Sylvia Frain’s column, “UC Should Rethink Relationship with Los Alamos” (Daily Nexus, Oct. 14), demonstrates a staggering lack of knowledge about the lab and the University of California’s role in managing it. As a graduate student researcher in the Materials Dept. who worked at Los Alamos for a summer and currently has several active research collaborations at the lab, I feel compelled to respond to her misconceptions. First and foremost, I take issue with her statement that the lab’s “main purpose is to research and design weapons of mass destruction.” A primary mission of the lab is science in service of national security, and the lab’s current involvement in nuclear weapons involves ensuring the safety of existing stockpiles and trying to prevent further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including substantial efforts towards disarmament of weapons left in former Soviet nations.
A more crucial misconception remains in Ms. Frain’s column. Despite her (clearly un-researched) statements, weapons technologies are only a small part of the research activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory. At the lab, several thousand respected scientists tackle research topics ranging from theoretical physics to detection technologies for harmful chemicals and biological agents, to work on improving automobile energy efficiency, to maintaining a virus database for those researching a cure for AIDS. Ask any scientist about the range of research which occurs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and you will likely find yourself amazed at the breadth and quality of science in the public interest. When Frain says, “the track record for Los Alamos isn’t so ‘good’ and hasn’t involved ‘good science,'” she is showing her ignorance of the wide range of top-notch scientific research that occurs daily at the lab. In fact, the particular institute which Frain disparages, the new Institute for Multiscale Materials Studies, is a new research collaboration between UCSB and the lab which focuses on linking new scientific knowledge at the nano-scale to the performance of larger-scale materials, and combines the expertise of UCSB faculty, staff and students with the unique capabilities available at Los Alamos National Lab. Contrary to Frain’s statement, this is not about bringing UCSB graduate students into the so-called “military industrial complex.” Instead, it is about conducting research for the public good.
I urge everyone to personally research the roles of the national labs before expressing negative opinions to the UC Regents or President Dynes about the UC bid; the fear-mongering of a minority who hasn’t thoroughly researched an issue is no substitute for facts. The UC management of Los Alamos National Lab facilities is an effective scientific collaboration. Discontinuing this invaluable relationship because of some misconceptions about the activities at Los Alamos would be truly unfortunate.
Joshua Zide is a Ph.D. student in the Materials Dept. at UCSB.