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All Innovations

Since 1943, some of the world’s smartest and most passionate technical people have accomplished the difficult, the unexpected, and what sometimes seems impossible at Los Alamos





The Laboratory was created with one crucial objective: gather the world's brightest scientific minds to design and build a weapon that would help to end World War II.

Fight power with power


Essential for obtaining data to design war-ending weapons, Los Alamos scientists constructed the first homogeneous liquid-fuel reactor fueled by enriched uranium, code-named Water Boiler, as a neutron source. Two more were built.

These reactors led to pioneering research on radiation’s effects. Research reactors are widely used for materials development and provide medical and industrial isotopes.



Los Alamos scientists-many of whom fled Europe’s Fascist regimes-designed and rapidly built the first atomic bomb, helping defeat these World War II aggressors.

World’s first atomic weapon


To counter nuclear threats from Germany and a Japanese attack on the U.S., Los Alamos quickly solved physics, chemistry and engineering challenges to create the world’s first nuclear devices.

Little Boy and Fat Man bombs were detonated above Japan, ending World War II, the deadliest conflict in history.

Today, we continue to push the frontiers of science, solving the unsolvable, to protect our nation and the planet.



Clementine, the first fast-neutron reactor fueled by plutonium, provided intensities necessary to advance nuclear science.

High-intensity neutron source


Scientists discovered a nuclear reactor provided a steady energy source. A nuclear reactor uses energy released when neutrons crash into atoms, causing them to split (fission) and release their neutrons.

Unlike a weapon’s reactions—like a racehorse, engineered to be fast out of the gate, explosive yet uncontrollable—a reactor controls the powerful reactions.

Clementine was a predecessor of power reactors, which generate electricity and propel ships and space travel.



Unable to solve problems using conventional mathematical methods, we created algorithms, starting with the Monte Carlo method, which continues to enable discoveries.

Monte Carlo code


Los Alamos mathematician Stanislaw Ulam and colleagues made predicting the outcome of random interactions far easier with a new method that relies on repeated random sampling.

They used statistical sampling techniques to model physical problems on new, digital computers to solve complex equations.

Monte Carlo methods and codes are widely used for experimental prediction, modeling many phenomena, including those related to medicine, traffic, space and subsurface exploration—even economics.





Computer development exploded during the war. One of the first electronic computers, MANIAC supported atomic energy research, solving hydrogen-bomb design problems.



Nick Metropolis and John von Neumann built Los Alamos’ MANIAC (mathematical analyzer, numerator, integrator, and computer), one of the first electronic digital computers.

Los Alamos played an important role developing major computing advances, such as parallel processing and cluster architecture.

In 2008, our Roadrunner computer became the first to break the petaflop barrier—one quadrillion floating-point operations per second—enabling scientists to model a complex phenomena including nuclear behavior, pandemics, supernovae and climate change.



Scientists replicated the source of the sun’s energy, fusion, to create a more powerful weapon: the thermonuclear bomb.

Two-Stage Design Combines Fission and Fusion


The nation wanted a more powerful weapon. We delivered, with a radical smaller design with very large yield. Creating such power is difficult, but difficult is what we do best.

Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam designed a device deriving energy from nuclear fission, which splits nuclei, and the merging of nuclei in fusion.

Created for experimental reasons, the hydrogen device (code-named Ivy Mike) was detonated over the Pacific Ocean.



A building block of life, this elusive elementary ghost particle is finally detected: the neutrino.

Revolutionary particle physics


Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan created an experiment that detected the neutrino, working with other members of Los Alamos’ Project Poltergeist to build unprecedented detectors and methods.

This Nobel-Prize-winning discovery built new avenues of physics inquiry.

In the mid-1990s results from our Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector were the first to support that a new “flavor” (or transformation) of these particles exists, supporting research today that could answer many universal questions.



The scientific prowess that ended a world war was next directed at peaceful use of the atom: empowering the planet with nuclear energy.

Atomic energy for electricity


Los Alamos investigated an advanced power-reactor concept: controlled thermonuclear reactions. Three small power reactors built and tested as nuclear power became a viable energy source worldwide.

Our Power Reactor Experiment and Molten Plutonium Reactor Experiment introduced radically different reactors operated at high temperatures and easily controlled.

We manufactured fuel elements and developed multiple experimental power reactors, and significantly advanced materials science.



The first nuclear reactor-rocket program was launched to provide nuclear energy to propel an aircraft or rocket.

World’s first nuclear reactor-rocket


Empowering a vehicle to carry payloads to deep space is difficult. Nuclear rockets are more fuel efficient and much lighter than chemical rockets, therefore twice as fast.

The Lab’s second largest program at the time, Project Rover’s mission was to develop a nuclear thermal rocket to propel defense systems and space exploration.

We developed the Kiwi, Phoebus and Pewee series of nuclear rocket engines.





How to test the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile without above ground tests? Hydrodynamics simulations on PHERMEX.

Mock nuclear explosions


We rely heavily on computer simulations to predict the performance of a nuclear weapon, and hydrotests support predictions. By imploding nonnuclear materials, a hydrotest—so called because the high pressures and temperatures cause materials to flow—simulates weapon implosion without producing a nuclear explosion.

PHERMEX, a pulsed high-energy radiographic machine, took rapid X-ray film sequences of implosion. PHERMEX was also used to study fluid dynamics and the behavior of matter under extreme, shock-driven conditions. After four decades, the Lab’s workhorse was replaced by DARHT, the world’s most powerful X-ray machine.



Designed and built to warn of banned nuclear tests, our Vela satellite instruments discovered cosmic gamma ray bursts.

Vela supports nonproliferation


To support a ban on nuclear tests, Vela satellites were deployed, carrying X-ray, optical, gamma-ray and neutron detectors designed by Los Alamos teams. Later, Vela satellites detected an anomaly. Lab scientist Ray Klebesadel announced the discovery of a stellar explosion: a gamma-ray burst, shedding light on many astrophysics mysteries. Our experts also created more advanced sensors further supporting atmospheric sciences, space-plasma science and astrophysics.

Today our instruments continue to support treaty verification and provide early warning of ballistic missile launches.



Enhancing previous designs, Los Alamos built vertical and horizontal Van de Graaff accelerators to deliver a steady beam of particles, supporting the study of nuclear physics.

Enhancing materials research


Accelerators speed up atoms, breaking them apart into subatomic particles, so nuclear structure and nuclear forces may be investigated. Our vertical Van de Graaff and the tandem Van de Graaff could be used independently or together, creating the world's largest three-stage accelerator system.

Accelerators are still vital to science, helping us study material behavior. Our proposed Matter-Radiation Interactions in Extremes (MaRIE) facility may reveal how materials function under extreme temperature, pressure or radiation environments.



Supporting investigations in space, we created an electrical generator that obtains its power from radioactive decay: the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG).

Enabling space missions


To meet the demand for an increased RTG power source, Los Alamos designed, developed, manufactured and tested heat sources for RTGs—powerful little "nuclear batteries" that produce heat from the decay of radioactive isotopes, used as a fuel or heat source for satellites, space probes, remote facilities, instruments and computers.

Shortly after, we developed a medical-grade fuel for use in cardiac pacemakers and early artificial hearts.

In 2011, Los Alamos was awarded for using RTG technology to power the Mars rover Curiosity.





Los Alamos introduced the world’s most powerful proton linear accelerator to help address problems related to materials, nuclear medicine, and national security.

Vital user facility


The Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (now the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, LANSCE) uses a linear accelerator to speed up protons to 800 million electronvolts.

Multiple beam lines enable experiments in a variety of areas, such as nuclear weapons, nuclear medicine, materials science and nanotechnology, biomedical research and electronics testing.

LANSCE has hosted thousands of scientists from all over the world—it remains a magnet for the best and the brightest.



Our sensors aboard Vela satellites discovered gamma-ray bursts that emit as much energy in a few seconds as the sun will during its entire 10-billion-year lifetime.

Detect dying stars


In the early 1960s, Los Alamos developed sensors designed to detect atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.

Placed aboard Vela satellites, these sensors in 1973 discovered gamma-ray bursts, extremely energetic explosions from distant galaxies that last as long as several minutes.

Scientists believe that most of these bursts consist of a narrow beam of intense radiation released when a rapidly rotating, high-mass star collapses to form a neutron star, a quark star or a black hole.



Los Alamos produced and shipped our first radioisotope. Today, we continue to supply international medical and research communities with certain types of this precious commodity.

Isotopes support medicine


Radioisotopes produced at Los Alamos play a critical role in medicine and basic research.

Today, more than 10,000 hospitals worldwide use radioisotopes to diagnose and treat diseases, such as thyroid disease and various forms of cancer.

Los Alamos is a major supplier of particular radioisotopes (e.g., neutron-deficient), such as germanium-68 (used for medical imaging and drug development).

We produced radioisotopes created nowhere else in the world, some used for space applications, biomedical, climate and environmental research.



Los Alamos acquired its first vector supercomputer. Such supercomputers used vector processors that greatly improved performance on numerical simulations important to nuclear weapons research.

Supercharged simulations


Vector Supercomputers use one-dimensional arrays of data called vectors that operate on single data items. Dominate through the 1990s, the vector led way to the microprocessor.

However, the vector design remains notable because it helped shape the computer industry to this day.

Application software ran on vector supercomputers included nuclear code, cryptanalytic code (cryptographic security systems), petroleum reservoir models, and climatological and meteorological models.



The Weapons Neutron Research (WNR) Facility, constructed in 1974, has used the proton beam from the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center to produce spallation neutrons for decades.

Producing protons and neutrons


Scientists use the WNR—constructed in 1974— to perform nuclear science and weapons-related research.

Experiments conducted at WNR include taking measurements for the Stockpile Stewardship Program, revealing the nuclear fission process, irradiating high-temperature superconductors and helping industry examine the effects of neutrons on electronics aboard aircraft.

Combined with the Manuel Lujan Jr. Neutron Scattering Center, the WNR provides neutrons over an unprecedented range of energies, from sub-milli-electron-volts to hundreds to mega-electron-volts.



We trained the first class of international atomic inspectors to ensure that nuclear technology and material does not fall into the wrong hands.

IAEA inspector training


Los Alamos develops much of the safeguards technology used during inspections and trains the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. Since 1980, Los Alamos has trained all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. Coming from all around the world, the IAEA and its inspectors are often called the United Nations’ “nuclear watchdogs.”

The principal goal of the IAEA is to ensure that states with civilian nuclear programs have not hidden or diverted dangerous materials to possibly create nuclear weapons.

Nondestructive assay is a process that enables inspectors to use radiation detectors to determine the type of nuclear material and the amount.





A nuclear-powered pacemaker sounds like something out of science fiction. But we produced plutonium to power longer-lasting pacemakers.

Heart-pumping atomic battery


During the 1980s, Los Alamos produced 63 grams of high-purity plutonium-238 metal for use in pacemakers, a small device that controls abnormal heart rhythyms. The company Medtronic used this plutonium to produce approximately 250 nuclear-powered pacemakers.

The heat from the decaying plutonium is used to generate electricity that stimulates the heart.

In 2003, more than 25 of these pacemakers were still operational—a feat that no battery-powered pacemaker could ever hope to match.



Biophysicist Walter Goad and colleagues created GenBank, the national genetic-sequence database used by millions internationally to support health research.

Unraveling the human genome


The creation of GenBank helped place Los Alamos at the forefront of genetic research, enabling Laboratory scientists to take a leadership role in the Human Genome Project and help establish the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.

As of February 2013, GenBank contains more than 150 billion nucleotide bases in more than 162 million sequences.

Moreover, Los Alamos scientists have created various pathogen databases to battle diseases like AIDS, influenza, and Hepatitis C.



Los Alamos built some of the largest and most powerful laser facilities in the world. Gas lasers are powerful and quite efficient, and we built the largest: Antares.

Laser fusion ignites


Intended to initiate nuclear fusion reactions by heating and compressing a fuel target, fusion lasers support many fields, including electronics, optics and energy.

CO2 lasers, including Antares, were constructed to investigate the feasibility of CO2 as an inertial fusion driver and to demonstrate the feasibility of laser fusion to supply energy to the nation.

Laser fusion research continues to this day. We are partnering with the National Ignition Facility to work toward creating thermonuclear burn under laboratory conditions.



Los Alamos X-ray detector launched aboard GPS Satellite. The goal of these concept-validation satellites was to monitor for nuclear detonations.

Nuclear detonation detection


The Global Positioning System is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information—critical for many military, civil and industrial functions. It was distributed commercially in response to a civilian plane being shot down after becoming lost in Soviet airspace.

In 2013, the Laboratory’s Burst Detector Verification and Combined X-Ray and Dosimeter sensing instruments were launched.

Our burst detectors continuously monitor the Earth and nearby space for nuclear detonations.



Los Alamos developed HIPPI, an interface that transmits large amounts of data and interconnects computers to perform as a supercomputer.

High-performance parallel interface


Our high-performance parallel interface (HIPPI) was the first “near-gigabit” standard for network data transmission.

By 1995, HIPPI was linked to a synchronous optical network (SONET) highway that transmitted computer data cross-country at 800 million bits per second, enabling research to perform combined computations. It provides high-speed, wide-area networking for commercial users who have computing sites at more than one location.

HIPPI-SONET garnered a prestigious innovation award from Ramp;D Magazine.



We established the Superconductivity Technology Center (STC) to help develop electric power and electronic device applications for high-temperature superconductors.

Resistance-free electricity


High-temperature superconductors can conduct electricity without resistance. Once set in motion, electrical current can flow forever in a closed loop of superconducting material—this makes superconductors the closest thing to perpetual motion in nature.

STC collaborations include developing superconductor tapes, fault current limiters, and power transmission cables.

Possible applications for superconductors include magnetic levitation (Maglev trains), biomagnetism (medical imaging), electric generators and motors, and commercial electrical power.





Installed at Los Alamos, CM-5 had a theoretical peak speed of 130 gigaflops, more than a factor of 1,000 over the Cray-1. The parallel supercomputer ran the most demanding algorithms.

Speed is the thing


Featured in 1993’s Jurassic Park, the CM-5 Connection Machine was a massively parallel supercomputer containing thousands of off-the-shelf microprocessors commonly used on high-end workstations.

The processors were connected in parallel through various network architectures so that they could work simultaneously on different parts of a single, large problem.

Today, our supercomputers perform at speeds greater than a petaflop—that’s one million billion operations per second.



With the end of nuclear testing, science and simulation shape a new direction for ensuring reliability of the nuclear deterrent, combining advanced theoretical and experimental capabilities with supercomputing.

Science-based stockpile stewardship


In 1992, the United States conducted its last full-scale, underground nuclear weapons test. How to ascertain the health of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without testing? Science. Our methods were diverse and interdisciplinary, spanning physics, engineering, chemistry and computing.

We performed subcritical experiments, mock explosions, modeling and simulations on supercomputers, actinide research and studied materials to predict long-term behavior—and that’s just a small sample of our work.

We still have some of the world’s most powerful facilities and supercomputers, and the brightest minds to keep our stockpile safe, secure and reliable.



Chromosome 16 contains genes associated with blood disorders, kidney disease, leukemia and various forms of cancer.

Detecting disease causes


Chromosome 16 spans more than 90 million DNA building blocks. Changes in the structure or number of copies of a chromosome can cause serious genetic problems. Los Alamos completed a physical map of human chromosome 16 as part of the Human Genome Project—an international effort to map the DNA of all of the human chromosomes.

Continued research into Chromosome 16 has revealed that it can be responsible for diseases such as Crohn’s disease, autism, schizophrenia and even some cases of obesity.

Such research about the functions of genes and proteins will continue to benefit the fields of medicine and biotechnology.



In 1995, Los Alamos rivaled Superman by inventing its own form of X-ray vision, proton radiography, which can image light materials encased in heavy metal objects.

Nuclear weapons to medical imaging


Thanks to Los Alamos scientist Chris Morris and his team, it became possible to employ a high-energy proton beam to image the properties and behavior of materials driven by high explosives.

One of the principal applications of proton radiography is to help predict the performance of stockpiled nuclear weapons.

We discovered that proton radiography could be used to image tumors in the human body, and proton beams actually destroy cancerous cells.



We produced the first pit for the W88, a thermonuclear weapon deployed by the U.S. Navy on Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Mastering pit development


A plutonium pit initiates a weapon’s nuclear chain reaction when imploded (explosively compressed) into a supercritical mass.

In 2011, we completed the long project, supplying the final pit (total of 29) for replacement in existing W88 warheads.

Today, the Plutonium Sustainment Program maintains the capability to manufacture other types of pits and demonstrates the ability to manufacture different pit designs that are in the current stockpile.





Able to manipulate at the atomic level, scientists are creating new materials and devices billionths of a meter small, aiding bio-med, electronics, quantum computing and solar energy.

Clusters brighten nanotechnology


Tiny crystals—quantum dots—are clusters of atoms that emit bright multi-colored light.

These nanoparticles are made of semiconductor materials—the foundation of electronics—and Los Alamos researchers figured out how to control their energies to make them useful for creating novel devices and increase efficiency in electronics and solar applications.

Different-sized particles glow differently, a benefit for use in biological research that use colors as markers to pinpoint what is happening where.



First weapon simulation researchers completed the first full-system 3D nuclear weapon explosion simulations (two of the largest ever) so dangerous tests were unnecessary.

Revealing 3D Simulations


The nuclear stockpile needs to be safe, secure and reliable. Testing was halted in 1992, and our researchers are the foremost experts to ensure the complicated physics and engineering in decades-old devices will behave predictably.

Running a supercomputer for a month, the Los Alamos Crestone team used 2,000 processors to simulate an entire nuclear explosion for the first time ever.

Today, complex calculations validate experimental data combined with physics and materials science to create accurate models and simulations. We may never need to detonate a test bomb again.



Los Alamos instruments find indications of massive amounts of water on Mars that further supported by our analysis and mapping that detected telltale signs—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Neutron spectrometer senses water


Aided by our neutron spectrometer aboard NASA’s spacecraft, Lab researchers detected evidence of water—could support human exploration on the Red Planet.

The spectrometer determined the composition of many elements and was highly sensitive to hydrogen—large quantities of this element indicate water. Also, our meteorite analysis and mapping revealed more evidence.

In 2013, our Curiosity rover instruments (ChemCam) discovered an ancient streambed and other evidence suggesting water—lots of it—may have once flowed.



Multi-million-atom computer simulation—first to observe the entire ribosome in motion at the atomic level reveals genetic detail that aids drug development and medical breakthroughs.

Revealing the basis of life


Los Alamos scientist Karissa Sanbonmatsu’s team set a new world’s record by performing the first complete computer simulation in biology.

The team created a molecular simulation of the cell’s protein factory, the ribosome, to finally reveal how this complex machine really works.

This simulation offered a new method for identifying potential antibiotics (bacterial ribosomes are the target for about half of prescribed antibiotics).

Until then, only snapshots were available, so protein process was a mystery.



Space is stormy and filled with radiation that destroys space systems, including satellites. A new model helps predict hazards to steer clear of danger.

Protecting satellites


Radiation belts circle Earth, and nearly every satellite orbits this donut-shaped cloud, and conditions are highly variable. Solar wind also causes magnetic storms.

Geoff Reeves and his team developed DREAM, a model to enable researchers to better understand the physical processes that control this hazardous environment.

This modeling tool also illuminates the dynamics in artificial radiation belts produced by high altitude nuclear explosions during historical testing.



We opened a world-class user facility, the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT), to investigate all aspects of the manipulation of matter at atomic scales.

CINT: discoveries for nanotechnology, nanoscience


CINT's goal is to explore the emerging science of nanotechnology and to educate the next generation of scientists.

Research at CINT—including a facility at Sandia National Laboratories— is diverse, including nanoscale structuring of semiconductors, optical nanomaterials, nanophotonics, biological nanomaterials and toxicity studies.

CINT supports many innovations, including, stronger materials, robust electronics, biomedical implants, miniscule lasers and faster computers. For example, the world's smallest battery, consisting of a single nanowire a thousand times thinner than the average human hair, was created at CINT.



Without human guidance, our telescope found an anomaly: the birth of stellar-size black holes, possibly the most powerful events since the Big Bang.

RAPTOR sees into space


RAPTOR, our array of ground-based telescopes, trolls the sky looking for changes. It screens a hundred million objects and runs real-time analysis to autonomously determine when to alert an operator about a discovery—or a threat.

Its detection of light from gamma-ray bursts revealed much about these explosions.

Fifty years ago, our instruments provided data that led to the discovery of cosmic gamma-ray bursts. We continue to monitor the skies.



The world’s most powerful computer, Roadrunner, was the first to exceed one quadrillion calculations per second—about a million times a laptop’s capability.

Breaks petascale barrier


Occupying nearly 6,000 square feet, Roadrunner changed how processors are being used, launching a new era of supercomputing.

Los Alamos#8217; swift, clever bird advanced physics and predictive simulations and was used to create first-of-a-kind computer codes and assure the stockpile safety.

The scientific contribution was massive—helping illuminate the origins of the universe, mapping the largest HIV genetic tree and creating models to improve many materials#8217; strength—opening the door to exascale computing.



The world’s most powerful X-ray machine, DARHT, produces freeze-frame 3D radiographs of materials imploding at speeds greater than 10,000 miles per hour.

First 3D radiographs


The Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility (DARHT) has two mega X-rays. So named because test materials melt and flow like water, the technical demands are complex.

The electron accelerators create magnetic fields, and a 17-million-volt beam’s pulses last less than 100 billionths of a second. The electrons hit a target, releasing an intense burst of X-rays, creating images of mock nuclear devices—the first-ever multi-directional, simultaneous views of an implosion.

DARHT was completed in 1999 with an extensive redesign in 2008, including full power operations of Axis 2, adding both new capability and higher energy to the unique accelerator facility.



MagViz, utilizing MRI technology fine–tuned for airport security and more portable, quickly discerns between benign and harmful liquids—even concealed in a beverage bottle.

MagViz: cheaper, faster security


Physicist Michelle Espy’s team developed MagViz—vastly more informative than X-rays—to quickly determine a liquid’s chemistry.

Her team is now improving small-scale nuclear magnetic resonance for even faster and simpler detection. CoilViz is a smaller, less expensive device that does not require cooling.

Variations of this technology can detect explosives, measure brain function, image remotely, spot spoiled packaged food—even monitor plant responses to climate change.



We invented tools to sort and analyze millions of individual cells per second, accurately and efficiently enabling biological and drug discoveries.

Better cell analysis


Since 1965, our inventions have supported the field of flow cytometry, which uses a laser-based device to closely examine and quantitate cells in real time.

We invented the world’s first portable acoustic cytometer, which uses sound waves instead of water to guide the cells. It allows researchers to focus the cells into a tight stream and control—even stop—their movement.

Cytometers support all types of biotechnology and are routinely used to diagnose health disorders.





Miniscule satellites are inexpensive and versatile, and fit on almost anything launched into space. Small in size but big in value to science! We built and launched four CubeSats within a few months, validating inexpensive design methodology that could withstand space radiation.

Affordable space research


We put four CubeSats called Perseus—nanosatellites about 4 inches wide and weighing a few pounds—into low–Earth orbit on a rocket to aid space research. Our satellites will support a variety of missions.

CubeSats may be used to take images, capture data for predictive models, examine the atmosphere, support communications and global security—even to study how exposure to the space environment affects our genes.



Our experts were called in during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where we conducted the world’s deepest underwater gamma radiography to determine condition of Blow Out preventer valves.

Deepest underwater radiography


Our physics and engineering experts and ocean modelers were quickly tapped, providing solutions to halt the flow and simulations to predict oil movement throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and along coastlines.

For nearly six months, Los Alamos researchers supported multiple efforts, including radiography of the damaged piping and valve structure, and analysis of spill mitigation and containment strategies.

We frequently aid global disasters. Recently, our expertise was requested in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear incident and the devastating Oklahoma tornado.



Want an energy source that doesn’t require recharging, doesn’t use fossil fuels and only emits heat and water? Fuel cells create electricity to power a motor. We created novel scientific methods to increase efficiency, lower costs and make them more environmentally friendly.

Cheaper, cleaner electricity


Like batteries, fuel cells convert chemicals to electricity but they don’t require recharging—just refill the hydrogen!

The challenges? While more energy efficient than gasoline, hydrogen is bulky and fuel cells are expensive.

Los Alamos chemists and engineers revolutionized methods to more efficiently power these cells, including a 2011 development that eliminated the use of expensive platinum in hydrogen fuel cells, solving a significant economic challenge that has thwarted widespread use of large-scale hydrogen fuel cell systems. They created better electrode assemblies, enhanced durability, extended lifetime and reduced manufacturing costs.



We continue to aid Mars exploration. Researchers discovered a streambed and tracked a trail of minerals that suggests water—lots of it may have flowed.

LANL instruments essential to discoveries


In 2013, our instruments onboard NASA’s Curiosity rover characterized geology, atmosphere and environmental conditions and identified biosignatures on Mars.

Our ChemCam fires a powerful laser to vaporize rocks and then uses its spectrometer to analyze the samples. ChemCam’s instrument package consists of two remote sensing instruments: the first planetary science Laser–Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and a Remote Micro-Imager (RMI).

ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life. The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water as well as carbon—a basic building block of life.



How to power seven billion people with dwindling resources? Los Alamos biofuels researchers discovered new ways to harvest light more efficiently. Such strides could help create competitive alternatives to fossil energy.

Algal biofuels


The microorganisms algae are powerful sources for fuel, and their byproducts can be far more valuable than fossil fuels.

Algae grows nearly anywhere—just needs sun and water (even wastewater) to thrive, soaking up harmful greenhouse gas.

Our researchers are working on a myriad of ways to help algal biofuels compete. Genetic modification, making algae grow faster and fatter—even using sound waves to capture the valuable fats.

For example, in 2013, Los Alamos scientist Richard Sayre and his team genetically modified the organisms to harvest light more efficiently for maximum production.



Women may soon have access to safer, more comfortable, inexpensive, and accurate scans that find early-stage breast cancer, the second most common and fatal cancer. Los Alamos developed a better way, using sound waves instead of dangerous X-rays.

Safer breast screening


Currently, the only routine breast–screening technology is mammography, an awkward and unpleasant procedure that uses X–rays that cannot accurately detect small tumors.

Los Alamos scientists Lianjie Huang and Kenneth M. Hanson and collaborators developed a better way, producing a three-dimensional (3D) image, using sound waves instead of dangerous X–rays.



With Los Alamos research developments, the bionic eye is one step closer to becoming a reality, helping people suffering from loss of vision caused by diseases and aging.

Restoring vision


The bionic eye, Argus II, uses a miniature camera mounted in eyeglasses that captures images and wirelessly sends the information to a microprocessor (worn on a belt) that converts the data to an electronic signal.

Pulses from an electrode array against the patient’s retina in the back of the eye stimulate the optic nerve and, ultimately, the brain, which perceives patterns of light corresponding to the electrodes stimulated. Blind individuals can learn to interpret these visual patterns.



Racing for a cure, scientists may overtake AIDS, the disease that has killed 25 million people. With our mosaic vaccine to fight AIDS scheduled for human trials this year, is the three-decade race’s finish in sight?

AIDS and its Achilles' heel


A moving target, HIV constantly mutates into many different strains, and it skillfully attacks the immune system and inserts itself into genes.

For decades, Los Alamos scientist Bette Korber has collected hundreds of thousands of genetic HIV sequences. Korber and her team of immunologists, biologists, physicists and computer programmers designed a mosaic vaccine that protects against the mutating HIV strains.

Innumerable studies led an international consortium to finally identify the illusive mechanisms of the HIV virus so vaccines—the first to reach human trials—may be more effective.



Creating fuel from stumps, stalks or weeds is highly desirable but difficult. We developed multiple methods to efficiently covert grass into gold.

Cellulosic biofuels


Los Alamos chemists developed a myriad of solutions to extract the energy from the tough plant walls, which have evolved to halt pests and pathogens from breaking these strong exteriors.

Unlike most research that focuses on environmentally unfriendly and expensive methods (solvents, heat, pressure), our chemists discovered better catalysts and enzymes to break down the biomass.



Creating fuel from stumps, stalks or weeds is highly desirable but difficult. We developed multiple methods to efficiently covert grass into gold.

Cellulosic biofuels


Los Alamos chemists developed a myriad of solutions to extract the energy from the tough plant walls, which have evolved to halt pests and pathogens from breaking these strong exteriors.

Unlike most research that focuses on environmentally unfriendly and expensive methods (solvents, heat, pressure), our chemists discovered better catalysts and enzymes to break down the biomass.



Creating fuel from stumps, stalks or weeds is highly desirable but difficult. We developed multiple methods to efficiently covert grass into gold.

Cellulosic biofuels


Los Alamos chemists developed a myriad of solutions to extract the energy from the tough plant walls, which have evolved to halt pests and pathogens from breaking these strong exteriors.

Unlike most research that focuses on environmentally unfriendly and expensive methods (solvents, heat, pressure), our chemists discovered better catalysts and enzymes to break down the biomass.



Creating fuel from stumps, stalks or weeds is highly desirable but difficult. We developed multiple methods to efficiently covert grass into gold.

Cellulosic biofuels


Los Alamos chemists developed a myriad of solutions to extract the energy from the tough plant walls, which have evolved to halt pests and pathogens from breaking these strong exteriors.

Unlike most research that focuses on environmentally unfriendly and expensive methods (solvents, heat, pressure), our chemists discovered better catalysts and enzymes to break down the biomass.


And beyond

The future


Predicting how materials will behave, forecasting how a hurricane may affect a coastline or calculating energy needs for an expanding nation—a few examples of how we solve tomorrow’s problems today.

Preparing for tomorrow


Emerging challenges such as energy security, climate change, international terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the aging of our deterrent are complex and daunting in scale.

But just as our science and technology ended a global war, we continue to change the world, moving from empirical observation to predictive design and control.

From revolutionary computer codes to amassing and unraveling the human genome; from breaking the petascale barrier to quantum computing—our theory, algorithms, modeling and simulation and the exponential growth of supercomputing support world-class predictive science.

The future


Understanding the structures and properties of materials, the foundation of modern life, and designing them to perform better is one of our greatest strengths.

Next-generation materials


Knowing how an airplane’s wing responds to plummeting temperatures, how a turbine can use wind more efficiently or how decades-old underground weapons may have become corroded or brittle is vital. Los Alamos materials researchers—chemists, engineers, physicists, nanotechnologists—are experts at defects and interfaces in materials, and enabling materials to perform better in extreme environments.

Los Alamos has multiple world-class facilities that aid discovery of next-generation materials that will perform predictably, aided by our high-performance computing cabilities.

Our proposed Matter-Radiation Interactions in Extremes (MaRIE) experimental facility may provide unprecedented time- and space-resolved measurements on scales most acutely needed for modeling and simulation; create extreme conditions of relevance, particularly irradiation environments; and create synthesis and characterization tools needed to design, discover and control materials.

The future


Detecting and discerning signatures—recognizable patterns or marks—helps us protect the world from nuclear threats, biothreats and environmental hazards on Earth and in space. These signatures also lead to new discoveries.

Assessing signatures


Los Alamos is often asked to detect and measure the characteristics of complex systems and to use the resulting information to quantify the system’s behavior. For example, we discover new signatures, develop new methods to detect and measure signatures, detect vulnerabilities and threats and design sensors and detectors.

Detecting and analyzing signatures—and tracing them back to their source—is complex, requiring interdisciplinary expertise in chemistry, computing, bioscience, physics, math, Earth and space sciences, electrodynamics and accelerator science. We are the world’s top experts at nuclear weapon design, therefore experts at disarming and dismantling a stolen or improvised nuclear weapon. Our researchers—chemists, physicists, mathematicians—are astute at nuclear forensics.

The future


Earth and climate variations affect safety, from earthquakes to extreme drought, flooding to hurricanes. Diverse research supports accurate modeling and mitigation.

Our environment


The survival of our ecosystem and our economy is a delicate balance that is key to our security. Los Alamos' Earth and climate science capabilities cover the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere and everything in between; from analyzing geological changes underfoot (or the viability of carbon sequestration deep within rock) to forecasting global greenhouse gas emissions.

Our climate research spans thousands of years, utilizing complex data and sophisticated codes to produce our supercomputers' informative models and simulations. Some examples: we accurately predicted hurricane paths and intensities, we revealed the possibility of a large–scale carbon release from the Arctic's thawing permafrost, our data predicted how climate change will likely cripple Southwestern forests, and we're forecasting future water and energy usage and infrastructure needs as the populace grows. Such information helps policy makers plan how to reverse negative trends or prepare for the future.

The future


To solve tomorrow's complex science problems, supercomputing needs to exponentially increase. High-performance computing is changing directions.

Exascale, advanced computing


Los Alamos has launched advances in computing for 70 years, from complex codes to processing speed to network capacity, revolutionizing science. Our Roadrunner supercomputer, the World's fastest at the time, was the first to break the petascale barrier. Its unique architecture inspired new designs, pushing speed and capability to greater height, breaking ground for the next big leap: Trinity.

Projected for installation at the Lab in a few years, Trinity's will be 40 to 50 times faster than Roadrunner, a step closer to exascale (one quintillion calculations per second) speed and 1,000 times faster than Roadrunner. Trinity, radically different, is expected to be the first platform large enough and fast enough to begin to accommodate finely resolved 3D calculations for full–scale, end–to–end weapons calculations

The future


New dangers require new defenses. We are experts at seeking and identifying threats in the skies, on the ground, underground and around the world.

Hidden dangers


Millions of man–made debris and tiny meteors orbit in and around Earth's space environment—a big risk for spacecraft and satellites and even infrastructures such as power grids—compounded by mercurial space weather. From sensors to spectrometers, and from models to comprehensive sky maps and autonomous systems that report changes—we continually support space situational awareness and space weather studies.

On Earth, we monitor and secure fissile material worldwide to protecting the world from nuclear proliferation and terrorism. To support global security, Los Alamos continues to develop advanced surveillance technologies that provide accurate data and swift analysis for nuclear treaty verification and threat response. Also, our awareness technologies help soldiers anticipate potential threats and effectively respond to them in real time.

The future


The men and women of Los Alamos apply the most advanced science and engineering solutions to address the world's most complex and pressing security challenges.

The future of Los Alamos


The Lab was established 70 years ago to fulfill one single purpose: to design and build an atomic bomb to end World War II.

Today, the Lab’s work in national security is diverse and multi-purposed to address a wide range of issues—including nuclear nonproliferation, energy security, climate change, countermeasures to nuclear and biological terrorist threats and partnering with NASA on space missions.

As we look toward our next 70 years, we acknowledge our evolving role in contributing to a safer, healthier and more secure world.


Innovations for a secure nation

Plasma Technology for Textile Finishing Applications Gets a Boost from LANL

Plasma Technology for Textile Finishing Applications Gets a Boost from LANL

A new way to stay dry: APJeT is revolutionizing the textile industry with new plasma technology.

» All Innovations

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