John Fleck sent me the Frank Munger story below along with this comment:
I was imagining that if we had perfect data, we'd see an uptick in LANL people arriving at a number of institutions. Interesting to think what might be on that list, but Oak Ridge would certainly be on it. Not big numbers in any one place, but cumulatively....Where are LANL people going when they leave? Is ORNL the top choice? Also, if anyone who left LANL is still reading this blog please report back to us. Do you have any regrets? Advice?
Ever since the brightest minds available gathered in New Mexico during World War II to design the first atomic bombs, Los Alamos National Laboratory has been considered one of the world’s premier research labs. Even today, despite the periodic security snafus, government contractor roulette and some of the uneasy adjustments required of a weapons design facility in the post-Cold War period, Los Alamos has managed to retain much of its prestige — an aura, if you will.
I don’t, of course, cover Los Alamos and wouldn’t pretend to understand the inner intricacies there or the mindset of scientists and engineers who populate the place (although I regularly get e-mails from the New Mexico crowd). Much of what I hear or know comes through the filter of folks at Oak Ridge institutions I cover, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and that can be misleading.
Anyway, I note this in passing because there’s been a perceptible migration of personnel from Los Alamos to ORNL in recent years. Not a mass movement, not by any stretch. But enough to get one’s attention because in the past Los Alamos was hardly a productive recruiting ground for the Oak Ridge science camp.
I was recently told about 100 people had transferred from Los Alamos to ORNL over the past five years. The Oak Ridge lab’s human resources department wasn’t anxious to do record-checking over that time period and would only confirm statistics for the past year — when there were 13 transfers.
So, does this mean anything?
Well, I suspect it’s nothing of earth-shaking significance because scientists come and go all the time. The ability to attract scientists from a prestigious lab, such as Los Alamos, is probably seen as a positive trend from the Oak Ridge perspective. And it may reflect some changes that have taken place within the Department of Energy labs in the post-Cold War.
But mostly it’s about job opportunities and where one wants to do his or her work.
“We’re putting out job ads in certain areas, and high-performance computing — that’s been a real magnet,” said Dana Christensen, ORNL’s associate lab director for energy and engineering sciences, who himself is a LANL alumnus.
One of the major hiring areas at ORNL has been the National Center for Computational Sciences, and some of those hires have come from Los Alamos.
Los Alamos (IBM Roadrunner) and ORNL (Cray Jaguar) ranked one and two in the latest world rankings for fastest computers. The big difference is that Jaguar is used to open science, and that apparently is a factor with some researchers.
“They like Jaguar better,” ORNL’s scientific computing chief Thomas Zacharia said recently. He laughed when he said it, but there’s probably some truth there, too.
“They aren’t restricted on what they do,” Christensen said. “What they’re doing at Los Alamos is largely classified — very important work. But here they can do open source work, which is very important also.”
I’m reminded of an interview I did a few years ago with Sean Ahern, the visualization chief at ORNL’s computing center, who came to Oak Ridge after a stint at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — another weapons design lab.
“It’s nice to be able to present your work in the open, talk to your family about your job and work in an environment where you’re allowed to bring your cell phone into the office,” Ahern said. “It’s nice to not always watch what you say.”
Senior writer Frank Munger may be reached at 865-342-6329. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.