This is one of several interviews in a series about the changes we can expect at the Lab during 2024.

E.O. Lawrence might not recognize the institution he started almost 100 years ago. The mission is the same; the people are still intellectually curious and dedicated, but the physical infrastructure has changed. Old Town, once the heart of the Lab, is gone to make room for future research needs. Seismically deficient buildings are morphing into safe spaces for collaboration. And the ‘invisible’ world of utilities underneath our buildings and roads is being rebuilt to support the Lab’s scientific mission of the next century.  

Recently Michael Brandt, the Lab’s Deputy Director for Operations, and Chief Operating Officer, sat down to talk about what to expect from Operations in 2024. 

Q: Michael, what are the significant Operations projects we expect to see in 2024?

A: Each of the Operations divisions has unique challenges in 2024, and each team is working to implement projects with the least disruption to research. But I want to share information about some of the big projects that cross operational divisions, are highly visible, and are building the Lab of the future. 

As you look around our Lab, it’s evident we are very busy with site improvement and construction projects. The Lab continues revitalizing its infrastructure, including maintenance and minor construction projects. Much of our work in 2024 will be what I call  ‘invisible modernization’ since it involves things you can’t easily see, such as upgrades to utilities and mechanical, electrical, IT, plumbing, and sewer facilities. These critical infrastructure upgrades will keep the Lab relevant into the next century. 

We are making steady progress on major construction projects in 2024. The Seismic Safety and Modernization, or SSM project, will be the new heart of the Lab. It will have not only a cafeteria but conference rooms and other gathering options. In November last year, we demolished the cafeteria and installed new shoring walls along the hillside. In April, the foundation work begins. The project is slated to be completed in the third quarter of fiscal year 2026. 

Related to SSM is THUP, or Transit Hub Utilities Project, which is the relocation and installation of several utilities. This is taking place adjacent to the new cafeteria. It’s also slated to be completed in 2026. 

One project that falls into the ‘invisible’ category is LAMP or the Linear Assets Modernization Project. This is a long-term infrastructure project to design and construct utility upgrades across the Lab, including electricity, water, natural gas, compressed air, sewer, storm drain, process controls, and IT. These upgrades will modernize the Lab’s utilities to increase resiliency and better align utilities into utility corridors to improve access in case repairs are needed. This means there will be fewer traffic impacts and maintenance outages when we need to do work in the future. 

LAMP is moving ahead into the procurement process this year. The project’s first phase is the Grizzly substation expansion to increase electrical power to the Lab. The entire project will be completed in 2029. 

If you’ve been on site, you’ve seen the progress in two of our most visible projects. Centennial Bridge, which replaces the portion of Centennial Drive that crosses over the Lab on the east end of the Lab, will finish in 2024. Both approach ramps are done, and they are pouring concrete right now. The project, funded by the State of California and delivered by our close partners at the UC Berkeley campus, will end in August, followed by improvements to Strawberry Gate to make it safer and more accessible. BioEPIC, which is being built next to the IGB, has begun energization, which is a big step. The walls are being roughed in, and the building should be completed next January. 

Of course, we have smaller projects that will periodically need us to plan a power outage so we can complete the work safely. We are installing new high-voltage electrical lines to minimize disruption by providing a more stable power supply. And we’re working to stabilize the soil on our hillsides to prevent problems. 


Q: How will these projects advance the Lab’s research mission? 

A: Each project is essential to mission success because if we don’t do them, there will be equipment failures and facility outages. Planned electrical outages are inconvenient, but unplanned outages can be unsafe for our workers to repair and cost more in the long run. We are an old lab, and the modernization of the Lab’s facilities keeps improving their reliability and helping our scientists do their research.


Q: What excites you about these projects?

A: I am proud of the work that our Operations leaders and teams are doing to improve the reliability and beauty of the Lab, as well as the advances in the scientific mission that these improvements will support. For example, the BioEPIC building will usher in novel science – at scales from the cellular to the ecosystem level – which is only possible with the most modern facility. We anticipate the SSM facility will become a recognized center of worldwide scientific collaboration.

Some modernization and revitalization work is not immediately visible, but it is vital to our success and our future. We repair and replace underground utilities, often requiring a planned power outage. While the results are not always visible to everyone, everyone becomes aware when we have a power interruption or an electrical box fails. Only through the continued investment in replacing and modernizing our infrastructure, such as water, gas, fiber, and electrical, can we be onsite and focus on our research and mission support work without interruption.  


Q: How will Operations address or address the challenges that come from these projects?

A: The present level of DOE investment and the resulting construction activity can give one the impression the entire Lab is an active construction site. The Operations teams are doing everything possible to manage construction logistics with the minimum impact. Two of the Operations divisions, Facilities and Project Infrastructure Modernization or PIMD, work routinely with Strategic Communications using multiple channels to share critical information about closures, roadwork, safety precautions, and changes to the shuttle schedule. We also have been communicating and coordinating our construction activities with UC Berkeley, the Lab’s Community Advisory Group, and the City of Berkeley to minimize disruptions to the traffic flow, often by scheduling heavy equipment transport, major deliveries, and other such activities to occur early in the morning before too many cars are on the road.

We appreciate everyone’s cooperation and understanding in dealing with unavoidable schedule changes and disruptions as we improve the existing infrastructure and build for the next century.