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March 2003

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Bruce Goodwin

A New Code Simulates the Cosmos

A Giant Leap for Space Telescopes

Checking Out the Hot Spots

Patents

Awards

 

Bruce Goodwin
Associate Director for Defense and Nuclear Technologies

Basic Science Is Creative Science


MOST great scientific discoveries have resulted from a willingness to suspend judgment and a refusal to be boxed in by conventional wisdom. Astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered in the 1920s that the universe is expanding.
As unlikely as this seemed then, later measurements have shown that Hubble was right. Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity represented a truly revolutionary way of understanding the universe when they were proposed almost 100 years ago. Yet discoveries since then—black holes and their furious gravitational power are but one example—have proven Einstein right.
At Livermore, we encourage our scientists to think creatively—outside the box—in finding solutions to challenges they encounter. While most news about Lawrence Livermore centers on the applied science we do—maintenance of the nation’s nuclear stockpile or the development of ever more powerful lasers—none of those advances would be possible without experiments, theory, and simulations that delve into science at its most basic. Basic and applied science are synergistic pursuits, with advances in either feeding back in often unexpected ways. For example, the development of the laser is a true applied science breakthrough that has opened up many avenues for exploring basic science from equations of state to the fusion process that powers stars. Basic research tests the creativity of scientists, keeping them intellectually agile, and may produce unexpected results that lead down new paths.
The COSMOS code, described in the article beginning on p. 4, is an excellent example of the basic science that our scientists pursue. This new simulation tool leverages not only their abilities and creativity but also the unique resources available at this Laboratory. Having trained as an astrophysicist (I worked on neutron star formation in supernova collapse), I take particular interest in Livermore’s research in astrophysics. Early on, I discovered that astrophysics is superb training for a career at Livermore. Because stars and weapons operate in similar ways, new discoveries in one area are bound to spill over and benefit the other. Some of our nation’s greatest astrophysicists, such as James Wilson and Stirling Colgate, move continuously between weapons and astrophysics in their careers.
With COSMOS, scientists can simulate a variety of astrophysical events in two and three dimensions, from early cosmology to the creation of stars. COSMOS incorporates more complex physics than almost any other similar code. It is the first astrophysical code that considers the process of cooling, a critical factor in the congealing of stellar gas and dust that creates stars. Its flexibility and power leave it with few peers. The astrophysics community is excited about COSMOS, which will surely find many users outside the Laboratory.
COSMOS is the brainchild of a Livermore astrophysicist who not only had a great idea but also an awareness of all that the Laboratory has to offer. COSMOS simulations would not be possible without Livermore’s massively parallel terascale computers to manipulate enormous quantities of data representing complex physics in multiple dimensions.
People become scientists because they want to understand the workings of the universe around them. Exciting basic scientific pursuits such as COSMOS act as magnets, drawing the best and brightest young scientists to Livermore and enhancing our reputation in the greater scientific community. The success of our national security missions depends on the quality of our science and technology and, perhaps more fundamentally, upon the quality of our scientists. It is only with their passion for science—and the creativity that passion breeds—that we can succeed.




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UCRL-52000-03-3 | March 21, 2003