Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Tony van Buuren

Tony van Buuren

Deputy Associate Director for Science and Technology in the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate

Accelerating Knowledge and Critical Timelines

Large in scope, with multidisciplinary, cross-organizational teams, Strategic Initiative (SI) projects supported by Lawrence Livermore’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program advance the Laboratory’s strategic goals through broad and deep research and development in key science, technology, and engineering expertise and capabilities. For Fiscal Year 2022, SI projects represented less than 8 percent of all funded LDRD projects but 34 percent of the program’s total funding. As the saying goes, “Time is money.” A successful SI project may accelerate the arrival of a long-term solution to mission challenges, achieving progress in a three-year timeline rather than a period twice as long.

This issue features an SI project studying corrosion that demonstrates how research can shorten real-world innovation timelines. Corrosion is a familiar and costly issue across industries, infrastructure, and even households. For the Laboratory’s stockpile stewardship mission, improved understanding of corrosion’s progression leads to more reliable aging models, codes, and certification standards. However, materials compatibility and corrosion tests can take considerable time, potentially slowing the progress of scientific discoveries in this area of science and affecting timescales for applying new findings to the mission.

As described in the article, Stopping Corrosion Before It Starts, three research thrusts applying Livermore expertise in multiscale simulation, multimodal characterization, microscopy, additive manufacturing, machine learning, and other disciplines resulted in new capabilities to understand the incipient phases of corrosion with an eye to one day predicting and preventing corrosion before it starts. The capabilities developed are a step to validate accelerated testing protocols as representative of real-time aging that would require 10 or 20 years to conduct, thus shortening design and testing timelines for materials used in infrastructure and transportation projects as well as nuclear weapon life-extension programs (LEPs). In a related long-term benefit that will far outlast the LDRD project itself, new postdoctoral researchers recruited for the initiative will offer the unique skill sets required to support LEPs over program lifetimes.

This research also promises to deliver results for pressing, short-term needs. Lawrence Livermore has established valuable expertise in materials degradation to support teams spinning out technologies that advance batteries, carbon capture technologies, and other clean energy initiatives. For example, the SI project’s findings in hydrogen embrittlement inform the development of hydrogen-based fuels by addressing ways that hydrogen corrodes metal systems. The Laboratory can spin in industry expertise as well, exchanging knowledge as companies seek best practices for materials tied to their economic progress. Each new opportunity is a tendril emerging from the mission-related roots of this successful SI project.

Similar to spinning innovation in and out of the Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore experts assigned to positions in Washington, D.C., and other locations through the Offsite Fellows Program (OFP) provide their expertise to federal government agencies and, later, return to Livermore with a wealth of experiences that benefit other staff engaging with federal program managers. The first research highlight, Behind the Scenes: Livermore Fellows Share Offsite Assignment Stories, describes the assignments and accomplishments of six Livermore fellows along with lessons learned that have broadened their appreciation of budgets, policies, and decision-making across the national nuclear security enterprise. The OFP is further refining its assignment strategy to ensure diverse opportunities for future fellows.

The second research highlight, Expediting Research with Spack, presents the far-reaching effects of a open-source, high-performance computing package manager called Spack that speeds supercomputing center operations worldwide. Spack originated at Lawrence Livermore to support software building and integration projects relying on the coordination of software packages operating in intricate dependencies. A community of users has added thousands of lines of code to Spack in the last 10 years enabling the automated system to keep up with supercomputing’s accelerated growth. Today, Spack is an essential part of the Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project to support the massive computing demand for clean energy, materials, and other mission-related research.

The final research highlight, LivIT Meets the Demand, goes behind the scenes of Livermore Information Technology (LivIT)—the networks, infrastructure, and service staff that support the entire campus and hybrid workforce. LivIT rose to meet rapidly changing workplace demands during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. System enhancements continue as LivIT leverages cloud computing and machine-learning tools to meet Laboratory needs.

Each story in this issue reinforces the value of Lawrence Livermore’s expertise to our staff, the innovation community, and the nation. Opportunities for advancement continue to reach out like tendrils from our core, mission-related research.