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Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Chemical Science

National security depends on science and technology. The United States relies on Los Alamos National Laboratory for the best of both. No place on Earth pursues a broader array of world-class scientific endeavors.


Researcher Jeff Pietryga shows two vials of different-size nanocrystals, each emitting light of a different color (energy) that corresponds to the nanocrystal’s size (and energy gap).


Charlie McMillan, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Director McMillan on energy security

Chemical science at Los Alamos started with the production and subsequent chemical separation of plutonium during the Manhattan Project.

Additional mission-related chemistry was required in the disciplines of high explosives synthesis and characterization, nuclear materials process chemistry, and chemical characterization, among others.

Over the years these core capabilities have grown, and today a strong core of chemistry capability at the Laboratory is essential to nearly every aspect of the Laboratory’s national security science mission.


    • Actinide Chemistry: At Los Alamos, scientists have conducted actinide chemistry since the days of the Manhattan Project, and today, actinide chemistry plays a crucial role in the areas of nuclear deterrence and addressing global threats. It also plays a role in energy security.
    • Chemical Processing and Engineering: Chemists and process engineers apply their technical expertise to solve engineering problems that range from bench scale to pilot plant. These experts use their knowledge to bridge these scales of research, providing practical applications that benefit internal and external customers.
    • Chemistry for Measurement and Detection Science: Scientists at Los Alamos from the beginning have performed measurements to better understand complex systems, particularly those under difficult and challenging circumstances.
    • Chemistry of Materials: Los Alamos chemists use a variety of different chemical disciplines to design and synthesize novel materials, paying particular attention at their collective properties at the atomic level.
    • Isotope Science: Los Alamos is one of the few places in the world with the facilities and scientific capabilities in chemistry and nuclear physics to conduct studies of isotopes either from stable elements (275 isotopes from 81 stable elements) or unstable elements (more than 800 radioactive isotopes).
    • Modeling and Simulation: Every scientific activity at Los Alamos involves the performance of data analysis and modeling. From a chemical sciences point of view, such work transforms “raw” data into a form that provides useful information that is predictive, confirmatory, or exploratory.
    • Radiochemistry and Nuclear Science: Los Alamos capabilities in radiochemistry and nuclear science help ensure the maintenance and stewardship of the nuclear stockpile and play a vital role in nuclear nonproliferation, environmental management, international safeguards, repository validation, and civilian nuclear energy programs.
    • Synthetic and Mechanistic Chemistry: Los Alamos scientists are using synthetic and mechanistic chemistry to improve application areas that range from energy and biomedicine to national security and sensor technologies.
Animation of new reactor concept for deep space exploration

Animation of new reactor concept for deep space exploration

Research directions

  • Weapons chemistry and nuclear performance
  • Radiological, nuclear, and chemical signatures
  • Energy production, storage, and use
  • Biomedical technologies, including emerging threats


At Los Alamos, chemists successfully produced and chemically separated plutonium during the Manhattan Project. As the Laboratory’s mission expanded, so did the role of the chemical sciences.

Chemistry to this day plays a significant role in disciplines such as high-explosives synthesis and characterization, process chemistry of nuclear materials, and chemical characterization.

Today, the chemical sciences are pervasive, contributing to nearly every aspect of the Laboratory’s mission, from nuclear deterrence to addressing global threats to bioscience and energy security.

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