For more than half a century, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has applied cutting-edge science and technology to enhance national security.
Origins. The Laboratory was established in 1952 at the height of the Cold War to meet urgent national security needs by advancing nuclear weapons science and technology. Renowned physicists E.O. Lawrence and Edward Teller argued for the creation of a second laboratory to augment the efforts of the laboratory at Los Alamos.
At his laboratory on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, Lawrence had created the model of how large-scale science should be pursued — through multidisciplinary team efforts. Activities began at Livermore under the aegis of the University of California with a commitment by its first director, Herbert York, to follow Lawrence’s team-science approach and be a “new ideas” laboratory.
1950s. Livermore made its first major breakthrough with the design of a thermonuclear warhead for missiles that could be launched from highly survivable submarines. The Laboratory went on to develop the first high-yield warheads compact enough that several could be carried on each ballistic missile.
Programs in fusion energy and advanced computations also were part of the Laboratory’s initial research portfolio. Livermore acquired one of the first UNIVAC computers as well as “first editions” of the increasingly more powerful and faster computers that followed.
1960s. Exploration of the peaceful use of nuclear explosives gave rise to bioscience and environmental programs at Livermore.
Biotechnology developments at Livermore and Los Alamos, such as chromosome biomarkers and high-speed cell sorters, enabled the launch of the Human Genome Initiative in 1987. This multi-laboratory initiative grew to become an international endeavor that completed sequencing the human genome in 2000. Livermore’s bioscience programs are now contributing to national efforts to combat the threat of bioterrorism.
Environmental programs begun in the 1960s have led to novel groundwater remediation technologies in use at Superfund sites, models that are contributing to understanding the human impact on global climate change, and the establishment of the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Capability (NARAC) at Livermore. NARAC contributes to emergency response decisions after release of radioactivity or toxic materials, such as the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl events.
1970s. Livermore launched its laser research program and has been at the forefront of laser science and technology ever since. A sequence of ever-larger lasers to explore inertial confinement fusion is culminating in the National Ignition Facility (NIF).
NIF will provide essential support to Lawrence Livermore national security mission and, like its predecessors, will enable untold scientific discoveries. NIF also is stimulating the development of a host of new products and processes in U.S. industry.
The energy crisis in the 1970s invigorated energy research programs at the Laboratory, which are part of the government-industry partnership to develop long-term reliable, affordable, clean sources of energy.
1980s. Livermore researchers pioneered the use of multiple parallel processing for scientific computing. For decades, the need for ever more powerful simulations for nuclear weapons design guided industry’s development of supercomputers. Livermore frequently has been home to “serial number one” of new computers and has helped industry make prototype machines ready for a wider range of users.
Multiple parallel processing is now central to the Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Program, which is a key component of efforts to maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing. “Terascale” and “petascale” computing is also offering unprecedented opportunities for scientific discovery.
1990s. After the United States halted nuclear testing in 1992, the Laboratory helped DOE define the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which is ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing. Livermore is a key participant in the program and home to unique capabilities for the effort, such as NIF and several ASC supercomputers.
To address growing concerns about nuclear proliferation, Livermore established a program in nonproliferation and international security. The Laboratory’s analytical and technology development capabilities were focused on the threat posed by the acquisition or use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists or nation states.
2000s. Livermore continued to advance and apply science and technology to ensure national security within the global context. The Laboratory successfully completed a life-extension program for the nation’s most modern ICBM warhead, the W87, that will enable it to remain in the U.S. strategic arsenal well into the 21st century.
With the terrorist attacks of 2001, Laboratory programs in counterterrorism and counterproliferation gained impetus, and the development of new technologies for biodetection, chemical and explosives detection, and nuclear detection was fast-tracked.
The Laboratory also initiated major efforts in energy security. This work is aimed at the development of sustainable energy resources and technologies while reducing their environmental impacts and increasing our understanding of climate change.
Looking Ahead. As Lawrence Livermore enters its sixth decade, its focus remains as clear as it was on the first day the Laboratory opened its doors in 1952 — ensuring the nation’s security through scientific research and engineering development, responding to new threats in an ever-changing world, and developing new technologies that will benefit people everywhere.