New Sandia Director Jill Hruby Transcends Glass Ceiling

By Tiffany Trader

June 24, 2015

Sandia National Laboratories has named Jill Hruby to its highest post. When Hruby officially take the reins of the nation’s largest laboratory on July 17, she becomes Sandia’s 14th director in its 60-plus year history as well as the first woman to lead one of the three National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratories.

As director of Sandia National Laboratories and president of Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, which operates Sandia for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Hruby will be in charge of keeping Sandia’s 10,800 staff members and $2.6 billion budget aligned with Sandia’s primary mission: “ensuring the U.S. nuclear arsenal is safe, secure, reliable, and can fully support our nation’s deterrence policy.”

The staff and budget numbers are healthy and reflect the solid leadership of outgoing Sandia director Paul Hommert, who is retiring July 16 after a five-year tenure.

Hruby commented on her main objectives and the good work of her successor in a prepared statement:

“Leading Sandia is a tremendous responsibility because of its importance to the security of our nation and the phenomenal engineering and scientific talent here,” she said. “I embrace the opportunity to maintain the U.S. nuclear deterrent and lead Sandia in solving the difficult security challenges we face as a nation. I’m proud to be the first woman to lead an NNSA laboratory, but mostly I’m proud to represent the people and work of this great lab.

“Paul is leaving Sandia with the necessary fundamental elements in place, and it’s personally gratifying to follow such a dedicated, visionary leader. I’ve assured him, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy that we will continue to deliver on our weapons Life Extension Programs on schedule and on budget. We also will build on his recent efforts to strategically advance our broad national security contributions, strengthen our basic research and expand the transfer of Sandia innovations to the U.S. economy.”

She also acknowledged the significant milestone of being the first woman to head up a US nuclear weapons lab:

“Science and engineering is a field that is not dominated by women,” she told Albuquerque Business First, “only about 20 percent us are women. It’s an environment that has to be created. At Sandia we created that a long time ago.”

Hruby would know; she’s been with Sandia for 32 years as both staff member and manager. She started at the California location in 1983, not long after receiving her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests spanned thermal and fluid sciences, solar energy, and nuclear weapon components.

She moved to Sandia’s New Mexico site in 2010 to become vice president of the Energy, Nonproliferation, and High-Consequence Security Division, and leader of Sandia’s International, Homeland, and Nuclear Security Program Management Unit. In that role, she led diverse efforts involving nuclear, biological and chemical security; homeland security; counterterrorism; and energy security.

During her career, Hruby has also focused on nanoscience, hydrogen storage, mechanical-component design and microfluidics. She holds three patents in microfabrication, and was awarded an R&D 100 Award in solid-state radiation detection.

Given the timing of this announcement, Hruby will be there to oversee the launch of one of the nation’s first exascale-themed supercomputers, Trinity, this summer. Together Sandia and Los Alamos labs formed the New Mexico Alliance for Computing at Extreme Scale (ACES) partnership to field the Trinity supercomputer. Built by Cray, it will be physically located at Los Alamos but will support all three NNSA labs with running the largest and most demanding simulations of stockpile stewardship.

As an NNSA lab, Sandia is no stranger to cutting-edge supercomputing. Another Cray machine, called Red Storm, debuted at the lab in 2005. The capability-class supercomputer was one of the world’s fastest, making it to the top two spot on the November 2006 TOP500 list. As part of NNSA’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) project, Sandia has acquired a set of advanced architecture test beds to help prepare for the hardware and software challenges of the exascale era. These are not intended for production computing cycles, but are rather prototypes that support the smooth transition to future architectures and even co-design through close vendor partnerships.

Hruby has stated that maintaining the lab’s mission to facilitate the nation’s nuclear deterrence policy is job number one. To that end, a main focus will be the ongoing effort to refurbish the B61 nuclear bomb under the B61-12 Life Extension Program. Sandia is also about to embark to its annual assessment of the nuclear stockpile.

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