METI-RIETI-AIST-NEDO Lecture & Symposium

Partnering for Scientific Innovation - The Los Alamos National Laboratory Experience -


Keynote Speech)

Terry C. Wallace
Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology, and Engineering
Los Alamos National Laboratory

I am most pleased to be here today to take part in this workshop which highlights a most urgent issue. Both the United States and Japan have built the world's largest economies and lifted their representative countries to the highest levels of personal prosperity in history. In both countries, this economic rise has been driven by technological innovation.

In 1946, the very first scientific advisor to a US President, Vannevar Bush, unleashed a vision. This vision was called "The Endless Frontier: Science." It laid out science as the engine to prosperity. The ensuing 50years saw unprecedented growth in technology and huge advances in all fields from medicine to electronics to information science, transportation and manufacturing. However, in the last 20 years we have seen increasing struggles in connecting spending in research and development to technological innovation. This comes at a time when both our economies - the United States and Japan - have shifted. They have moved from manufacturing. They now have a service component and an intellectual component. We are both struggling with maintaining the high levels of prosperity, and understanding how our service components can remain a major part of our economies. It is imperative for us to look towards innovation to take us to the second generation of the endless frontier, to look to new areas in which we can take basic science and drive innovation which will, in turn, power our economies.

What I would like to do today is just talk about Los Alamos, and our vision for how we can work together and try to build some of these bridges. There are no simple answers, but again it is imperative that we move towards the next generation of innovation.

Let me describe Los Alamos National Laboratory today. It is a large multi-disciplinary research facility. It has a very large work force that is dedicated to basic science. We are a basic research and development laboratory first. Although we do not actually produce anything for market, we have incredible scientific productivity. We have more than 2,000 papers that appear in peer reviewed journals each year; dozens of our scientists are elected to high awards every year, and we produce science that spreads from nanotechnology to information science.

I have some simple facts about Los Alamos which most people don't know. As I said, we are quite large - we have 14,500 employees; we cover a very large area - I don't know hectares, we do square miles - at Los Alamos we are 40 sq. miles; and we have about 4,000 PhD's. In addition, every year we have 1,400 students who come to work on research at Los Alamos. We have more than 350 Postdocs who work here. Finally, our work force is different from most national laboratories in the United States; we have a large foreign national population as part of our permanent staff. Our annual budget is 2.2 billion dollars. We are government-owned, meaning that every building is owned by the Department of Energy, but we are contractor-operated, meaning that I am not owned by the Department of Energy. We were managed by the University of California for 60 years until last June 1st. The Federal Government made a decision to move away from universities managing their laboratories and Los Alamos was put up for a competitive bid. The competitive bid was won by the Los Alamos National Security Limited Liability Corporation, with the University of California as the primary shareholder. This corporation will manage the laboratory now for at least 7 years, and potentially 20 years if we manage the Laboratory well.

Our Laboratory has a mission, and that is we have to solve problems that are national in scope. We call this the National Security Mission. Sometimes that is confusing for people; we are not a Department of Defense Laboratory, but we are a laboratory which has to address problems which are threats to the United States. These can be threats in defense, but in particular now threats in terms of energy security, environmental security, health and infrastructure.

Energy is perhaps the most important problem we see from a science perspective in our country today. Of course Japan and the US face energy supply issues and, therefore, this is an area in which our collaboration will be quite important. We only work on complex problems, so we will talk today about what a large laboratory can bring in terms of bringing teams together versus the individual super star investigator.

I would like to say what Los Alamos is and what Los Alamos is not. We have a very focused mission. We must solve problems which are in the national interest. For everything we do, we must state why it is in the national interest. We provide science-based solutions to complex problems. We don't build things, we provide the science solution. We do basic research, we also have applied research with development, but we need to partner in the end to make those solutions available. We collaborate with a wide range of partners. We presently collaborate with about 350 universities. We also have strong collaborations with other national laboratories, and we have collaborations with industry on very specific projects.

It is also fair to say what we are not. We are not very cheap. Because Los Alamos National Laboratory has a very large work force that has an important national mission, we are an expensive laboratory. So what we say is that we are not the "Wal-Mart" of science because we don't provide the low-cost solution. What we do well, however, is to provide the solution to complicated problems where we need to bring together many different types of science. We don't focus on short-term solutions, we are a long-term science solution laboratory. And we are not a contract engineering house, so we do not build things on the basis of what someone needs done. We are a science laboratory.

I would like to give a few examples of Los Alamos' collaborations and I will touch on each one. I'm going to talk about Cooperative Projects with industry. I'm going to talk about deciding where we build our Centers of Excellence, some of our user facilities, and finally how we put these together to be "Gateways" to new areas of science.

Let me give an example of a Cooperative Project. This is with an energy company - Chevron. Our cooperation with Chevron is to work on a set of problems. I would like to remind you of how the U.S. energy sector works. Each of the large companies, like Chevron, used to have a large research and development department. This was true before 1980. In 1980 there was a revolution in the US energy industry, after which business became more profit and operations oriented. The simplest thing at that time to maximize business was to remove research and development. So our very large energy companies got rid of all their research and development capabilities. Los Alamos now provides that research and development capability in specific areas, for example with Chevron, we work in certain areas, such as communications. We have developed the science for Chevron to be able to use high frequency radio waves to communicate deep underground, between well holes, for example, in an oil field. We do much of the modeling and development of new modeling techniques for Chevron. Los Alamos has a strong core capability in computer modeling and simulation and we apply this to the complicated problems that Chevron is interested in. Material Science - we have helped them design new materials that are less corrosive in pipes that run hydrocarbons under pressure. Chemistry - as Chevron looks to drill and exploit oil resources deep below the surface of the ocean, some 10,000 meters below the surface in places like the Gulf of Mexico, there is a problem with bringing the oil up under such high pressures. We have developed a chemistry solution to make that oil less expansive as it is brought towards the surface, and saved about a billion dollars per deep oil well in terms of infrastructure. And of course my favorite area, we collaborate in earth science. I'm an earth scientist. When we collaborate here, we start with a very clear understanding of what the problem is that we are trying to work on for them, and make sure it is mutually beneficial; i. e., does finding a solution serve the nation and as well as this company.

One key is posing the right question. As an example, Chevron was concerned about pipe failure. They could not find a way to safely bring the hot oil through a pipeline towards the surface. We provided a chemistry solution to keep the volume constant, and, therefore, removed the stress from the pipeline, as the hot oil came up to the surface.

Another example of this was described by the Minister this morning -- hydrogen storage. The problem with hydrogen, of course, is storage and transport. We know how to use hydrogen in fuel cells but long-term storage and transport remains a very difficult issue. There is no simple solution, but what we have done is establishing a Center of Excellence to bring together collaborators from all across the globe. This is an example of a problem that requires collective wisdom to be able to solve. From this environment in the Center of Excellence, we are able to test different possible solutions.

In any Center of Excellence, the issue is forming the right team. You need to know what the problem is and you have to have highly qualified collaborators who believe it is in their best interest to work together. We find that this means we must negotiate agreements in advance so that everyone has the same expectation. We also work to make sure that we have a high level of communication, and this means that we bring people to Los Alamos or we go to our partners, so that exchange is personal. We do not deliver a solution; we develop a solution in collaboration.

Finally, I just want to mention that Los Alamos, in the huge area that it covers, has some unique facilities. One of these is the Los Alamos Neutron Scattering Center. We have a linear accelerator that accelerates protons, and one of the things we do is strike a target to produce neutrons. These neutrons then can be used to look at many different types of structures. More than 1,100 people come to Los Alamos every year to use the neutron scattering facility. We have more than 350 experiments that we will perform in a given year, each of which is selected after a peer-reviewed competition. This is an incredibly strong collaboration builder, bringing the very best science to Los Alamos.

This shows again a picture of a potential proton, neutron example. At the Lujan Center we have 14 different instruments that allow us to look at materials' structures sometimes under temperature, sometimes under pressure, sometimes under strain, sometimes for biological systems. The laboratory itself uses this about 50% of the time, the other 50% of the time it is used by our collaborators.

Finally a Gateway. We have just opened a brand new Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies. It is a joint effort between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory located in Albuquerque about 100 miles away from Los Alamos. This facility is designed to take nanoscience from the laboratory to commercial application. We know how to do the cutting-edge science but we don't know how to convert that to market. By developing this resource, we hope to work together to be able to bridge this gap between basic research and market needs. We believe nanotechnology is an area which will be of fundamental importance to the future.

I want to leave you with a few elements needed for a successful collaboration. These are the absolutely essential components. There must be a clear science need. For us to be involved, the need must be connected to the Los Alamos mission. In other words, it must serve our nation. We must have mutual scientific respect, we must have an agreement on the timeframe required for success, and we look for everyone to be a winner in our collaboration. In other words collaboration must benefit all. We have to have a willingness to invest. In other words because we don't work on short term problems, all parties must be comfortable with a horizon where success is years out. And finally, we always look for a balanced partnership.

In addition to our successes, we have had relationships which have failed. The reasons for these failures are mostly that one side seeks an unfair advantage or one side thinks they can do it all. There have been times when Los Alamos has been the guilty party. We have sought an unfair advantage or we thought we could do it alone. When we disconnect from our industrial partners, we inevitably fail. Often in a collaboration, the partners each already have their solutions or what they think are their solutions. We work to avoid this in collaborations because we need to think through the problem and find "the" solution rather than reinforce it. The last reason for failure is mismatched time expectations. As I said, Los Alamos does long-term work on serious and complex problems. There is a strong desire in industry to have immediate solutions, and we can't provide that very effectively.

I just want to touch on an area that I think is essential for collaboration, and that the Minister spoke of today -- energy security. Energy solutions in terms of sustainability must be renewable. Japan and the U.S. face the same energy supply issues. Presently the United States uses one quarter of the energy produced on the globe. But within 10 years the U.S. will be surpassed by China, and within 15 years we are likely to be surpassed by India. So both the supply of energy and how we produce that energy has to change. What we need to look for is new energy that will be carbon-neutral to minimize the impact on the environment. There is no single solution. This will require an integrated and large scale effort, which can only be done through collaboration.

I will close with an example of a possible collaboration -- solar energy. We already know that solar energy could supply all the energy that we need, however, we don't have a very effective way of gathering solar energy for large cities such as Tokyo. We know that the sun can supply the energy because that is how our fossil fuels were produced. We need to be effective in the transformation of solar radiation to actual useable electricity. We have to go beyond where we are today and this will require new science and research into the science of solar energy. To be successful, this effort must be connected with industry so that science can be turned into technology.

This is a global problem; we have to have a global solution. We need to bring together research institutions, universities, and companies, in a collaborative effort to reduce the cost/kW-hr by two orders of magnitude. This is a great challenge, but it is one that we have to succeed in. We will have to focus on fundamental science and not look at incremental solutions.

There are many different options to do this, but in the end, we believe that a joint institution and collaboration is an example of where this would go.

I close my remarks today with saying that I am very impressed with the Minister's vision for seeking global solutions to Science and Technology. My country has often not sought collaboration for many different reasons. However, we are at the dawn of an era where we must bring together all the different possible ways to solve problems like the energy crisis.

I thank you very much for having the opportunity to address you today and also to be able to participate in this discussion with the panelists. Thank you.