In an unexpected move, Penrose “Parney” Albright has announced that he will stand down as the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California at the end of this month. Speaking to staff yesterday, Albright, a physicist, said he will continue to pursue other interests in the area of national security.
Albright has had a long career in defense policy and research, including stints at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In 2003, President George W. Bush named him an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. He was president of the Civitas Group, a homeland security think tank, before joining LLNL in 2009 as principal associate director for global security. He was promoted to lab director in October 2011.
One of his last acts was a shakeup of the leadership of LLNL’s troubled National Ignition Facility (NIF). NIF is designed to achieve nuclear fusion by crushing capsules of hydrogen fuel with immensely energetic lasers, both for energy research and to help nuclear weapons designers simulate explosions. In September 2012, NIF missed a self-imposed deadline for achieving “ignition”—a self-sustaining fusion burn producing excess energy—and is still some distance from reaching that goal. Since then, the facility has altered focus, putting more emphasis on weapons-related work and acting as a user facility for outside scientists. At the beginning of this month, Albright moved NIF Director Ed Moses to a new role investigating the wider applications of fusion and Moses was replaced on an interim basis by one of his deputies, Jeff Wisoff.
Albright’s job will be temporarily filled by mechanical engineer Bret Knapp, a LLNL veteran who is now principal associate director for weapons programs at the rival Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.