ABQ Journal Saturday,
January 12, 2008
Journal Staff Writer
LOS ALAMOS— Twenty-seven years to the day after he first entered the gates of Los Alamos
National Laboratory as a young scientist, Steve Smith on Thursday turned in his badge and keys.
"I felt like I was having my stripes ripped off today," Smith said that evening as he celebrated
his last day with friends over pints of Guinness at a local bar.
Thursday was also the last day for 429 other employees who left the lab with severance pay
under a money-saving work force restructuring plan.
That night, several of them gathered to sip beers, swap stories and share plans for the future
that included vacations to Mexico, exciting new research and, for one man, exploring the galaxy.
"I'd like to get into astronomy," said computer scientist Ted Reed as he clutched his retirement
gift— "Astronomica," a tome-like introduction to the universe.
"He's wanted to do this forever," his wife Jan said.
They celebrated inside the Quark Bar, the kind of watering hole that can only be found in Los
Alamos, with decor that included a chalkboard scribbled with math equations, photos of scientific
luminaries and a large chemistry flask filled with a green liquid.
"There's been a lot of great breakthroughs born over cocktails," explained bar general manager
Phil Kephart, who designed the geeky interior. Beer mugs in the shape of chemistry beakers are on
order, Kephart added.
Los Alamos announced last fall that it was cutting between 500 and 750 jobs for budget
reasons. Officials said this week that enough employees had volunteered to leave the 11,000-
person lab that layoffs wouldn't be necessary.
The departing scientists take with them years of experience: on average, they worked at the
lab nearly 23 years.
For many of them gathered Thursday, the cutbacks were just the latest hit on the beleaguered
Smith said the work used to be more fun before the lab became so bureaucratic and the
"whipping boy" of Congress and the media following every embarrassing security or safety incident.
"I hope things will turn around for Los Alamos," Smith said.
And if it does, Smith won't be far away. He's been hired by WorldScape Inc., a company that is
creating an "immersive theater" in Los Alamos and offices at the proposed New Mexico Film Studios
Surrounded by a 20-foot curved screen and standing on top of another projection surface, the
movie-goer will feel part of the scene inside the theater planned for the Los Alamos Research Park.
Construction of the facility will begin early this year. It will benefit from the company's research
and development collaboration with the lab and be open to both researchers and the public.
Dave Modl, who is also leaving to work for WorldScape, said he'll miss his colleagues and
research at the lab.
Modl remembered the sense of excitement he felt as a graduate student when he first drove up
the hill to work at Los Alamos.
"I got giddy thinking that was my job," said Modl, who worked on the kind of visualization
technology that will be employed by WorldScape.
Feeling naked without his LANL badge Thursday, Modl created a new one and wore it at the bar.
It read: "Will visualize data for beer."