Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

The Innovation issue

National security depends on pioneering scientists and engineers who can respond to challenges with new, often surprising, ideas.
March 1, 2019
A lightbulb with an American flag pattern inside it; in the background are TA-3 and the Pajarito Mountains.

Technical Area 3—the administrative hub of Los Alamos National Laboratory—is where innovation happens in support of the Lab’s national security mission.

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“There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free, to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.”- Robert Oppenheimer

By Bob Webster, Deputy Laboratory Director for Weapons

“There is no place for dogma in science,” Robert Oppenheimer, the first Laboratory director, told Life magazine in 1949. “The scientist is free, and must be free, to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.”

Seventy years later, Oppenheimer’s words still ring true, and Los Alamos remains a hotbed of creative thinking and innovation. From Frederick Reines’ Nobel Prize in physics to the Laboratory’s collective 153 R&D 100 Awards, Los Alamos is world renowned for pushing the boundaries of science and engineering.
This issue of National Security Science magazine highlights just a handful of the innovative people and technologies that have put—and keep—Los Alamos on the map.

Physicist Katie Mussack defines innovation as “slow, steady progress that builds to one thing that people notice.” She and her colleagues, profiled in “The Faces of Innovation,” share challenges and successes of pioneering new technologies—such as Scorpius, a linear induction accelerator that will take x-rays (radiographs) of the late stages of implosion experiments at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

Innovation, of course, also builds on previous discoveries. “Beyond Trinity: 75 Years of Weapons Advances” reminds us that Los Alamos designed the first nuclear test (Trinity) and then traces the progressive breakthroughs that made nuclear weapons not only more effective but also safer and better maintained. Today, Los Alamos stewards the stockpiled variants of the B61, W76, W78, and W88 nuclear weapons and is updating the W76, W88, and B61 to ensure that these weapons remain safe, secure, and reliable.

As part of this modernization, Los Alamos is considering new materials and manufacturing techniques. “Additive Manufacturing: The Power of Powder” examines how complex metal components are created with powder, layer by layer—a kind of 3D printing.

Ten years ago, 3D printing of weapons parts would have been science fiction. Ten years from now, who knows what technology we’ll be using? (The three NNSA officials interviewed here have some ideas about that.) One thing is certain, however: Los Alamos will remain central to the safety and security of the United States.

Photo of Bob Webster.

Bob Webster, Deputy Laboratory Director for Weapons.