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Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Quarterly, Winter 2003
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Science at Los Alamos

Los Alamos is a laboratory with a mission. It began nearly sixty years ago with the Manhattan Project and the first successful nuclear test at Trinity Site. From start to finish, that first mission was accomplished in twenty-seven months, from 1943 to 1945. This remarkable science and engineering feat was the result of the concerted efforts of some of the greatest minds of the century—Bethe, Fermi, Feynman, Oppenheimer, Teller, Ulam, von Neumann, and others. There were eleven Nobel Prize winners from that remarkable group.

The Laboratory's mission has evolved through the years, and the Laboratory has evolved with it—but always in response to national needs and with a national security focus. Our budget is approaching $2 billion, and we have more than 10,000 employees. Los Alamos is now a multipurpose Department of Energy science facility, one of the great research laboratories of the world.

Our core mission remains in nuclear weapons, but now ensuring the reliability of an aging stockpile must be accomplished without nuclear testing. The nation relies on us for solutions in homeland security and for our expertise in assessing and mitigating threats from weapons of mass destruction, whether they are nuclear, chemical, or biological.

We are also a key national R&D facility for energy and environmental studies, the biosciences, analysis of critical infrastructures, and the implications of such research for national security. Key capabilities have evolved from this R&D mission and assumed national importance to U.S. security and the U.S. economy—such as our Superconductivity Technology Center, the Los Alamos Fuel Cell National Resource Initiative, and the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (see "Simulation Science").

There are other capabilities on the Lab's drawing boards, including ways of coping with global warming as well as with threats from terrorism, mounting water shortages, and the energy demands of a growing world population. All demonstrate the strength of the national laboratory system in providing a diverse pool of exceptional scientists to collaborate on technical problems of national importance.

Nearly everything that we accomplish at Los Alamos relies on maintaining a premier scientific and engineering base. This base must be broad and diverse, capable of rapid response across multiple disciplines. It must be complete, extending from fundamental science to the design and manufacture of specialty devices, components, and instrumentation. It must be outstanding because the problems are challenging. It must be the best because our nation demands excellence.

In many areas, industry has chosen to walk away from developmental science, preferring instead to "buy off the shelf." It is the nature of what we do at Los Alamos that there is often no shelf to buy from. We have our people, our capabilities, and our marching orders. Our science provides the means by which we meet our mission responsibilities for the nation.




Thomas J. Meyer,
Associate Director, Strategic Research


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