Saturday, June 9, 2018

UC History and Future: Manhattan Continues

UC has been involved in the Los Alamos lab since the World War II Manhattan Project. As blog readers will know, the Dept. of Energy put the management contract out to bid recently. UC teamed up with Texas A&M to submit a bid to continue its role. Apparently, that bid has won:

U. of California and Texas A&M Win Bid to Run Birthplace of Atom Bomb

By Megan Zahneis, June 08, 2018, Chronicle of Higher Ed

A corporation run, in part, by the U. of California and Texas A&M U. systems has won the bid to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy announced.

The University of California and Texas A&M University systems are the leaders of a team that was awarded the contract on Friday to run Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The two systems will be joined by the research and development organization Battelle in a limited-liability corporation, Triad National Security, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Safety Administration announced in a news release.

Established in 1943, Los Alamos lab, northwest of Santa Fe, N.M., was used as a hub for the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop nuclear technology. It is known as the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

Today the lab works on designing and testing nuclear weapons, producing an annual report to the president on the state of America’s nuclear arsenal, and engaging in nonproliferation and counterproliferation efforts. It also conducts research in such fields as national security, space exploration, renewable energy, medicine, nanotechnology, and supercomputing.

Management of the lab is seen as a mark of prestige in the world of nuclear engineering. The University of California system currently operates the lab in partnership with the engineering and construction firm Bechtel, but their joint-management company has come under fire in recent years for a series of safety and security blunders. That team’s contract, scheduled to expire on September 30, will be extended for a four-month transition period.
After its leaders expressed interest in bidding for the project, Texas A&M threw its hat into the ring in recent months, and eventually joined the California system’s bid. Texas A&M is also the alma mater of the secretary of energy, Rick Perry, who has not hesitated to weigh in on university affairs since joining the cabinet. Notably, in 2017, Perry publicly condemned the university’s latest student-government election, saying it had “made a mockery of due process and transparency.”

Spokesmen for the California system and Texas A&M did not answer The Chronicle’s inquiries about why the Texas university had been added to the bid, instead pointing to an existing statement. Texas A&M has helped the California system run another national laboratory, Lawrence Livermore, since 2007.

 Triad’s contract to run the lab is for five years, at $2.5 billion annually, with five one-year options to extend, for a potential total of 10 years.

“We are committed to building on the legacy of world-class research, unparalleled innovation, and service to public good that have been the hallmark of the laboratory since it was founded, in 1943,” Texas A&M’s chancellor, John Sharp, said in a news release.

Lee Bernstein, the Nuclear Data Group leader at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who also works as an adjunct in the University of California at Berkeley’s nuclear-engineering department, said the partnership between the Cal system and national laboratories like Los Alamos is invaluable.

Berkeley’s nuclear-engineering program, Bernstein said, has five to 10 students involved in research at Los Alamos at any given time. The affiliation with the labs is a draw for potential students, and in some cases the research collaboration allows the university to provide students with tuition remission and salary support.

Most important, Bernstein said, the lab partnership gives students hands-on experience in the field.

“When it comes to experimental research, it’s really important to get into the laboratory and work with the equipment,” Bernstein told The Chronicle. “You can talk about it in the classroom as much as you like, you can have good upper-level undergraduate or graduate laboratory classes that familiarize students with techniques and methods, but unless they’re there, actually involved in the research, they don’t get a really good appreciation for what’s involved.”

Working in a national laboratory also offers mentorship opportunities that can lead to job offers.

“I once jokingly heard UC-Berkeley nuclear engineering referred to as the gateway drug to the national laboratories,” Bernstein said. “A lot of our students who come to us want to get involved in national-laboratory research, and we’re viewed as a good way to do that.”


As we have done when this topic comes up, we urge you see the BBC's 7-part 1980 "Oppenheimer" series which looks at the Manhattan Project and its connection to the Berkeley physics department. Its location on YouTube seems to shift around. Current location is below:

Part 1:

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:
Part 6:
Part 7:

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