Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Patricia Falcone

Patricia Falcone

Deputy Director for Science and Technology

Advances Benefit Multiple Missions

Lawrence Livermore recently celebrated its 65th anniversary. At such an exciting milestone, we naturally reflect on our past and what got us here. The application of high-performance computing to advance the frontiers of science is an important part of our past, as well as our future. The intensive use of leading-edge computing began as soon as the Laboratory’s doors first opened and has since allowed us to stay at the forefront of science and technology.

Computer simulations were vital in our early breakthroughs in nuclear weapons design and today are a cornerstone of sustaining the nation’s aging nuclear weapons stockpile. Our complex physics and engineering models—validated by data from experiments—are used to perform integrated experiments of weapons performance on some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

The same approach to tackling difficult national challenges is pervasive in Livermore’s research in other application areas, including efforts to understand human influences on the environment. The feature article, The Atmosphere around Climate Models, describes the Laboratory’s long history of work on atmospheric science and climate modeling. Our first efforts tested whether simulations of the fundamental physics equations governing Earth’s atmosphere could reproduce weatherlike patterns. They did. Since the early studies, modeling capabilities have advanced along with the power of the computers themselves, and Livermore scientists subsequently addressed issues such as the effects of atmospheric nuclear tests, atmospheric ozone, nuclear winter, and the fallout from nuclear and other toxic-material accidents.

The increasing number and complexity of climate models across the globe led to the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI), which was founded at the Laboratory in 1989. Engaging international collaborators, PCMDI did pioneering analysis and evaluation of climate models and actual observed data over the decades to continually improve the performance of climate models. In fact, PCMDI’s work contributed to the co-award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A multilaboratory effort launched by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science in 2014, the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) takes advantage of next-generation high-performance computers. E3SM promises to yield unprecedented understanding of the Earth system by performing simulations to help address energy-related questions critical to the nation—not just on global scales but even down to regions as small as 1 square kilometer.

As with our nuclear weapons efforts, we seek data to corroborate, validate, and continually improve the fidelity and predictive capability of simulations and the underlying models. Gathering data is an enormous international effort. Many articles in S&TR in recent years have highlighted our contributions to these international data-gathering efforts, such as the Earth System Grid Federation. In addition, Livermore possesses advanced tools, such the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, used by climate scientists around the world to better understand the cycling of carbon among the Earth’s soil, oceans, and atmosphere. We are interested in our planet’s climate history and what changes have transpired in recent decades.

We are also developing innovative technologies to capture carbon and mitigate warming, as described in the highlight, A Reversible Reaction Captures Carbon. The Laboratory’s expertise in additive manufacturing (AM) was a critical part of this development—exemplifying, as with the nuclear weapons–climate link, that the science, technology, and understanding necessary to address one Laboratory mission often cascade from, overlap with, and benefit other missions. Among many other advances, AM is yielding revolutionary methods to manufacture precision optics and laser cavity amplifiers, as described in the highlight, The Dawn of an Optical Revolution. Capabilities found in few places in the world, such as the Laboratory’s nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometer instrument, allow us to unlock mysteries of water’s presence on our planet by submicrometer examination of minerals from deep inside Earth’s mantle, as described in the highlight, Investigating Water under Earth's Surface.

In the pages of this issue, I am pleased to share with you these interconnections among application areas of deep capabilities in modeling, simulation, and computing, as well as in precise and exquisite manufacturing and instrumentation.