- American Physical Society Sites
- Meetings & Events
- Policy & Advocacy
- Careers In Physics
- About APS
- Become a Member
By Spencer Abraham
Ed. Note: On November 10 the Department of Energy released its 20-year plan for new facilities. Twenty-eight facilities were listed in order of funding priority. The list appears in this issue on page 2. Below we reprint the speech that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham delivered at the National Press Club in Washington. Due to space constraints, the text has been somewhat abridged. (Elisions are indicated by asterisks.) The full text, and other information about the 20-year plan, can be found on the DOE web site at http://www.science.doe.gov/
Nothing of this scope has ever been attempted by our Department, or indeed by any other science agency in government. We are not only planning two decades out, but we are prioritizing our facility needs across all fields of science supported by the Department of Energy.
In the 21st Century, the health and vitality of US science and technology will depend upon the availability of the most advanced research facilities, not only because science today is so complex, but because science now requires that chemists, physicists, biologists?that all fields of science?work together. The facilities we propose today will bring the sciences under one roof and give researchers the tools they need to work their wonders.
Let me discuss the way we made our decisions and give you some flavor of the enormous benefits we see flowing from these new projects. The process we followed was transparent and interdisciplinary. The Associate Directors of our six science divisions?Basic Energy Sciences, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, Nuclear Physics, Advanced Scientific Computing, and Biological and Environmental Sciences?were asked to list in rank order the major facilities necessary to maintain world scientific leadership in their programs over the next 20 years.
Some 46 facilities were identified in this process. This list was then submitted to the respective programs' Advisory Committees, which are composed of top scientists from universities, industry, and our laboratories. We asked these committees to analyze the scientific importance of each proposed facility and to add or subtract as they saw fit. The appetite for new facilities grew, and a total of 53 new projects were recommended.
Then came the hard part.
The Director of our Office of Science, Raymond Orbach, reviewed these proposals, ordered them across disciplines, and recommended 28 be considered for funding over a 20-year planning horizon. This may appear unilateral, but the selection was informed by the best minds in all the affected fields. And, frankly, the alternative of decision by committee was not acceptable, because committees?despite their best efforts?are notorious for delivering compromise documents that too often settle on the lowest common denominator.
This effort has been endorsed by the directors of our science laboratories, who understand the importance of modern facilities for future scientific discovery.
In addition, the Task Force on the Future of Science at the Department of Energy, which was established at my direction and is chaired by Dr. Charles Vest, President of MIT, has praised this effort in its recent report. It is gratifying that this effort has received support from those who understand the enterprise of science best.
This list of facilities is driven by science and the Department of Energy mission, nothing else. Our criteria were straightforward: which facilities are most important for Department of Energy science over the next two decades, taking into account whether the prospects for construction were in the near, mid, or far- term?
We believe this list of 28 facilities outlines to an important extent the future of science in America and indeed the world. These facilities cover the critical areas where discoveries can transform our energy future, boost economic productivity, transform our understanding of biology, and provide revolutionary new tools to deal with disease. They can make major and necessary contributions to national security and give us the ability to understand matter at its most fundamental level.
They can also do something else. They can surprise us.
The unexpected benefits of work at these research facilities will lead us in directions we cannot even imagine. And we are looking down the road far enough to the time when facilities that are now under construction, such as the Spallation Neutron Source, will need enhancements. That is the purpose of this list: to look into the future and to be prepared. And as with all our existing facilities, any new projects we undertake will benefit a wide spectrum of scientists and will profit from close cooperation with other agencies.
So, let me now profile some of our top priorities and a set of facilities that not only represent tremendous opportunities, but demonstrate the breadth of the science encompassed by the Department.
First on our list is fusion. The prospect of a limitless source of clean energy for the world leads with our commitment to join the international fusion energy experiment known as ITER. This is a Presidential priority with enormous potential. Successful negotiations among the international partners will lead to the first-ever fusion science experiment capable of producing a self-sustaining fusion reaction. If we reach agreement, ITER will be our top facility.
Next on the list is our desire to regain global leadership in areas of supercomputing that many believe we have lost. Japan's new Earth Simulator machine is a remarkable achievement. It has the computing power of the 20 fastest US computers combined. The Japanese are to be congratulated for launching a new era in scientific computing, but the US must be part of this era.
We can create new computer architectures that can boost computing power by 100 times over current machines. Such an achievement will give scientists the ability to simulate complex reactions as never before and give industry the ability to virtually prototype everything from new aircraft engines to super-efficient auto bodies, thus saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Scientific computation deserves the kind of serious attention we believe our facilities list gives it.
We will also look at advancing our lead in light sources. The Linac Coherent Light Source would provide x-ray brightness that is 10 billion times greater than current light sources. That would allow researchers, for the first time, to create real-time images of chemical reactions at the atomic scale, leading us to far greater understanding of how our bodies work, indeed, how virtually all materials are put together.
The Department of Energy launched the human genome project nearly 20 years ago in our effort to understand how radiation affects cells at the most fundamental level. The Protein Production and Tags Facility can help us build on these discoveries and make a huge contribution to our Genomes to Life Program. We are now taking the insights from that project to create microbes that do everything from making hydrogen, to sequestering carbon dioxide, to accelerating environmental clean-up. The Protein Production and Tags Facility will join the Molecular Machines Facility to help create a facility to mass- produce tens of thousands of proteins a year, code them by their DNA, and make them available to researchers around the country. Using current methods, it is virtually impossible for us to understand the thousands of proteins that make up the microbes we want to put to work for our energy mission. But these facilities, together, will speed this process dramatically, and give energy and medical science powerful new tools.
The Rare Isotope Accelerator can help us understand how everything from the cosmos to heavy elements was formed. It would allow our scientists to learn how the chemical elements that make up the world around us were developed, help us develop new nuclear medicine techniques, and improve our ability to model the explosions of nuclear weapons. This project would be a major addition to the Department's nuclear physics program and make a major contribution to stockpile stewardship.
The Joint Dark Energy Mission, a space-based probe to be developed with NASA, will help us understand one of the greatest mysteries in science today?why the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. By placing a new wide-angle telescope in space, researchers will be able to see farther back in the evolution of the universe to help unravel this strange thing called dark energy?a force that is apparently working against gravity to speed up the expansion of the universe.
As we look out into this expanding universe, we are also thinking of how best to understand the materials that make up our day-to-day world. A new generation of electron microscope can help us study how atoms combine to form materials, and how materials respond to external factors such as electric fields. This new instrument, the Transmission Electron Achromatic Microscope or TEAM, will help us design lighter, more efficient materials for everything from automobiles to advanced fuel cells.
In addition to launching new projects such as these, we are also planning important upgrades to existing facilities. Improvements to our energy sciences computer network, what we call ESnet, which links researchers around the country to our laboratories and research facilities, will allow us to accommodate the huge demand for this network. ESnet puts the power and capability for our investment in light sources and accelerators literally at the researcher's desktop.
And upgrades to facilities, such as the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator, would essentially create new facilities by applying advanced technology to our current stock of powerful research machines. The upgrade to this accelerator, located at Thomas Jefferson Lab, will double its power and apply advanced computing power to help us explain the properties of one of the strangest particles yet discovered?the Quark.
From the very large, with new pictures of how our universe evolved, to the very small, with insights into the structure of the nucleus, the facilities we are proposing will secure American preeminence in science for the better part of the 21st Century. What I have discussed is just a snapshot of the detailed roadmap we have drawn for our major science projects over the next two decades. ??? I can't tell precisely how or when the projects and research I've discussed today might uncover deep mysteries of science or deliver immediate practical benefits. But that's the beauty of science. It can have so many unexpected outcomes.
But even if we knew our search for Dark Energy or our particle physics research would have no direct impact on our everyday lives, we still would want to go forward, because we want to know why the universe and our planet act the way they do. We do basic research to understand. And many times that's justification enough. But we also want to go forward because that is what a great nation does. It explores. It attempts to know and to understand.
Some people have told me it would be hard to explain why the Department of Energy's basic scientific research is so important. I haven't found that to be the case. Everyone understands that investments in science produce benefits for our lives.
And I think everyone is curious. Discoveries like Dark Energy lead to deeper mysteries that, themselves, compel us to continue our search?even when we know the search is not in any normal sense practical.
To be sure, no one knows what field of science, or what potential new science machine, will produce the next big discovery. But we can be certain of one thing. There will be a big discovery. A solitary genius, or a group of scientists from a half dozen fields working together, will take some step, apply some test, seek some insight, that will inevitably lead beyond their expectations to a result as unexpected as it is wonderful.
All we are doing is giving them the tools, and the freedom, to work these mysteries out. And we don't insist on results on some time scale, and basic research doesn't work that way. We expect only that science will employ the traditions of inquiry and curiosity that extend in a straight line from today's Nobel Prize winner directly back to Aristotle.
I believe the blueprint we have presented will allow that tradition to grow and prosper. And it will provide the foundation for the next generation of scientists to work their wonders.
©1995 - 2020, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
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.