Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Materials for the Future

The Lab’s four Science Pillars harness our scientific capabilities for national security solutions.


  • Pillar Champion
  • Mary Hockaday
  • Email
  • Pillar Contact
  • Tanja Pietrass
  • Email
Materials for the Future Science


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we anticipate the advent of a new era in materials science, when we will transition from observing and exploiting the properties of materials to a science-based capability that controls materials with properties optimized for specific functions.

Our Materials for the Future pillar pursues national security solutions through controlled functionality of materials.

Materials for the Future pillar strategy

The central vision of our materials strategy is the concept called Controlled Functionality:

  • Performance: How a material fulfills the defined requirements
  • Functionality: The actual design and tailoring of a material to perform beyond the traditional requirements and sometimes in new ways beyond the basic properties

We pursue the discovery science and engineering required to establish design principles, synthesis pathways, and manufacturing processes to control functionality in materials relevant to ensuring the U.S. nuclear deterrent, reducing global threats, and solving energy security challenges.

We predict and control functionality through forefront science and engineering that crosscuts three themes:

  • Defects and Interfaces,
  • Extreme Environments, and
  • Emergent Phenomena.

Leadership in controlling functionality across these three challenging themes differentiates our materials capability. These forward-looking themes complement one another and build upon our established scientific strengths.

Controlled functionality

Accurate description of materials often involves the characterization of many variables that can only be captured in a statistical sense, e.g., chemical composition, defect concentration, texture, or grain size. These parameters and their linking across temporal and spatial scales determine a material’s behavior and performance in a given environment. In other circumstances, describing a material requires exploring the fundamental quantum nature of matter to understand behavior exhibited either as intrinsic emergent phenomena, such as superconductivity, or extrinsic emergent phenomena in fabricated nanostructures.

In all cases, to control functionality we need an intelligent system for tailoring a material’s performance.

We further seek to discover functionality that has not yet been observed. These goals require process-aware models relating materials performance to their properties during and after manufacturing. This is only achievable through the intimate coupling of experiment with theory and simulation to link the spectrum of materials length and time scales—from the electronic through the continuum and to the application or integrated system level.

Such insights will not only transform our ability to achieve controlled functionality, but also will allow us to predict and create new materials functionality in previously inaccessible extremes.

Los Alamos areas of leadership in Materials for the Future

  • Actinide and Correlated Electron Materials
  • Complex Functional Materials
  • Energetic Materials
  • Integrated Nanomaterials
  • Materials in Radiation Extremes
  • Materials Dynamics

Historical roots of the Materials pillar

Exploring the physics, chemistry, and metallurgy of materials has been a primary focus of Los Alamos since its founding. Our Laboratory’s proud history of advancing the science of materials includes discoveries instrumental in ending World War II.

Subsequent advances in understanding nuclear materials, developing insensitive high explosives, and creating materials for fusion reactions, radiation casings, and neutron sources have enabled a safe, reliable nuclear weapons deterrent. Los Alamos’s materials science expertise has been instrumental in keeping the world safe for more than 60 years.

As the Laboratory has evolved and missions in threat reduction, defense, energy, and other national challenges have been added, the science of materials has expanded.

The need for continued improvement in understanding the structure and properties of materials, and in the ability to synthesize and process materials with unique characteristics is key to a secure future. Materials science and engineering continues to be central to Los Alamos’s success.

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