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 funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) research to address today’s national security challenges and future mission needs. In this annual report, we summarize how LLNL uses targeted investments to develop cutting-edge capabilities, advance our knowledge in strategic science and technology domains, develop our world-class workforce, and foster innovation in key programmatic areas.
August 2021 marked a milestone event in our laboratory’s history: arriving at the threshold of fusion ignition at NIF. This report describes how LDRD investments played important roles in advancing our capabilities and scientific understanding to deliver this outstanding result of a 1.3 megajoule yield. We also highlight the partnerships across the DOE and NNSA complex that were instrumental to our success. LDRD investigators are key to the technical vitality of LLNL, pushing the frontiers of science and technology, using our capabilities in high-energy-density science, materials science, engineering, and high-performance computing. Within inertial confinement fusion, their research accelerates solutions in multiple areas, including new diagnostic capabilities, novel target design and fabrication techniques, and laser and optical science. This remarkable achievement is central to our stockpile stewardship mission and opens new avenues for research on the most extreme states of matter in the universe.
In addition, LDRD investments foster mission agility through multidisciplinary research, bringing together diverse teams and collaborators to innovate solutions to fulfill our missions. 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 cultivates the creativity of the Lab’s most important resource—our workforce. LDRD-sponsored research enables outreach to tomorrow’s innovators, as we mentor students, hire postdoctoral researchers, and develop the leadership capabilities of early career staff. The mentorship aspect is a hallmark of our program. A multidisciplinary group of senior scientists and advisors encourage our staff to pursue new research directions.
Throughout this year’s report, we highlight LDRD’s investments in ideas that make the world a safer place. We review key accomplishments and performance indicators, and share highlights from projects led by our talented staff. I encourage you to visit our LDRD website and learn more about the 263 projects that we supported during fiscal year 2021. Looking to the future, I am confident that LDRD investments will continue to help LLNL remain at the forefront of innovative research and development.
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 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, 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—created jointly 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 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 multidisciplinary teams 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.
Day-to-day oversight of our program is provided by LDRD Program Director Doug Rotman. Overall 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, programmatic leaders and science and technology 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 NNSA working group finalized a combination of common quantitative and qualitative long-term indicators, emphasizing a systematic approach to tracking and reporting performance indicators. For fiscal year 2021, we presented 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.
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 2021, 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 FY21 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 FY21 include 263 projects and $132 million in total project funding.
Types of LDRD Projects and Number of Projects Funded in FY21
|Project Type||FY21 Projects Funded||Description|
|Exploratory Research (ER)||
|Address a specific research challenge or enhance a core competency.|
|Feasibility Study (FS)||
|Determine the viability of a new way to address a mission-relevant challenge.|
|Lab-wide (LW) Competition||
|Conduct innovative basic research and enable out-of-the-box thinking.|
|Strategic Initiative (SI)||
|Make significant progress addressing a mission-relevant challenge from a multidisciplinary perspective.|
|Disruptive Research (DR)||
|Pursue novel ideas with the potential to overturn fundamental paradigms or create new research directions.|