Los Alamos National Laboratory

From Terry Wallace

Science For The Future

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The United States government looks to science and technology to provide solutions to complex national problems, spur innovation, and promote discovery, but that was not always the case. When our country was born, science was largely viewed as a gentleman’s pursuit, not as a means to address problems facing the new republic. One of the first examples of government funding for science was the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804 –1806). Dispatched to establish a route of communication from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast, the expedition also had the stated purpose of studying the geology, terrain, and wildlife of the West. Public appreciation for science grew during the 19th century as scientific ideas and science-based technology began to influence all aspects of society. (In the 1860s, the government even called on the elite of American scientists to speed the end of the Civil War.) By the early part of the 20th century, the government had begun funding research at universities, but only on an “as needed basis.”

World War II and the Manhattan Project changed everything. The enormous project cost about $2 billion but produced atomic weapons that helped end the war in the Pacific. To many, science had proved itself, so government continued to invest in it as the cold war heated up. The national laboratories were created, and today work with universities, industry, and each other to solve a very broad range of national problems.

This issue of 1663 highlights several areas of research at Los Alamos that have the potential to make for a brighter future.

The lead article on influenza discusses Laboratory research into the virus’s interactions with its host to try to understand influenza better, and to assess the “pandemic potential” of any influenza virus. The article on turbulence describes how Los Alamos scientists, by manipulating the initial conditions under which two fluids mix, hope to control the turbulence that follows. Turbulence affects everything from the stability of airplanes to the efficiency of a gasoline engine, so the research could have important implications. The dialogue section then introduces the Los Alamos institutes, which initiate and coordinate numerous university partnerships in which university students train at Los Alamos in new disciplines vital to the expanded national-security mission of the Laboratory.

The entire world is turning to science to alleviate the global challenges of the 21st century. Los Alamos, as the premier national-security science laboratory, will help lead the way.

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