Core Competencies

Core competencies are areas of special capability or expertise in which Livermore is a recognized national—and often world—leader. Together, these core competencies form the Laboratory’s principal science and technology strengths that underpin its mission of advancing national security.

Continuing investments in core competencies help sustain Livermore as the nation’s “new ideas laboratory” that provides innovative solutions to the most challenging national security problems. The core competencies, continually strengthened through cutting-edge research and collaborations with other national laboratories, industry, and academia, also make Livermore an exciting place to work and attract the “best and the brightest” to the Laboratory.


Earth and Atmospheric Science

We combine expertise in earth and atmospheric science with high-performance computing to meet national security, energy security, and environmental security needs. Expertise in atmospheric science is central to studying climate change, renewable-energy systems, and atmospheric chemistry, transport, and dispersion.

Longstanding Livermore leadership in earth and atmospheric science is exemplified by the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparsion and the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) modeling capabilities. NARAC provides essential data to government decision makers in the event of hazardous emissions, such as the Fukushima radioactivity release in 2011.

In earth science, LLNL has developed world-class capabilities in subsurface modeling of the behavior of rocks under loading, the propagation of seismic energy, and the movement and reaction of subsurface fluids—physical processes that underlie important national security and energy applications. These applications include the detection of clandestine nuclear tests, the vulnerability of underground structures to attack, earthquake hazards, and the safe disposal of nuclear energy waste.

Bioscience and Bioengineering

The Laboratory’s biological research program was established in 1963 to study the effects of ionizing radiation on humans. Since then, we helped develop flow sorting and chromosome painting to study DNA and chromosomal damage, participated in the Human Genome Project, and developed sensitive and compact biodetection instruments, many of which have been commercialized.

Today, we work at the interface of biology, engineering, and the physical sciences to address national challenges in biosecurity, chemical security, and human health. Livermore has world-class capabilities in genomics, bioinformatics, bioengineering, implantable systems, select agents, toxicology, and bioanalytical science. The overall focus is on understanding human physiology, host–pathogen interactions, and therapeutic targets relating to exposure to chemical and biological agents or environmental hazards.

We’re also integrating big data and predictive simulation capabilities to develop a new understanding of biological complexity and enable more precise predictions of health risk; accelerate development of countermeasures; develop treatment options; and improve outcomes. For example, we’ve partnered with the National Cancer Institute as part of the Cancer Moonshot to drastically reduce the time to developing a cure for cancer.

Lasers and Optical Science and Technology

Livermore researchers have designed, built, and operated a family of increasingly complex laser facilities that have successively broken world records in laser energy, power, and brightness. The Laboratory has longstanding expertise in systems engineering and laser construction and operations, which are complemented by international leadership in photonics science and technology, laser-material interactions, and laser system simulations. A principal focus is high-energy and high-average-power laser technology; Livermore scientists designed, built, and shipped in 2017 to the European Union the world’s highest average power petawatt laser.

In support of stockpile stewardship, the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s largest and most energetic laser, is proving an invaluable tool for exploring high-energy-density regimes not accessible by other experimental facilities. NIF experiments provide key insights and data for simulation codes used in weapon performance assessments and effects. Discovery Science experiments are exploring the nature of the universe, and other NIF experiments are meeting wider national security needs.

Our laser technologies are also finding many industrial applications that strengthen U.S. economic security. These technologies include laser melting, precise material removal, precision heat treatment, mechanical strengthening such as laser peening, and heat-resistant optics.

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing

Livermore materials scientists, physicists, and engineers have earned an international reputation for developing advanced manufacturing processes that produce materials and components on an accelerated schedule, at reduced cost, and often possessing properties impossible to obtain with traditional manufacturing techniques. Examples include high-performance optics, biocompatible devices, advanced battery components, and radiation detection materials.

A key focus is additive manufacturing (AM), which is transforming manufacturing by producing materials with new structural, thermal, electrical, chemical, and photonic properties. AM, sometimes called 3D printing, uses successive layers of material (polymers, metals, and ceramics) to precisely fabricate 3D objects. Livermore’s approach integrates manufacturing expertise, precision engineering, materials science, and high-performance computing to produce innovative materials for stockpile stewardship, global security, and energy security.

AM technologies are revolutionizing the design-build-test cycle. A designer often can produce a prototype part in a few hours, immediately assess its viability, and if necessary change a design for improved performance. Finished and validated components can be produced in weeks to months instead of several years using conventional manufacturing approaches.

HPC, Simulation, and Data Science

High-performance computing (HPC) has always been a defining strength of the Laboratory. State-of-the-art simulation applications that run efficiently on the world’s most advanced computers is the integrating element of science-based stockpile stewardship and critical to many other national security needs. These extraordinarily realistic and reliable science and engineering simulations allow modeling and simulation to assume an equal role with experiment and theory.

Livermore’s flagship supercomputer is Sierra, a next-generation system focused on predictive applications to sustain the nuclear deterrent. Concurrently, Livermore hardware and software computer scientists are helping to prepare for El Capitan, an exascale computing system that will be capable of at least two  quintillion (or two million trillion) calculations per second. We’re also developing new computer architectures as well as vertically integrating hardware and software, multiphysics applications, and data science analytics so they run seamlessly at exascale.

In data science, we’re creating the capabilities to recognize patterns in massive amounts of information (called big data) in order to understand and predict the behavior of complex systems. We’re applying data science in innovative ways, such as discovering new relationships between human genetic makeup and cancer susceptibility and successful treatment.

High-Energy-Density Science

Livermore is an international leader in high-energy-density (HED) science, which studies matter at conditions of extreme temperature or pressure or under the influence of a strong force such as an intense laser, particle beam, or radiation. In pursuit of its national security missions, Livermore has continually advanced HED science starting in the 1950s with the design of nuclear weapons and extending to today’s pursuit of fusion energy and the interpretation of astrophysical observations ranging from black holes to the birth of galaxies.

The Laboratory is home to the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s premier HED experimental facility and a cornerstone of the Stockpile Stewardship Program. NIF enables the creation and characterization of matter under the most extreme conditions of temperature and pressure achievable in the laboratory, recreating conditions at the center of Earth, giant planets, and the Sun. The smaller Jupiter Laser Facility (JLF) hosts a community of more than 300 users, including more than 100 students, and provides access to unique HED capabilities.

A high priority is developing the science to predict, control, and exploit burning fusion plasmas, which are particularly important to stockpile stewardship as well as to the prospects of fusion energy. Maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile in the absence of nuclear testing require HED models of extraordinary fidelity that are made possible by Livermore’s suite of exceptionally powerful supercomputers.

Nuclear, Chemical, and Isotopic Science and Technology

Nuclear science and technology has been a defining strength of Livermore since its inception. Nuclear S&T is essential for sustaining an aging nuclear weapons stockpile and integral to missions in nuclear event forensic analysis, threat reduction, and safeguards. These programs also serve to further neutrino science, the search for dark matter, cosmochemistry, and properties of the heaviest elements. A partnership between Livermore and Russian scientists has discovered six heavy elements (113 to 118). Livermorium (atomic symbol Lv), element 116, was chosen to honor Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the city of Livermore, California.

Livermore is also an international leader in chemical and isotopic analysis, with basic science and national security programs supported by the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (CAMS) and the Forensic Science Center (FSC). CAMS has hosted over 1,000 faculty and student visitors, resulting in over 300 Ph.D. and master’s degrees over the past 26 years.

The FSC is one of only two U.S. laboratories to be internationally certified for identifying chemical warfare agents. The center also develops new tools for intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and healthcare. Its researchers are developing innovative new forensic techniques, including a revolutionary technique to use hair instead of DNA to identify a person.