Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

To advance scientific understanding, capabilities, and technologies in nuclear and particle physics, radiochemistry, forensic and isotopic signatures to support the science and security missions of LLNL

The Nuclear and Chemical Sciences (NACS) Division was formed in 2014 with the goal to align the Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) organization structure with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) core competencies and programmatic mission. Our Division has world-class capabilities in particle physics, nuclear physics, radiation detection and nuclear measurements, chemical and nuclear forensic science, nuclear and radio-chemistry, isotope geochemistry and environmental radiochemistry.

We employ approximately 220 scientific and technical staff and are actively supporting all three major programs at LLNL. One of the main goals of the recent reorganization was to spark and nurture collaborations between research groups working on nuclear sciences in PLS, and to leverage expertise in fundamental physics and chemistry to provide innovative solutions to support stockpile stewardship and other national security programs including forensics, nuclear safety and security, and non-proliferation.

We strive to remain at the forefront of fundamental science as we see cutting-edge research as the foundation on which to build our programmatic mission. We pride ourselves in a balanced portfolio of projects spanning Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC), Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD), Work for Others (WFO) and Program funds and encourage NACS scientists to pursue fundamental and programmatic goals concomitantly. NACS scientists are discovering new elements, chasing elusive new particles, and answering some of the most fundamental scientific questions about dark matter, neutrino physics, nucleosynthesis and the origins of the universe. At the same time, they provide crucial support to the Annual Assessment Report, analyze interdicted samples, provide radiological assistance 24-7, prepare the Nation to respond to a potential nuclear device detonation, actively participate in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and deliver key assessments and technologies to the intelligence community. In addition to our technical mission, we are building a workforce pipeline by actively reaching out to the scientific community, organizing summer schools, working closely with the Glenn T. Seaborg Institute, and hiring postdocs (currently 30). We also see it as our role to deliver a vision for our existing infrastructure by executing on a revitalization plan for our core radiological facility and our experimental nuclear physics facility in partnership with programs and stakeholders.

NACS Facilities

NACS Capabilities

NACS Research Groups

Environmental Radiochemistry

Group Leader:  Brad Esser

Photo of Nevada Test Site melt glass.
Photo of Nevada Test Site melt glass.

The Environmental Radiochemistry Group is a diverse group of geochemists and radiochemists who do cutting edge research in the biogeochemistry of actinides in the environment, in tracing the age and origin of groundwater and groundwater contaminants, in planetary geochronometry and geothermometry, and in the development and application of nuclear forensics. Group members also monitor radionuclides in air, water and soil on the main LLNL site and Site 300. The work involves a wide variety of counting methods and inorganic mass spectrometric techniques including inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, noble gas mass spectrometry, and stable isotope mass spectrometry, and is funded by NNSA, DOE, NASA, the State of California, and LLNL.

Nuclear and Radiochemistry

Group Leader:  Dawn Shaughnessy

Photo of samples.
Photo of samples.

The Nuclear and Radiochemistry Group performs fundamental and applied R&D in nuclear science. This includes the development and implementation of advanced experimental methods, radiochemical separations techniques, and data evaluation / interpretation capabilities. Laboratory programs that we support include the National Ignition Facility  (NIF), Stockpile Stewardship , Nuclear Forensics, Nuclear Energy, and Intelligence. We also have active nuclear and radiochemical collaborations domestically and internationally in areas such as the chemistry and physics of the heaviest elements, automated radiochemistry, NIF radiochemical measurements, post-detonation debris diagnostics, and fireball condensation chemistry. Our group specializes in radiochemical separations to isolate subtle nuclear signatures from a wide variety of matrices, as well as in the preparation and exploitation of unique target materials for nuclear data measurements. Our staff has primary responsibility for radiochemical diagnostics at NIF, including operational analytic measurements and the conduct of dedicated laser shots to assess specific isotope properties within extraordinary plasma environments. Our staff also has primary responsibility for providing radiochemical evaluations of nuclear device performance in support of the Stockpile Stewardship and post-detonation Nuclear Forensics missions. These evaluations provide data that are essential to constrain the design physics models developed by WCI and Global Security. We are also the lead group at LLNL for the detailed forensic analyses of real-world nuclear smuggling samples interdicted (or otherwise obtained) by law-enforcement and intelligence-community agencies.

Nuclear and Particle Physics

Group Leader:  Ron Soltz

The Nuclear and Particle Physics Group seeks to answer fundamental questions about the structure of nuclei and their interactions, the bulk properties of nuclear matter under extreme conditions, and the content and limits of the standard model of particle physics, while simultaneously addressing important national security issues. The group applies skills in accelerator and detector design to advance scientific research and to serve important laboratory missions relating to stockpile stewardship, non-proliferation, and nuclear detection and forensics.

Nuclear Data and Theory

Group Leader:  Bret Beck

The Nuclear Data & Theory (NDT) group performs research in nuclear theory to provide a fundamental understanding of atomic nuclei, their role in the universe, and how they impact the Laboratory's national security missions. Utilizing the Lab's high-performance computing resources, we are exploring the nuclear many-body problem beginning with the glue that binds quarks into protons and neutrons and how these protons and neutrons themselves bind into the nuclei that make up most of the visible matter in the universe. We are developing new theories and computational tools to describe nuclear reactions ranging from fusion to fission, which are responsible for powering the stars, forging the elements in the cosmos, and are the source of energy in nuclear weapons. We not only characterize these reactions with fundamental theories, but also tabulate them in extensive numerical libraries using ground-breaking formats.

Forensic Science & Assessments

Group Leader:  Sarah Chinn

The Forensic Science & Assessments group delivers advanced chemical forensics, analysis, and research support to the Forensic Science Center  and its mission of all-CBRNE forensics and operational support to the nation. Our research includes understanding physicochemical and physiological effects of chemical threat agents, evaluating novel chemical synthesis methods and specific chemical signatures associated with these methods, analytical method development to determine and support source forensics studies, investigations of biomedical exposure signatures, consequence management activities, and the development of environmental and medical countermeasures. Through our integration with the US Intelligence Community and the Counterproliferation Analysis and Planning System (CAPS), our group also delivers comprehensive analysis, policy, and operational support germane to counter-proliferation, counterterrorism, and homeland security.

Chemical & Isotopic Signatures

Group Leader:  Mike Kristo

The Chemical & Isotopic Signatures (C&IS) Group analyzes biological, geological, and nuclear materials and exploits isotopic systematics within these materials to understand provenance and processes within those systems. Nuclear forensics is a key focus area for our group and we are responsible for the high-precision isotopic and microanalytical measurements that underpin LLNL's position as one of the premier nuclear forensics laboratories in the world. The study of microbial ecology and bioenergy is another key focus area for our group, one where we have led the development of new methods for characterization of microbial processes and interactions between bacteria, fungi, mineral particles and plants. Our work to develop methods to analyze cell membranes and microarrays is at the forefront of compositional sensitivity in this field. Cosmochemistry, the study of processes in the early solar system, is a third focus for our group. The C&IS Group is one of the most dynamic and broad-based groups in the cosmochemistry field and has produced numerous high impact publications. Other areas of research for the C&IS Group include structural biology, biological forensics, geochemistry, and material science.

Rare Event Detection

Group Leader:  Adam Bernstein

In both fundamental and applied nuclear physics, researchers, and users of radiation detection equipment are often confronted with the need to extract a weak signal from a strong, fluctuating, uncertain and more copious background. This area of research is sometimes referred to as rare event detection, where the rareness is be defined as a rate relative to background. The Rare Event Detection Group develops advanced methods for a particular kind of rare event: keV-MeV scale energy depositions arising from neutral particles, including gamma-rays, neutrons, neutrinos and dark matter. Neutral particle detectors in this energy range are crucial for both fundamental science, especially particle astrophysics, and in applied nuclear science, for nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and nuclear materials monitoring. The RED Group staff's training in both nuclear security applications and fundamental nuclear science allows the Group and the Laboratory to effectively exploit the strong technological synergies that exist between these two areas of research. Group members lead or participate in ongoing international fundamental science collaborations, including the LUX/LZ Dark Matter experiment, the development of large water Cherenkov detectors for fundamental science and remote reactor monitoring, the PROSPECT sterile neutrino search experiment and the ADMX axion dark matter search experiment. The group uses the same detection concepts, with different optimizations, to develop innovative gamma-ray, neutron and antineutrino detectors to improve IAEA safeguards, to verify nuclear arms control agreements, and for screening and characterization of nuclear material in a wide range of monitoring contexts. Examples include passive and active gamma-ray tomographic systems for spent fuel, segmented scintillator arrays for precise characterization of fissile content in shielded materials, and novel detectors for characterizing the fissile content of spent fuel using information derived from antineutrino spectra. More information is available about some of the group's activities here .

Safeguards, Nonproliferation and Response

Group Leader:  Bryan Bandong

With a staffing combination of nuclear scientists and engineers, radiochemists, and health physicists and radiation safety subject matter experts, our group is uniquely positioned to support mission-critical programs in nuclear counterterrorism, nuclear security and nonproliferation, and emergency response. Our R&D activities are focused on advanced radiation detection and nuclear measurements for applications in technical nuclear forensics and countermeasures, next generation technical safeguards and global threat reduction initiatives, and arms control & verification, including assisting the US government in interagency and international treaty negotiations. Our staff is engaged in the development of concepts of operations (CONOPS) and in research, test and evaluation (RT&E) of field systems in support of various international and national (DOE, DoD, DHS) programs in nuclear & radiological emergency response, consequence management, preventive radiological/nuclear detection architectures, and the interdiction of illicit transport of nuclear and radiological materials. Activities include development, setup and T&E of land-based or aerial/marine-borne detection systems customized to the needs and applications of federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies; outreach, training and field exercises for first responders on the use of portable or fieldable detection systems, technical reach back, and the fabrication of high-fidelity realistic surrogate test and exercise radiological/nuclear materials for use with analytical method validation and proficiency testing.

Nuclear Security Physics

Group Leader:  Simon Labov

The security of nuclear and radiological weapons and materials is a major concern of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Improved capabilities are needed to address nuclear proliferation detection, arms control verification, nuclear safeguards, nuclear terrorism prevention and consequence management. The Nuclear Security Physics (NSP) Group mission is to apply nuclear physics, high energy physics and astrophysics science, technology and expertise to address the illicit production or diversion of special nuclear material and related threats. The NSP group uses domain expertise from these fields in addition to knowledge obtained from participating with, and training of, first responders to develop better instrumentation, improved signatures and new analysis techniques for the detection, classification, identification, localization, tracking and defeat of the unauthorized use of nuclear materials. The NSP group serves as a conduit between the nuclear and high energy physics communities and the Global Security research needs. Within LLNL the NSP group serves to communicate the program needs to the NACS S&T staff while helping to make the NACS S&T capabilities accessible to the programs. Outside of LLNL the NSP group recruits expertise from and fosters collaborations with the nuclear science and engineering communities, publishes results in peer-reviewed scientific journals and tracks placement opportunities in universities, national laboratories and industry.