Established in 1943, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico was site Y of the Manhattan Project for a single purpose: to design and build an atomic bomb, which took just 27 months. The Los Alamos of today has a heightened focus on intellectual freedom, scientific excellence, and national service.

As a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, LANL aligns its strategic plan with priorities set by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). As the senior laboratory in the DOE system, LANL executes work in all of DOE's missions — national security, science, energy, and environmental management. In addition, LANL performs work for the Department of Defense (DOD), Intelligence Community (IC), and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), among others. As a result, the lab's strategy reflects U.S. priorities spanning nuclear security, intelligence, defense, emergency response, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, energy security, emerging threats, and environmental management.

LANL's RAPTOR (RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response) telescope captures the first color cinematography of nature's largest explosions: gamma-ray bursts. (Photo by LeRoy Sanchez)

LANL focuses on integrating research and development solutions to achieve the maximum impact on strategic national security priorities. In addition, through partnerships across government agencies, laboratories, universities, and industry, LANL delivers the best possible science and technology.

As a foundation, LANL conducts fundamental science in areas such as high-performance computing, dynamic and energetic materials, superconductivity, advanced materials, bioin-formatics, theoretical and computational biology, chemistry, earth and environmental science, alternative energy systems, and engineering sciences and application.

Science Pillars

LANL established Science Pillars under four main themes to bring together a diverse array of scientific capabilities and expertise.

Information, Science and Technology (IS&T) – Modern computational science (e.g., Monte Carlo methods) has its roots in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Today, a LANL strength continues to be computational physics research, methods development, and applications that run on the world's most powerful computers to help solve the nation's most urgent needs. Advances in theory, algorithms, and the exponential growth of high-performance computing help to accelerate technology in the areas of data science at scale, computational co-design, and complex networks.

Materials for the Future – The lab is transitioning from observing and exploiting the properties of materials to a science-based capability that creates materials with properties optimized for specific functions. LANL focuses on discovery science and engineering required to establish design principles, synthesis pathways, and manufacturing processes that control functionality in materials relevant to the lab's missions.

Nuclear and Particle Futures – Los Alamos is the premier lab in the United States for all-things nuclear, with capabilities in critical assembly work, and extensive capabilities in nuclear experiment, theory, and simulation.

Science of Signatures (SoS) – Signatures are the unique elements that allow threats to be located within their environments and described (e.g., the pattern variation that distinguishes spinach from poison ivy). LANL work in signatures extends from nuclear and radiological, to chemical and materials, biological, energy, climate, and space signatures.

Within the Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program, LANL scientists use the CAVE virtual environment to understand and explore their data. Here, a user interactively assembles a mechanical joint. The glasses and handheld wand are motion-tracked to allow free movement of objects within the virtual world. (Photo by LeRoy Sanchez)

Recent Breakthroughs

One of the gravest threats the United States, and its allies, faces is the acquisition of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction by terrorists or rogue nations. LANL provides technologies and expertise that systematically strengthen the capability to detect and interdict illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials across international borders. Deployment of radiation detection instrumentation at border crossings, rail crossings, airports, and post offices is part of this effort.

Three LANL technologies are aboard the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover. Los Alamos radioisotope batteries are providing power and heat to Curiosity, and are driving the vehicle's ten scientific instruments. One technology, known as ChemCam, is mounted on the rover's mast, and uses extremely powerful pulses of light to vaporize pinhead-sized areas of the Martian surface to provide scientists with crucial information about the composition of Mars surface materials. CheMin uses X-ray diffraction to determine the composition of samples that are collected and dropped into a funnel on the rover.

Los Alamos continues to employ Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) technologies to convert weapons-grade plutonium to blended mixed oxides for use in commercial nuclear power reactors.

Jamming is the physical process by which granular materials, glasses, foams, and other complex fluids become rigid with increasing density. Simulations of jammed systems study particle configurations leading to jamming in both static systems and systems under shear — a motion similar to what happens during an earthquake. LANL scientists use resonant sound waves to measure the effect. Here, tightly packed disks subjected to an earthquake-like movement display separate fast- and slow-moving regions, and form a net of load-bearing contacts.

The lab successfully tested a new high-current electron injector, a device that can be scaled up to produce the electrons needed to build a high-power free-electron laser prototype for the U.S. Office of Naval Research. Operating at the speed of light, the free-electron laser will protect the U.S. Navy's fleet of the future by defeating multiple incoming missiles in different maritime environments with a high-power beam of wavelengthtunable light.