The MAD Scientist Hall of Fame
Name: Stephen D. Murray

Country of Residence: USA

Areas of Science: Astronomy


I'm currently working as a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. My work spans several different areas, including weapons research, simulations of experiments performed with the Nova laser, and astrophysics. In addition, I also teach astronomy at local colleges.

Like most of us my path through science hasn't been a straight line. I can't say when I first knew that I was interested in science, or what triggered it. The first strong interests that I can remember, in grade school, were biology and paleontology (what kids don't love dinosaurs?). Biology was my real love, though, and I decided to combine it with my love of spending time outdoors by going into wildlife biology. At least, that was the plan when I started at Washington State University. A few years before that, though, I had gotten interested in amateur astronomy, and was having more and more fun looking at and learning about the universe. By the end of my freshman year, I found that this and my physics labs were even more interesting to me than biology, and so I began my sophomore year as a physics major.

That led to graduate school at U.C. Santa Cruz. I started out wanting to be an observational astronomer. I found, though, that data reduction was too painstaking for my liking, and I decided that theoretical work would be more interesting. I've always found it more interesting to cut straight to the problem of explaining what it is that we're seeing.

Once finished with my Ph.D., I started off onto the usual circuit of temporary jobs. I spent two years as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia, one year as a NATO fellow at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England (a GREAT place to work), and four years as a postdoc at U.C. Berkeley (actually based at LLNL).

During that time, I applied for numerous faculty positions. My original reason for teaching at a local college was to demonstrate my interest and ability for teaching. Teaching has been so much fun that, even though I now have a permanent job, I refuse to give it up.

After seven years of temporary jobs, and failed faculty searches, I decided that it was time to review my career, and begin looking into options. Fortunately, LLNL is an ideal place to do just that. After about a year of talking to people and interviewing, I was offered my current position. In many ways, I've found the best of all possible worlds--I'm still doing physics, I continue to do some astronomy, and I can teach "on the side." All that and a decent salary!

What do I do when I'm not doing physics, astronomy, or teaching? I still like to get outdoors, and am trying to pass this along to my daughters. My younger daughter, in particular, has taken to hiking like a fish to water. In general, my wife and I find that raising children is an adventure-a-minute job. When I'm doing things just for myself, I can be found cruising the internet, reading science fiction, trying to beat my computer at chess (usually unsuccessfully unless I set the computer to "idiot" mode), playing tennis, or fencing. Fencing is something that I picked up in graduate school as a way of forcing myself to get up from my desk and go do something. It's a great sport, and I've stuck with it ever since.