Feature Articles


Thirty years after power up

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

Louis Rosen in 1972 at the moment full energy was attained at the world's most powerful linear accelerator, at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Photo: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., August 2002 -- Thirty years ago this summer - in 1972 - the world's most powerful linear accelerator powered up for the first time. When it reached full energy, it generated pulses of 800-million-electron-volt protons at a repetition rate of up to 120 per second and an average current of 1 milliampere. The scene was the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. The development was the dawn of a new era in nuclear physics.

But this development actually began as a headline story four years earlier.

That was in 1968 when a yet-to-be developed scientific facility just happened to become - largely through the vagaries of how government funding is timed - the centerpiece of the Los Alamos National Laboratory's 25th anniversary celebration planned for that year.

As planners of the 25th anniversary noted at the time, any of a number of different events in 1968 could have been used as the focal point for celebrating the institution's 1943 start up. But it turned out that tight federal spending limits were suddenly eased early in 1968. As a result, a facility on hold for several years got the go-ahead. That paved the way for construction of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF), the long-planned home for a unique linear accelerator.

Not only was the LAMPF go-ahead the headline event of 1968, it was, "...the start of a new and great venture," as Louis Rosen, its principal architect, said at the time.

Louis Rosen at Los Alamos in 2002

Rosen and others involved in the startup were recognized at Los Alamos recently for their innovative work three decades ago.

Today's world-class, high-intesity pulsed proton source at Los Alamos - it's known as the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) - had its origins at LAMPF where the 800-MeV achievement marked a new era for Los Alamos and cemented the Lab's leadership role in nuclear physics.

An adjunct to LAMPF, the Weapons Neutron Research (WNR) facility, was built in the early 1970s to provide an intense neutron source that could be used to obtain nuclear data needed for weapons design. The present-day Manuel Lujan, Jr. Neutron Scattering Center grew out of the WNR facility. Both are key elements of today's active LANSCE research program.

In the 1990s, the Lab directed its linear accelerator programs principally to neutron and proton research and applications. With the end of the Cold War, the Department of Energy's Office of Defense Programs determined that LANSCE would be an important element of its science-based stockpile stewardship program and took over stewardship of the facility.

LANSCE now comprises the former LAMPF component facilities and the Manuel Lujan, Jr. Center for Neutron Scattering created in the 1980s. The complex also includes a variety of associated experimental areas, spectrometers and other instruments, with four new instruments having gone on line in the past 12 months alone.

Despite the advances over the years, the spallation neutron science made possible by the powerful linear accelerator work initially done at LAMPF is still a relatively young field. With the increased emphasis on its scientific output, the facility that began as LAMPF remains in 2002 as it was envisaged in 1968 and before, in the words of Louis Rosen, "...the start of a new and great venture."


Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring safety and confidence in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction and improving the environmental and nuclear materials legacy of the cold war. Los Alamos' capabilities assist the nation in addressing energy, environment, infrastructure and biological security problems.

For more Los Alamos news, visit www.lanl.gov.