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September 2001

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Jan Tulk

Zeroing In
on Genes

Big Glass for
a Big Laser

Lasershot Makes
Its Mark

Tracking the
Global Spread
of Advanced





The Laboratory
in the News

Lab science, operations rated excellent
The Laboratory maintained an overall annual performance rating of “excellent” from the Department of Energy and showed significant improvement in scores for the National Ignition Facility, Laboratory Management, and Safeguards and Security.
The Fiscal Year 2000 assessment (October 1999 through September 2000) covers Livermore’s performance in science and technology as well as administration and operations. This comprehensive evaluation system, along with annually negotiated performance standards, is defined in the University of California’s contract with DOE.
Livermore scored 89.6 percent in science and technology and 89.9 percent in administration and operations, for an overall rating of 89.8 percent. Both scores constitute “excellent” ratings and represent increases over last year’s totals. The science and technology score is just shy of 1998’s science and technology score of 90.6 percent that earned the Laboratory an “outstanding.”
According to Jeff Wadsworth, deputy director for Science and Technology, “The Laboratory continues to prove that it’s a national leader in science and technology. These scores reflect the great progress we’re making in meeting the rapidly evolving challenges of the Laboratory’s national security missions. In particular, we are pleased with the significant improvement in the grade for the National Ignition Facility, which reflects DOE’s confidence in NIF management and the progress made in its construction and design.”
For John Gilpin, director of Contract Management, the score for administration and operations is the highest since the rating system went into effect in 1992. “These scores demonstrate the Laboratory-wide commitment to performance improvement and how our partnership with DOE and UC continues to meet management challenges of the last couple of years.”
Contact: Lynda Seaver (925) 423-3103 (

Collaboration succeeds with plutonium container
The Laboratory has moved significantly closer to shipping its surplus plutonium to long-term storage off site, thanks to a collaboration between researchers from Livermore’s Nuclear Materials Technology Program (NMTP), several of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration facilities, DOE environmental management facilities, and British Nuclear Fuels Limited.
In late May, Livermore researchers produced the first container that meets all DOE and Savannah River Site (SRS) requirements for shipping plutonium to SRS in South Carolina, where it will be reprocessed and packaged for long-term storage. Plutonium was placed inside the innermost part of a three-part, nested container. The outermost container was welded shut using a laser welding system developed by British Nuclear Fuels Limited of Denver, Colorado. The Laboratory is the first among the sites that produce or store plutonium to accomplish this task.
“This is a tremendous example of what a good working relationship can accomplish,” says Joe Sefcik, program leader for NMTP. “Through this process, we will be able to move surplus plutonium that we just don’t need to have here.”
Over the past two years, the NMTP team has worked to install a British Nuclear Fuels Limited Plutonium Packaging System in the Superblock of Livermore’s Plutonium Facility. The team is also working to qualify the system to meet DOE Standard 3013 and a separate list of SRS requirements that would allow the Laboratory to “can” surplus plutonium for shipment and long-term safe storage. The Laboratory expects to begin shipping cans later this year.
At SRS, the plutonium will eventually be removed from the cans and either immobilized for safe underground disposal or converted into mixed oxide fuel for nuclear reactors.
Contact: Joe Sefcik (925) 423-0671 (

Boning up on calcite crystal growth
The June 14 issue of Nature includes an article on the process used by biological organisms to modify crystal shape and growth to form complex structures such as bones, eggshells, and seashells.
“Formation of Chiral Morphologies through Selective Binding of Amino Acids to Calcite Surface Steps” details the research and discoveries of a team of Livermore physicists, chemists, and geologists working in collaboration with the University of South Alabama and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Livermore scientist Christine Orme, the article’s lead author, explains that calcite, the material in eggshells and seashells, is perfect for studying biomineralization, the organic growth of crystalline structures. “Pure calcite grows only in a symmetrical, six-sided, pyramid-shaped crystal,” says Orme. “We’ve wondered how nature controls the growth of the same substance to produce the intricate shapes found in shells and sea urchin spines. Now, by binding calcite with the amino acid aspartate, a common amino acid found in the protein of shellfish, we’ve been able to skew the growth to form asymmetric crystals.”
Using the Laboratory’s atomic microscopes, the team measured at the atomic level the speed and other variables of crystal growth in the calcite–aspartate. Surface spectroscopy and molecular modeling confirmed the visual results.
The team’s research has myriad applications, from growing bones in the laboratory to studying scale formation in pipes to manufacturing toothpaste—any situation in which calcium-based crystals grow naturally or are used.
The team is extending its research to calcium phosphate, the material used by animals to grow bones. According to Orme, if bones are ever to be grown in the laboratory, these are the first steps in that process.
Contact: Christine Orme (952) 423-9509 (




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UCRL-52000-01-9 | September 25, 2001