Siegfried Hecker, director emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory and an internationally recognized expert in plutonium science, global threat reduction, and nuclear security, has been chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to receive the 2013 Award for Science Diplomacy.
Hecker was honored by AAAS for his "lifetime commitment to using the tools of science to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism and his dedication to building bridges through science during the period following the end of the Cold War."
"For over two decades, Dr. Hecker has worked on international nuclear security activities and fostered cooperation with the Russian nuclear laboratories to secure and safeguard the vast stockpile of ex-Soviet fissile materials," said AAAS Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian.
In nominating Hecker for the award, Glenn E. Schweitzer, director of the Office for Central Europe and Eurasia at the National Academies, noted that he "has been particularly effective in working with government officials and scientific colleagues in Russia, Kazakhstan, and North Korea, and his activities in those countries form the basis for this nomination." He added that Hecker's "global reach has extended far beyond those three countries," with the United States and many other nations benefitting from the international partnerships developed by Hecker.
Hecker served as director of Los Alamos from 1986 to 1997 and as a senior fellow at the lab until July 2005. He currently is a research professor in the department of management science and engineering at Stanford University and a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He was co-director of the university's Center for International Security and Cooperation from 2007 through 2012.
In the early 1990s, Hecker initiated the "lab-to-lab" program to foster cooperation among nuclear weapons laboratories in the United States and the former Soviet Union. The effort was very effective in improving the control, accounting and security of nuclear materials, Turekian said, and also provided opportunities for underemployed Russian weapons scientists who might otherwise be tempted to transfer their expertise to other nations.
In 2004, Stanford professor John Lewis asked Hecker to accompany him on a trip to North Korea. Hecker was allowed to take an extensive tour of the Yongbyon nuclear complex and, in a conference room at Yongbyon, was permitted to hold a sample in a glass jar of what the North Koreans said was plutonium. Upon his return to the United States, Hecker and his technical colleagues at Los Alamos were able to simulate the conditions in the North Korean conference room and conclude that the attributes of the sample in the jar were consistent with plutonium. He reported to the U.S. government that North Korea's claim to have produced nuclear devices from reprocessed plutonium was credible. After that first trip, Hecker returned to North Korea annually through 2010.
Schweitzer wrote that Hecker's activities can be judged on two outcomes: responsible handling of nuclear materials and prevention of dangerous materials from falling into the wrong hands. "On both counts, he scores very high on anyone's ledger," Schweitzer wrote. "In addition, his openness and respect for the views of others have won important friends for the United States around the world."
Hecker, a metallurgist, received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Case Institute of Technology and doctoral degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined Los Alamos as a graduate research assistant and postdoctoral fellow before returning as a technical staff member following a stint at General Motors Research. He led the laboratory's Materials Science and Technology Division and Center for Materials Science before becoming laboratory director.
His is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, AAAS, and ASM International. He is a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a foreign member of the India Institute of Metals and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts Sciences and of the American Physical Society. In 2009 he received the Presidential Enrico Fermi Award.
The AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy (formerly the AAAS International Scientific Cooperation Award) dates to 1992. It recognizes an individual or a small group working in the scientific and engineering or foreign affairs communities making an outstanding contribution to furthering science diplomacy. Renamed in 2010 by the AAAS Board of Directors, the Award consists of a plaque and an honorarium of $5,000.
The AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy will be bestowed upon Hecker during the 180th AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, Ill., 13-17 February 2014. A ceremony and reception will be held in the Rouge Room of the Fairmont Chicago Hotel on Friday, 14 February at 6:15 p.m.