Kirsten Howley is a physicist on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) planetary defense team. She derives analytic equations and leverages large-scale computing systems (supercomputers) to simulate asteroid deflection scenarios, with a focus on the effectiveness of standoff nuclear explosions to alter the speed – and thus orbital timing – of potential threats.
In addition to her planetary defense work, she is involved in modeling and executing hydrodynamic experiments important to assessing the safety, security and effectiveness of explosive devices related to homeland security. Her research also supports the counterterrorism and intelligence communities.Kirsten holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in astronomy and astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz, and a B.A. in physics and astrophysics from UC Berkeley. She joined LLNL as a graduate student summer intern in 2007, worked as a postdoc and was hired onto the staff in 2013. She was the first of what has become numerous staff members who got their start at LLNL as postdocs and graduate interns conducting planetary defense research.