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LLNL physicist, Pleasanton resident named Woman of the Year

Assemblywoman honors Ma for career achievements, commitment to science education

Tammy Ma, Ph.D., (second from left) holds her award with Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan after being named Assembly District 16's Woman of the Year. (Photo by Krishnia Parker/Assembly Democratic Caucus)

Pleasanton resident Tammy Ma, Ph.D., a leading experimental plasma physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has been named Woman of the Year for State Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan's District 16.

Ma, who has worked at the Livermore lab since 2012, leads a variety of fusion experiments at LLNL's National Ignition Facility (NIF) -- the world's largest and most energetic laser -- as well as heads the X-ray analysis group for the Inertial Confinement Fusion Program.

Ma told the Weekly she was surprised and humbled to be named Woman of the Year.

"It is a completely unexpected and undeserved honor -- I'm doing what I love, and I just happen to be very passionate about STEM education and growing the level of science literacy across society," she said Monday.

"I'm a bit of a policy and California history nerd, so the ceremony on the floor of the California Assembly of the State Capitol Building was a very special experience," Ma added. "I was incredibly humbled to be in the presence of such amazing women, both representing our communities in the Assembly and among the other awardees who contribute so much to California."

Ma was honored by the State Legislature on March 4 in Sacramento, along with district winners from throughout California, during an annual ceremony held in observance of Women's History Month.

Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) lauded Ma for her scientific achievements and leadership as well as her volunteer efforts encouraging girls and women to pursue careers in science.

"A Pleasanton resident and first generation American, Dr. Ma is strongly committed to education, and to mentoring and encouraging young students who share her passion for science. I congratulate her on this much-deserved award," the assemblywoman said in a statement.

"I am proud to highlight her accomplishments and lift up a woman in science," added Bauer-Kahan, who is in her first term representing the Tri-Valley, Lamorinda and parts of Walnut Creek in District 16.

A Caltech undergraduate alumna who then earned master's and doctoral degrees from UC San Diego, Ma completed a postdoctoral fellowship at LLNL before being hired on as a staff scientist there in 2012.

Now a leading experimental plasma physicist, Ma chairs the LLNL Lab-Wide Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, an internal R&D funding program enabling highly innovative, high-risk, high-payoff projects at the forefront of science and technology -- managing a $7.5 million portfolio of fundamental and applied research activities.

Ma has also become one of the most recognizable representatives of the lab's NIF, often leading public tours and appearing regularly on podcasts, videos and in other media to share her passion for science.

A mentor to collegiate student scientists, Ma also volunteers with "Expanding Your Horizons" science festivals and the Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair, as well as presents science lectures to youth and teaching at LLNL's summer teacher research academies.

She has authored or co-authored more than 150 refereed journal publications and given over 75 presentations at international conferences, and she is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science's Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee.

Her other career awards include a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering in 2016, the 2016 Stix Award for Outstanding Early Career Contributions to Plasma Research from the American Physical Society and a DOE Early Career Research Award in 2018.

With the award from Bauer-Kahan, Ma became the third consecutive Pleasanton woman to receive the District 16 Woman of the Year award -- following Pleasanton Military Families leader Pat Frizzell in 2017 and School of Imagination and Happy talkers founder Charlene Sigman in 2018; both honored by previous assemblywoman Catharine Baker.

Parvin Ahmadi honored too

Another familiar female leader was named a state legislator's Woman of the Year this year: former Pleasanton Unified School District superintendent Parvin Ahmadi.

Currently the schools superintendent in Castro Valley, Ahmadi was given the award by State Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) for his District 10.

"Superintendent Ahmadi is a statewide educational leader who has dedicated her professional career to educating all students and enhancing their learning opportunities so they can achieve their goals," Wieckowski said in a statement. "Her commitment to public education, students of all ages and social justice is recognized throughout our community."

Ahmadi was PUSD superintendent between 2010 and 2015, leaving that June to become superintendent of the Castro Valley Unified School District.

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