The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the pride and often controversy of the city of Livermore California and the general NorCal region. This lab has been the source of cutting-edge science, and the U.S government assigns some of its most innovative and secretive projects at this lab. A lot of people think it’s just a place to make destructive nuclear weapons, and I would respectfully disagree. It’s an institution for the American public and has a hand in benefiting all sectors of society.
As part of Las Positas College in Livermore California, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) give presentations on their work to students every semester. I had a chance to ask questions and listen to Dr. Parney Albright, the current director of the lab. The first thing I asked him was what exactly the national lab is for. Is it really to produce weapons for the nation? The answer he gave was surprising, because he pointed out that the actual mission of the lab does not contain the word “nuclear” at all. The mission of the lab is to contribute to the nation’s overall security. It’s not just a focus on weapons, but investment in energy, science education, engineering, health and more. As I was talking with Dr. Albright, I got the sense that he wanted the lab to be a place to strengthen the country’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
If you want to know exactly how the lab contributes to all of these sectors, just follow the money. It has a budget of $160 million per year for development and research. Through this funding from our government, the lab responds to the needs of the nation. Remember the anthrax scare that surfaced in 2001? The Livermore National Lab was already working on products to defend against anthrax. Through this kind of defense research the lab can also look at enhancing medicine and sharing what they learn to health institutions around the world. It’s because of its public institution status that the lab has the freedom to research other areas, and not just focus on defense.
Another fact about the lab that I enjoyed was its focus on innovation. It’s basically a kind of “super-lab” where all areas of discipline are accounted for. The lab even employs people from the humanities (English, sociology, history) because they believe a full perspective is needed when developing new products. I see a real difference to how this lab operates when compared to others. It’s not a place that is concerned with profit, or a singular mission. I think that’s important when trying to make a tangible difference in society. It brings together people from all walks of life and creates a common goal. The national interest is what concerns the Livermore National Lab, and our nation’s interest is not just in weapons, but in innovation to benefit all sectors of society.
But wait; there is still that tid-bit left about nuclear weapons. Dr. Albright was forward in telling us that it’s no secret that the LLNL has a contract with the government to develop nuclear capabilities (weapons). It’s a significant part of the lab’s function, and many view the development of this technology as immoral and potentially dangerous to the nation. Should LLNL release its views on ethics and provide transparency in terms of the defense developments? It’s a long shot, but it is certainly worth it in my mind.
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Graphic by Jennifer Wu