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Ask a physicist

Three questions for Charlie Nakhleh, the new Associate Laboratory Director for Weapons Physics.
December 1, 2020
A man sitting in an arm chair

Associate Laboratory Director for Weapons Physics Charlie Nakhleh in the Laboratory's National Security Sciences Building.CREDIT: Los Alamos National Laboratory

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“The commitment to finding objective truth in our work is one of the great foundational strengths of the Laboratory.”- Charlie Nakhleh

By Arthur Bishop

In May, weapons designer and physicist Charlie Nakhleh became the Associate Laboratory Director for Weapons Physics (ALDX). ALDX develops and applies cutting-edge theory, computational models, large-scale weapon simulation codes, and state-of-the-art experiments for the design, certification, and assessment of U.S. nuclear weapons.

“I’m really excited to be in my new role,” says Nakhleh, who started at the Lab in 1996. “Working at the Laboratory has been one of the most profound privileges of my life—and it hasn’t gotten boring yet.”

The Lab’s Public Affairs Office staff sat down with Nakhleh to talk about his leadership style and what’s next for him in his new role.

What do you think are the Lab’s strengths right now?

We have many, but one of our biggest strengths is our intellectual honesty. Sometimes we get into cantankerous arguments over where the truth lies. But the commitment to finding objective truth in our work is one of the great foundational strengths of the Laboratory.

What is a particular strength of ALDX?

ALDX has a leading intellectual role to play in the debate about what it means to have a strong and resilient nuclear deterrent in an uncertain world. We don’t know what the future of the deterrent is going to look like, so we have to provide the government with options that enable the country to maintain a resilient deterrent in an affordable, responsive way. And we have to be poised to do so quickly and creatively.

I want all the people in my organization to be free with their ideas and open to discussion. When I was designing experiments, I always made sure to talk to most of the people who touched the experiment. You should always talk to the technicians. You have to understand how they make the hardware because they have local knowledge that you don’t have and couldn’t possibly know. You can then incorporate that into your work. You have to talk to the experimental physicist and the diagnostician and ask how and why they’re doing what they’re doing. You can’t sit in your office and do that—you have to tap into the knowledge network that’s out there.

What’s a recent experience that’s prepared you well for your new role?

One of my most formative career experiences was the nearly six years I spent at Sandia National Laboratories. The time that I spent there helped me fill in some gaps in my professional experience and allowed me to see my home laboratory from a distance, as it were. I could also see up close how a different lab functioned. I learned that, while all of the labs are different, Los Alamos, Sandia, and Livermore are more similar than they are different. They’re all national security labs that value cutting-edge science and engineering.


A man sitting in a chair.

Charlie Nakhleh.