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Sandia/California marks 60 years of engineering, science, and service

Sandia/California 60th anniversary logo

On March 8, Sandia/California celebrates its 60th anniversary. The site, which began with a singular nuclear weapons mission, now supports all Sandia mission areas. Nuclear weapons still accounts for nearly half of the site’s work, along with strong programs in homeland security, transportation energy, cyber, and chemical and biological defense.

“From the Cold War to today, we’ve been providing exceptional service in the national interest in Livermore for six decades,” says California Laboratory Div. 8000 VP Marianne Walck. “It has been a remarkable 60 years for the site. I’m grateful to be part of the continuing success in contributing to the security and well-being of our nation and the world.”

To commemorate the 60th anniversary, Sandia/California on March 3 held an on-site event, “Honoring 60 Years of Engineering, Science, and Service.” The event featured a panel of  former Div. 8000 VPs (including two who went on to become Labs directors) and current VP Marianne Walck:

  • John Crawford, 1987-1995
  • Tom Hunter, 1995-1999; Labs Director 2005-2010
  • Mim John, 1999-2006
  • Paul Hommert, 2006-2009; Labs Director 2010-2015
  • Rick Stulen, 2009-2013
  • Steve Rottler, 2013-2015
  • Marianne Walck, 2015-present

Current Labs Director Jill Hruby participated via a taped video. Bob Carling, Center 8300 director from 2008-2014, moderated the panel, which discussed the history of the site and its contributions to the nation.

Two additional events are planned to commemorate the 60th anniversary. Health, Benefits, and Employee Services will host a 60th birthday party on March 8. On May 21,

Sandia/California will host a 60th anniversary community event in downtown Livermore.

Sandia/California through the decades

Many changes have occurred at Sandia/California throughout the past six decades. The site, which was established by the Atomic Energy Commission to support projects for the University of California Radiation Laboratory (now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), continues to work closely with LLNL on various weapons programs.

BRING YOUR FAMILY TO WORK – Families at the 1959 Sandia Family Day inspect models used in Sandia programs.

The first decade was largely devoted to weapon projects, a dozen of which made it to the stockpile. The site provided early critical support functions in safety, use control, reliability, testing, and analysis. One of the largest and most successful programs during this time was the W47 warhead for the Polaris missile. Environmental testing and systems studies were initiated during this time. The site also assumed responsibility for gas bottles and obtained its first computer system, the Elecom 125, to calculate flight trajectories and stress analysis. Early in the 1960s, the number of stockpile weapons rose as the Cold War ramped up. The site developed expertise in welding and microelectronics.

“Since the mid-50s, the California site has played a major role in ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of the current stockpile,” says Russ Miller, Center  8200 director. “We developed and advanced the scientific and engineering capabilities required in meeting the needs of the national security missions.”

1970s: Responding to the energy crisis

The 1970s were marked by the nation’s first major energy crisis and the establishment of the new Department of Energy. Sandia/California quickly moved into energy with programs in solar and combustion. The Combustion Research Facility (CRF) opened in 1980 to meet research needs in this area. The CRF has greatly expanded fundamental knowledge of combustion processes and contributed to significant design innovations for diesel engines, pulse combustors for furnaces, and pollution reduction methods.

“The CRF has driven our scientific understanding of internal combustion engine processes that affect car efficiency and emissions,” says Bob Hwang, Center 8300 director. “The CRF has had a major impact on every engine on the road today.”

During the 1980s, the emphasis in weapons work expanded to include greater functionality, improved safety and control systems, and greater reliability. Sandia/California worked closely with LLNL on various stockpile nuclear weapons systems. The systems developed during this period included the W82 atomic projectile, the W84 warhead for the ground launched cruise missile, the B83 modern strategic bomb, the W87 warhead for the Peacekeeper missile, and the W89 warhead for the SRAM II missile.

An aerial view of the Sandia/California campus.

From 1983 to 1992, Sandia/California was an active participant in research and development supporting the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). This was a period of intense activity at the Labs, with Sandia/California playing a leadership role within Sandia. Some of the site’s responsibilities included understanding the requirements for SDI systems, conceptual engineering design, and development of advanced materials for use in several different concepts.

In the 1990s, the weapons program changed its focus from designing new warheads to maintaining and refurbishing existing warheads. Sandia/California and LLNL were responsible for the first warhead Life Extension Program (LEP) that was initiated on the W87 warhead; other existing stockpile weapons were maintained and retired weapons were dismantled and disposed of. 

A broadened national security mission

Technology transfer programs expanded in the 1990s, most notably the extreme ultraviolet lithography program, a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with several semiconductor companies. The site continues to transfer technology externally and offers partners access to the Labs’ science, people, and infrastructure.

The site’s national security mission also broadened in the 1990s to include homeland security, cyber, and chemical and biological defense.

“The division has been addressing many emerging and evolving national security challenges,” says Duane Lindner, director of 8100 and acting director of 8600. “We have been able to draw upon many of our core science, technology, and engineering capabilities to help invent, develop, demonstrate, and deploy homeland security systems that are now helping defend the nation.”

Over the years, Sandia/California’s facilities have grown to meet new and evolving mission challenges. The Livermore Valley Open Campus was created along the boundaries of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia/California as an innovation hub and novel venue for collaborations between experts from within and outside the Labs.

The Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC) began to take shape in the 2000s. The LVOC was created along the boundaries of LLNL and Sandia/California as an innovation hub and novel venue for collaborations between experts from within and outside the Labs.

The future of the site continues to evolve with Bldg. 926, scheduled to open by year-end. The new building will consolidate “front door” activities, house the site’s human resources department, and host the training center for students and new hires. The new building will enable the site to bring Bldg. 911 into the Limited Area and repurpose it for expanding its national security mission work. In addition, when Bldg. 926 opens its doors, several substandard mobiles will be removed.

Plans for a new building called Collaboration in Research and Engineering for Advanced Technology and Education (CREATE) also will support the vision of an open campus. The proposed 86,000-square-foot building will provide additional collaboration space for engagement with industry and academia.