country training runs, and supports the cycling community through the Laboratory’s involvement with local nonprofit organizations such as TurningWheels for Kids and Kids Bike Lane.
I lead a team of developers responsible for the design, development, programming, and implementation of the industrial controls and safety systems required by the National Ignition Facility (NIF). These systems create the proper operating environment for NIF’s lasers and diagnostic instrumentation and mitigate potential hazards to equipment and personnel.
I cannot over-emphasize the excitement of working on cutting-edge research, with smart people and teams, to achieve what many may think is impossible or science fiction.