The LDRD program’s targeted investments allow LLNL to develop cutting-edge capabilities and foster innovation in key programmatic areas.
Over the last three decades, the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program has enabled Lawrence Livermore to fund research that addresses the national security challenges we face today, as well as future mission needs. In this annual report, we provide an overview of how these targeted investments allow LLNL to develop cutting-edge capabilities and foster innovation in key programmatic areas.
One noteworthy example that I am especially proud of is how LDRD investments allowed us to help our nation quickly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, funding 5 projects during the first few months of the pandemic. These projects illustrate how the LDRD program advances our Lab’s mission agility. In this report, we describe how investigators leveraged our capabilities in bioscience, data science, and high-performance computing to accelerate solutions in multiple areas, including new diagnostic capabilities, therapeutics, and other types of medical countermeasures to combat the virus.
In addition, LDRD investments focus on fostering the technical vitality needed to fulfill our mission. For example, investigators are exploring new ways to address challenges in nuclear weapons science, nuclear threat reduction, space security, cybersecurity, and energy security. As you browse this report, you will learn about projects that utilize LLNL’s core competencies in areas such as advanced manufacturing, optics, high-performance computing, and simulation.
Finally, our LDRD program makes it possible for us to cultivate the creativity of the Lab’s most important resource—our workforce. LDRD-sponsored research enables us to expand our outreach to tomorrow’s innovators, as we mentor students and onboard postdoctoral researchers, while developing the leadership capabilities of early career staff. The mentorship aspect of our program is one of its hallmarks. A multidisciplinary group of senior scientists and other advisors encourage our scientists and engineers to pursue exciting new research directions.
Throughout this year’s report, we highlight how the LDRD program invests in ideas that make the world a safer place. We review key accomplishments and performance indicators, and we share snapshots of some of our talented scientists and engineers. You can also browse project summaries prepared by our investigators and learn more about the 244 projects we supported in fiscal year 2020. Looking to the future, I am confident that LDRD investments will continue to help LLNL remain at the forefront of innovative research.
Congress established the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program in 1991 to foster cutting-edge scientific and technical vitality at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories. The LDRD programs at each laboratory, including LLNL, are a unique resource, providing funding for critical research aimed at addressing today’s needs and tomorrow’s challenges.
LLNL’s program addresses DOE objectives for LDRD programs, while also aligning with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) mission objectives and the Laboratory’s own strategic priorities.
As articulated in DOE Order 413.2C, the LDRD program serves to:
- Maintain the scientific and technical vitality of the laboratories.
- Enhance the laboratories’ ability to address current and future DOE/NNSA missions.
- Foster creativity and stimulate exploration of forefront areas of science and technology.
- Serve as a proving ground for new concepts in research and development.
- Support high-risk, potentially high-value research and development
Alignment with NNSA Mission Objectives
A strategic framework, jointly created by NNSA, LLNL, and the other NNSA laboratories, articulates the focus of LDRD programs at NNSA laboratories. LDRD investments support the following NNSA objectives:
- Technical Vitality. Develop innovative capabilities that are required to respond to emerging national security challenges.
- Mission Agility. Enable agile responses to national security challenges by investing in research and development at the forefront of mission-critical science and technology.
- Workforce Development. Recruit, develop, and retain the best and brightest staff, who can help us creatively address tomorrow’s dynamic mission needs.
Alignment with Laboratory Missions
In addition to aligning our LDRD investments with DOE and NNSA mission objectives, we ensure that our LDRD program supports mission priorities articulated in LLNL’s annual strategic investment plan. Institutional goals are established and updated through a planning process where we identify:
- Mission-related challenges or areas of interest for high-priority research.
- The core competencies that support this high-priority research.
- The scientific and technological needs to address those challenges and enhance related competencies.
- Key topics in fundamental research.
Published as the Investment Strategy for Science and Technology, this living document is steered by multidisciplinary teams, under the guidance of LLNL’s deputy director for science and technology. Each year, it is updated to reflect evolving mission needs. In addition, the document sets the strategic context for LLNL’s annual call for LDRD proposals, and it serves as a resource for investigators as they articulate the ways their proposed research aligns with at least one of these investment priorities.
Day-to-day oversight of our program is provided by LDRD Program Director Doug Rotman. However, program oversight extends beyond the LDRD program office to include the LLNL director and the LLNL deputy director for science and technology, along with the Laboratory’s programmatic leaders. This local team works closely with NNSA’s Livermore field office, NNSA’s LDRD program leaders, and LDRD program leaders at the Department of Energy.
At the programmatic level, LDRD portfolio management at Livermore is structured to assure alignment with DOE, NNSA, and Laboratory missions. Designated LDRD points of contact for each of the Laboratory’s strategic investment areas provide input regarding LDRD investment priorities to Livermore’s senior leadership team. These points of contact also advise applicants for LDRD funding regarding the alignment between proposed research and evolving mission needs at our Laboratory.
In addition, these programmatic leaders participate in a rigorous peer-review process of all proposals for LDRD funding. They evaluate the strategic relevance of each proposal, as well as its technical content. NNSA reviews and concurs on funding decisions. Funded projects are periodically reviewed by senior staff to ensure technical success and continued alignment with mission objectives.
Performance Indicators Drive Program Improvement
The LDRD program achieves continuous improvement through internal and external reviews of the program, along with oversight of each LDRD research project. Representatives from LDRD programs at each NNSA laboratory regularly participate in working groups to share best practices and discuss strategies for tracking the long-term impact of LDRD investments.
In FY20, the working group finalized a combination of common quantitative and qualitative long-term indicators, emphasizing a systematic approach to tracking and reporting performance indicators. For the first time, as each institution issues its LDRD program report for fiscal year 2020, we are presenting a common set of long-term performance indicators, which can be found in the Program Value section of this report. Our report also includes performance indicators specified by DOE’s director of LDRD programs, in accordance with DOE Order 413.2C.
The LDRD program is an investment in our nation’s future, with a mission impact that is often realized many years after an LDRD-sponsored project concludes. I’m extremely proud of everyone at LLNL—from postdocs who serve on LDRD-funded research teams, to senior scientists who help shape our investment strategy—so that together, we can ensure that the LDRD program continues to serve as a valuable national asset.”
LDRD Program Director
LDRD investments span a broad range of research topics, helping to ensure that LLNL supports innovation in key programmatic areas. Funded projects address some of our newest mission spaces, including cognitive simulation, predictive biology, space science and security, and hypersonic science. We also invest in the core capabilities and programmatic areas that undergird our Laboratory’s technical vitality and mission agility.
For fiscal year 2020, we carefully structured Livermore’s LDRD investment portfolio to promote the short-term objectives and long-term goals of DOE, NNSA, and our Laboratory. The key metrics presented here regarding our FY20 investment portfolio reflect this structure, including how funds are distributed across the program’s 5 types of projects and 17 research categories. By strategically selecting the types of projects we fund, along with the amount of funding invested in each project, we help ensure a strong program portfolio.
Livermore’s LDRD investments for FY20 include 244 projects and $121 million in total project funding.
Types of LDRD Projects and Number of Projects Funded in FY20
|Project Type||FY20 Projects Funded||Description|
|Exploratory Research (ER)||
|Projects that initiate a new direction for an existing program, respond to a specific research challenge, or make a breakthrough that enhances a core competency.|
|Feasibility Study (FS)||
|Projects aimed at determining the viability of a new technical approach for addressing a mission-relevant challenge.|
|Lab-wide (LW) Competition||
|Projects that emphasize innovative basic research and out-of-the-box thinking, often led by early career staff.|
|Strategic Initiative (SI)||
|Projects that are large in scope, and typically involve a multidisciplinary, cross‑organizational research team.|
|Disruptive Research (DR)||
|Projects that pursue exceptionally innovative ideas that have the potential to overturn fundamental paradigms or create fundamentally new research directions.|