Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

Future military leaders spend a summer at the Lab

Service academy students work alongside scientists and engineers to help solve national security challenges.
October 1, 2018
A group of men and women in white uniforms stand outside in front of the NSSB.

Success of the SARA program is largely due to the mentors across the Laboratory, including: Greg Archbold, Jessica Baumgaertel, Jeremy Best (far right), Millicent Firestone, Tim Goorley, Jennifer Harris, Juston Moore, Robert Reid, Chris Scully, Avneet Sood, Bryce Tappan, Laurie Triplett, and many others.


“The perspective I gained as a LANL student helped guide my actions as a B-52 weapons squadron commander in 2015.”- Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Erik Johnson

By Sierra Sweeney

Every year, Weapons Programs advisor Jon Ventura travels to the U.S. Military, Naval, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and Air Force academies to recruit young cadets and midshipmen to spend a summer working at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We run a very competitive selection process that brings us the very best students from the nation’s service academies,” Ventura says, of the Laboratory’s Service Academies Research Associates (SARA) program, which educates future military leaders about science and national security through hands-on research at the Lab. “The program provides future military officers with their first exposure to leading edge scientific, engineering, and computational tools—and to the people who allow the Laboratory to answer the most difficult national security problems.”

During the summer of 2018, Air Force Academy student Cadet Claire Badger focused on computer vision algorithms. “My interest in computer science and cyber has been renewed, and it’s good to see the applications of computer science in the real world,” Badger says. “I’m so thankful to have had this experience and to have had my curiosity ignited thanks to LANL staff.”

 In the past, other cadets and midshipmen have contributed to Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) experiments, the Shock and Detonation Physics group, and stockpile life-extension programs at the Laboratory.

Army Cadet Mary Clare Cassidy is a junior electrical engineering major at West Point who researched atom interferometry at the Lab. “I learned new approaches and techniques and increased my ability to tackle difficult problems,” she says. “Solutions to national security challenges need to be functional. It’s important that military leaders convey functionality when presenting the Lab with problems. It is equally as important that scientists try to understand that constraint when supporting the military.”

Involving young cadets and midshipmen in scientific work to build an understanding and appreciation of the Laboratory’s role in national security not only benefits Laboratory relations, but also the future endeavors of all students who participate.

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Erik Johnson worked as a SARA student in 1999 and attributes much of his military success to the experience he gained through the program. “The perspective I gained as a LANL student helped guide my actions as a B-52 weapons squadron commander in 2015.” He also notes that the program is invaluable for helping “military members see the patriotism of the DOE members who sustain our nuclear capability.”

To apply to be a SARA student, visit https://www.lanl.gov/sara.

To be a SARA mentor, email jonathan_v@lanl.gov