Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

New program fosters mission-minded future leaders

Participants consider how science informs policy.
March 1, 2019
A group of people in formal wear stand outside the U.S. Capitol building.

MEDAL program participants in front of the U.S. Capitol.CREDIT: MEDAL program

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“MEDAL gave me the opportunity to expand my aperture and gain new insights about how my work fits into the bigger picture.”- Karen Miller

In an effort to cultivate the next generation of innovative thought leaders at Los Alamos, the Laboratory’s Weapons Physics and Global Security programs launched the MEDAL (Mid-/Early-career Deter-detect-prevent Advanced Leadership) program in 2018.

The inaugural class of 12 Lab employees attended a series of lectures related to nuclear weapons, nonproliferation, counterproliferation, counterterrorism, and intelligence. The talks prepared them for a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., where they attended tours, meetings, and networking events with members of the National Security Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the NNSA, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence, NNSA Defense Programs, the Department of Defense, and other organizations.

During these interactions, participants were encouraged to consider the intersection of technology and policy as related to the Lab’s national security mission: maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent and preventing, countering, and responding to the global threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

“Physicists and engineers can easily recognize limitations imposed by nature,” explains physicist Travis Burris, who participated in the program. “It’s more difficult for us to recognize the purpose of limitations imposed by people (policy). This program puts policy into perspective and illuminates the benefits that result from policy. There’s comfort in knowing that a lot of smart people are keeping us safe in many different ways.”

Karen Miller, one of the MEDAL organizers, agrees. “The MEDAL program has given me a much better understanding of Los Alamos as an institution and our place in the larger ecosystem,” she says. “In my role as a scientist, I spend most of my time thinking about problems that are narrowly focused. MEDAL gave me the opportunity to expand my aperture and gain new insights about how my work fits into the bigger picture.”
Several people walk up a winding ramp towards a doorway.

MEDAL participants prepare to enter the White House.