The Mercury News
After nearly 3 years, lab reopens Discovery Center
The cutting-edge center functions as part classroom, trophy room, lab
There are probably more secrets inside Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory than any single square mile in Northern California.
One of them, however, isn't one they try to keep: the existence of the lab's Discovery Center.
In an outbuilding of approximately 1,110 square feet on the lab's east side that is open to the public, the center functions as part classroom, part laboratory trophy room, showing off many of the lab's accomplishments while explaining cutting-edge science to visitors.
The discovery center reopened Feb. 1, after being closed for nearly three years during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been part of the lab's public face since it opened in 1976.
“The Discovery Center is our visitor center, to come and learn about the lab,” said Joanna Albala, the center's director and the lab's science education program manager. “They learn about the science and technology here at the lab, and we've just redone the whole programming.”
The discovery center packs a lot of punch.
At its center is a half-size replica of the targeting dome at the lab's National Ignition Facility, which made worldwide news in
December for achieving nuclear fusion for the first time in history.
Scientists shot 192 lasers at a target the size of a pencil eraser in the National Ignition Facility, achieving “energy break-even,” meaning it produced more energy than was used in the effort. The first-of-its-kind breakthrough is considered a major step toward a net-zero carbon economy.
“By serendipity, it's all about the National Ignition Facility,” Albala said. “It wasn't really intentionally done that way, but at the same time, it's the jewel in the crown of the science of the laboratory and also is a big part
of the center.”
“This is the dome of where the targets go in for a shot,” said Albala, a scientist who was part of two teams that discovered two human genes while working on the Human Genome Project. “We did this replica of the target to be more realistic and so when students are coming to the center for these science field trips, we're using props and items to describe how fusion works. They get to have some hands-on activities so they can better understand that type of science.”
Though the dome is the most obvious part of the center, the history and some of the practical details of what the lab does are everywhere. It's one big room, but a room in which someone can easily spend a couple of hours.
The center chronicles the lab's own history (like the mammoth discovered during construction of the National Ignition Facility during the 1990s), its discoveries and its role in world events, including the lab's micropowered impulse radar used to find victims in the rubble of the World Trade Center in 2001, its improved technology to detect threats from space objects, and the work of its National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center.
“They were the only ones as