From nature hikes to quantum materials—a science dream achieved

As the daughter of two geologists, Claire Marvinney, Ph.D., knew from a young age that she wanted to be a scientist. Marvinney’s childhood was filled with experiments and nature hikes, but it wasn’t until she took a high school physics class that she found her niche.

“I quickly realized that physics truly allowed me to apply all the math I loved while discovering how the real world worked,” said Marvinney.

After receiving a Bachelor of Science in physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary materials science from Vanderbilt University, Marvinney joined the Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (IC Postdoc) Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The IC Postdoc Program offers scientists and engineers from a wide variety of disciplines unique opportunities to conduct research relevant to the Intelligence Community.

Under the mentorship of Benjamin Lawrie, Ph.D., a research scientist in ORNL’s Quantum Heterostructures Group, Marvinney studies the fundamental properties of quantum materials. She has helped develop a millikelvin optical microscopy lab from the ground up and now utilizes it daily in her research efforts.

“As I continue to work on the fundamental properties of quantum materials and materials and devices for quantum information science, the scientific understanding of these materials increases,” Marvinney explained. “For society, quantum research aims to bring us improved quantum sensors, which could lead to the detection of dark matter and thus an increased understanding of our universe, and it aims to bring us quantum networks for safer, more secure communication, and it also aims to bring us quantum computation for faster decryption and encryption and faster calculation of certain algorithms.”

During her time in the program, Marvinney has presented at multiple conferences, including one invited talk, and contributed to two published papers with four more currently under review. She was featured in a recent episode of ORNL’s “The Sound of Science” podcast that focused on the Laboratory’s research in quantum mechanics.

Outside her research, Marvinney has been active with the Oak Ridge Postdoctoral Association, recently serving as social chair. In this role, she coordinated social activities and shared event information with the ORNL postdoc community.

Following her fellowship, Marvinney hopes to continue her research in quantum information science, either at ORNL or another federal research facility. She recommends the IC Postdoc Program to anyone seeking out a postdoctoral opportunity.

“The IC Postdoc Program allows for an amazing scientific learning opportunity, where you have freedom to develop and follow your own research proposal, and at the same time, the freedom to explore tangential science along the way,” Marvinney said. “It’s been very rewarding to direct my own scientific path, with the guidance of my adviser and sponsor.”

The Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.