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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Judging America's Youth: A Story of Getting Lost in America's Nuclear Factory

Please note this post will contain no personal photographs from my visit to Los Alamos National Labs, as out of concern for National Security I was not allowed to take photos with my camera while on site.
As part of the Santa Fe Bootstrap's Community Outreach, and my on the side Bromance with "Dr" John "Gordan Freeman" Gonzales, I spent April 2oth wandering the campus of Los Alamos National Labs, judging students entries in the SuperComputing Challenge. Getting to the actual judging was an undertaking unto itself. With Andrew "Dearth" Tremblay as my driver we departed the Santa Fe Complex at around 6 in the morning to ensure that we would make our required arrival time of 8 AM, a seemingly over kill amount of preparation, but this small amount of paranoia ensured that we avoided tardiness. On our drive up, we listened to many kicking tunes, including Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" and Electric Six's "Dance Commander". We first realized that we were having issues with our navigation, when we found ourselves not in a swarm of laboratories but a residential neighborhood. Reoriented and ready to roll we soon had managed to get ourselves to the entrance of LANL, sadly my ability to follow directions, especially in a confusing and new environment is not exactly my most robust characteristic.

Our first attempt at finding a place to park a car left us outside of the main entrance. Try number two truly got me excited about the morning seeing as we accidentally pulled into the parking lot that led to the part of the lab responsible for processing nuclear waste. While we were fortunate enough to not need to meet with any of the fine members of US Armed Forces.

It was unnerving to see upon our departure the sign that read "all parked cars will be searched", fortunately JP was awake enough to answer the phone and tell us where the library was.
Judging the presentations was new to me, as someone who had always been on the receiving end of these has always been stressful, making sure that students didn't feel intimidated was important to me. While the presentations I got to review weren't the most invigorating, the potential for recruiting students to WPI should not be ignored.

For me the most exciting part of the day was getting to tour the facility that housed The Road Runner the first petaflop supercomputer. Throughout the entire tour I had the opening sequence of Half Life running through my head. Once through the opening layers of security we we brought through aimless hall after hall until we came into the RAVE room, which allowed us to see proteins fold, explore the inside of a nuclear processing chamber, and visit the surface of Mars, all in 3-D. We then saw the prototype of the Road Runner Super Computer and where much of the non-classified data on site was stored.

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