The U’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and its External Advisory Board are proud to recognize Dr. Abigail Hunter as this year’s Alum of the Year. Hunter is a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) where she is part of the Materials and Physical Data Group and Deputy Director of the Institute for Materials Science. Her work focuses on computational physics with an emphasis on modeling and code development related to materials science applications. She is also well known for her dedication in mentoring junior researchers and giving back to the broader community, mentoring 22 students and post docs since joining LANL.

Hunter received her Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Utah in 2006, then her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue in 2011. After graduation, she joined LANL as a postdoctoral researcher and it was not long before she transitioned to staff member.

“One of the reasons I chose mechanical engineering was to pick a major without picking a major,” said Hunter. “I liked that I could learn about a lot of different topics.” In pursuing those varied topics, Hunter took a materials science class that she really enjoyed because of the focus on real world application. She also found herself drawn to related classes in statics and strength in materials.

After graduating from the U, Hunter pursued her Ph.D. at Purdue University. She was then a postdoctoral research at LANL before becoming a scientist and eventual Deputy Director of the Institute for Materials Science. Her focus is on mesoscale (microstructural scale of 10’s to hundreds of nanometers) through the macroscale (microns, millimeters, or higher depending on the applications) models.

One of Hunter’s current projects is working on modeling asteroid impacts on the surface of the Psyche Asteroid as part of NASA’s study. “Using earth-based measuring techniques, we know there are two large impact craters on Psyche.,” said Hunter “We can model these crater formations and depending on what materials we use for Psyche, we can test and see if the crater dimensions match. This will hopefully let us pinpoint Psyche’s composition including its porosity.”

Hunter has shown a passion for teaching and working with students, including undergraduate, graduate, and post docs. In 2018 she received LANL’s Distinguished Mentor Award, a lab wide award recognizing excellence in mentoring. “I have a lot of fun mentoring,” said Hunter. “You get to do research, but it’s more collaborative. With research, you’re looking at questions people haven’t looked at before. Hopefully, working with students and post docs, they learn how to come up with and design their own independent studies. They bring their own excitement and curiosity.”

Hunter’s dedication and expertise are clear, including a passion for educating new scientists and engineers. She continues to collaborate with the U and other organizations not only in mentoring students, but also in participating workshops and collaborations. Last year she joined the Computational Mechanics and Sciences workshop that was co-organized with LANL and the U. She is also currently serving as an associate Editor for ASME’s Journal of Engineering Materials and Technology.

“With STEM, people start to question their abilities because of stress,” said Hunter. “People don’t realize that a lot of us feel that way because these are challenging fields to be in. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t be shy about asking questions. You’re doing better than you think. Interact and collaborate. Work together.”

Hunter will be presenting a virtual seminar on “Living in a Material World” on December 4th from 3-4pm.