A perfect storm

Alumnus Omar Hurricane is using technology and a laser-sharp focus to uncover new energy sources.

By Pat Rooney

Publish Date: October 23, 2015

Omar Hurricane

 

Omar Hurricane (B.S. physics and applied mathematics ’90) is
making big sparks in the field of fusion. Photo: Jakub Mosur


Omar Hurricane (B.S. physics and applied mathematics ’90) admits that he wasn’t exactly a well-rounded student.
 
Put a social studies exam in front of him or ask him to dissect the finer points of a classic novel, and Hurricane is liable to break into a cold sweat. When you’re a scientific genius, however, such shortcomings are easily overlooked. 
 
Hurricane arrived at MSU Denver with a laser-sharp focus on his ultimate goal of becoming a research scientist. It was a goal he achieved in short order. “I’d been passionate about science and math and computers since I was a little kid,” Hurricane said. “I was good but unbalanced as a student. My social studies and English classroom skills did not stand out in any way.
 
“But science, I always had an affinity for that,” added Hurricane, making an understatement of epic proportions.
 
A Denver-area native whose stepfather was once a faculty member at MSU Denver, Hurricane enrolled at UCLA immediately after college and promptly earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in physics. He then landed his first job at the prestigious Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He remains there to this day, working with cutting-edge technology to research the potential use of lasers as an untapped source of energy.
 
“It’s basically a national security laboratory,” Hurricane said. “We do a lot of things related to national security, but the laboratory itself has a particular expertise in all things nuclear going back to the ’50s.
 
“The project I’m involved with right now on the laser … more or less what we’re trying to do is reproduce in the laboratory the same sort of nuclear reaction that drives the sun or the stars. It’s the process called nuclear fusion, and it essentially combines light elements into heavier elements by putting them under enormously high pressures.”
 
For the 17 years Hurricane has worked at the Livermore Laboratory, he has constantly pushed the boundaries of technology in search of new solutions and undiscovered sources of energy. It’s a devotion not for the faint of heart, a lesson Hurricane attempts to impart whenever he is asked to share his wisdom with aspiring researchers. “The value you get out of your education is what you put into it,” Hurricane said. “Certainly take advantage of the time when you’re in college and you have access to all this stuff – you can learn it more readily than you can when you’re older.
 
“The other thing is basically picking something you’re excited about. Being successful in the sciences or mathematics requires a lot of personal time and energy, and if you’re not working on something you’re excited about, you’re just not going to invest yourself properly.”