Johns Hopkins University
Fall/Winter 2006
Vol. 4, No. 1

ALUMNI

Cooking Up Delectable TV

Moving Forward at Los Alamos


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Moving Forward at Los Alamos

Michael Anastasio“Exciting” is a word Michael Anastasio ’70, uses again and again as he talks about his new job as director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

It’s an enormous operation, stretching over 36 square miles, with more than 13,000 employees engaged in “developing and applying the best science and technology to ensure the nation’s safety and security.” Much of the work focuses directly on weapons of mass destruction—ensuring the reliability of the U.S. stockpile, preventing nuclear proliferation, and countering terrorism. But LANL scientists are also researching space, the origins of the universe, the spread of pandemics, nuclear energy, the environment, and quantum technology.

“We have to look at national security” Anastasio says, “in a broader context. We have to keep building our base of knowledge, to be ready to address the national security issues of the 21st century,” which, he concedes, are difficult to predict. “This is a very exciting opportunity,” he says with relish, “at a moment in time when the whole shape of U.S. nuclear policy is in play.”

The Los Alamos Laboratory has made seminal contributions to science. It was the birthplace not only of the atomic bomb but also of human genome research, the latter an outgrowth of post-World-War-II
investigations into the effects of radiation on humans. In recent years, however, LANL’s reputation for scientific innovation has been overshadowed by headlines about problems with safety and the security of classified information.

“The Lab’s been through challenging times,” Anastasio acknowledges, “but the people here really want to move forward…to develop the science that is needed to address our mission. There are great people here, doing great science.” Fundamental research “generates such extensive capability, you can’t predict where it will take you,” he says. “And that’s what’s so exciting.”

He took over the leadership of LANL in June as the president of a new management partnership between the University of California, Bechtel National, and two other organizations. After six decades of LANL operation by the University of California, Congress mandated that the Department of Energy conduct a competition for the management of the Lab. The UC-Bechtel team faced stiff competition from a University of Texas-Lockheed Martin Corporation alliance, and some observers credited the inclusion of Anastasio on the UC-Bechtel team as a key factor in its success.

Anastasio is making history as the first person ever to have headed both LANL and its archrival, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he worked for 25 years, serving for nearly four years as its director.

The Hopkins physics major came to the Livermore Laboratory to work on the science of nuclear weapons design after earning a PhD in theoretical nuclear physics from SUNY, Stony Brook, and brief stints doing post-doctoral research in Europe
and teaching at Brooklyn College.
He emerged as a leader in national security science and was instrumental in the development and implementation of the national Stockpile Stewardship Program, designed to make sure America’s weapons are secure and reliable without carrying out nuclear testing.

Far more interested in discussing LANL’s future than his own past, Anastasio agrees that a highlight of his career was his role in the signing of the 1995 nuclear test ban. “I wasn’t in charge then. I was two or three levels down from the top,” he recalls. “By a process that is still mysterious to me, I was chosen by the Secretary of Energy to do the briefings on the technical options the policymakers needed to understand before they made their decision.” He spoke to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President’s security advisor, among others. “It was a tremendous honor…to represent the entire technical community.”

A man with a reputation for being a highly effective manager and leader, he gives some of the credit to Johns Hopkins. “I left there with the confidence that I could go off and accomplish things; that gave me the ability to take on new and unexpected challenges.” After a pause, he adds, “Some people think I’m an optimist.”