The national labs continue to perform research that ranges from “excellent” to “outstanding” — the highest ratings of the UC President’s Council on the National Labs — UC Regents learned Thursday.
Bill Friend, chair of the council, submitted his written annual report to the Regents, emphasizing in the report the “uniqueness” of the three laboratories managed by the University — Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Lawrence Berkeley national labs.
While Livermore and Los Alamos’ primary mission is “cradle-to-grave responsibility” for the nation’s nuclear deterrent, the laboratories, along with Lawrence Berkeley, “bring an even richer strength to the scientific and technological breadth of our nation,” Friend said in his report. “It is the very breadth and depth of the scientific and technological expertise of all three of the Labs that enable them to make their important contributions to the nation.
“These contributions go beyond national defense. One area where there has been a remarkable joint effort by the three labs to great success is the Joint Genome Institute, which combines their capabilities to assume a significant role in the massive task of sequencing the human genome,” he said.
The JGI was tasked to sequence chromosome numbers 5, 16 and 19 as part of the larger national Human Genome Project, Friend wrote, noting that “they completed this task ahead of schedule and with a significantly higher level of accuracy than other academic genome centers.”
In his report, he detailed the work of the UC President’s Council panels to “enhance the contributions” of the labs through programmatic reviews and by providing expert advice on such issues as security and project management. Council panels, made up of experts from industry and academia, include: Science and Technology; National Security; Environment, Safety and Health; Laboratory Security and Project Management.
Friend reported that the National Security Panel has begun to work closely with the leadership of the new National Nuclear Security Agency, Livermore, Los Alamos and the DOE complex to develop a new integrated strategic plan for the Stockpile Stewardship Program.
“The council believes it important that close ties are maintained among the UC-managed labs and their sponsoring offices,” Friend said. “To help in this regard, President Atkinson and his staff, as well as myself and other council leaders, are working to build a productive and cooperative relationship with Gen. John Gordon, the NNSA administrator.”
But, even as this new stewardship program evolves, “the Labs continue to develop new tools and an improved understanding of the physics involved in long-term performance of the stockpile,” Friend said. “Los Alamos and Livermore, often in concert with Sandia Laboratory, have cooperated already in a number of significant accomplishments. It is important that, to date, the lab directors are still able to certify to the U.S. president that the stockpile remains safe and reliable even in the absence of nuclear testing.”
He highlighted accomplishments of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) and how these have “greatly enhanced our understanding of how these weapons work.”
“Of course, their national security responsibilities also present many challenges for the labs,” Friend added. “Although remarkable, the current ASCI machines are not sufficient to perform all of the calculations necessary to certify weapons as they age or are remanufactured.”
The council’s new Project Management Panel, chaired by Friend, has also been closely scrutinizing projects including the National Ignition Facility (NIF).
“In contrast to last year, Livermore has accomplished a real turn-around on NIF, including a significant change in management structure, development of a defensible new baseline, and involvement of experienced industrial partners,” Friend told the Regents. “The council believes that the project has been very successful in overcoming a number of difficult earlier concerns and appears highly focused on its upcoming reviews. Our challenge now is to learn from this experience and to apply those lessons across all of our laboratories’ projects.”
Friend also noted recent scientific achievements at each of the three labs. “Livermore Lab has carved out areas of true excellence. Its Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry has become a magnet for biological research, and has been selected as an NIH research resource,” he said. “Indeed, the Lab is making quite a name in medical technologies, ranging from the licensing of Peregrine, the cancer treatment tool, to a new implantable device that monitors glucose levels in diabetics.”
Calling retention and recruitment of scientific talent to the national labs “one of the greatest concerns facing the two national defense labs,” Friend said “the council is committed to working with all concerned to find ways to mitigate those aspects of the present environment that work to hinder maintenance and productivity of quality staff and means to create an atmosphere most conducive to superior innovation and creativity.
“We must ensure that lab researchers are not cut off from the international scientific community, and that security measures are effective and supportive of thriving national security programs,” he said. “The University brings some qualities to its management of these labs that are important to their continued strength and vitality, namely scientific quality and independence, respect for all individuals, the public trust, and stability during turbulent times.
“These are the qualities that have enabled the labs to make their unique contributions to science and to the nation. It is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that those contributions continue into the future,” Friend concluded.