A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

DOE facilities receive praise from Republicans and Democrats alike

07/16/12

On June 21, the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment heard testimony on the Department of Energy user facilities. The witnesses included, from left to right: Antonio Lanzirotti, Persis Drell, Stephen Wasserman, Suzy Tichenor and Ernest Hall. (Image courtesy the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.)

In a strong showing of bipartisan support, both Republican and Democrat members of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment offered robust praise for the U.S. Department of Energy national scientific facilities at a hearing last month.

Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) said that from the national facilities, “We get scientific capabilities that do not exist anywhere else…. Academic and industry researchers are able to break new scientific ground, as well as accelerate the process for translating scientific discovery into marketable products.”

He continued: “At user facilities, federal funds support more efficient cars and trucks; more effective drugs; lighter and stronger metals; cheaper and more durable batteries; cleaner power plants; reduced reliance on foreign energy; a clearer picture of our changing climate; and even a better understanding of the origins of the universe and the nature of space and time. Perhaps most important, we get the talent and technologies that provide for stronger and more competitive high-tech and manufacturing sectors in the U.S.  We get jobs.”

The DOE’s 31 user facilities host researchers (“users”) from both academia and industry, awarding resources based on a merit review of proposed work and without regard to a researcher’s nationality or institutional affiliation. In all, approximately 26,500 scientists are expected to use the DOE Office of Science scientific user facilities in fiscal year 2013.

The facilities range from the accelerator complex at Fermilab, which provides proton beams for probing the fundamental properties of energy, matter, space and time, to the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab, which produces X-rays for probing the electronic and magnetic structure of atoms, molecules and solids.

In the June 21 hearing, representatives from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National User Facility Organization, Eli Lilly and GE Global Research offered testimony on the facilities’ role in enabling basic research that drives innovation and growth.

The committee’s reactions were upbeat and positive, with members praising the facilities’ accomplishments and management.

Science underway at national user facilities has a “direct and significant impact on innovation, driving discoveries with potential to advance and transform applications from medicine to materials to computing to semiconductors,” said Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD).

The testimony itself covered a wide variety of science and benefits.

The first to testify, Antonio Lanzirotti, chairman of the National User Facility Organization and senior research associate at the University of Chicago, described the thousands of researchers who depend on the infrastructure available at DOE facilities to enable everything from better sources of energy to new drugs and therapies for diseases.

“Access to these facilities enables scientists to explore the frontier research questions of our time, leads to fundamental scientific discoveries and enables downstream technological developments for real-world industrial applications,” he said. The facilities, he continued, give “U.S. academic and industrial scientists unequaled opportunities for research.”

Eli Lilly senior research fellow Steve Wasserman agreed, saying, “National user facilities such as the Advanced Photon Source are essential for the nation’s technological development.”

SLAC Director Persis Drell expressed the excitement of research underway at SLAC’s newest facility, the Linac Coherent Light Source, and reiterated the need for government to support such large-scale infrastructure. “They provide world-class research tools on a scale that no single company or university could hope to afford,” she said.

In a June 22 message to SLAC employees, Drell wrote that “Overall…this was a hearing where the importance of government support for basic science… came through loud and clear.”

She continued: “The most encouraging part of the hearing was that, while there were differences of opinion on how one might fund basic research, there was clear bipartisan support for science. I was particularly pleased that one local California congressman, Jerry McNerney [D-CA], who has a scientific background, commented that he had never thought he would see technology like the Linac Coherent Light Source in his lifetime.”

A webcast of the 90-minute session, as well as links to written testimony, can be viewed on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s website.  A recap of the hearing is also available from FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News.

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