Nuke expert chosen to lead lab

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Monitor Staff Report

Michael Anastasio said he had hoped to retire June 1 as the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It looks like he got his wish.

On Thursday, Charles McMillan was appointed director of LANL and president of Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS), the company that manages and operates the lab for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The appointments were announced by Norman Pattiz, chairman of the LANS Board of Governors, and are effective June 1, 2011.

McMillan becomes the 10th director in the laboratory’s nearly 70-year history.

McMillan, 56, is the lab’s principal associate director for the Weapons Program, who is responsible for the science, technology, engineering, and infrastructure enabling the laboratory to fulfill its nuclear deterrent mission. He has more than 28 years of scientific and leadership experience in weapons science, stockpile certification, experimental physics, and computational science. His career spans stints at both Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“I’m truly honored and thrilled to be leading Los Alamos. This laboratory is rich with history, full of intellectual vitality, and singularly endowed with an innovative spirit,” McMillan said. “As director, I’ll seek to cultivate a vibrant, creative, and agile scientific enterprise. The goal: continue the Los Alamos legacy of scientific breakthroughs that advance our national and global security interests while offering the promise of broad and beneficial applications for society.” 

McMillan was selected following a national search led by a committee appointed by the University of California. The candidates interviewed by the search committee had a diverse range of experience and skills gained in national laboratories, research universities, and other scientific institutions.

“We selected the leader who could best build on the scientific and technological momentum at Los Alamos,” Pattiz said. “Charlie possesses the necessary skills and experience to lead the laboratory into a new era of unparalleled excellence in service to the nation. It’s a tall order—finding someone who’s highly committed and credible in the world of nuclear weapons, global security, and other science missions. In Charlie, the Laboratory has that leader.”

McMillan came to Los Alamos in 2006, following the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selection of a new university-corporate partnership—LANS—to manage and operate the lab. McMillan started his career as an experimental physicist at Livermore in 1983. During his two decades there, he held a variety of research and management positions.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the crown jewels of our nation’s scientific enterprise and one of the Department of Energy’s most important, accomplished and prestigious laboratories,” DOE Secretary Steven Chu said. “As we work to accomplish the Department’s vital national security missions and make the critical investments required to transform the energy economy, I know we have an outstanding partner in Charlie McMillan.” 

McMillan has a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Columbia Union College. He has earned two DOE Awards of Excellence, one of them for developing an innovative holographic tool that enhances the ability of scientists to predict nuclear performance. In his new role, McMillan will oversee a budget of approximately $2.5 billion, employees and contractors numbering some 12,000, and a 36-square-mile site of scientific laboratories, nuclear facilities, experimental capabilities, administration buildings, and utilities.

“Having known and worked with Charlie McMillan for more than a decade, I know Los Alamos is in excellent hands,” NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D’Agostino said. “As we work to invest in the future and build the modern, 21st century nuclear security enterprise required to implement the President’s nuclear security agenda, Los Alamos will continue to play a vital role in pushing the frontiers of science and discovery. I congratulate Charlie on his selection, and look forward to working with him to secure our nation and build on the legacy of excellence built at Los Alamos.”

Pattiz talked about Anastasio’s dedication and 31 years of service to the nation, the University of California, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and LANS.

“Mike has led with distinction, shaping the current stockpile stewardship program, ensuring the reliability of our nuclear deterrent, and fostering a climate of scientific excellence that has led to breakthroughs in supercomputing, AIDS research, plant growth, and hydrogen fuel cells,” Pattiz said.

As principal associate director of weapons at Los Alamos, McMillan provided vision and direction for the weapons program, including four weapons systems, weapons physics, engineering and manufacturing. He was principal advisor to the Lab director for the Annual Assessment of the safety, security, and effectiveness of nuclear weapons in the nation’s stockpile, and he provided technical input to the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, the JASON Defense Advisory Panel, and the U.S. Congress. 

Before serving as the principal associate director for Weapons Programs for Los Alamos, McMillan was associate director, weapons physics, with responsibilities for design, experimentation and simulation. He managed key facilities, including DARHT and explosive firing sites. 

From 1983 to 2006, McMillan held a series of scientific and management positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. From 2001 to 2006, he managed the lab’s B-Division, responsible for design, code development and experimental capabilities for Livermore’s weapons system. Before that, he held key positions in the Advanced Experiments Group and Computational Physics Division.

“I am extraordinarily pleased to learn of the selection of Charlie McMillan as LANL's new director,” said George Miller, the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “He is an exceptional scientist, a strong leader, and a passionate advocate for the national security missions of the nation. LLNL has a long and productive relationship with Charlie as he was an integral member of our team from 1983 to 2006 and we look forward to continuing our strong relationship with Los Alamos under his leadership.”

McMillan is married with three college-age children. He is an avid photographer and an accomplished musician, playing the piano, organ, and recorder. He also has an active interest in astronomy and telescopes. He resides in Los Alamos.

"The county looks forward to working with Mr. McMillan as he takes over the lab,” said acting county administrator Randy Autio. “It is an important and difficult job and he fills big shoes but will do well. We are happy he is a resident of the county so he will understand our issues and better appreciate our challenges and the finer qualities of our community"


McMillan was selected following a national search to identify a broad and diverse set of candidates. The search was led by the University of California and commenced in February 2011. A search committee of 16 research scientists and administrators from academia, industry, and government, chaired by Pattiz, conducted the search and candidate interviews. The U.S. Department of Energy approved the selection. 

The search committee was advised by a screening task force composed of university and laboratory researchers and administrators. The search committee also received support from an executive search firm. Some 150 individuals applied or were nominated for the director position through this process.

"In the course of a rigorous and competitive search process, Charlie McMillan emerged as the clear choice to lead the Los Alamos National Laboratory, an institution that plays a critical role in preserving and enhancing our national security," said UC President Mark Yudof. "I'm confident that Charlie's leadership skills, his knowledge of the nuclear weapons complex, his integrity and the respect he has earned, along with his commitment to the ongoing scientific and technological excellence of the lab, will prove to be of great value to our nation and the research under way at LANL."


John Severance and Carol A. Clark contributed to this report.