A lot has happened in the last few weeks. Firstly, the OneLoop president appointed me Power Lead, as well as club president! Secondly, my internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has begun and I am now living upstairs in somebody’s house in Livermore. There isn’t very much to do here, but I have an internship and a room with wifi - do I really need anything else? And so far, the intern group chat has seen two invitations to death metal concerts, and one invitation to a rare and exotic plant show.
LLNL (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. I feel of like I’m in a movie about scientists designing the atom bomb, a feeling which is augmented by the fact that the architecture looks like it’s from WWII. The property is about a square mile in size, so there are free shuttles you can call to take you wherever you need to go. Some of the building are enormous and contain billion dollar experiments, and some of the buildings are tiny trailers. I guess all the budget went towards science? We were told not to unplug anything because one time a ten year long experiment was ruined because one person unplugged a refrigerator. The place has more money than they know what to do with - they take all the interns individually out to dinner at a really nice place near a golf course. About one in every six workers has a PhD, security is everywhere, and the guards wear military uniforms and probably have military training. There are signs posted to tell you how dangerous a certain area is, ranging from warning to extreme grave danger. The latter was explained to me as “danger that will put you in a grave.”
During the first week they teach you quite a bit about the lab, especially the section you are working on. NIF, the laser I’m coding for, serves a few purposes. It helps research what the inside of stars are like, by simulating their plasma. It helps make sure the nuclear bombs the US has in storage are all in working order and don’t explode when being dismantled as per the NPT treaty. The dismantling bit is mostly an old function though since we’re not really doing that any more. It also helps conduct research on clean nuclear energy, which has been 30 years away for over half a century. Basically, whenever an experiment requires a gigantic laser, NIF comes to the rescue and obliterates whatever needs to be obliterated. There is a whole science to designing the targets, which contain whatever needs to be zapped, surrounded by stuff to analyze exactly how it was zapped.
I’ve never been in such a place that feels so quintessentially American. There is a definite feeling that while science is important for its own sake the primary purpose of the science done there is to defend the country. Some of the interns don’t know the full extent of the project that they’re working on because it’s above their clearance level. People in the lab without citizenship are called “foreign nationals” and aren’t allowed to enter certain restricted areas, and when a class is taught at the lab they will specify whether foreign nationals are allowed. One of the members who works in cyber defense mentioned that the US was constantly under cyberattack by foreign enemies, and there is also danger that foreign intelligence agents are creating vulnerabilities where they didn’t exist before. Some younger workers are members of MARA or ROTC, and wear military uniforms. The only way to tell them apart from the guards is by age, and the fact that they are unarmed.
My job is to upgrade the NIF codebase from Java 8, which was released in 2014, to Java 11, which was released in 2018. I will do this by trying to run the Java 8 code on a Java 11 compiler, see what goes wrong, fix it, and write down what I fixed and changed. That document will then be looked at, and turned into tickets that the lab programmers will work on. I might work on some as well, if I finish in time.
May you be ever victorious in your future endeavors!