Sandia National Laboratories Topic Of Feb. 9 Historical Society Lecture

Sled track at Sandia National Laboratories. Courtesy photo


Join the Los Alamos Historical Society online at 7 p.m., Feb. 9 for a lecture on the origins of Sandia National Laboratories from historian Rebecca Ullrich. How was the Manhattan Project’s Z Division formed, and how did it grow into today’s Sandia National Laboratories?

Historical Society lectures are free, but registration is required to provide you with the Zoom link. To register, visit and follow the links to our EventBrite page.

Currently, Sandia National Laboratories is the largest of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s national security labs, but it didn’t start out that way. In July 1945, with the war in Europe over, one atomic bomb ready to go and another ready to test, J. Robert Oppenheimer reorganized the Los Alamos laboratory. One element of this reorganization was the creation of Z Division in which the ordnance engineering activities—including non-nuclear component design, testing, and assembly—were gathered together. As these activities were expected to expand and there was no room for that on the Hill, a site near Albuquerque was chosen for the new division and its functions. There, amid the dust and the postwar shortages of construction materials and personnel, Z Division grew in the Cold War push for a large nuclear stockpile. It became Sandia Laboratory and then was separated from Los Alamos in 1949. This presentation will detail Sandia’s origins and its first decade of growth, during which it defined its ordnance engineering mission, developed a significant environmental testing capability, and created a distinct community.

Rebecca Ullrich is the Corporate Historian for Sandia National Laboratories (2003–present) and is a Distinguished Member of the Laboratory Staff. Ullrich is a historian of science, trained at Reed College and the University of California, Berkeley. Her particular area of interest is government-funded research and development. Within Sandia, she provides support for internal projects on various topics, develops content for the history website, and provides historic building assessments and documentation of historic properties. Her recent research includes interviews and documentation for a video on the history of nuclear waste management and a presentation on the impact of key women at Sandia. She is currently working on a history of the earth sciences at Sandia.

The lecture series will continue with a presentation on March 9 from Schön Levy on Prohibition in Los Alamos, and on April 13 Joseph Aguilar will present a Tewa history of Los Alamos and the Pajarito Plateau.

The Los Alamos Historical Society lecture series is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Enterprise Bank & Trust, Member FDIC; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the New Mexico Humanities Council; and Robin and Richard McLean.

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