Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), commonly referred to as the Berkeley Lab, is a United States national laboratory owned by, and conducting scientific research on behalf of, the United States Department of Energy. Located in the hills of Berkeley, California, the lab overlooks the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, and is managed by the University of California system.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The lab's Molecular Foundry and surrounding buildings
MottoBringing science solutions to the world
EstablishedAugust 26, 1931 (1931-08-26)
Research typeScientific research and energy technologies
BudgetUS$1.1 billion (2019)[1]
DirectorMichael Witherell
Address1 Cyclotron Road
LocationBerkeley, California, United States
37.876°N 122.247°W / 37.876; -122.247
Campus200 acres (81 ha)
Operating agency
University of California



The laboratory was founded on August 26, 1931, by Ernest Lawrence, as the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, associated with the Physics Department. It centered physics research around his new instrument, the cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939.[4] Throughout the 1930s, Lawrence pushed to create larger and larger machines for physics research, courting private philanthropists for funding. He was the first to develop a large team to build big projects to make discoveries in basic research.[5] Eventually these machines grew too large to be held on the university grounds, and in 1940 the lab moved to its current site atop the hill above campus.[4] Part of the team put together during this period includes two other young scientists who went on to direct large laboratories: J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed Los Alamos Laboratory, and Robert Wilson, who directed Fermilab.


Leslie Groves visited Lawrence's Radiation Laboratory in late 1942 as he was organizing the Manhattan Project, meeting J. Robert Oppenheimer for the first time. Oppenheimer was tasked with organizing the nuclear bomb development effort and founded today's Los Alamos National Laboratory to help keep the work secret.[5] At the RadLab, Lawrence and his colleagues developed the technique of electromagnetic enrichment of uranium using their experience with cyclotrons. The calutrons (named after the University) became the basic unit of the massive Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Lawrence's lab helped contribute to what have been judged to be the three most valuable technology developments of the war (the atomic bomb, proximity fuze, and radar). The cyclotron, whose construction was stalled during the war, was finished in November 1946. The Manhattan Project shut down two months later.


After the war, the Radiation Laboratory became one of the first laboratories to be incorporated into the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) (now Department of Energy, DOE). The most highly classified work remained at Los Alamos, but the RadLab remained involved. Edward Teller suggested setting up a second lab similar to Los Alamos to compete with their designs. This led to the creation of an offshoot of the RadLab (now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) in 1952. Some of the RadLab's work was transferred to the new lab, but some classified research continued at Berkeley Lab until the 1970s, when it became a laboratory dedicated only to unclassified scientific research.

Shortly after the death of Lawrence in August 1958, the UC Radiation Laboratory (both branches) was renamed Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. The Berkeley location became Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in 1971,[6][7] although many continued to call it the RadLab. Gradually, another shortened form came into common usage, LBL. Its formal name was amended to Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1995, when "National" was added to the names of all DOE labs. "Ernest Orlando" was later dropped to shorten the name. Today, the lab is commonly referred to as Berkeley Lab.[8]

The Alvarez Physics Memos are a set of informal working papers of the large group of physicists, engineers, computer programmers, and technicians led by Luis W. Alvarez from the early 1950s until his death in 1988. Over 1700 memos are available on-line, hosted by the Laboratory.[9]

In 2018, the lab remains owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, with management from the University of California. Companies such as Intel were funding the lab's research into computing chips.[10]

University of California Radiation Laboratory staff on the magnet yoke for the 60-inch cyclotron, 1938; Nobel prizewinners Ernest Lawrence, Edwin McMillan, and Luis Alvarez are shown, in addition to J. Robert Oppenheimer and Robert R. Wilson.

Laboratory directors

Science mission

From the 1950s through the present, Berkeley Lab has maintained its status as a major international center for physics research, and has also diversified its research program into almost every realm of scientific investigation. Its mission is to solve the most pressing and profound scientific problems facing humanity, conduct basic research for a secure energy future, understand living systems to improve the environment, health, and energy supply, understand matter and energy in the universe, build and safely operate leading scientific facilities for the nation, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers

The Laboratory's 20 scientific divisions are organized within six areas of research: Computing Sciences, Physical Sciences, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Biosciences, Energy Sciences, and Energy Technologies.[11] Berkeley Lab has six main science thrusts: advancing integrated fundamental energy science, integrative biological and environmental system science, advanced computing for science impact, discovering the fundamental properties of matter and energy, accelerators for the future, and developing energy technology innovations for a sustainable future.[12] It was Lawrence's belief that scientific research is best done through teams of individuals with different fields of expertise, working together. His teamwork concept is a Berkeley Lab tradition that continues today.

The Advanced Light Source and surrounding buildings
The Integrative Genomics Building, home to the Joint Genome Institute
The Molecular Foundry

Berkeley Lab operates five major National User Facilities for the DOE Office of Science:

  1. The Advanced Light Source (ALS) is a synchrotron light source with 41 beam lines providing ultraviolet, soft x-ray, and hard x-ray light to scientific experiments. The ALS is one of the world's brightest sources of soft x-rays, which are used to characterize the electronic structure of matter and to reveal microscopic structures with elemental and chemical specificity. About 2,500 scientist-users carry out research at ALS every year. Berkeley Lab is proposing an upgrade of ALS which would increase the coherent flux of soft x-rays by two-three orders of magnitude.
  2. The Joint Genome Institute (JGI) supports genomic research in support of the DOE missions in alternative energy, global carbon cycling, and environmental management. The JGI's partner laboratories are Berkeley Lab, Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. The JGI's central role is the development of a diversity of large-scale experimental and computational capabilities to link sequence to biological insights relevant to energy and environmental research.[13] Approximately 1,200 scientist-users take advantage of JGI's capabilities for their research every year. The foundation of Intel cofounder and Berkeley alumnus Gordon Moore has, since the institute's founding, provided over $9.4 million in funding.[14]
  3. The Molecular Foundry is a multidisciplinary nanoscience research facility. Its seven research facilities focus on Imaging and Manipulation of Nanostructures, Nanofabrication, Theory of Nanostructured Materials, Inorganic Nanostructures, Biological Nanostructures, Organic and Macromolecular Synthesis, and Electron Microscopy.[15] Approximately 700 scientist-users make use of these facilities in their research every year.
  4. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is the scientific computing facility that provides large-scale computing for the DOE's unclassified research programs. Its current systems provide over 3 billion computational hours annually. NERSC supports 6,000 scientific users from universities, national laboratories, and industry.
  5. The Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) is a high-speed network infrastructure optimized for very large scientific data flows. ESNet provides connectivity for all major DOE sites and facilities, and the network transports roughly 35 petabytes of traffic each month.

Berkeley Lab is the lead partner in the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), located in Emeryville, California. Other partners are the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California (UC) campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). JBEI's primary scientific mission is to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels – liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. JBEI is one of three new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs).

Berkeley Lab has a major role in two DOE Energy Innovation Hubs.[16] The mission of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) is to find a cost-effective method to produce fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The lead institution for JCAP is the California Institute of Technology and Berkeley Lab is the second institutional center.[17] The mission of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) is to create next-generation energy storage technologies that will transform transportation and the electricity grid.[18] Argonne National Laboratory leads JCESR and Berkeley Lab is a major partner.

Operations and governance

The University of California operates Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under a contract with the Department of Energy. The site consists of 76 buildings (owned by the U.S. Department of Energy) located on 200 acres (0.81 km2) owned by the university in the Berkeley Hills. Altogether, the Lab has some 4,000 UC employees, of whom about 800 are students or postdocs, and each year it hosts more than 3,000 participating guest scientists. There are approximately two dozen DOE employees stationed at the laboratory to provide federal oversight of Berkeley Lab's work for the DOE. The laboratory director, Michael Witherell, is appointed by the university regents and reports to the university president. Although Berkeley Lab is governed by UC independently of the Berkeley campus, the two entities are closely interconnected: more than 200 Berkeley Lab researchers hold joint appointments as UC Berkeley faculty.

The Lab's budget for the fiscal year 2019 was US$1.1 billion dollars.[1]

Scientific achievements, inventions, and discoveries

Notable scientific accomplishments at the Lab since World War II include the observation of the antiproton, the discovery of several transuranic elements, and the discovery of the accelerating universe.

Since its inception, 15 researchers associated with Berkeley Lab (Ernest Lawrence, Glenn T. Seaborg, Edwin M. McMillan, Owen Chamberlain, Emilio G. Segrè, Donald A. Glaser, Melvin Calvin, Luis W. Alvarez, Yuan T. Lee, Steven Chu, George F. Smoot, Saul Perlmutter, Jennifer Doudna, John Clauser and Carolyn Bertozzi) have been awarded either the Nobel Prize in Physics or the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In addition, twenty-three Berkeley Lab employees, as contributors to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.[3]

Seventy Berkeley Lab scientists are members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States.[2] Thirteen Berkeley Lab scientists have won the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research.[2] Eighteen Berkeley Lab engineers have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and three Berkeley Lab scientists have been elected into the National Academy of Medicine.[2] Nature Index rates the Lab fifth in the world among government research organizations; it is the only one of the top six that is a single laboratory, rather than a system of laboratories.[19]

Elements discovered by Berkeley Lab physicists include astatine, neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium*, californium*, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium, lawrencium*, dubnium, and seaborgium*. Those elements listed with asterisks (*) are named after the University Professors Lawrence and Seaborg. Seaborg was the principal scientist involved in their discovery. The element technetium was discovered after Ernest Lawrence gave Emilio Segrè a molybdenum strip from the Berkeley Lab cyclotron.[20] The fabricated evidence used to claim the creation of oganesson and livermorium by Victor Ninov, a researcher employed at Berkeley Lab, led to the retraction of two articles.[21]

Inventions and discoveries to come out of Berkeley Lab include: "smart" windows with embedded electrodes that enable window glass to respond to changes in sunlight, synthetic genes for antimalaria and anti-AIDS superdrugs based on breakthroughs in synthetic biology, electronic ballasts for more efficient lighting, Home Energy Saver, the web's first do-it-yourself home energy audit tool, a pocket-sized DNA sampler called the PhyloChip, and the Berkeley Darfur Stove, which uses one-quarter as much firewood as traditional cook stoves. One of Berkeley Lab's most notable breakthroughs is the discovery of dark energy. During the 1980s and 1990s Berkeley Lab physicists and astronomers formed the Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP), using Type Ia supernovae as "standard candles" to measure the expansion rate of the universe. Their successful methods inspired competition, with the result that early in 1998 both the SCP and the High-Z Supernova Search Team announced the surprising discovery that expansion is accelerating; the cause was soon named dark energy.

Arthur Rosenfeld, a senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, was a prominent advocate for energy efficiency from 1975 until his death in 2017. He led efforts at the Lab that produced several technologies that radically improved efficiency: compact fluorescent lamps, low-energy refrigerators, and windows that trap heat. He established the Center for Building Science at the Lab, which developed into the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division. He developed the first energy-efficiency standards for buildings and appliances in California, which helped the state to sustain constant electricity use per capita, a phenomenon called the Rosenfeld effect. The Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impacts Division continues to set the research foundation for the national energy efficiency standards and works with China, India, and other countries to help develop their standards.[22]

Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev of Berkeley Lab developed the IRENE system for optical scanning of audio discs and cylinders.[23]

In December 2018, researchers at Intel Corp. and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a paper in Nature, which outlined a chip "made with quantum materials called magnetoelectric multiferroics instead of the conventional silicon," to allow for increased processing and reduced energy consumption to support technology such as artificial intelligence.[10]

Notable people

  • Haimei Zheng, Chinese-American materials scientist and Senior Staff Scientist


  1. "Annual Report". Office of the Chief Financial Officer. LBNL. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  2. "About the Lab". LBNL. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
  3. Nobelists, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, retrieved November 10, 2022
  4. "Lawrence and His Laboratory: Chapter 1: A New Lab for a New Science". Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  5. Hiltzik, Michael (2015). Big Science. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-7576-4.
  6. "Ernest Lawrence and M. Stanley Livingston". American Physical Society. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
  7. University of California | Office of the President (accessed July 15, 2013).
  8. "Ernest Lawrence's Cyclotron". August 27, 1958. Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  9. "Alvarez Physics Memos".
  10. Rachel Sandler (December 7, 2018). "How Intel, Berkeley Lab research could help power the coming $10 billion AI chip industry". Silicon Valley Business Journal. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  11. "Research Areas at Berkeley Lab". Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
  12. "The U.S. Department of Energy's Ten-Year-Plans for the Office of Science National Laboratories" (PDF). U.S. Department of Energy.
  13. "DOE Joint Genome Institute Strategic Planning Update" (PDF). Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  14. "Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation:Grants Search".
  15. "Facilities at the Molecular Foundry". Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Archived from the original on November 19, 2017. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  16. "DOE Energy Innovation Hubs". Department of Energy.
  17. "JCAP". JCAP.
  18. "Joint Center for Energy Storage Research". Archived from the original on December 26, 2017. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
  19. "Nature Index: 2020 government tables". Retrieved July 23, 2021.
  20. "Chemical Elements Discovered at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory". June 7, 1999. Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  21. Dalton, Rex (2002). "The stars who fell to Earth". Nature. 420 (6917): 728–9. Bibcode:2002Natur.420..728D. doi:10.1038/420728a. PMID 12490902. S2CID 4398009.
  22. "Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impacts Division".
  23. The Machine That's Saving the History of Recorded Sound. The Atlantic, June 13, 2014.
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