Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL, Liver-more, CA) was established in 1952 at the height of the Cold War to meet urgent national security needs by advancing nuclear weapons science and technology. One of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) laboratories, LLNL made its first major breakthrough with the design of a thermonuclear warhead for missiles that could be launched from highly survivable submarines. The lab 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 lab's initial research portfolio. In the 1950s, LLNL acquired one of the first UNIVAC computers as well as “first editions” of the increasingly more powerful and faster computers that followed.

Researchers use a nontoxic aerosol tracker developed at LLNL to study how airborne biological agents might disperse through the New York City subway system.

In the 1960s, exploration of the peaceful use of nuclear explosives gave rise to bioscience and environmental programs at the lab. Biotechnology developments at LLNL and Los Alamos National Laboratory — such as chromosome bio-markers 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. LLNL'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 LLNL. NARAC contributes to emergency response decisions after release of radioactivity or toxic materials such as the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl events.

LLNL scientists prepare to pulverize forensic bone samples prior to demineralization and extraction of proteins to find identity markers. The scientists found a way to use these markers from human bone for identification. (Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL)

LLNL launched its laser research program in the 1970s and has been at the forefront of laser science and technology ever since. A sequence of ever-larger lasers to explore inertial confinement fusion culminated in the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which provides essential support to LLNL's 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 lab that are part of the government-industry partnership to develop long-term, reliable, affordable, clean sources of energy.

In the 1980s, LLNL 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. LLNL 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.

In the 2000s, LLNL continued to advance and apply science and technology to ensure national security within the global context. With the terrorist attacks of 2001, lab 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 lab 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.

Intrinsic Use Control uses a weapon's fluctuating radiation fields to create use control numbers — known only to the weapon — that would be able to protect the weapon and its components from unauthorized use. (Photo by Julie Russell and Bob Sickles/LLNL)

Core Competencies

Core competencies are areas of special capability or expertise in which LLNL is a recognized national — and often world — leader. Together, these core competencies form the laboratory's principal science and technology strengths that underpin its mission of advancing national security.

Earth and Atmospheric Science – LLNL combines expertise in Earth and atmospheric science with high-performance computing to meet national security, energy security, and environmental security needs. Expertise in atmospheric science is central to studying climate change, renewable energy systems, and atmospheric chemistry, transport, and dispersion. LLNL has developed capabilities in subsurface modeling of the behavior of rocks under loading, the propagation of seismic energy, and the movement and reaction of subsurface fluids — physical processes that underlie important national security and energy applications. These applications include the detection of clandestine nuclear tests, the vulnerability of underground structures to attack, earthquake hazards, and the safe disposal of nuclear energy waste.

Bioscience and Bioengineering – The lab's biological research program was established in 1963 to study the effects of ionizing radiation on humans. Since then, LLNL has helped develop flow sorting and chromosome painting to study DNA and chromosomal damage, participated in the Human Genome Project, and developed sensitive and compact biodetection instruments, many of which have been commercialized. Today, LLNL works at the interface of biology, engineering, and the physical sciences to address national challenges in biosecurity, chemical security, and human health. LLNL has world-class capabilities in genomics, bioinformatics, bioengineering, implantable systems, select agents, toxicology, and bioanalytical science. The overall focus is on understanding human physiology, host-pathogen interactions, and therapeutic targets relating to exposure to chemical and biological agents or environmental hazards.

LLNL is also integrating big data and predictive simulation capabilities to develop a new understanding of biological complexity and enable more precise predictions of health risk; accelerate development of countermeasures; develop treatment options; and improve outcomes. LLNL has partnered with the National Cancer Institute as part of the Cancer Moonshot to drastically reduce the time to developing a cure for cancer.

Lasers and Optical Science and Technology – LLNL researchers have designed, built, and operated a family of increasingly complex laser facilities that has successively broken world records in laser energy, power, and brightness. The lab has longstanding expertise in systems engineering and laser construction and operations that are complemented by international leadership in photonics science and technology, laser-material interactions, and laser system simulations. A principal focus is high-energy and high-average-power laser technology; LLNL scientists designed, built, and shipped in 2017 the world's highest average power petawatt laser to the European Union.

LLNL laser technologies are also finding many industrial applications that strengthen U.S. economic security including laser melting, precise material removal, precision heat treatment, mechanical strengthening such as laser peening, and heat-resistant optics.

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing – LLNL has developed advanced manufacturing processes that produce materials and components on an accelerated schedule, at reduced cost, and often possessing properties impossible to obtain with traditional manufacturing techniques. Examples include high-performance optics, biocompatible devices, advanced battery components, and radiation detection materials.

A key focus is additive manufacturing (AM), which is transforming manufacturing by producing materials with new structural, thermal, electrical, chemical, and photonic properties. AM (3D printing) uses successive layers of material (polymers, metals, and ceramics) to precisely fabricate 3D objects. LLNL's approach integrates manufacturing expertise, precision engineering, materials science, and high-performance computing to produce innovative materials for stockpile stewardship, global security, and energy security.

HPC, Simulation, and Data Science – High-performance computing (HPC) has always been a defining strength of the lab. State-of-the-art simulation applications that run efficiently on the world's most advanced computers are the integrating element of science-based stockpile stewardship and critical to many other national security needs. These extraordinarily realistic and reliable science and engineering simulations allow modeling and simulation to assume an equal role with experiment and theory. LLNL is currently siting Sierra, a next-generation supercomputer focused on predictive applications to sustain the nuclear deterrent. Concurrently, LLNL hardware and software computer scientists are helping to prepare for the coming age of exascale computing (systems capable of at least a billion-billion calculations each second). They are developing new computer architectures as well as vertically integrating hardware and software, multiphysics applications, and data-science analytics so they run seamlessly at the exascale. LLNL is creating the capabilities to recognize patterns in extreme amounts of information (big data) in order to understand and predict the behavior of complex systems.

LLNL, in collaboration with UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, developed a portable, point-of-care device for diagnosis of tuberculosis and associated drug resistance.

High-Energy-Density Science – LLNL is an international leader in high energy density (HED) science that studies matter at conditions of extreme temperature or pressure or under the influence of a strong force such as an intense laser, particle beam, or radiation. In pursuit of its national security missions, LLNL has continually advanced HED science starting in the 1950s with the design of nuclear weapons and extending to today's pursuit of fusion energy and the interpretation of astrophysical observations ranging from black holes to the birth of galaxies. The NIF, the world's premier HED experimental facility, enables the creation and characterization of matter under the most extreme conditions of temperature and pressure achievable in the laboratory, recreating conditions at the center of Earth, giant planets, and the Sun.

Livermore researchers successfully demonstrated 3D printing of shape-shifting structures that can fold or unfold to reshape themselves when exposed to heat or electricity. Through a direct-ink-writing 3D-printing process, LLNL produced several types of structures, including a stent that expanded after being exposed to heat.

Nuclear, Chemical, and Isotopic Science and Technology – Nuclear science and technology has been a defining strength of LLNL since its inception and is essential for sustaining an aging nuclear weapons stockpile and integral to missions in nuclear event forensic analysis, threat reduction, and safeguards. These programs also serve to further neutrino science, the search for dark matter, cosmochemistry, and properties of the heaviest elements. The lab is also an international leader in chemical and isotopic analysis, with basic science and national security programs supported by the Forensic Science Center, one of only two U.S. laboratories to be internationally certified for identifying chemical warfare agents. The center also develops new tools for intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and healthcare. Its researchers are developing innovative new forensic techniques, including a revolutionary technique to use hair instead of DNA to identify a person.

Technology Transfer

The Innovation and Partnerships Office (IPO) serves as a focal point for LLNL engagement with industry. IPO currently has active commercial licenses with more than 100 companies. Licensing and royalty income in recent years has topped $8 million annually, representing more than $300 million in annual sales of products based on LLNL technologies. LLNL technologies have enabled the launch of new businesses that are helping drive economic growth locally, regionally, and beyond.

For more information on technologies available for licensing, visit here . Learn more about LLNL's Science and Technology mission at here .

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2018 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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