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Giving the laboratory a future

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By Kirsten Laskey

After World War II, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s future seemed up in the air.

“After World War II, no one knew what to do with Los Alamos,” LANL Historian Alan Carr said. “Some thought it would go away all together.”

So it seems Norris Bradbury (1909-1997), the director of the laboratory from 1945-1970, inherited a tough situation.

“Bradbury inherited a laboratory without a future,” Carr said.

Luckily, the new director came up with a plan.

Residents can learn about Bradbury and his contributions to the laboratory during the upcoming Los Alamos Historical Society’s lecture at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Los Alamos ward of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Carr, who will give the talk, said, “I think Bradbury was a protagonist. He was optimistic. He was always hopeful but practical at the same time.”

Carr added that Bradbury thought nuclear weapons were important for the nation’s defense but only a temporary solution until diplomacy was completely effective.

It’s a philosophy that can still be applied today. “Bradbury’s attitude of having hope and optimism but maintaining a strong defense … that could be valuable today,” Carr said.

The laboratory continues to be affected by other contributions Bradbury provided.

For instance, to keep the best and brightest scientists at the laboratory, Bradbury diversified the lab.

Carr said Bradbury was more interested in different programs and basic science, which is  something the laboratory continues to practice today.

Carr added, “Bradbury really developed a mission for the laboratory all on his own. He really kept the place together.”

Bradbury’s work in expanding the services at the laboratory from purely weapons-based to broad-based science has earned him the title of “the architect of the modern laboratory.”

Carr said he is eager to share Bradbury’s work with the public because not much is written about the lab director.

It seems Bradbury’s legacy is slipping away because there isn’t a lot of information about him; yet, Carr said his story is important to tell because of the length of time Bradbury served as lab director and the period of time in which he served.

Plus, “the laboratory is clearly a historical institution,” Carr said. “It was (one of) the most important places in the birth of atomic energy.”

Even though it is a controversial place, it a history people are interested in learning.

“I think because of the varied history of the laboratory,” Carr said.

Besides, taxpayers fund the laboratory so they have right to know about what goes on there, he said.

There’s a lot to learn from the laboratory.

“I think history tends to repeat itself,” Carr said.

He noted modern issues such as the energy crisis, and alternative energy have occurred in the past.  

“I think it’s important to recognize that history repeats and the lab has helped solve problems and will again,” Carr said.