Sandia LabNews

Go back 75 years without leaving your seat

Don your Panama hat and Hawaiian shirt to tour Sandia’s past

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LOOKING BACK — Sandia historian Rebecca Ullrich, pictured speaking at Sandia’s 75th anniversary kick-off celebration, hosts a recently launched virtual tour of the Labs. The tour tells the story of Sandia by highlighting different sites as they appeared in the past and how they look today, as well as featuring many historical facts at each location. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Anyone in the world now can take a ride into the early days of Sandia’s exceptional service to the nation on the just-christened History Virtual Tour.

The latest in a widely varied collection of interactive online journeys, the tour features Labs historian Rebecca Ullrich offering brief but thorough summaries of how missions evolved and shows sites as they are now and how they looked in the past.

“The tour gives you an easy way to access Sandia’s history for an overall view, along with opportunities to click and read brief summaries of topics that especially interest you,” Rebecca said.

“Tourists can dawdle through Sandia’s origin story, understand the early growth of the nuclear weapons complex and the U.S. stockpile and be amazed at innovations like the permissive action link,” she said.

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Text boxes give details, historical photos and videos provide glimpses of past events and a new feature — commentaries narrated by Rebecca herself — allow for a deeper dive into the pool of fun historical facts.

“You can see how various research areas were born and then diversified, see the move into energy programs and make your way into the present with stockpile stewardship, counterterrorism and tech transfer,” she said.

When launched by Creative Services seven years ago with tours of the Z machine and the MESA facility, the virtual tours were touted as a way to “tour Sandia without a badge.”

Since then, the tour routes have expanded to 22 excursions that reveal the Labs’ multifaceted research and experimental facilities.

“The virtual tours give everyone, whether a Sandian or somebody on the outside curious about us, a chance to see parts of Sandia that you might never see,” said Johann Snyder, lead developer for the tours. “Going on the tours shows the full scope of Sandia’s work and the breadth of our mission.”

For example, most of those working in Albuquerque might never see the labs and meet the researchers at California’s Combustion Research Facility, but the virtual tour gives everyone an inside passage to the facility.

Another aspect of the tours is how they portray the Labs from the inside to potential partners and customers, Rebecca said.

The history tour was many months in the making by a team that included the late Rebecca Gustaf, who shot most of the contemporary still photos, Vince Gasparich who recorded and edited the videos with assistance from Mike Cleary, Stephanie Blackwell, designer and historical photo editor, and Peter Heald, who wove together Rebecca Ullrich’s words, the visuals and online features.

“I was skeptical at first whether this would make a good tour. After all, this is so big; it’s all of Sandia’s history,” Rebecca said. “But the Creative Services team really amazed me with how stunning and rich they made the tour.”

The tour guides have been hard at work incorporating the latest digital technological wizardry into tours they are revising — “enhancing the interactivity,” Johann said — and their newer tours. They are developing a major makeover for the Microsystems Engineering, Science and Applications tour, including a brand new look at the QSCOUT quantum computing testbed that features spectacular 360-degree panorama video. Johann said he expects a tour of the Labs’ Power Sources technologies will be the next creation released to online tourists.

“It’s been great to work on these tours and I feel they build mission pride for everyone at the Labs,” Johann said. “When I get to see other parts of Sandia and what people do there, it gives me a special feeling about working here.”

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