United States Department of Energy National Laboratories

The United States Department of Energy National Laboratories and Technology Centers is a system of facilities and laboratories overseen by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) for scientific and technological research. Sixteen of the seventeen DOE national laboratories are federally funded research and development centers administered, managed, operated and staffed by private-sector organizations under management and operating (M&O) contract with DOE (with the National Energy Technology Laboratory being the exception).

Map of the 17 DOE National Laboratories in 2014.


The official seal of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The system of centralized national laboratories grew out of the massive scientific endeavors of World War II, in which new technologies such as radar, the computer, the proximity fuse, and the atomic bomb proved decisive for the Allied victory. Though the United States government had begun seriously investing in scientific research for national security in World War I, it was only in late 1930s and 1940s that monumental amounts of resources were committed or coordinated to wartime scientific problems, under the auspices first of the National Defense Research Committee, and later the Office of Scientific Research and Development, organized and administered by the MIT engineer Vannevar Bush.

During the Second World War, centralized sites such as the Radiation Laboratory at MIT and Ernest O. Lawrence's laboratory at Berkeley and the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago allowed for a large number of expert scientists to collaborate towards defined goals as never before, and with virtually unlimited government resources at their disposal.

In the course of the war, the Allied nuclear effort, the Manhattan Project, created several secret sites for the purpose of bomb research and material development, including a laboratory in the mountains of New Mexico directed by Robert Oppenheimer (Los Alamos), and sites at Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Hanford and Oak Ridge were administered by private companies, and Los Alamos was administered by a public university (the University of California). Additional success was had at the University of Chicago in reactor research, leading to the creation of Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, and at other academic institutions spread across the country.

After the war and its scientific successes, the newly created Atomic Energy Commission took over the future of the wartime laboratories, extending their lives indefinitely (they were originally thought of as temporary creations). Funding and infrastructure were secured to sponsor other "national laboratories" for both classified and basic research, especially in physics, with each national laboratory centered around one or many expensive machines (such as particle accelerators or nuclear reactors).

Most national laboratories maintained staffs of local researchers as well as allowing for visiting researchers to use their equipment, though priority to local or visiting researchers often varied from lab to lab. With their centralization of resources (both monetary and intellectual), the national labs serve as an exemplar for Big Science.

Elements of both competition and cooperation were encouraged in the laboratories. Often two laboratories with similar missions were created (such as Lawrence Livermore which was designed to compete with Los Alamos) with the hope that competition over funding would create a culture of high quality work. Laboratories which did not have overlapping missions would cooperate with each other (for example, Lawrence Livermore would cooperate with the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which itself was often in competition with Brookhaven National Laboratory). The idea of regional laboratories to work with local universities for nuclear development originated with Arthur Compton and Charles Allen Thomas, though Leslie Groves later claimed the idea as his own.[1]

The national laboratory system, administered first by the Atomic Energy Commission, then the Energy Research and Development Administration, and currently the Department of Energy, is one of the largest (if not the largest) scientific research systems in the world. The DOE provides about a third of the total national funding for physics, chemistry, materials science, and other areas of the physical sciences.[2] Many are locally managed by private companies, while others are managed by academic universities, and as a system they form one of the overarching and far-reaching components in what is known as the "iron triangle" of military, academia, and industry.

The National Labs can work directly with private industry through Laboratory Directed Research & Development (LDRD) agreements.[3][4]


National Laboratories

The United States Department of Energy currently operates seventeen national laboratories which fall under six of the department's divisions:

Name Location Established Operated by
Office of Science
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Berkeley, California 1931 University of California (since 1931)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Oak Ridge, Tennessee 1943

University of Chicago and DuPont (prior to ca. 1945)[5]
Monsanto (ca. 1945–1947)[5]
Union Carbide (1947–1984)[5]
Martin Marietta (1984–1995)[6]
Lockheed Martin (1995–2000)[6]
UT–Battelle (since April 2000)

Argonne National Laboratory DuPage County, Illinois 1946 UChicago Argonne, LLC
Ames National Laboratory Ames, Iowa 1947 Iowa State University (since 1947)
Brookhaven National Laboratory Upton, New York 1947

Associated Universities, Inc. (1947–1998)
Stony Brook University (since 1998) Battelle Memorial Institute

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Princeton, New Jersey 1951 Princeton University (since 1951)
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Menlo Park, California 1962 Stanford University (since 1962)
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Richland, Washington 1965 Battelle Memorial Institute (since 1965)
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Batavia, Illinois 1967 Fermi Research Alliance (since 2007)
Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility Newport News, Virginia 1984 Jefferson Science Associates, LLC (since 2006)
National Nuclear Security Administration
Los Alamos National Laboratory Los Alamos, New Mexico 1943

University of California (1943–2007)
Los Alamos National Security, LLC (2007–2018)
Triad National Security, LLC (Since 2018)

Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque, New Mexico 1948 University of California (1948–1949)

AT&T Corporation (1949–1993)
Lockheed Martin (1993–2017)
Honeywell International (since 2017)[7]

Livermore, California
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Livermore, California 1952

University of California (1952–2007)
Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (since 2007)

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
National Renewable Energy Laboratory Golden, Colorado 1977 MRIGlobal (1997–2008)

Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC (since 2008)

Office of Environmental Management
Savannah River National Laboratory Aiken, South Carolina 1952 Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC (2008 - 2021)

Battelle Savannah River Alliance (Since 2021)

Office of Fossil Energy & Carbon Management
National Energy Technology Laboratory Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1910 Department of Energy
Morgantown, West Virginia 1946
Albany, Oregon 2005
Office of Nuclear Energy
Idaho National Laboratory Idaho Falls, Idaho 1949 Bechtel (prior to 2005)

Battelle Memorial Institute (since 2005)

Technology Centers

In addition Knolls operates the Kenneth A. Kesselring site at West Milton, New York

* GOCO (Government-owned, Contractor-operated)
** GOGO (Government-owned, Government-operated)

List of scientific user facilities

  • In the Netflix web series Stranger Things, a fictional laboratory called Hawkins National Laboratory run by the DOE is located in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. The laboratory is later shut down after it is revealed that a portal to another dimension called the "Upside Down" is opened and inhumane experiments are performed on children to turn them into weapons against the USSR.
  • In the AMC show Breaking Bad, Walter White works for Sandia National Laboratories prior to Season One.

See also

  • University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System


  1. Nichols, Kenneth David (1987). The Road to Trinity: A Personal Account of How America's Nuclear Policies Were Made. New York: William Morrow and Company. p. 232. ISBN 0-688-06910-X. OCLC 15223648.
  2. "Federal obligations for research in physical sciences, by agency and detailed field: FY 2019" (PDF). National Science Foundation - National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Retrieved 27 December 2021. 3,197,261.8 kUSD out of a total of 9,816,132.9 kUSD is provided by the DOE. The fraction was higher (~40%) in FY 2016 ().
  3. Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, for the U. S. Department of. "Laboratory Directed Research & Development (LDRD)". www.lanl.gov. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  4. "SRNL LDRD - - About LDRD". srnl.doe.gov. Retrieved 2021-02-19.
  5. "Swords to Plowshares: A Short History of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1943-1993)". 2012-10-17. Archived from the original on 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  6. "ORNL Review: Sixty Years of Great Science" (PDF). p. 21.
  7. "NNSA Awards Sandia National Laboratories Management & Operating Contract to National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia (NTESS)". Energy.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-03.

Further reading

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