UT System hopes to run renowned Los Alamos Nuclear Lab

Maria Mendez

Looking to expand in national security and nuclear research, the UT System will compete to run the historic Los Alamos National Laboratory.

LANL, the laboratory established under the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb in New Mexico, will formally request management proposals from university and corporation partnerships in September. The UT System Board of Regents encouraged Deputy Chancellor David Daniel and UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves to pursue the management contract for LANL during August board meetings, according to a press release.

“For UT-Austin, it would be a tremendous honor to help serve the nation,” Fenves said in a press release. “The important work at LANL is aligned with our research goals and priorities across the University.”

Daniel said the UT System is equipped with experienced researchers and is currently looking for industry partners that could help operate LANL’s specialized research in nuclear weapons, energy and environment management. The UT System declined to disclose who the potential industry partners will be. LANL is expected to announce a winner for the next seven-year contract in the spring of 2018.

“Anybody would be hard pressed to find a greater collection of talent than that which resides within the UT System,” Daniel said.

The UT System previously competed for the LANL contract in 2005, but LANL selected the University of California System, which has helped manage LANL for more than 70 years.

Despite the lost contract, UT already works closely with the LANL. Crystal Baker and Jose Parga, mechanical engineering graduate students, spent six weeks at LANL studying nuclear infrastructure and radiation damage to materials, respectively.

Parga said UT’s advanced computing system, including the new Stampede2 supercomputer, and the UT System’s large size would allow it to help LANL solve big scientific and security questions.

“There’s different (UT System) facilities we can use in collaboration with LANL facilities to do more groundbreaking research,” Parga said. “The UT System starts in El Paso, there’s the Rio Grande Valley, UT-Austin, UT-Dallas, so it’s a very big institution where you’re pooling a lot of different professors and students where you can tap into for knowledge.”

Baker said she worked in engineering research before, but LANL offers students many opportunities to learn from national experts.

“LANL is a pinnacle of research in the nuclear industry for many subsections like weapons,” Baker said. “LANL is very eager and willing to encourage more students to come to their facilities, and they want to branch out. They seem to really like UT students.”

Parga and Baker said about 40 UT students worked at LANL this summer, and undergraduate students in UT’s science and engineering programs can intern at LANL as well. Several UT graduates also currently work with LANL, and many employment opportunities exist, Parga said.

“It’s an exciting time for Los Alamos right now,” Parga said. “They’re hiring a lot of new students like us to come and learn from these people that are retiring so the knowledge can be retained for the future when we’re going to become experts on these systems.”