From The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and From The University of California-Berkeley: “Q&A:: We’ve Been Underestimating Heat Waves. Here’s How to Fix It”

From The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Aliyah Kovner

David Romps and Yi-Chuan Lu extended the heat index to high temperatures and found that weather services have underreported it by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heat index table used by the National Weather Service (top) underestimates the apparent temperature for conditions with extreme heat and humidity. Such events were rare when the heat index was first developed, but are growing increasingly common due to climate change. The team’s improved index, at bottom, accurately shows the danger. (Credit: David Romps and Yi-Chuan Lu/UC Berkeley)

The heat index is a scale used to quantify how our bodies feel in different weather conditions. Combining temperature and humidity with a model of human physiology, the heat index allows us to describe the risks of extreme heat conditions more intuitively than environmental measurements alone. For example, our bodies are subjected to much greater physiological stress on a day that’s 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity than a day that’s 85 degrees with only 20% humidity, because the evaporative cooling effect of sweating is hindered when the air flowing against skin already contains a lot of moisture. So, the heat index on the more humid day would be higher because we would perceive it as feeling hotter.

For decades, the heat index has been used to describe the severity of heat waves and warn the public to take necessary precautions. These numbers are particularly helpful for the millions of people who work outside or lack access to air conditioning. But a new study published in Environmental Research Letters [below] suggests that the heat index we’ve been using is underestimating the danger.

In the work, authors David Romps and Yi-Chuan Lu propose an improved heat index and explain how the current model may have failed to accurately describe heat events in the past, and how it falls short in capturing the dangers posed by the increasingly extreme climate of the 21st century.

We spoke with Romps, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division and a professor of earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley, to learn more about the study and get his professional thoughts on how the heat index is a crucial tool for staying safe in a warming world.

Q: How is the heat index calculated, and what does it tell us that air temperature and/or humidity readings alone cannot?

A: The heat index is the temperature, at a reference level of humidity, that would feel the same to a human as the actual temperature and humidity. Since humidity is typically higher than the reference value during heat waves, the heat index is usually higher than the temperature because more humid air “feels” hotter.

The heat index was derived in a brilliant paper published by Robert Steadman in 1979 [Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology (below)]. Steadman was a physicist and professor in the Textiles and Clothing Department at Colorado State University. In that paper, Steadman wrote the equations that govern the temperature of a human’s core. Humans have a remarkable ability to maintain their core temperature at 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit). To accomplish this, humans use both behavior (e.g., choice of clothing or staying in shade) and physiology (e.g., modulating the skin blood flow).

Steadman calculated a human’s ideal behavioral and physiological state as a function of air temperature and humidity. From that, he was able to calculate the heat index, which is the temperature (at the reference level of humidity) that would generate the same behavioral and physiological responses as the actual temperature and humidity. This is why we call the heat index a “feels like” temperature: a person would feel the same in the sense of making the same choice of clothing and having the same response of their cardiovascular system.

Q: What are some of the problems with the current heat index model?

A: As I mentioned, Steadman’s heat index is based on a model of a human. In particular, it is a model of human thermoregulation (how a human regulates its core temperature). At high temperature and humidity, Steadman’s model seems to break because the amount of water vapor on the human’s skin predicted by the model violates the laws of physics. In 1979, this was not a big issue because temperatures and humidities that high were rarely encountered. With global warming, however, we are increasingly encountering situations where the heat index is undefined.

When we tried to understand why Steadman’s model was breaking, we discovered that the equations were trying to tell us something simple: they were saying that the sweat should be dripping off the skin. The way that Steadman had arranged the equations, there was no way for sweat to drip off the skin, so the model broke. When we realized this, we were able to make a small adjustment to the equations that then naturally extended the heat index to higher temperatures and humidities. What we found, however, is that the heat index grows rapidly in those warmer and more humid conditions, which has some big implications for how meteorologists communicate the risk from heat waves.

Since Steadman’s heat index was undefined at high heat and humidity, the National Weather Service (NWS) has used an approximation to the heat index. In particular, the NWS took the table of values tabulated by Steadman in his 1979 paper and fit a big, complicated polynomial to it. This allowed the NWS to extrapolate the heat index into the region where it was undefined. Unfortunately, those extrapolated values have no basis in science and, as we discovered, are quite wrong.

Q: What did you find when you looked at historical weather data using your new heat index?

A: We looked at weather data over the United States from 1984 to 2020 and identified the most intense heat waves from a human perspective using the extended heat index. Contrary to our expectations, we found that the most intense heat waves occur in the Midwest, not in the South. In particular, the top two heat waves from 1984 to 2020 occurred in the Midwest in July 2011 and July 1995. The 1995 event killed hundreds of people in Chicago.

Newspaper articles covering these events reported the heat index as calculated by the National Weather Service using their polynomial extrapolation. What we found is that the heat index reported at those times was wrong. At the height of those heat waves, the NWS underestimated the heat index by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This matters because the heat index is based on a model of human thermoregulation, and so a heat index that is higher by 20 F corresponds to a far greater state of physiological stress. For example, a heat index of 135 F implies a skin blood flow that is twice as high as normal, but a heat index of 155 F implies a skin blood flow that is ten times higher than normal, placing an enormous strain on the cardiovascular system and approaching the physiological limit.

Q: Will this new approach to the heat index help us better prepare for the “new normal” of climate change-driven heat waves?

A: Unfortunately, there is no “new normal” of Earth’s climate. Humans have been burning fossil fuels at a rate that has grown roughly exponentially for the past two centuries, and, globally, we are currently burning fossil fuels at a faster clip now than ever before. Since the temperature of our planet is approximately proportional to the total amount of fossil carbon we burn, we are raising the temperature at a faster rate now than ever before. What this means is that our personal experience of heat waves rapidly becomes obsolete, and we must rely on modeling to forecast what the heat waves of the coming years will feel like. And that is where the extended heat index has, perhaps, its most important role to play: in forecasting the tightening restrictions on outdoor work, the increased rates of hospitalizations, and the places and times of year when spending time outside might be fatal in future decades. Of course, we would be far better off avoiding these outcomes altogether, and the necessary step to doing so is clear and simple: we must cease burning fossil fuels.

From University of California-Berkeley
“Today’s heat waves feel a lot hotter than heat index implies”

Robert Sanders

The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels and rises with increasing humidity even as the temperature remains the same. If the index rises above 125-130, heat stroke is considered likely. (Graphic by Climate Central)

If you looked at the heat index during this summer’s sticky heat waves and thought, “It sure feels hotter!,” you may be right.

An analysis by climate scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, finds that the apparent temperature, or heat index, calculated by meteorologists and the National Weather Service (NWS) to indicate how hot it feels — taking into account the humidity — underestimates the perceived temperature for the most sweltering days we’re now experiencing, sometimes by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The finding has implications for those who suffer through these heat waves, since the heat index is a measure of how the body deals with heat when the humidity is high, and sweating becomes less effective at cooling us down. Sweating and flushing, where blood is diverted to capillaries close to the skin to dissipate heat, plus shedding clothes, are the main ways humans adapt to hot temperatures.

A higher heat index means that the human body is more stressed during these heat waves than public health officials may realize, the researchers say. The NWS currently considers a heat index above 103 to be dangerous, and above 125 to be extremely dangerous.

“Most of the time, the heat index that the National Weather Service is giving you is just the right value. It’s only in these extreme cases where they’re getting the wrong number,” said David Romps, UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science. “Where it matters is when you start to map the heat index back onto physiological states and you realize, oh, these people are being stressed to a condition of very elevated skin blood flow where the body is coming close to running out of tricks for compensating for this kind of heat and humidity. So, we’re closer to that edge than we thought we were before.”

Romps and graduate student Yi-Chuan Lu presented their analysis in a paper accepted by the journal Environmental Research Letters [below].


The heat index was devised in 1979 by a textile physicist, Robert Steadman, who created simple equations to calculate what he called the relative “sultriness” of warm and humid, as well as hot and arid, conditions during the summer. He saw it as a complement to the wind chill factor commonly used in the winter to estimate how cold it feels.

His model took into account how humans regulate their internal temperature to achieve thermal comfort under different external conditions of temperature and humidity — by consciously changing the thickness of clothing or unconsciously adjusting respiration, perspiration and blood flow from the body’s core to the skin.

In his model, the apparent temperature under ideal conditions — an average-sized person in the shade with unlimited water — is how hot someone would feel if the relative humidity were at a comfortable level, which Steadman took to be a vapor pressure of 1,600 pascals.

For example, at 70% relative humidity and 68 F — which is often taken as average humidity and temperature — a person would feel like it’s 68 F. But at the same humidity and 86 F, it would feel like 94 F.

The heat index has since been adopted widely in the United States, including by the NWS, as a useful indicator of people’s comfort. But Steadman left the index undefined for many conditions that are now becoming increasingly common. For example, for a relative humidity of 80%, the heat index is not defined for temperatures above 88 F or below 59 F. Today, temperatures routinely rise above 90 F for weeks at a time in some areas, including the Midwest and Southeast.

To account for these gaps in Steadman’s chart, meteorologists extrapolated into these areas to get numbers that, Romps said, are correct most of the time, but not based on any understanding of human physiology.

“There’s no scientific basis for these numbers,” Romps said.

He and Lu set out to extend Steadman’s work so that the heat index is accurate at all temperatures and all humidities between zero and 100%.

“The original table had a very short range of temperature and humidity and then a blank region where Steadman said the human model failed,” Lu said. “Steadman had the right physics. Our aim was to extend it to all temperatures so that we have a more accurate formula.”

The problem of sweat

One condition under which Steadman’s model breaks down is when people perspire so much that sweat pools on the skin. At that point, his model incorrectly had the relative humidity at the skin surface exceeding 100%, which is physically impossible.

“It was at that point where this model seems to break, but it’s just the model telling him, hey, let sweat drip off the skin. That’s all it was,” Romps said. “Just let the sweat drop off the skin.”

That and a few other tweaks to Steadman’s equations yielded an extended heat index that agrees with the old heat index 99.99% of the time, Romps said, but also accurately represents the apparent temperature for regimes outside those Steadman originally calculated. When he originally published his apparent temperature scale, he considered these regimes too rare to worry about, but high temperatures and humidities are becoming increasingly common because of climate change.

Romps and Lu published the “revised heat index equation” earlier this year [below]. In the most recent paper, they apply the extended heat index to the top 100 heat waves that occurred between 1984 and 2020. The researchers find mostly minor disagreements with what the NWS reported at the time, but also some extreme situations where the NWS heat index was way off.

One surprise was that seven of the 10 most physiologically stressful heat waves over that time period were in the Midwest — mostly in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri — not the Southeast, as meteorologists assumed. The largest discrepancies between the NWS heat index and the extended heat index were seen in a wide swath, from the Great Lakes south to Louisiana.

During the July 1995 heat wave in Chicago, for example, which killed at least 465 people, the maximum heat index reported by the NWS was 135 F, when it actually felt like 154 F. The revised heat index at Midway Airport, 141 F, implies that people in the shade would have experienced blood flow to the skin that was 170% above normal. The heat index reported at the time, 124 F, implied only a 90% increase in skin blood flow. At some places during the heat wave, the extended heat index implies that people would have experienced an increase of 820% above normal skin blood flow.

“I’m no physiologist, but a lot of things happen to the body when it gets really hot,” Romps said. “Diverting blood to the skin stresses the system because you’re pulling blood that would otherwise be sent to internal organs and sending it to the skin to try to bring up the skin’s temperature. The approximate calculation used by the NWS, and widely adopted, inadvertently downplays the health risks of severe heat waves.”

Physiologically, the body starts going haywire when the skin temperature rises to equal the body’s core temperature, typically taken as 98.6 F. After that, the core temperature begins to increase. The maximum sustainable core temperature is thought to be 107 F — the threshold for heat death. For the healthiest of individuals, that threshold is reached at a heat index of 200 F.

Luckily, humidity tends to decrease as temperature increases, so Earth is unlikely to reach those conditions in the next few decades. Less extreme, though still deadly, conditions are nevertheless becoming common around the globe.

“A 200 F heat index is an upper bound of what is survivable,” Romps said. “But now that we’ve got this model of human thermoregulation that works out at these conditions, what does it actually mean for the future habitability of the United States and the planet as a whole? There are some frightening things we are looking at.”

The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric System Research program through the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research program (DE-AC02-05CH11231).

Science papers:
Environmental Research Letters 2022
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 2022
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 1979

See the full article here .


Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

The University of California-Berkeley is a public land-grant research university in Berkeley, California. Established in 1868 as the state’s first land-grant university, it was the first campus of the University of California system and a founding member of the Association of American Universities . Its 14 colleges and schools offer over 350 degree programs and enroll some 31,000 undergraduate and 12,000 graduate students. Berkeley is ranked among the world’s top universities by major educational publications.

Berkeley hosts many leading research institutes, including the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and the Space Sciences Laboratory. It founded and maintains close relationships with three national laboratories at The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, The DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and The DOE’s Los Alamos National Lab, and has played a prominent role in many scientific advances, from the Manhattan Project and the discovery of 16 chemical elements to breakthroughs in computer science and genomics. Berkeley is also known for student activism and the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s.

Berkeley alumni and faculty count among their ranks 110 Nobel laureates (34 alumni), 25 Turing Award winners (11 alumni), 14 Fields Medalists, 28 Wolf Prize winners, 103 MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipients, 30 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 19 Academy Award winners. The university has produced seven heads of state or government; five chief justices, including Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren; 21 cabinet-level officials; 11 governors; and 25 living billionaires. It is also a leading producer of Fulbright Scholars, MacArthur Fellows, and Marshall Scholars. Berzerkeley alumni, widely recognized for their entrepreneurship, have founded many notable companies.

Berkeley’s athletic teams compete in Division I of the NCAA, primarily in the Pac-12 Conference, and are collectively known as the California Golden Bears. The university’s teams have won 107 national championships, and its students and alumni have won 207 Olympic medals.

Made possible by President Lincoln’s signing of the Morrill Act in 1862, the University of California was founded in 1868 as the state’s first land-grant university by inheriting certain assets and objectives of the private College of California and the public Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College. Although this process is often incorrectly mistaken for a merger, the Organic Act created a “completely new institution” and did not actually merge the two precursor entities into the new university. The Organic Act states that the “University shall have for its design, to provide instruction and thorough and complete education in all departments of science, literature and art, industrial and professional pursuits, and general education, and also special courses of instruction in preparation for the professions”.

Ten faculty members and 40 students made up the fledgling university when it opened in Oakland in 1869. Frederick H. Billings, a trustee of the College of California, suggested that a new campus site north of Oakland be named in honor of Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley. The university began admitting women the following year. In 1870, Henry Durant, founder of the College of California, became its first president. With the completion of North and South Halls in 1873, the university relocated to its Berkeley location with 167 male and 22 female students.

Beginning in 1891, Phoebe Apperson Hearst made several large gifts to Berkeley, funding a number of programs and new buildings and sponsoring, in 1898, an international competition in Antwerp, Belgium, where French architect Émile Bénard submitted the winning design for a campus master plan.

20th century

In 1905, the University Farm was established near Sacramento, ultimately becoming the University of California-Davis. In 1919, Los Angeles State Normal School became the southern branch of the University, which ultimately became the University of California-Los Angeles. By 1920s, the number of campus buildings had grown substantially and included twenty structures designed by architect John Galen Howard.

In 1917, one of the nation’s first ROTC programs was established at Berkeley and its School of Military Aeronautics began training pilots, including Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. Berkeley ROTC alumni include former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Army Chief of Staff Frederick C. Weyand as well as 16 other generals. In 1926, future fleet admiral Chester W. Nimitz established the first Naval ROTC unit at Berkeley.

In the 1930s, Ernest Lawrence helped establish the Radiation Laboratory (now DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and invented the cyclotron, which won him the Nobel physics prize in 1939. Using the cyclotron, Berkeley professors and Berkeley Lab researchers went on to discover 16 chemical elements—more than any other university in the world. In particular, during World War II and following Glenn Seaborg’s then-secret discovery of plutonium, Ernest Orlando Lawrence’s Radiation Laboratory began to contract with the U.S. Army to develop the atomic bomb. Physics professor J. Robert Oppenheimer was named scientific head of the Manhattan Project in 1942. Along with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley founded and was then a partner in managing two other labs, The Doe’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (1943) and The DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1952).

By 1942, the American Council on Education ranked Berkeley second only to Harvard University in the number of distinguished departments.

In 1952, the University of California reorganized itself into a system of semi-autonomous campuses, with each campus given its own chancellor, and Clark Kerr became Berkeley’s first Chancellor, while Sproul remained in place as the President of the University of California.

Berkeley gained a worldwide reputation for political activism in the 1960s. In 1964, the Free Speech Movement organized student resistance to the university’s restrictions on political activities on campus—most conspicuously, student activities related to the Civil Rights Movement. The arrest in Sproul Plaza of Jack Weinberg, a recent Berkeley alumnus and chair of Campus CORE, in October 1964, prompted a series of student-led acts of formal remonstrance and civil disobedience that ultimately gave rise to the Free Speech Movement, which movement would prevail and serve as precedent for student opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

In 1982, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) was established on campus with support from the National Science Foundation and at the request of three Berzerkeley mathematicians — Shiing-Shen Chern, Calvin Moore and Isadore M. Singer. The institute is now widely regarded as a leading center for collaborative mathematical research, drawing thousands of visiting researchers from around the world each year.

21st century

In the current century, Berkeley has become less politically active and more focused on entrepreneurship and fundraising, especially for STEM disciplines.

Modern Berkeley students are less politically radical, with a greater percentage of moderates and conservatives than in the 1960s and 70s. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the faculty by a ratio of 9:1. On the whole, Democrats outnumber Republicans on American university campuses by a ratio of 10:1.

In 2007, the Energy Biosciences Institute was established with funding from BP and Stanley Hall, a research facility and headquarters for the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, opened. The next few years saw the dedication of the Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, funded by a lead gift from billionaire Li Ka-shing; the opening of Sutardja Dai Hall, home of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society; and the unveiling of Blum Hall, housing the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Supported by a grant from alumnus James Simons, the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing was established in 2012. In 2014, Berkeley and its sister campus, University of California-San Francisco, established the Innovative Genomics Institute, and, in 2020, an anonymous donor pledged $252 million to help fund a new center for computing and data science.

Since 2000, Berkeley alumni and faculty have received 40 Nobel Prizes, behind only Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology among US universities; five Turing Awards, behind only MIT and Stanford University; and five Fields Medals, second only to Princeton University. According to PitchBook, Berkeley ranks second, just behind Stanford University, in producing VC-backed entrepreneurs.

UC Berzerkeley Seal

LBNL campus

LBNL Molecular Foundry

Bringing Science Solutions to the World

In the world of science, The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is synonymous with “excellence.” Thirteen Nobel prizes are associated with Berkeley Lab. Seventy Lab scientists are members of the The National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States. Thirteen of our scientists have won the National Medal of Science, our nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. Eighteen of our engineers have been elected to the The National Academy of Engineering, and three of our scientists have been elected into the Institute of Medicine. In addition, Berkeley Lab has trained thousands of university science and engineering students who are advancing technological innovations across the nation and around the world.

Berkeley Lab is a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Office of Science. It is managed by the University of California and is charged with conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Located on a 202-acre site in the hills above the University of California- Berkeley campus that offers spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley Lab employs approximately 3,232 scientists, engineers and support staff. The Lab’s total costs for FY 2014 were $785 million. A recent study estimates the Laboratory’s overall economic impact through direct, indirect and induced spending on the nine counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area to be nearly $700 million annually. The Lab was also responsible for creating 5,600 jobs locally and 12,000 nationally. The overall economic impact on the national economy is estimated at $1.6 billion a year. Technologies developed at Berkeley Lab have generated billions of dollars in revenues, and thousands of jobs. Savings as a result of Berkeley Lab developments in lighting and windows, and other energy-efficient technologies, have also been in the billions of dollars.

Berkeley Lab was founded in 1931 by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a University of California-Berkeley physicist who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cyclotron, a circular particle accelerator that opened the door to high-energy physics. It was Lawrence’s belief that scientific research is best done through teams of individuals with different fields of expertise, working together. His teamwork concept is a Berkeley Lab legacy that continues today.



The laboratory was founded on August 26, 1931, by Ernest Lawrence, as the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, associated with the Physics Department. It centered physics research around his new instrument, the cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939.

LBNL 88 inch cyclotron.

LBNL 88 inch cyclotron.

Throughout the 1930s, Lawrence pushed to create larger and larger machines for physics research, courting private philanthropists for funding. He was the first to develop a large team to build big projects to make discoveries in basic research. Eventually these machines grew too large to be held on the university grounds, and in 1940 the lab moved to its current site atop the hill above campus. Part of the team put together during this period includes two other young scientists who went on to establish large laboratories; J. Robert Oppenheimer founded DOE’s Los Alamos Laboratory, and Robert Wilson founded Fermi National Accelerator Laborator.


Leslie Groves visited Lawrence’s Radiation Laboratory in late 1942 as he was organizing the Manhattan Project, meeting J. Robert Oppenheimer for the first time. Oppenheimer was tasked with organizing the nuclear bomb development effort and founded today’s Los Alamos National Laboratory to help keep the work secret. At the RadLab, Lawrence and his colleagues developed the technique of electromagnetic enrichment of uranium using their experience with cyclotrons. The “calutrons” (named after the University) became the basic unit of the massive Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Lawrence’s lab helped contribute to what have been judged to be the three most valuable technology developments of the war (the atomic bomb, proximity fuse, and radar). The cyclotron, whose construction was stalled during the war, was finished in November 1946. The Manhattan Project shut down two months later.


After the war, the Radiation Laboratory became one of the first laboratories to be incorporated into the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) (now Department of Energy . The most highly classified work remained at Los Alamos, but the RadLab remained involved. Edward Teller suggested setting up a second lab similar to Los Alamos to compete with their designs. This led to the creation of an offshoot of the RadLab (now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) in 1952. Some of the RadLab’s work was transferred to the new lab, but some classified research continued at Berkeley Lab until the 1970s, when it became a laboratory dedicated only to unclassified scientific research.

Shortly after the death of Lawrence in August 1958, the UC Radiation Laboratory (both branches) was renamed the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. The Berkeley location became the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in 1971, although many continued to call it the RadLab. Gradually, another shortened form came into common usage, LBNL. Its formal name was amended to Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1995, when “National” was added to the names of all DOE labs. “Ernest Orlando” was later dropped to shorten the name. Today, the lab is commonly referred to as “Berkeley Lab”.

The Alvarez Physics Memos are a set of informal working papers of the large group of physicists, engineers, computer programmers, and technicians led by Luis W. Alvarez from the early 1950s until his death in 1988. Over 1700 memos are available on-line, hosted by the Laboratory.

The lab remains owned by the Department of Energy , with management from the University of California. Companies such as Intel were funding the lab’s research into computing chips.

Science mission

From the 1950s through the present, Berkeley Lab has maintained its status as a major international center for physics research, and has also diversified its research program into almost every realm of scientific investigation. Its mission is to solve the most pressing and profound scientific problems facing humanity, conduct basic research for a secure energy future, understand living systems to improve the environment, health, and energy supply, understand matter and energy in the universe, build and safely operate leading scientific facilities for the nation, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The Laboratory’s 20 scientific divisions are organized within six areas of research: Computing Sciences; Physical Sciences; Earth and Environmental Sciences; Biosciences; Energy Sciences; and Energy Technologies. Berkeley Lab has six main science thrusts: advancing integrated fundamental energy science; integrative biological and environmental system science; advanced computing for science impact; discovering the fundamental properties of matter and energy; accelerators for the future; and developing energy technology innovations for a sustainable future. It was Lawrence’s belief that scientific research is best done through teams of individuals with different fields of expertise, working together. His teamwork concept is a Berkeley Lab tradition that continues today.

Berkeley Lab operates five major National User Facilities for the DOE Office of Science:

The Advanced Light Source (ALS) is a synchrotron light source with 41 beam lines providing ultraviolet, soft x-ray, and hard x-ray light to scientific experiments.


DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Advanced Light Source .
The ALS is one of the world’s brightest sources of soft x-rays, which are used to characterize the electronic structure of matter and to reveal microscopic structures with elemental and chemical specificity. About 2,500 scientist-users carry out research at ALS every year. Berkeley Lab is proposing an upgrade of ALS which would increase the coherent flux of soft x-rays by two-three orders of magnitude.

The DOE Joint Genome Institute supports genomic research in support of the DOE missions in alternative energy, global carbon cycling, and environmental management. The JGI’s partner laboratories are Berkeley Lab, DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology . The JGI’s central role is the development of a diversity of large-scale experimental and computational capabilities to link sequence to biological insights relevant to energy and environmental research. Approximately 1,200 scientist-users take advantage of JGI’s capabilities for their research every year.

The LBNL Molecular Foundry [above] is a multidisciplinary nanoscience research facility. Its seven research facilities focus on Imaging and Manipulation of Nanostructures; Nanofabrication; Theory of Nanostructured Materials; Inorganic Nanostructures; Biological Nanostructures; Organic and Macromolecular Synthesis; and Electron Microscopy. Approximately 700 scientist-users make use of these facilities in their research every year.

The DOE’s NERSC National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center is the scientific computing facility that provides large-scale computing for the DOE’s unclassified research programs. Its current systems provide over 3 billion computational hours annually. NERSC supports 6,000 scientific users from universities, national laboratories, and industry.

DOE’s NERSC National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Cray Cori II supercomputer at National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, named after Gerty Cori, the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in science.

NERSC Hopper Cray XE6 supercomputer.

NERSC Cray XC30 Edison supercomputer.

NERSC GPFS for Life Sciences.

The Genepool system is a cluster dedicated to the DOE Joint Genome Institute’s computing needs. Denovo is a smaller test system for Genepool that is primarily used by NERSC staff to test new system configurations and software.

NERSC PDSF computer cluster in 2003.

PDSF is a networked distributed computing cluster designed primarily to meet the detector simulation and data analysis requirements of physics, astrophysics and nuclear science collaborations.

Cray Shasta Perlmutter SC18 AMD Epyc Nvidia pre-exascale supercomputer.

NERSC is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

The DOE’s Energy Science Network is a high-speed network infrastructure optimized for very large scientific data flows. ESNet provides connectivity for all major DOE sites and facilities, and the network transports roughly 35 petabytes of traffic each month.

Berkeley Lab is the lead partner in the DOE’s Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), located in Emeryville, California. Other partners are the DOE’s Sandia National Laboratory, the University of California (UC) campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science , and DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). JBEI’s primary scientific mission is to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels – liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. JBEI is one of three new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs).

Berkeley Lab has a major role in two DOE Energy Innovation Hubs. The mission of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) is to find a cost-effective method to produce fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The lead institution for JCAP is the California Institute of Technology and Berkeley Lab is the second institutional center. The mission of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) is to create next-generation battery technologies that will transform transportation and the electricity grid. DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory leads JCESR and Berkeley Lab is a major partner.