Oct. 19, 2001

Wadsworth offers personal perspective on Lab's paradoxes



As a teenager in what is today the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen where his father, an officer in the British Army, was stationed in 1964, Jeff Wadsworth got his first exposure to terrorism.

He was on the sideline when a bomb exploded in a soccer stadium where the game had been scheduled to be played. The game began on an adjacent pitch because the intended field in the stadium had been flooded by a very rare rainstorm. In a separate incident, a grenade was tossed into a Christmas party killing two children. The target of these attacks were Britons. As a result, families were moved out of Aden and from there, Wadsworth went to West Berlin and directly experienced the realities of the ongoing Cold War.

In a recent talk to the Livermore chapter of Rotary International, Wadsworth, deputy director for Science and Technology, briefly recounted these and other experiences from an itinerant upbringing that shaped his perspective and serendipitously paved the way to his eventual arrival at the Laboratory.

Born to British parents in Hamburg, Germany, Wadsworth had lived in Holland, India, Singapore, Aden (Yemen today), West Berlin, and England by age 16. He studied at the University of Sheffield in England and came to the United States to collaborate with Professor Oleg Sherby at Stanford University in 1976.

Wadsworth worked at the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company (now Lockheed Martin) from 1980 until he came to the Laboratory in 1992.

Under the title "A Personal Perspective on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory From Inside and Out," Wadsworth discussed his views of the Laboratory and the "special challenges" it faces, not the least of which is reconciling seemingly-contradictory elements.

"Livermore Lab is a small city within a city. It has all the complexities of not only being somewhat like industry, but it has this unique university component as well — we all work for the University of California," he said. "We’re hopelessly open (our salaries and rankings are published), yet we do classified work, and we have this tight security. We experience a bunch of paradoxes, things that are seemingly at odds."

Wadsworth went on to describe the "seven paradoxes of Livermore Lab." Example one: Security concerns have never been as high as they are now, yet the Laboratory "needs to hire foreign nationals" to fulfill its missions.

"We need to hire foreign nationals to do our work," Wadsworth said. "From a world perspective, most of the work done in science is done outside the United States. Over 50 percent of the people graduating from American universities in fields of interest to our work at the Laboratory — for example, chemistry, physics, computing, biology, and engineering — are not citizens of the United States."

Many foreign nationals will likely become American citizens and go on to work in industry, teach in American universities, or work in national labs "as I did," he said. "But if you alienate foreign nationals by saying ‘we’re not interested in you now,’ not only are you cutting out 50 percent of the people available to do the work, you’re ticking them off and hurting future prospects for recruiting their own students or working with them in industry or in Laboratory interactions."

Over the last three years, on average about two-thirds of the 400 graduate students who applied for four openings in LLNL’s Lawrence Livermore Post-Doc Fellowship program were foreign nationals.

Hiring and working in partnership with the best qualified researchers, including foreign nationals, is critical to the continued success of cutting-edge research programs such as the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, or ASCI, which relies on a wide range of academic collaborations across the country, bringing together the best people in the field, Wadsworth said.

"That’s how you execute large programs. They are not done in confinement, but by bringing in the best people in the country," he said, noting that the "multidisciplinary team science" pioneered by Ernest Lawrence remains a hallmark of the Laboratory.

Another paradox is reconciling the Lab’s "one size fits all" reward and work life system with four generations of employees, each with different values, Wadsworth said. Generation Xers are less interested in retirement benefits and job security, traditionally valued by longtime employees, and more interested in flexible schedules, telecommuting and bonuses, for example. "You have this orthogonality. The values upon which the Laboratory was created, are not necessarily the values of the people coming into the Lab today."

Other paradoxes included:
• Congressional, DOE, and UC oversight of the national labs is at an all time high, but there’s pressure to cut bureaucracy. "We have more oversight and more review committees than ever that tell us how to do business," Wadsworth observed. "Back when the labs were formed, the government owned the mission and the contractor decided how to execute it. The government decided ‘what’ and the Lab decided ‘how.’ The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ have become confused in my opinion. We need to understand and clarify roles and responsibilities better."

• The nature of science and discovery is "unpredictable and non-linear," but scientific breakthroughs are asked for "on schedule." Wadsworth said it’s important to realize that breakthroughs are typically 10 to 20 years in the making and are the "outcome" of a process that is by its very nature unpredictable.

• There is less flexibility to invest in science, although the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) is very valuable and yet it is high risk research projects made possible by flexibility of this kind that have yielded "terrific breakthroughs."

"You have to have flexibility to invest in science in large labs," Wadsworth said. "You need the flexibility to apply expertise developed in one area to other areas of science."

• Completing projects on cost and schedule is an imperative, but major DOE projects are funded "year-to-year" with "available" funds, and inflation factors are inconsistently applied. "The system we have doesn’t pay for everything up front," he said. "When you buy an aircraft carrier, the money is put in an account for completion of the entire carrier. If you do a science project you don’t have everything up front."

Nonetheless, the National Ignition Facility and ASCI, "two of the most exciting science projects in the country are on target," he said.

• Invention and the commercial impact of Lab developed-technologies is desirable, though the success of commercial partnerships have been "problematical," according to Wadsworth. "There’s a lot of technology at the Lab and we like to get it out."

The competitors of companies that work with the Lab through cooperative research and development agreements often complain about public funds being used to bring technologies to fruition. "If you fail, everything’s OK," Wadsworth joked. "But if you succeed, you face some interesting issues."

"We’ve run into problems with a lot of our successes," he said, citing Micro Impulse Radar, EUVL, and Peregrine as technologies that had to overcome hurdles on the way to commercialization.

In prefacing his talk, Wadsworth recalled how, as a student of metallurgy at the University of Sheffield, he had taken a great interest in research being conducted in the United States and in California in particular.
"It’s where a lot of the most advanced, exciting work was being done," he said. "At that time I sent for a paper reprint from Livermore Lab. That was the first time I saw this name ‘Lawrence Livermore’ and I remember thinking ‘gee, that’s really interesting, I wonder what Livermore is like and what that Lab’s like?"