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E very day the Laboratory is responsible to our sponsors for meeting numerous program deliverables and milestones. At the same time, our enduring national security mission requires us to anticipate future developments and threats by remaining at the cutting edge of science and technology. Director’s Initiatives have proven to be a particularly effective mechanism for maintaining the Laboratory’s technical vitality and expertise while ensuring it successfully carries out its national security mission.
Director’s Initiatives are designed to advance science, technology, and engineering in emerging research areas that merit special attention. They enhance existing core competencies or spawn new ones, and may even promote entirely new research directions. Across the extraordinary breadth of the Laboratory’s ongoing work, a small number of initiatives are designated based on the Laboratory’s strategic intent, emerging trends in the external environment, and new scientific possibilities. Each initiative is unique in these three aspects. What is common among the initiatives is the purposefulness of management attention in these special topical areas.
Management attention notably includes designation of an initiative leader, who strategically approaches advances in science and technology, understands its national implications, and is fully aware of Lawrence Livermore’s capabilities and ongoing work in the designated domain. These initiative leaders, all senior scientists, develop and provide a focused vision as well as guide and integrate the portfolio of work. Initiative leaders are also asked to consider the nature of needed investments in research, workforce development, and infrastructure. Initiative strategies and domain portfolios are regularly reviewed by the senior leadership team.
A particularly ambitious Director’s Initiative—Engineering the Carbon Economy—is described in the feature article, A New Carbon Economy Takes Shape. This initiative is dedicated to helping create the science and technology required to mitigate global-scale climate change through carbon dioxide (CO2) removal and recycling. I expect this endeavor to grow in size over the next few years as climate mitigation assumes greater national and global importance. The initiative recognizes the enormous undertaking necessary to move to a new and sustainable carbon future. In response, Livermore researchers are working with industry, academia, and other national resources.
Our research emphasis is aimed at manufacturing carbon-based products—fuels and chemicals—not from fossil carbon, but from CO2 harvested from the atmosphere. For this effort, Livermore researchers are developing electrochemical approaches based on advanced manufacturing. Scientists also recognize that the majority of the CO2 removed from the atmosphere will ultimately be stored in the Earth, either through underground sequestration or through agricultural approaches. To that end, initiative researchers are working to return carbon to soil in long-lived forms to both improve the atmosphere and make land more productive.
In addition to Engineering the Carbon Economy, four other Director’s Initiatives are strengthening Lawrence Livermore science and technology while looking ahead to emerging national security–related issues.
Accelerated Materials and Manufacturing: Laboratory missions require new specialized materials and components with previously unattainable properties. Through this initiative, we are developing breakthrough materials and manufacturing technologies to meet the needs of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which also have broad commercial applications.
Predictive Biology: This initiative combines the life sciences, precision experimental measurements, and high-performance computing to meet emerging challenges to human health and biosecurity. Such a predictive framework will enable a new data-driven, simulation-based approach to threat characterization, diagnosis, and intervention.
Space Science and Security: This initiative responds to other nations’ efforts to develop counter-space capabilities in an increasingly complex global security environment. The program applies expertise in space science to respond to emerging threats, employs advanced modeling and simulation to evaluate mission concepts, and develops and deploys novel instruments for small satellite platforms.
Cognitive Simulation: This initiative focuses on integrating machine learning, high-performance simulation, and empirical data for national security applications. For example, the initiative combines large ensembles of simulations with experimental data to produce models with improved prediction performance of inertial confinement fusion experiments conducted at the National Ignition Facility.
By any measure, Director’s Initiatives are producing large payoffs from relatively modest investments. They help keep Lawrence Livermore an exciting and challenging place to conduct research as well as serve the nation.