Visible Spectrum is a series to spotlight talented and dedicated women employees across the Lab

June 8, 2023

Olga Shapoval is an applied mathematician who works on the derivation, implementation, and improvement of state-of-the-art mathematical models and numerical methods for modeling plasma accelerators. She is a Project Scientist in the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics Division's Accelerator Modeling Program (AMP) and a member of the WarpX project, which is developing an exascale application for exploring the physics of the transport and the acceleration of particle beams in long chains of plasma channels.

Beyond her work, Olga loves discovering the new voices in contemporary Ukrainian literature, art, music, and theater.

What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab? What excites you about your work?

My LBNL journey started in 2017 when I first joined AMP as a postdoctoral scholar. I was inspired by the opportunity to work on building an exascale modeling tool for designing and optimizing the next-generation plasma wakefield particle accelerators. 

It is exciting to realize that significantly more compact and cost-effective accelerators may one day allow us to solve the outstanding problems of fundamental science that are inaccessible with today’s conventional technologies.

Working at Berkeley Lab has broadened my skills of developing exascale open-source software systems of such complexity. As an applied mathematician, I have also expanded my understanding of the physics of plasma particle accelerators.

What does your current scientific project or research entail?

I am a member of the Exascale Computing Project’s (ECP) WarpX team, led by Jean-Luc Vay, where our mission is to develop an exascale tool for modeling plasma-based particle accelerators. I am very proud to contribute to the development of a modeling tool for designing a next-gen scientific machine that may help the future generations of scientists approach the problems of fundamental science that are inaccessible with conventional particle acceleration technologies.

My current research focuses on improvement of stability properties of spectral solvers that are extensively used in Particle-In-Cell (PIC) laser-wakefield acceleration modeling. Numerical Cherenkov Instabilities (NCI) can severely affect the applicability of the PIC method for simulations of relativistic beams or plasmas. I contributed to the development of several methods to mitigate the NCI. For simulations in a boosted frame, NCI mitigation makes it possible to increase the simulation timestep beyond the traditional PIC timestep limit, speeding up the laser-wakefield acceleration simulations by an order of magnitude or more. These NCI mitigation techniques may open up new potential applications in other physics domains, e.g., in astrophysical plasma shock simulations.

How can our community engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I am happy to see that our society is constantly learning and evolving in addressing the STEM gender gap, but there is still a lot that can be done. I agree that we can engage more women and girls in STEM by increasing the visibility of female researchers as role models. Doing this will help broaden the horizon of what is possible for girls and women and also inspire them to set some braver goals.

By creating more high-quality educational and thoughtful entertainment for kids and youth audiences, we can promote more stories of women in STEM. Another important step is to build and maintain a strong connection through the variety of mentorship programs between primary/middle/high schools and higher educational organizations, such as colleges, universities, national labs and the industrial sector.