LANL: DOE head engages scientists at lab

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By Roger Snodgrass

Energy Secretary Steven Chu began a two-day visit to New Mexico with a pit stop Thursday evening at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist was welcomed into the lab’s Metropolis computer center by Director Michael Anastasio and other top officials and dignitaries.

There he was immediately absorbed in new findings from several research projects on climate impacts, hydrogen storage, nanotechnology and HIV/AIDS research.

It was a photo opportunity for the press who clambered for photographs and tried to overhear snippets of conversations.

Despite the chaotic surroundings, Chu appeared focused in each of the presentations, asking a number of non-trivial questions, keeping his interlocutors on their toes.

Starting with a poster on climate change, Chu asked project leaders Beth Wingate and Michael Ebinger about a recent controversy on arctic ice conditions. He wanted to know which supercomputer they were using and how DOE funds were supporting their projects.

Well known for his alternative and renewable energy interests as the Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chu spent a little more time with Victor Klimov on the question of improving the efficiency of solar cells.

With Kevin Ott, he discussed the lab’s hydrogen storage project.

Ott told him, “We’ve actually made some very big breakthroughs here.”

What was holding things back, Chu wanted to know.

“Cost and efficiencies and availability of vehicles to use,” Ott said.

“What about applications as a stationary energy source?” Chu asked.

“That’s going to be very big,” Ott said.

Chu managed to get to one more poster, where he spoke to Bette Korber and Will Fischer about their project on “Fighting HIV/AIDS with computers.”

Then the guest of honor was hustled off to experience three-dimensional simulations in the laboratory’s Power Wall theater.

It was Chu’s first visit to Los Alamos as Secretary of Energy.

He was accompanied by Administrator Tom D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration and other staff from Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. arrived a little before Chu and his entourage to participate in the welcome.

Chu is scheduled to speak and answer questions today during a more leisurely visit to Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.

The visit includes a talk on “The Role of the Nuclear Security Laboratories in Meeting National Challenges.”