Heart of Innovation
Research on nuclear weapons has provided the United States with the ability to deter the use of nuclear weapons… throughout the past half century."
—Edward Teller, Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics
Since its inception, the "Rad Lab at Livermore" (which became Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1979) has helped the nation meet important challenges through innovations in science and technology. The initial challenge, the one that set the stage for all that followed, was the design of nuclear weapons.
Livermore’s Major Contributions to U.S. Nuclear Deterrence
Our scientists and engineers developed diagnostic instrumentation and led the design and testing of many thermonuclear devices to support the U.S. deterrence posture.
1960: Miniaturization of Nuclear Warheads (Polaris)
The first warhead carried by a submarine, the Polaris missile represents the success of Livermore efforts to develop small, efficient thermonuclear weapons—a crucial game-changer in establishing the modern U.S. nuclear deterrent capability.
1970: Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle (MIRV)
A ballistic missile may carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), each containing a warhead and capable of being aimed to hit a different target. The Minuteman III, deployed in 1970 and the first true MIRV design, held three smaller W62 warheads designed and successfully tested by Livermore.
1976: Insensitive High Explosives
Use of insensitive high explosives (IHE) in a nuclear warhead greatly improves its safety and security in crash and fire accidents. Livermore successfully demonstrated the practicality of IHE in a miniaturized warhead.
2004: First U.S. warhead life extension program, W87
To prepare for long-term continuing deployment of the W87 warhead on Minuteman III missiles, a life extension program (LEP) was initiated in 1995. Certification without nuclear testing was an important demonstration under the Stockpile Stewardship Program, making the W87 the first successful conclusion of an LEP in 2004.
2002: First fully 3D model of a nuclear weapon explosion
The first full-system, three-dimensional modeling of a nuclear weapon explosion performed on Livermore’s ASCI White supercomputer in 2002 took 39 days to run.
2021: At the threshold of fusion ignition
National Ignition Facility (NIF) achieves 1.3 megajoule yield, opening new regimes previously inaccessible to study weapon-relevant extreme conditions while creating new avenues for fundamental research.
Keeping the U.S. and our allies safe by putting 18 active and retired systems in the U.S. nuclear stockpile
The Giants of the Nuclear Testing Era
Learn about a few of our pioneers who led nuclear weapon innovation
“Seymour leaves behind a large family of scientists who owe to him the insistence on excellence he passed on to the design community. We stand on the shoulders of this giant and we shall miss him.”
“Dan Patterson refined modern thermonuclear design. Equally importantly, he helped lead the transition from live testing to stockpile stewardship.”
LLNL Through the Decades
Welcome to an overview of our stories, our people, and our history. Please use this interactive timeline to explore in depth the people, programs, and events that have shaped the vibrant history of our laboratory.