Aug 22, 2007
ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor
Los Alamos National Laboratory staked out a claim to its future Tuesday as top officials announced the intention to develop a new Signature Science Facility - named MaRIE.
With a bow to Marie Curie - the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two disciplines, physics and chemistry - the acronym stands for "Matter-Radiation Interactions in Extremes."
LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Principal Associate Director Terry Wallace talked with employees about plans for the new facility at an all-hands meeting.
Still in its earliest stages, the idea came out of a "bottom-up" planning process that began with an invitation for proposals from across the laboratory, followed by workshops and further evaluations and discussions.
The participatory process will continue into the future with internal scoping workshops and input from the outside community.
Discussions have begun with lab sponsors, including the Department of Energy's Office of Science and with the National Nuclear Security Administration, Wallace said, with an eye to getting into the 2009 budget cycle.
It would not be unusual for a major project like this to take a decade or more to come to fruition, he added.
The framework for the decision, Wallace said, was the desire to have a "cutting edge facility" that would be "an attractor" for future scientists, that would "serve the mission" of the laboratory and would be "flexible" enough to encompass an evolving mission into the future.
"With a commitment to be the premier national security science laboratory for the twenty-first century, square in the middle of that are the kinds of things MaRIE will do," Wallace said.
The facility would continue the laboratory's research in radiation in different forms, building upon the long history and foundation of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF) that came on line in 1972 and the current major experimental science facility, the Los Alamos Neutron Scattering Center (LANSCE).
LANSCE is used in nuclear weapons experiments related to maintaining and certifying the nuclear weapons stockpile and by a growing community of academic and industrial researchers across the country and around the world.
The facility makes use of a powerful linear accelerator that accelerates protons to 84 percent of the speed of light.
In a process called spallation, neutrons are scattered when a proton from the beam collides with a nucleus. The neutrons in turn can be used to look inside the molecules of target materials under varying pressures, temperatures and other conditions.
Internal structural properties of biological materials, the effects of fatigue in metal alloys and the molecular processes of chemicals at high temperatures are suitable subjects for neutron science to probe.
An evolution of LANSCE, particularly the Lujan Center, a user-facility open to the public, would add new capabilities and help modernize aging equipment, according to LANL officials.
Los Alamos was a participant in a $1.4 billion project to build a state-of-the-art Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge, Tenn., that opened in 2006.
Wallace said MaRIE would complement the capabilities in Oak Ridge and that both LANSCE and SNS have unique specialties and are currently oversubscribed with experiments waiting to be performed.