Sandia’s half-life

By Randy Montoya

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, December 03, 2020

A photo retrospective

Randy in harness above Saturn accelerator
1987Lab News photojournalist Randy Montoya is suspended from a crane so he can photograph the construction of Sandia’s Saturn accelerator.

The Sandia Lab News has been a mirror to our Labs and co-workers since its inception as the Sandia Bulletin in 1948. It has allowed us to see parts of our Labs that we have not actually experienced.

Visually recording history is as old as the ancient petroglyphs and cave drawings. It started as someone’s desire to show others the life of their people. Since I began at Sandia on Jan. 13, 1986, I have been privileged to photograph half of the Labs’ life, using a camera to tell your story rather than scratching images into rock. The images, I believe, may be nearly as indelible, not because of me but because of the story they tell — your story. Your work impressed me as quite remarkable when I arrived, and I soon began calling it our work.

Much like the military, Sandia does not leave anyone behind, even photographers. The new generation’s work is still quite remarkable, and as testament to the Labs, there is often a proud parent or relative working across the tech area from a younger Sandian. I am one of those proud parents — my daughter Laura began her Sandia career a few years ago.

We are always eager and proud to talk about the work we do at Sandia, and I have appreciated the simple explanations you have crafted for me. I met the soon-to-be victors of the Cold War when I arrived, many who were already war veterans themselves. Now we have a new generation of veterans at the Labs continuing that legacy. 

Looking back at this tiny photo sample of some my fortunate experiences at our Labs, I hope you realize that you are on a national stage when you come to work each day. Your work at Sandia has been and will continue to be part of American history.

John Glenn walks with Orval Jones
1988 — Sen. John Glenn discusses treaty verification with Sandia Executive Vice President Orval Jones.
soldiers rappelling down building
1989 — Rappelling face forward, known as an “Australian,” Special Response Team Lieutenants Ray Page and Pablo Montoya train in intrusion detection response.
Glen Seaborg and Clyde Tombaugh
1991 — Glen Seaborg, left, who discovered plutonium, and Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, finally meet each other at a Sandia conference on science. The Nobel Laureate named the newly discovered element in 1940 after the planet, discovered in 1930.
Gus Simmons
1992 — Sandia Senior Fellow Gus Simmons, cryptologist and mathematician, wins the E.O. Lawrence Award in the field of authentication in command and control.
Lloyd Young at Tonopah Test Range
1992 — Tonopah Test Range “old timer” Lloyd Young examines a dry lakebed before a test. He had worked at the test site since 1957.
Technicians work on top of machinery
1993 — Technicians prepare for a test at Hermes III, High Energy Radiation Megavolt Electron Source, the world’s most powerful gamma simulator.
machinist's legs sticking out from equipment
1994 — A machinist in the Bldg. 840 Big Shop checks the interior angles of a part.
Willis Whitfield in hazmat suit in lab
1995 — Willis Whitfield, retired Sandian and inventor of the clean room in 1962, visits the radiation-hardened integrated circuit lab.
Rod Owenby and Chris Cherry use equipment on ground outside abandoned cabin
1996 — Bomb dismantlement experts Rod Owenby, left, and Chris Cherry practice using PAN disrupters to disarm a dummy bomb. They disarmed the Unabomber cabin for the FBI.
Pam Ward in lab gear looks at glowing pink plasma in case
1997 — Pam Ward examines a glowing plasma created by an electric field passing through a nitrogen-oxygen gas, ensuring peak plasma performance in etching microprocessor circuits.
Wendell Weart in hard hat kneels in giant underground tunnel
1999 — Wendell Weart examines a salt structure sample at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, prior to its opening. He was instrumental in selection of the site.
child in shoe store holds pair of shoes
2000 — A young girl waits expectantly to try on the new shoes she received during Sandia’s annual Shoes for Kids campaign, a Sandia tradition since 1956.
huge cloud of dust follows test unit along sled track
2004 — A rocket sled test comes to a splashing stop at the 10,000-foot sled track in a remote part of Sandia’s Albuquerque site.
group of men stands talking outside solar tower
2005 — President George W. Bush, looking up, gets a briefing at the National Solar Thermal Test Complex. He signed a sweeping national energy bill at the Labs.
Moses Jones examines equipment in lab
2007 — Moses Jones inspects a neutron generator tube.

Related content:

Lab News: A history in print

Signing the memory page: Farewells from past contributors