Sandia Lab envisions open campus

June 29, 2009 12:58:25 PM PDT
One of the nation's most secure facilities, located in Livermore, wants to make it easier for some people to get in. Sandia National Lab builds nuclear warheads, meaning most people will never see the inside. However, the lab is branching out into other areas of research, and that means finding a way to make it more accessible.

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Nearly everywhere you look at Livermore's Sandia Lab you will see something security related -- gates, fences, guards and cameras.

"It's difficult to get into Sandia because of our national security mission; necessarily, a lot of that information needs to be tightly held and classified," said Robert Carling, Ph.D. with Sandia National Lab.

Sandia is one of only three U.S. labs that design, build and maintain nuclear warheads. The combustion research facility, for example, is looking for ways to save energy by making engines more efficient and by sniffing out alternative sources of energy. There's a lot of brainpower in there. But there's a lot in other parts of the world, and Sandia wants to tap into it.

"We want people to be able to work with our scientists and engineers on a routine basis, day-to-day, working elbow-to-elbow in the laboratories trying to solve these really tough challenging problems," said Carling.

Carling envisions doing that by taking 50 acres of empty field on the east side of the lab and turning it into an open campus where scientists could come and go freely, researching new and cleaner fuels or the next generation plug-in hybrid, while the rest of the lab would remain under tight security.

"The goal from our point of view is to provide more impact for the taxpayers' money and accelerate innovation," said Carling.

The local chamber of commerce believes the project could bring more money and jobs to the local economy.

"For them to be bringing in scientists from around the world, and those scientists have the ability to stay and work and maybe even develop spin-off companies and hopefully stay in the Livermore area is a huge opportunity for us," said Dale Kaye with the Livermore Chamber of Commerce.

Sandia is already asking the Energy Department for several million dollars to move some fences and prepare the land. They think their chances are good since Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is a former colleague who headed Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

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