Monday, June 27, 2005

Bush's Bad Idea for Los Alamos


Bush's Bad Idea for Los Alamos

Sixty years ago, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the World War II director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, proved that there are some things that government-university partnerships can do better than any private-sector entity. In just 27 months — from April 1943 to August 1945 — Oppenheimer and his team of scientists produced a combat-ready atomic bomb. The military head of the Manhattan Project, Gen. Leslie Groves had awarded the contract for the new laboratory to the University of California because he understood that no private corporation was capable of attracting the talented scientists needed to meet this challenge.

Important lessons for our national security are implicit in this history, lessons the Bush administration ignores as it prepares to turn over much of the management of the Los Alamos lab to a private defense contractor. Everything we know about the Manhattan Project and the subsequent history of the lab suggests that this is a mistake and a lost opportunity.


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Not so. What attracted the amazing
group of scientists from all over
the world to the Manhatten Project was
the nature of the enemy, not the nature of the management. I suspect
most didn't even know who the management
was before they arrived at L.A.
There is no way that group could have
been gathered without the threat of
LA Times' Bad Idea for Los Alamos

"...the facility should be divided into two separate entities: a weapons laboratory run by a defense contractor and an unclassified environmental research complex managed by a university."

Wait a minute! We do more than these two things at the lab, don't we? And much of the science we do is interrelated between these two (and other) objectives. Splitting the lab doesn't seem like such a good idea to me. And besides, (to poison the well) this is coming from the LA Times. I'm suspicious.
What happened at Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project in the 40s was a major event for scientific research as it clearly placed big science in the realm of government funding. The other concern was to keep the design and development of weapons away from direct military control. I don't believe that corporate America was even considered for Los Alamos. I agree with 8:13am poster.
Yes, the 8:13 AM poster is correct. It was war, not management that brought people to LANL. And now, it is not management that will bring people to LANL but it sure will run them off!

The LA Times has it wrong, as can be expected. Remember, nobody ever flunked out of journalism and took of physics or engineering, or even basket-weaving,
It was Oppenheimer and his reputation that lured many people to Los Alamos. Then the high quality of the people who he had attracted to the Lab attracted more. Quality has always worked to attract a talented staff and it will continue to do so. The Lab will prosper with high-quality leadership: both technical and administrative, and will dwindle without that.

With that said, it is still not clear if either the LLC composed of Lockheed-Martin and UT or the LLC composed of Bechtel/UC will be able to match what the UC oversight brought for 60 years (at least until they decided that they should manage the place and showed their true color-- yellow). It will be a totally new ballgame, and that is a pity.
For sure some things are wrong in the article, especially about the motivation of the people coming to work here. However, even at the war time, as is known from different historical accounts, it was very important that some academic freedoms were protected due to strong actions by Oppenheimer. Without them the brightest would certainly leave, not mentioning protection of some of them from arresting by Groves when they were exercising too vigorously this very freedom. After the war, and until now, the UC name was very important indeed in attracting good scientists to LANL, and in that LA Times is right. Breaking this will break science here.
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