Looking Back

By Rebecca Ullrich

When Al Narath stepped into the role of Sandia director on April 1, 1989, fundamental research was long-established at the national laboratory. Narath himself embodied the origins of that expertise, having arrived in 1959 as part of a cohort of Ph.D. scientists hired to deepen the labs’ research base.

The first labs director selected from Sandia's ranks, Narath had a strong commitment to maintaining a vibrant research program. He pushed Sandia to define its core competencies and build its research foundations on them.

The labs’ future was uncertain in the early 1990s in the midst of political changes and budget cuts that came with the end of the Cold War. Narath and his management team shaped Sandia’s strengths into forward-looking research programs, including Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) established by Congress in 1990.

Narath’s focus on the program transformed LDRD from an ad hoc endeavor operated by volunteers into a permanent office with a dedicated manager overseeing a single process. LDRD was an explicit commitment to the exploration of new ideas based on the early Sandia belief in the need to pursue basic questions in support of creative solutions.