The national laboratories—Livermore, Berkeley, Los Alamos, Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Brookhaven—have occupied a central place in the landscape of American science for more than fifty years. Responsible for the development of nuclear weapons, reactors, and other technologies that shaped American policy and culture in the Cold War, scientists from these labs also pursued physical and biomedical research that fundamentally changed our understanding of nature. But all of this has come at great cost, in terms of finance, facilities, and manpower, and has forced major adjustments in the framework of American science.
Deeply researched and lucidly written, The National Labs is the first book to trace the confluence of diverse interests that created and sustained this extensive enterprise. Peter J. Westwick takes us from the origins of the labs in the Manhattan Project to their role in building the hydrogen bomb, nuclear power reactors, and high-energy accelerators, to their subsequent entry into such fields as computers, meteorology, space science, molecular biology, environmental science, and alternative energy sources. By showing us that the national laboratory system developed as a reflection of American ideals of competition and decentralization in the Cold War, Westwick also demonstrates how scientific institutions reflect the values of their surrounding political system and culture.