Sandia LabNews

A day in the life of Sandia — 70 years and counting

A photo essay by Randy Montoya

Sandia photojournalist Randy Montoya works with his camera

To mark the 70th anniversary of President Truman’s letter that inspired Sandia to “… exceptional service,” Lab News photographer Randy Montoya spent a full day chronicling the people and work that make the Labs hum from sun up to sundown.

This May 13 marked 70 years since President Harry Truman used the words “… exceptional service in the national interest” to describe his intent for Sandia. I’m sure he could not have known the challenge he set forth for the employees of that day, or for those of us in the 70 years that have followed. On the anniversary of the Truman letter, I photographed a single day of your work, hoping to capture how those words might still echo through our halls and test facilities after seven decades.

I’ve had the privilege of being the Lab News photojournalist and documenting nearly half of Sandia’s life, 48% of it to be exact. Some may be skeptical that the Labs still have a role to play when faced with the tremendous challenges our nation has seen since Truman’s letter. However, on every step leading up to this project — and especially on that day — I found the same values I’ve witnessed since I arrived in 1986. We have labs and offices full of baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and centennials working together to serve the nation, eager to share their enthusiasm for their work and concerned with the well-being of those around them.

This photo essay is an incomplete work. I did all I could and only a fraction of what I wanted to do. Many more people contributed than those you see photographed. In Albuquerque, May 13 has more than 14 hours of daylight, but I found that isn’t enough time to contain what happens here in a given day. It was a fantastic, busy day and, in total, seemed somehow more impressive, like stitching together a quilt that adds up to much more than the individual pieces. The photos are an attempt to take you on the journey with me.

It’s easy to see, when you take time to really look, how many people around us are always trying in some way or another to live up to President Truman’s vision. I think Harry certainly would be astonished by our technical achievements, but I bet he also would be proud of the dedication of the support staff in enabling those accomplishments. You can show up at Sandia at any time and find people setting up tests, repairing, protecting, maintaining and preparing for the next day. It is this spirit of “we” that propels Sandia’s successes. This must be the easiest place I can think of to find people working closely together so they can do things better today than they did yesterday.

At times, words like “exceptional” seem overused, but as corny as it might sound, that word still resonates here daily. The words that once charted the course for our Labs no longer belong to President Truman, but to all of us who call ourselves Sandians.

Happy 70th birthday, everyone.

— Randy Montoya                      


exercise class
Sandians exercise before the sun comes up in a step aerobics class with instructor Amy Cincotta.
men work with sunrise in background
Sunrise at Thunder Range test facility: Dustin Romero and Allen Gorby prepare the final stages of an extreme velocity gun test.
Bruce McWatters
Bruce McWatters sets up the Cockroft-Walton accelerator for what will be a week-long neutron scattering test.
Benjamin Hughes
Firing the Hermes 3 accelerator requires arming a series of triggering lasers. Benjamin Hughes readies for a test beneath the world’s largest gamma radiation simulator.
weapon intern class
A Weapon Intern Program class learns about the MK-5 bomb from Erik McIntire.
work on B-61 model
A B61-12 model goes through a vibration test to analyze structural integrity. Placing the diagnostics are Daniel Rohe, Patrick Hunter and Maxine Norton.
woman with mail cart
Ellen Homan delivers the Monday morning mail. Mondays are the busiest for mail deliveries.
man in solar tower
A view inside the 200-foot-tall solar tower is rare. Daniel Ray, lower right, shows the scale of the enormous facility as he sets up an experiment.
woman works in test complex
Sandia’s Thermal Test Complex is an international resource for validation of fire physics models. Anay Luketa reviews computer models for an upcoming test.
man sets up arm x-ray
Robert DeLaO aims his X-ray camera on Jennifer Chavez’s hand at Sandia’s onsite medical facility.
woman sets up sample
On her first day back from leave, Katie Jungjohann readies an experiment for the transmission electron microscope at CINT.
officer silhouetted against sunset 
Security Police Officer Robert Ulibarri is on patrol at sunset near the water impact facility. He will be guarding Sandia with other security officers through the night.