DOE Office of Science, APS Membership Share Funding Goals

By Mildred S. Dresselhaus

As I start my term (August 1, 2000) as Director of the Office of Science of the Department of Energy (DOE), I see many opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities that I face together with you, the research community of the physical sciences. The American Physical Society has already done a great deal to improve the health of the physical sciences, and they should be commended for their valiant and thoughtful efforts. Since the Office of Science, DOE is the largest federal funding source of the physical sciences, I feel considerable responsibility in my new position to work closely with the American Physical Society to achieve a healthy physical science enterprise in the United States for the benefit of its citizens.

For several decades after World War II, the United States was in a leadership position in virtually all fields in the physical sciences. This benefited science because of the high level of activity and the high quality of the research that was carried out in the U.S. and because of our policy of welcoming the best and the brightest worldwide to join us in pursuing the scientific adventure of discovery. Our scientific achievements went hand-in-hand with furthering and fueling the industrial enterprise to the benefit of our citizens and society worldwide. According to a National Research Council report in 1993, the United States should be among the world leaders in all important fields of science. Such a leadership position allows researchers working in the US to follow-up breakthroughs made anywhere and on any topic.

Table 1 shows that the DOE Office of Science, is the dominant funder of physics research in the US and is also the dominant federal funding source for large facilities, such as synchrotron light sources, pulsed neutron sources, and particle accelerators, as well as mid-sized facilities such as sophisticated transmission electron microscopes, state-of-the-art mass spectrometers and ion beam facilities, etc. The Office of Science also has been a principal supporter of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in early career.

The last decade, however, has seen a serious erosion in federal funding in the physical sciences and the Office of Science; has been especially hard hit (see Figure 2). Under these circumstances, we are noticeably slipping in some all-important areas of the Physical Sciences. We now need to turn these trends around before the consequences of this under-investment become more damaging and widespread. I will need the help of the APS and its membership in reversing this trend for the Office of Science.

Let me briefly review how the various offices within the Office of Science map on to the APS Divisions and their members. Our Office of High Energy and Nuclear Physics is the primary funding source for researchers in the APS Divisions of Particles, Nuclear Physics, Physics of Beams, and also for the facilities (Fermi Lab Tevatron, the SLAC B-factory, the Brookhaven Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and the Thomas Jefferson Lab CEBAF machine, among others) that are necessary to carry out experimental research in these fields.

Our Office of Fusion Energy Sciences funds the vast majority of researchers in the Division of Plasma Physics and provides them with the sophisticated facilities needed for their research work.

Our Office of Basic Energy Sciences is a major funding source for researchers in the Divisions of Condensed Matter Physics, Materials Physics; Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics, Polymer Physics and Chemical Physics, providing support for research projects, for staff, graduate students and postdocs to work on these projects, and for special facilities, such as the Argonne Advanced Photon Source, the Brookhaven National Synchrotron Light Source, and many others. Now under construction is the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. When completed in 2006, this world class facility will restore a leadership position to the US after more than a decade of difficulty for US researchers trying to work in this research area.

The Office of Biological and Environmental Research provides support to researchers in the Division of Biological Physics among others. It is noteworthy that the impetus to orchestrate the sequencing of the human genome came from the Office of Science. The next thrust of this program, aimed at identifying the functions of the various genes will be dependent on facilities operated by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, such as the synchrotron light sources and the neutron scattering facilities, for detailed studies of the structure and properties of biological constituents.

Our Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research, which supports computational science and simulations across all scientific subfields (and funds researchers in the Division of Computational Physics), is now engaged in teaming computer science experts with practitioners in these subfields to develop advanced computer codes for electronic structure, chemical reactivity, time resolved processes and many other challenging and important problems.

The squeeze on the Office of Science budget and the demands coming from the construction and operation of increasing numbers of complex facilities have made it impossible to support the number of excellent research groups we would like, and at a level consistent with the "cost of living" increases associated with scientific research. Major new opportunities exist in the areas of nano-technology, computational physical sciences and biophysics, and we need to fund new initiatives in these areas. State-of-the-art facilities in nano-lithography, focussed ion beam technology, clean room technology, and access to high speed massively parallel computers are among the resources that are needed by the university community, at affordable usage charges and with adequate access times. Coordination of DOE programs with complementary programs sponsored by other major funders in each subfield will be one of my responsibilities.

In the last decade, an increasing fraction of the Office of Science budget has gone into the design, construction, and operation of large facilities. With level budgets, the support for small group research has been seriously eroded. Because of the overall satisfaction with our facilities, user demand has increased, but funding has seriously limited operating time. More effective utilization of the most active facilities is critically needed. Our advisory committees are developing long range plans on the next generation of user facilities, setting priorities for facility selection and timing, so that we will be able to remain among the world leaders and not fall behind in important areas of the physical sciences.

The Office of Science has a major commitment to education and training through grants to small research groups who support the research and provide stipends for many graduate students, postdocs and undergraduates. The DOE world class research facilities also attract many young (under 35 years old) researchers as users. They receive much hands-on training from the staff, and benefit from peers at other institutions doing complementary research. Special programs for undergraduate hands-on research activities have provided an effective source for new entrants into physical science graduate programs, especially for underrepresented women and minority undergraduates. These programs need to be maintained.

To turn around the declining Office of Science budgets of the last decade we need annual increases on the order of 15%. Budgetary increases of this magnitude have strengthened the NIH over the past decade and more recently the NSF.

Sustained increased funding for the next few years is needed for the Office of Science to provide our unique contribution to the team effort in interdisciplinary research and in the development of important new state-of-the art instruments and user facilities.

I ask my fellow members of the APS to join me in telling the public about the vital contribution made by the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, and to communicate our vision to restore the US as one of the leaders in all important areas of physical science research.

Mildred S. Dresselhaus, an Institute Professor at MIT, recently became Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. She served as APS President in 1984.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette

October 2000 (Volume 9, Number 9)

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In Brief
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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science
This Month in Physics History
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