I am pleased that this issue of Science & Technology Review is dedicated to the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program, which is critical to ensuring the continued strength of the Laboratory’s science and technology. The feature article, Investing in the Nation’s Future, celebrates 25 years of scientific and technological advances made possible through this program.
By funding innovative research in areas aligned with Lawrence Livermore’s missions, the LDRD Program helps maintain the extremely high quality of our science and technology and ensures we remain the “new ideas” laboratory. The program supports innovative research in areas that have potentially big payoffs but are considered too risky or beyond the planning horizon of our sponsors. In these cases, LDRD investments help us meet emerging mission challenges, attract and retain top researchers, and foster collaborations with other national laboratories, academia, and industry.
As the Report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s Task Force on DOE National Laboratories states, “The ability to adapt, retool, invest in staff and capabilities, and to enter new research areas is crucial to laboratory performance and the maintenance of high-quality staff and research. Laboratories rely in large part on LDRD programs to achieve these goals.” The report cites examples of LDRD research areas including proofs of concept in emerging fields and significant technical solutions that address DOE missions.
Scientific output resulting from LDRD projects, as measured by publications, patents, and invention disclosures, has been prodigious. The Final Report of the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories said it best: “LDRD’s accomplishments are noteworthy. Multiple programs across the system have often begun through initial LDRD investments in capabilities and expertise, and the investments have often produced significant returns—both scientific and financial. In the field of stockpile stewardship, findings of LDRD projects have had a significant impact on stewardship strategy, resulting in dramatic savings to the nation through a more informed understanding of life-extension science.”
Indeed, LDRD programs are particularly important for the three National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) laboratories (Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia), which have strict national security–related mission deliverables and schedules. They receive less direct funding for basic science research in areas aligned with their core competencies.
The selection process for individuals to receive LDRD funding is extremely competitive. Every year, proposals and presentations are closely scrutinized by committees composed of senior researchers. Although competition is open to technical staff at all stages of their careers, the program is a valuable component of the Laboratory’s career development strategy. The Report of the Secretary of Energy Task Force on DOE National Laboratories also found that for the NNSA laboratories, “LDRD provides a way to maintain a pool of talented individuals whose work is aligned with the core mission of the laboratories.”
The highlight article Program Supports Blazing New Trails describes in more detail what the LDRD Program means to career development for our technical staff. Working on an LDRD projects helps to establish early-career researchers in areas of their interest. Early-career scientists also learn how to balance budgets, assign tasks, and administer projects.
LDRD projects cover an exceptionally broad range of national security–related topics, from biodefense to additive manufacturing and from new concepts for National Ignition Facility (NIF) experiments to supercomputing software that aids U.S. oil and gas producers. The two other articles in this issue spotlight LDRD-supported work on radioisotope batteries and on understanding the causes of laser-induced damage to critical optics at NIF.
Over the past several years, the overall LDRD Program has been reviewed by congressional committees, the Government Accounting Office, DOE panels, and external committees. Within the Laboratory, ongoing LDRD research projects are reviewed regularly. Our annual report summarizes each project’s scope, motivation, goals, mission relevance, technical progress, and resulting publications. I’m looking forward to another 25 years of outstanding accomplishments, thanks to the LDRD Program.