Jan 15, 2008

Los Alamos Chief Calls for More U.S. National Science Efforts


Oh, for the days of Big Science.

When nuclear weapons were peacekeepers and enemies were Soviet, the U.S. government trusted in science — and invested lavishly in it, too, said Michael Anastasio, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Not anymore.

Funding for national laboratories such as Los Alamos has dwindled. Today the government invests half as much in science as it did 30 years ago, Anastasio said Jan. 15.

That’s when funding is measured in terms of percentage of gross domestic product, an Anastasio aide clarified.

“It’s time for rebuilding the partnership of government and the science and technology community,” Anastasio told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a government-funded policy think tank.

From the 1940s, when government-funded science invented the atomic bomb, to the ’60s, when it sent U.S. astronauts to the moon, and through the Cold War, science and scientists were warriors on the front line of U.S. national security. They built the United States into a superpower.

“Today’s expectations are more limited,” Anastasio said.

Big science programs have been largely abandoned. Government research focuses more on near-term results and less on long-term science that may — or may not — pay off years in the future.

To a greater extent, the U.S. government relies on the marketplace to perform research, Anastasio said. And the private sector has little interest in long-term research with a distant, maybe dubious return.

As the government’s commitment to science has waned, it has become increasingly difficult to attract the best students into fields such as math and engineering — and then into government laboratories, Anastasio said.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Government labs are well positioned to take on a variety of new national security challenges, from terrorism to energy availability, climate change to cybersecurity. The labs’ capability in large-scale computing, for example, could be harnessed to study and combat global warming.

Government labs could focus on finding ways to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Insights into superconductivity gleaned during plutonium research could be used to reduce energy losses when electricity is conducted over long distances.

The labs have already contributed technology that is at work in the war on terrorism, including monitors in use today to sample the air for weaponized pathogens in cities across the nation.
To reorient government science toward solving new problems, new goals should be set at the highest levels of government, Anastasio said.

New national science goals could be set by the incoming president and Congress in 2009, Anastasio said, much as the moon mission was set as a goal in 1961 by newly elected President John F. Kennedy to catch up with the Soviets in the space race.

“We need a vision,” Anastasio said. And “an investment strategy.”


Anonymous said...

From the last two posts:

"We need a vision," "an investment strategy," "If policymakers, government and the science and technology community come together and meet this challenge," "they can meet the national security needs now and in the future."

This is better than "We don´t set policy," but he isn´t specific about his vision, rather objective, or better, list examples, without giving his most important example, e.g. "the number one task."

(My vision: Directed Energy Weapons/EMP Weapons, this is to be specific, it hasn´t to be agreed upon, but it is to be specific.)

In the near future at the same address in Washington, DC, January 31, 2008:

Strategic Weapons in the 21st Century, Draft Agenda, Roland Reagan Building - Washington, DC, January 31, 2008, Sponsored by LANL and LLNL.

1) "Proliferation Dynamics: Motivations, Intentions and Interactions between Nuclear & Non-nuclear States."

2) "Role of Deterrence in the Post Cold War, Post 9/11 World."

3) "Implementation of Strategic Capabilities and their Impacts on Assurance, Dissuasion and Deterrence(ADD)."

4) "Understanding Key Divergent Views on U.S. Nuclear Policy."


Anonymous said...

“We need a vision,” Anastasio said. And “an investment strategy.”

When a lab Director gives speeches whining that he is waiting for others to hand him both: (1) a vision, and (2) a working financial strategy, it's an strong indication that you're working in a place that is headed for big trouble.

SNL developed a good vision and a successful investment strategy. Why can LANS? Is the $79 million profit fee not enough to get them fired up?

Anonymous said...

Realizing he was lost, a balloonist dropped down to ask directions.

"Excuse me, but I'm a little off course," he shouted. "I promised to
meet a friend an hour ago. I don't know where I am."

A woman yelled back, "You're in a hot air balloon hovering approximately
30 feet above the ground. You're at exactly 37 degrees, 24 minutes and
26.16 seconds North latitude and 122 degrees, 8 minutes and 42.3 seconds
West longitude."

"Amazing," the balloonist replied. "You must be an Engineer!"

"I am," she replied. "How did you know?"

"Well, everything you told me is technically correct, but I can't use
your information. I'm still lost, and you haven't been much help at
all. If anything, you've delayed my trip."

The woman thought for a moment, and then replied, "You must be in

"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well, you don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen
to your position due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise
that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to
solve your problems. In fact, you're in exactly the same position you
were before we met, but somehow it's now my fault."

Anonymous said...

"Insights into superconductivity gleaned during plutonium research could be used to reduce energy losses when electricity is conducted over long distances."

Oh, dear! Mike was really stretching with this one. It's embarrassing to watch him throw out statements like this in a sad attempt to protect LANS/Bechtel's new thrust toward pits and plutonium science.

Anonymous said...


"SNL developed a good vision and a successful investment strategy. Why can't LANS? Is the $79 million profit fee not enough to get them fired up?"

In a word, no. Guess what their fee is if they develop a kick ass, world changing investment strategy --- $79 million. If they don't --- $79 million.

Anonymous said...

1/16/08 11:50 AM, oh shut up already. Superconductivity in Pu compounds is John Sarrao's claim to fame, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with pit manufacturing.

Pinky and The Brain said...

Sounds like a top level post.

"LANL Denies Manufacturing Superconducting Pits"

Eric said...

For those who want Los Alamos to become stronger in cutting edge science, listen to this week's Scientific American podcast or read the February issue of the magazine. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University has gotten a monkey in North Carolina to use the pattern of neural firings in its brain to control a robot in Japan and make it walk.

Nicolelis is establishing science cities around the world and talking at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Nicolelis wants to show the potential of bringing up children to reach their potential mental capabilities. The first city will be in Natal in the northeast corner of Brazil.

I will put a longer version of this comment and some links on http://scienceatlanl.blogspot.com/
as I have time.


By the way, a former Los Alamos robotics expert is now happy. He is designing toys and living in Hong Kong. The toys, Robosapiens, are cool.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a vision and investment strategy of some sort.


Anonymous said...

That link doesn't quite make it on my browser. You need to go the newspaper's archives. That may save you a couple of minutes poking around, if you're interested in seeing how paying to waste blood and treasure and national prestige in Iraq means the nation doesn't have enough left to pay for international scientific collaborations.

Pinky and The Brain said...

8:27's link worked for me, but here is a clickable version.

Those interested in the ILC will want to see this article about Japan 'picking up the SLAC'.

Finally, there was a flurry of articles yesterday on the physics crisis in the UK. See 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Anonymous said...

It seems realistic that we assess the lab's accomplishments in directed science before we ask for more. I suggest ANTARES (for fusion energy), JUMPER (for isotope separation) BEAR (for space weaponry) NPB (for missile defense) and one can list lots more.
These were R&D programs where the large and expensive development was preceded by research that supposedly showed the development costs were justified.
My favorite was the Neutral Particle Beam (NPB) promoted for the lab by none other than God (Charleton Heston). The R&D program was typical, not undergoing peer review and funded in secrecy. It was based
on the principle that a neutral particle would not bend in the earth's magnetic field and would allow one to "shoot straight."
Ignored, however, was a relatively simple analysis that showed the neutrals would strip and become charged in an effectively short distance.
Was this typical of LANL programs? It's hard to tell because all the named programs were shut down without objective review.
I'd be interested in examples of successes that resulted from LANL big science.

Anonymous said...

I suggest we re-direct the majority of federal superconductivity research funding over to LANL's John Sarrao, project manager for MaRIE, so he can start doing research on the use of Pu-laced transmission cables for the electric industry. Just don't put too many of these cables together in one place!

Anonymous said...

Isn't it strange how Pu research has suddenly become the answer to this nation's energy crisis?

Eric said...


I am creating a list of successful science at LANL. I put it on the blog above so that it would be easy to update. So far, in 20 minutes, I have 30 projects.

Please add to the list.

Anonymous said...

If you read (1) //cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/, (2) www.cosmicvariance.com, (3) www.foxnews.com/scitech/naturalscience/index.html.

And further:

(4) The Big Bounce Theory, by Martin Bojowald.


(5) An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything, by A. Garret Lisi.


(6) The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXI).


(7) The Novel "Controlled Intermediate Nuclear Fusion" and its Possible Industrial Realization as Predicted by Hadronic Mechanics and Chemistry, by Ruggero Maria Santilli.


(8) The Orion Spacecraft, by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMC) for NASA, for human exploring back to the Moon ≈2020, and later to Mars, and other destinations in the solar system.




In summary: This list gives a less gloomy picture than the previous picture(s) from the articles.

Anonymous said...

12:21 pm: "Isn't it strange how Pu research has suddenly become the answer to this nation's energy crisis??"

WHAT?!? Who in the world said that?? Research into the superconducting nature of Pu compounds has absolutely nothing to do with "the answer to this nation's energy crisis". It's RESEARCH!! The f-electron elements and compounds and their properties are among the most exciting and rewarding areas of condensed matter research today. Besides, the "answer" you want isn't energy transmission efficiency, it is new energy sources, i.e., nuclear, not oil.

Mike's statement quoted by 1/16 11:50 am is correct, and 1/16 11:20 pm is correct. The uninformed, or merely troll-like, comments by 1/17 12:07 pm and 12:21 pm are, well, troll-like.

Anonymous said...

11:50 AM/11:20 PM may be trolls, 8:30 PM, but you sound like a lab pimp.

Anonymous said...

The article below on ultra-low level MRIs is some really cool sounding research at LANL. The web site shows some images of what looks to be a human head. Anyone know if these ultra-low level MRI devices require an ultra-long dwell time on their subjects to pull it off? What about the signal processing required?


Thursday, January 17, 2008
Weaker, Cheaper, Better MRIs

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are experimenting with MRI just slightly stronger than the earth's own magnetic field in hopes of developing cheaper, more accurate methods of detecting tumors.

Most MRI machines have a magnetic field of about 1.5 teslas, strong enough to yank metal objects out of the hands of the unwary. Zotev’s machine, however, generates a magnetic field of only 46 microteslas, roughly the same strength as the Earth’s magnetic field.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have made what they say are the first images of a human brain using magnetic fields a hundred-thousandth the strength of conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), paving the way for lower cost medical images that might be better at detecting tumors.

Anonymous said...

They use super-sensitive SQUID detectors for the ultra-low MRI work. Here's more info about it from IEEE Spectrum magazine:


Eric said...

According to Roger Snodgrass of the Monitor, NNSA graded LANS at achieving 71% of their performance goals this last year.

The report detailing this is not apparently available to the public yet.

Does anyone know what it actually says?