Lab greets community leaders

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By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory opened its doors for a breakfast of community leaders Tuesday.


Senior officials of the laboratory and the local office of the National Nuclear Security Administration welcomed a variety of businesses, government and educational leaders from nearby tribes and counties.


While visitors munched on burritos, they viewed project posters and talked to dozens of students and mentors from eight laboratory educational programs involving elementary schools through advanced studies.


Later, the visitors chose from among four whirlwind tours of specialized areas of the laboratory.


These included an introduction to the nanotechnology center, an environmentally focused tour of waste and disposal operations, a combo visit to science laboratories and the security science education complex and a visit to the Roadrunner supercomputer, the fastest high performance computer in the world.


Michael Anastasio, the laboratory director gave his assessment of what he understood to be a time of change, well aware of the economic straits the country is going through.


The prospects for 2009 seem favorable, he suggested, especially if Congress decides to extend the current continuing resolution through the rest of the year, as many in Washington predict.


More uncertain is the budget for 2010, which will more fully reflect the priorities of the new administration and Congress.


There are a number of policy reviews in the works, Anastasio noted, including a high level study by former U.S. Defense Secretaries William J. Perry and James R. Schlesinger and a new Nuclear Posture Review that are likely to have a bearing on the laboratory’s future.


He said LANL was stepping up its efforts to diversify its mission, based on two main ideas – trying to identify the unique strengths of the lab and working with others to become an attractive go-to place for a variety of partnerships.


Roger Snyder, the deputy manager of NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office, filled in for the manager, Don Winchell, emphasized both the change and the continuity.


He said that his boss, the new Energy Secretary Steven Chu, was already moving resources to put Washington’s emerging stimulus plan into action as quickly as possible.


Speaking of the educational programs on display, Anastasio called special attention to three youngsters from Aspen Elementary School.


Two of them, Matthew Ticknor and Colin Redman were fifth-graders last year when their team beat out older kids to win two awards in the Supercomputer Challenge, one of the lab’s major statewide programs in the schools.


This year the youngsters are joined by a new partner, Michael Englert Erickson and plan a program for simulating a closed eco-system on a space ship.


The science tour with Sue Seestrom, associate director for experimental physical sciences, sampled laboratory research in sound sensors, carbon sequestration, and Mars spacecraft instrumentation.


This group also pit-stopped in the Research Park for quick looks at the latest work on superconducting materials for saving energy by lowering the resistance in the electric transmission lines.


Upstairs in the Research Park, the tour took in the National Security Science Center, a seedbed for the lab’s Advanced Institute of Science and New Mexico Consortium. There were demonstrations of work the lab is doing dampening vibrations and monitoring structural safety in bridges, buildings and devices.