Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

on December 10, 2013 at 5:00 PM


This article is part of the series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” Be sure to check back for more entries soon.

Located east of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory(LLNL) is one of three National Laboratories overseen by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Founded as a branch of the University of California Radiation Laboratory in 1952, Livermore Lab was built on the site of a decommissioned Naval Air Station. Over the years, the Lab’s mission has expanded from advancing nuclear weapons science to encompass a wide variety of energy, national security and technological research areas.

10. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is named after physicist Ernest O. Lawrence, the recipient of the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for the invention and development of the cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator. Lawrence is considered one of the “founding fathers” of the Lab.

9. Livermore Lab currently has active commercial licenses with more than 100 companies as well as dozens of active CRADAs, a type of cooperative research agreement. Licensing and royalty income in recent years has topped $8 million annually, representing more than $300 million in annual sales of products based on Laboratory technologies.

8. On September 19, 1957, the Lab conducted the first contained underground nuclear explosion, the Rainier Event, in a tunnel at the Nevada Test Site. The detonation provided the information necessary to establish systems such as an international array of seismic detectors for monitoring nuclear test activities worldwide.

7. In 1990, the Energy Department joined with the National Institutes of Health and other laboratories around the world to kick off the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration to map the human genome. The Department’s expertise and ability to support this effort arose from research conducted at a number of the National Laboratories, including research on chromosome 19 conducted by Livermore biomedical researchers.

6. At the forefront in materials science, the Laboratory has produced aerogels, one of the lightest solids ever made, since 1985. Aerogels, also known as frozen smoke, have the highest heat resistance of any material tested. They are also fireproof and extraordinarily strong, able to support more than a thousand times their own weight. As a result of their heat resistance, aerogels are outstanding candidates for insulation in buildings, vehicles, filters and appliances.

5. In 1994, the Clementine space mission used cameras developed at LLNL to map the entire surface of the moon. Data from Clementine indicated the presence of frozen water near the moon’s south pole. In 2010, NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) confirmed the presence of ancient ice there.

4. In 2000, the world’s largest fast-growth crystal was unveiled at the Laboratory. Intended for use in the National Ignition Facility, the KDP (potassium dihydrogen phosphate) crystal weighed 701 pounds and was grown in 52 days. The enormous crystal was subsequently sliced into thin plates used to convert the laser’s infrared light beams into ultraviolet light just before the beams strike the target. The facility required nearly 600 such plates.

3. Named after Lawrence Livermore National Lab, the element livermorium, atomic number 116, is a synthetic super heavy element discovered as part of a collaboration between Livermore Lab and the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions in Russia. Scientists at LLNL have been involved in heavy element research since the Laboratory’s opening and have been collaborators in the discovery of six elements — 113, 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118.

2. As of November 2013, Sequoia, the lab’s flagship supercomputer, is the third fastestsupercomputer in the world. Sequoia can perform in excess of 17 quadrillion floating point operations, or calculations, per second.

1. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore is the world’s largest and highest energy laser system. During experiments, NIF’s 192 intense laser beams are capable of focusing more than 1.8 million joules of ultraviolet laser energy and 500 trillion watts of power in billionth-of-a-second pulses on a BB-size target. When all of the system’s lasers converge on the target, temperatures of more than 100 million degrees, densities up to 100 times the density of lead and pressures more than 100 billion times earth’s atmospheric pressure are created — conditions similar to those inside stars, the cores of giant planets and nuclear weapons. In 2012, the JJ Abrams film “Star Trek Into Darkness” was filmed in the National Ignition Facility.