LDRD speakers stress research, security

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By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos National Laboratory conducted its fourth annual Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) day at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino Tuesday and two speakers took center stage.

They included University of California Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Steven Beckwith, who spoke about “Research in the interest of national security” and Terry Wallace, LANL’s Principal Associate Director, Global Security, who presented a discussion on “Storms on the Horizon: Science, Technology and the National Security Challenge.”

Beckwith talked about an approach put forth by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.”

“The innovation that occurs in a society is at its best and most profound when it is occurring over all of society,” Beckwith said. “Everyone is contributing and putting their best ideas forward from the bottom up rather than the top down.”

Beckwith noted that the United States does that extremely well. “We stimulate competition, provide opportunities to people and we protect their rewards.”

Beckwith also said that LANL and the LDRD program are prime examples of how this works. “The six percent invested in LDRD has a disproportionate impact on the lab, and the lab has a disproportionate impact on society.”

The United States invested $400–$500 million per year in research and development. Our nearest competitor, China, invested $150 million. The United States’ investment is only 2.5 percent of the gross national product, but that equals the combined investments of China, France, Japan, Germany and South Korea.

“We have to keep this up because this is the wealth and the security of the future, because we don’t know what the real threats are going to be,” Beckwith said. “The threats to our nation are difficult to predict. They change with time. Cyber security is a worry, disease is a worry. Atomic weapons are a concern too, but it is not clear that is the greatest threat.”

“I think the reason the lab is important is because it has a culture of research and innovation surrounding broad based global threats. It provides a sort of knowledge capacity for the nation to respond to threats that we cannot predict.”
Wallace, meanwhile, looked at how the demands for energy and natural resources will impact national security in the future.

“In the last two years we have expended more energy than in all of history. Eighty percent of that is from extractive industries: oil, coal and natural gas,” Wallace said. “This has tremendous consequences on environmental health and resources.

“Energy is national security concern. Annually, just the Department of Defense spends $17 billion annually on petroleum products. The consequences are experienced all across the globe.”

“There is a global imperative to have access to cheap energy. We need to double energy growth by 2035 or 2040,” Wallace said. “It will cost $180 trillion to reproduce that infrastructure we presently have. Without technological breakthrough, without innovation, that will not be possible.”

Wallace cited studies that show “extraordinary” population growth since 1750.

“Suddenly we have nine million people that are all looking for a high quality of life. That quality of life is based on access to energy, access to resources, and access to human health.”

Ten percent of the world’s population is using the majority of the resources, he noted.

Wallace also cited climate change as a national security concern.

“The impact of 9 million people on extractive mode in the world is extraordinary. It can easily be seen from space,” Wallace said.

Changing rainfall patterns, rising oceans and fresh water supplies will all have an impact in the future.

“Global supplies of fresh water are changing dramatically. Most of the globe already has a water problem,” Wallace said. “The resource missing in the Middle East is water, and the conflicts brewing there are very much about water. So unless we have major technological breakthroughs, we are going to have significant conflict over these resources.”