Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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What's in a name?

Los Alamos National Laboratory has had three names in 77 years.
July 6, 2020
Los Alamos logos.

Los Alamos logos.CREDIT: Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Most people working there simply referred to the Lab as “the Hill” because of its mesa-top location.

By Madeline Whitacre

Though the Lab’s mission of ensuring national security through scientific excellence has endured, the Lab has had three different monikers in its lifetime. Here’s a quick look at each:

Project Y
1943 to 1945

When the Laboratory was first established in 1943, it was officially known as Project Y and was just one of many Manhattan Project sites across the country. The name was meant to help keep the actual location and purpose of the Laboratory secret. However, most people working there simply referred to the Lab as “the Hill” because of its mesa-top location.

Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory
1945 to 1980

After the Lab developed the world’s first two atomic bombs, which helped end World War II, its location no longer needed to be a secret. Project Y became known as the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. The first known reference to this name change is in the October 1945 program for the Army-Navy “E” award ceremony for excellence in the production of war equipment.

Los Alamos National Laboratory
1981 to today 

In 1981, the Lab became Los Alamos National Laboratory. This change was prompted by Congress’s decision that the Department of Energy’s laboratories would all have “national” in their official names to emphasize the breadth of the work they perform on behalf of our nation’s interests. At the time, many employees didn’t like that “scientific” wasn’t in the name anymore.