Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Photo of Patricia Falcone

Patricia Falcone

Deputy Director for Science and Technology

At the Forefront of Materials Science

Advances in materials improve our lives, strengthen national security, and drive economic growth. Understanding, developing, and predicting the performance of advanced materials are an essential part of the job for Lawrence Livermore scientists and engineers working in programs ranging from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to lasers and clean energy. Over the past decade, the Laboratory’s expertise in materials science has been driven largely by needs of researchers working at the National Ignition Facility and in stockpile stewardship. These scientists and engineers search for new materials with extraordinary properties and for an enhanced understanding of how materials behave under extreme conditions.

As the feature article, Understanding Materials at the Nanoscale, describes, Livermore currently has a portfolio of six research efforts funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES), the largest of the six divisions in DOE’s Office of Science. BES research programs lead to new materials and chemical processes that are critical for all facets of energy production and storage. The competition for BES funding is fierce, and the work featured in the article is testimony to the very high quality of scientific research conducted at Livermore.

Together, Livermore’s six BES-supported efforts reflect the three themes that characterize all BES research: time-, space-, or energy-resolved investigations of materials; control of materials at the nanometer scale (a billionth of a meter); and predictive modeling and simulations. One project’s focus is using a Livermore-designed instrument that takes real-time snapshots of dynamic processes in materials. Other projects focus on understanding alloys that are resistant to radiation and thermal damage; designing and synthesizing materials and components that mimic those found in human cells; and developing advanced simulation tools that model and predict materials properties at the quantum level.

The BES-funded projects align with Lawrence Livermore’s longstanding effort to understand materials at the molecular and atomic scales, especially under extreme pressure and temperature; design and manufacture new materials with unique properties; and find novel applications for these materials. Livermore-born products include specialty materials for carbon sequestration and desalinization, as well as substitutes for rare-earth elements in clean-energy products.

Besides funding hundreds of top researchers nationwide, BES also provides scientists with the latest generation of experimental tools, including the world’s largest suite of synchrotron radiation light source facilities, neutron-scattering facilities, and electron-beam microcharacterization centers. Every year, more than 14,000 scientists and engineers use these capabilities to probe the properties of materials critical to fields ranging from geology to biology. Livermore researchers regularly use several large BES facilities, including the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, and the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. At these centers, our scientists and engineers study high-energy-density states of matter—the physical conditions of materials in domains of great interest.

In addition to advancing our understanding of interactions of atoms and molecules in important domains, Livermore scientists have also made significant accomplishments in materials synthesis over the past decade. Livermore progress in advanced manufacturing technologies includes a variety of approaches to additive manufacturing, also known as three-dimensional printing, which enables the construction, layer by layer, of materials with previously unachievable properties. Our goal is also to accelerate the discovery of new materials, guided by powerful supercomputers running the latest molecular dynamics simulation codes. As well as the new materials themselves, we also want to make our advances in simulation and modeling available to the broader materials science community.

Opportunities such as this BES work enhance our capabilities in fundamental scientific research and support our national security missions. Support for basic research also helps to maintain a vibrant research environment here at the Laboratory and strengthens our recruitment of talented individuals, particularly promising young scientists. We value our work for BES tremendously, and we are striving to become more deeply involved in the vigorous basic science community that BES supports. Pushing the forefront of materials science is sure to provide more efficient and cost-effective clean-energy technologies, as well as strengthen our competencies in other mission areas.