Thursday, October 06, 2005

Los Alamos Alliance storefront handout material

As mentioned in the previous post, I offered to place informational material from both of the LLCs that are bidding on the LANL contract on the blog for the blog readers to access. I met yesterday with representatives of both the Los Alamos Alliance (LM/UT/CH2M Hill/Fluor), and the LANS (UC/Bechtel/BWXT, etc.) LLC.

This morning I received from the Los alamos Alliance the electronic versions that I had requested of the handouts which are available at the Alliance storefront office. Here they are:
  1. Los Alamos Alliance FAQ
  2. A Letter from C. Paul Robinson
  3. Academic Network Listing
  4. LANL Tuition Fact Sheet

An open letter to Dr. Robinson.

Dear Dr. Robinson,

I have read with great interest a letter from you posted on this Blog. In it, you write:

We also will work to align the laboratory’s science programs to more closely support its missions than you have experienced in recent years.

My colleagues and I would be very grateful if you could clarify what you mean by this. Let's say your team gets the contract. Should we expect that all science research at LANL will be reviewed and sorted into relevant and useless? Will things like cosmology and astrophysics be found useless? What about theoretical biology? Condensed matter theory? Nuclear and particle theory and experiments? Will large parts of B, P and T divisions be closed?

A direct and honest answer now would help us immensely.

Thank you very much.
An excellent question. This is where the rubber starts to meet the road: let's see of LM is paying attention, and if so can give us a good answer.
I agree, this is an excellent question, in that it addresses a central concern of many of the staff at LANL. I contacted the LM team directly, requesting that Paul address this. I was informed that he is on vacation at the moment, but will respond to the question upon return.

Doug: Thanks for posting this. It didn't answer all of my questions, but it was informative. Much better than what LANS provided. (or didn't)
It may ease some concerns to know that Sandia Lab, like LANL, gets 6% in LDRD funds.
That said, a substantial amount of the LANL LDRD funding seems to have little utility, and little relation to their mission. I wonder why the DOE has allowed this to continue, but they are cowed by "Saint Pete".
An example I like is atom trapping, done by cooling atoms with lasers. This brilliant bit of research was done by NIST. What benefit is there in having LANL repeat the experiment, using LDRD funds? I can't see any..
The statement little relation to their mission is a wonder cliche! In fact, LDRD is explicitly called out in congressional enabling language. It is long range research that is not directly related to program, but could result in improvements, revolutionary break throughs, and facilitate national security. Trapped ions? Guess what, this is the future of quatuum computing and encryption! This is national security.

SNL does have an LDRD program. It is different than LANL's version, and promotes technology.

T division would indeed be in danger if SNL came north (that may not be the LM model though). They strongly believe that theory should be integrated in all other programs.
The SNL LDRD program has a majority of $ directed by the programmatic VPs, They ensure that the LDRD has relevance to their direct programs or aligns with where they want their programs to grow. Very little (exact opposite of LANL) of the LDRD $ go to far reaching basic R&D. Those LANL employees that have lived on LDRD in B, P, T, MST, & C divisions are in for a re-alignment of interest. I doubt they will be able to pursue curiosity driven R&D under the LAA, that will go to the academic network.
Well, many of my colleagues are very fearful that Paul Robinson's words about aligning science with the missions are an early indication of an upcoming war against basic research at the New LANL. I am certainly willing to give Paul the benefit of the doubt and wait for his reply, but I must say that so far all signs seem to point to that interpretation. In fact, the comments following my first post seem to further support it.

I still don't understand how such a war could be squared with the stated goal of attracting more young scientists to the lab. Many (most?) young scientists come here to do science, in its pure form, "science for science's sake". Out of those who stay, many later get involved with weapons research and other "relevant" things. How expelling basic science could be good for the lab in the long term I simply do not understand.


I have a very personal reason to be sad about this. I am one of those young people involved in basic research at LANL. When I came here a few years ago, I knew this was primarily a weapons lab and was worried about finding a military or corporate culture. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of very good scientists who are truly passionate about their research and happy to interact and collaborate with people of all disciplines. I saw that in this environment people did truly amazing work. I stayed here, despite all the mindnumbing rules, despite the delirium of the shutdown, because to be in this unique environment was worth it. Yes, LANL was dysfunctional on many levels, but when it came to the quality of basic research and especially people doing it, it was incredibly functional.

It seems now that this environment is about to be destroyed. Many good people will go elsewhere, most of them will find good faculty jobs at universities. A few people around me have already done just that. The world will certainly not end. It's just very sad to see such a unique research environment about to be destroyed, apparently in the name of saving a few percent of the total laboratory budget.
Mr Feynman,

'Many (most?) young scientists come here to do science, in its pure form, "science for science's sake".'

Oh please. Talk about naive. There are very few places in the world where you are allowed to do 'science' just because.

Yes, things are going to change. It may be a radical change. Let's engage our management about what we value in our current structure. Or post it here so the bidders can read about it if they want or let the two LLC's know how you feel about things. They might be impressed to hear from a hundred well spoken researchers/engineers/technicians/secretaries about what they want to see retained from LANL and what needs to be axed.

Then again it may be 'tilting at windmills' but we have to try.
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