July 16 marks the 75th anniversary of Trinity, the world’s first atomic device that was detonated near Alamogordo at 5:30 a.m. on July 16, 1945. Photo Courtesy LANL
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos National Laboratory is hosting a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the July 16, 1945 Trinity Test, the world’s first atomic explosion on Thursday, July 16. The commemoration will be attended by Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration and will be held at the Lab’s historic V-Site which is located in a secure area and not open to the public.
When the “Gadget” was detonated July 16, 1945 near Alamogordo by Manhattan Project scientists, physicist Hans Bethe said it “looked like a giant magnesium flare which kept on for what seemed a whole minute but was actually one or two seconds”.
“The white ball grew and after a few seconds became clouded with dust whipped up by the explosion from the ground and rose and left behind a black trail of dust particles,” Bethe said.
Los Alamos National Laboratory director Dr. Thom Mason gave a virtual presentation Thursday entitled “From Trinity to Today: How Los Alamos National Laboratory Employees Innovate and Protect Our Nation” Thursday evening as part of the 2020 Los Alamos ScienceFest.
Mason called Trinity a monumental event that was a milestone in one of the most scientific endeavors of all time – the Manhattan Project – which helped end World War II. He noted that LANL had a large role in the Manhattan Project and has spent the 75 years since the war ended “doing big science” on behalf of the nation.
“We have employees on teams that tackle everything from biology to space science, safe operations, nuclear security, and everything in between. Lately, we’ve been using our facilities, machines and expertise to study COVID-19, one of the biggest threats currently facing humanity. We’ve been researching vaccines, using our expertise in computer simulation, to model how this pandemic might grow, tracing the origin of the virus and studying the effectiveness of mitigation strategies, all the way from global to the county level. Our models are being used by some state governments and by the CDC. It’s a busy time to be a scientist at a national lab,” he said.
Mason noted that with almost 13,000 employees at LANL, there are lots of people working on other important projects.
“Our employees are creating equipment for the 2020 Mars Rover, designing parts for satellites, supporting our fellow National Nuclear Security Administration labs and plants, producing medical isotopes that are in short supply, erecting new parking garages and buildings on site and hosting a virtual summer student program to give young employees the chance to work at a national lab,” he said.
Mason said LANL is also preparing for an uncertain future. He noted that before COVID-19 was even a known threat, national laboratories like LANL were planning to combat known and emerging biosecurity issues.
“Our staff is creating new ways to protect the electric grid using quantum cryptography. We’re teaching a new generation how to maintain a nuclear stockpile even though we don’t conduct actual nuclear explosive tests. Modernizing the U.S. nuclear posture is an ongoing challenge that requires bright minds and cutting edge technology,” Mason said. “Our nuclear experts are collecting and safeguarding unused or unguarded nuclear materials to prevent dirty bombs.”
He said LANL computer scientists are using supercomputing to develop global climate models and provide disaster response planning for extreme weather events.
“At Los Alamos, outside of our national security missions, we don’t make anything and we don’t sell anything. That means that for our technology to get into the hands of consumers, into the hands of companies that can make better and more competitive products, we have to engage in technology transfer,” Mason said.
He said tech transfer is accomplished through a variety of mechanisms and that along the way, LANL creates opportunities for employment and for prosperity. He mentioned some of the companies that have been associated with Los Alamos over the years including more recently Descartes Labs, UbiQD, Viome and Pebble.
“They have all grown up around LANL, either taking advantage of ideas that were created at the Lab or people who came to northern New Mexico to work at Los Alamos and went off to foster their own innovations ,” Mason said.
He said behind all of the amazing work at Los Alamos are teams of people willing to take risks and think unconventionally about big problems.
“Their originality is what made the Trinity Test such a success and it’s what continues to make the Laboratory a great place to work, to invent and to protect our country,” Mason said.