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September 2002

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Michael R. Anastasio

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Early Earth

A New World of Maps

Solid-Oxide Fuel Cells Stack Up to Efficient, Clean Power

Empowering Light—Historic Accomplishments in Laser Research




Michael R. Anastasio

Michael R. Anastasio
Director of
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Livermore: Poised for the Future

THIS month marks the 50th anniversary of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The world was a different place on September 2, 1952, when a branch of the University of California Radiation Laboratory opened its doors at an abandoned naval air station near Livermore, California. The fear then was the Soviet Union armed with its newly tested atomic weapon. Fifty years later, the threat of a terrorist, perhaps armed with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, is driving our research and development in new directions.
What has not changed in the intervening 50 years is Livermore’s ability to respond to national needs. As a large multidisciplinary organization, we need to be flexible and fast on our feet. A striking example emerged early in the Laboratory’s history when the Department of Defense challenged the Laboratory to miniaturize nuclear weapons. In a short time, we did the seemingly impossible and produced the warhead for the Polaris missile, the first nuclear weapon small enough to be launched from a submarine.
Today, we are responding to new and different threats. Chemical agents, bacteria, viruses, biological toxins, and genetically altered organisms could wreak havoc on urban populations, destroy livestock, and wipe out crops. These agents are often difficult to detect and identify quickly and reliably. Yet, early detection and identification are crucial for minimizing their potentially catastrophic human and economic cost. Fortunately, long before the anthrax attacks of last fall, Livermore was already a leader in developing innovative methods and technologies for early detection of chemical and biological terrorism threats. Since the attack, the Laboratory has intensified its efforts in this area so vital to national security.
Many of our successes have been achieved by teams of scientists and engineers from many disciplines that come together quickly to respond to the need at hand. This way of doing science is the legacy of the Laboratory’s founder, Ernest O. Lawrence, who believed strongly that scientists from many fields working together would accelerate the quest for fundamental knowledge. Over the past 50 years, this multidisciplinary approach has resulted in major advances in basic and applied science that in turn lead to new technologies to benefit society.
The technological accomplishments of this interdisciplinary teamwork have often yielded exciting capabilities with multiple applications to other fields. Materials developed in the weapons program have found use in artificial hip joints designed at Livermore. X-ray tomography developed to nondestructively examine the inner components of nuclear weapons has also been used to reveal the bone weakening
of osteoporosis. Quantum simulations, a physics tool that can describe the fundamental interactions of weapons materials, are exposing the inner workings of biochemical processes important to human health.
The article entitled A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Early Earth is an excellent example of the dual-use science at which Lawrence Livermore excels. Geophysicists, analytical chemists, and forensic scientists, collaborating on shock experiments using one of the Laboratory’s gas guns, are exploring the origins of life on Earth as well as the effect of a missile intercept on chemical weapons. These subjects, which may appear to have nothing in common, are connected at a fundamental level by concern about the fate of organic liquids subjected to strong shock compression. Basic science yet again benefits national security and the world at large.
The next 50 years will undoubtedly be a period of significant changes as have the past 50 years. I am confident that Livermore’s distinguished staff will continue to respond as they always have with innovation, integrity, and mission focus when called upon to meet national needs.


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UCRL-52000-02-9 | October 7, 2002