Volume 87 Issue 15 | pp. 41-43
Issue Date: April 13, 2009

Energizing Science

Department of Energy unveils plan to spend economic stimulus funding through its Office of Science
Department: Government & Policy
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FREEZE-FRAME
Stimulus funds will allow scientists to observe chemical reactions at the molecular level in real time at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source sooner than anticipated.
Credit: Bradley Plummer/SLAC
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FREEZE-FRAME
Stimulus funds will allow scientists to observe chemical reactions at the molecular level in real time at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source sooner than anticipated.
Credit: Bradley Plummer/SLAC

AS GOVERNMENT AGENCIES continue to roll out their plans to spend economic stimulus funding, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu unveiled how his department plans to use most of the dollars allocated to science. Academic, industrial, and government researchers are all set to benefit, as are communities near some of the department's national laboratories.

The $787 billion American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), signed into law in February, provides the Department of Energy's Office of Science with $1.6 billion. Of that, $1.2 billion will be invested in construction, laboratory infrastructure, and research, Chu told colleagues last month at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) (C&EN, March 30, page 11), in Upton, N.Y.

"These projects not only provide critically needed short-term economic relief but also represent a strategic investment in our nation's future," Chu said.

Of the $1.2 billion, $830 million will be split among nine national laboratories under the DOE umbrella. Of this $830 million, $688 million has been allotted to specific infrastructure enhancement projects. The nine labs are located in seven different states and house various facilities that can be used by researchers from academia, government, and industry. This means the fruits of this investment will be shared beyond the labs themselves. In addition to support for the national labs, Chu's plan directs nearly $370 million to research and development projects.

"This is a very timely infusion of strength for American science, in an era when other nations have been expanding their support for science and R&D with an eye to global competition," Patricia M. Dehmer, deputy director for science programs in DOE's Office of Science, said in a statement.

Receiving $184 million, BNL is slated to get the largest chunk of stimulus funding allocated to the department's national laboratories. About $150 million of BNL's money will go toward accelerating the construction of the National Synchrotron Light Source-II, the world's brightest X-ray source. DOE estimates that NSLS-II will be more than 10,000 times brighter than its predecessor, NSLS, allowing researchers to push several frontiers of science while boosting the economy by creating jobs now and in the future.

"NSLS-II will provide advanced tools for discovery-class science in condensed matter and materials physics, chemistry, and biology—science that ultimately will enhance national and energy security and help drive abundant, safe, and clean energy technologies," according to Steven B. Dierker, associate laboratory director of BNL's light sources and NSLS-II project director.

"These projects ... represent a strategic investment in our nation's future."

Construction of NSLS-II was approved by DOE earlier this year, and the agency expects to break ground by early May. According to DOE predictions made in January, the facility is expected to be complete by June 2015 at a total cost of $912 million. An official at BNL told C&EN that "with the additional ARRA funding received, the prospects for finishing the project earlier, perhaps even by as much as one year, are greatly increased."

WITH THE REMAINING stimulus funds, BNL has plans for smaller construction projects, including upgrades of buildings and construction of a new interdisciplinary science building that will house big-ticket instruments for research in solar energy, biofuels, solid-state lighting, and superconductivity.

"This recovery funding will put hundreds of Long Island construction workers, electricians, and plumbers to work and allow the lab's highly skilled and dedicated scientists to continue their cutting-edge energy research," Rep. Timothy H. Bishop (D-N.Y.) said when Chu detailed DOE's stimulus funding plan.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), in Richland, Wash., is also set to benefit from ARRA funds. The lion's share of the $124 million it is slated to receive will fund capital upgrades and the purchase of instrumentation at two of its facilities: the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory and the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility. Each facility will receive $60 million.

"These funds should help aggressively move forward projects that will be critical to the country's energy security and global competitiveness," PNNL Director Michael Kluse said in a statement.

Chu
Credit: LBNL
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Chu
Credit: LBNL

Chu's plan also gives just over $116 million to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Berkeley, Calif. LBNL's money will be used to accelerate the construction of the Advanced Light Source User Support Building. This building will provide additional support for research in the fields of advanced materials, energy, and biology. Funds will also go toward completing the demolition of an obsolete accelerator facility at LBNL that was decommissioned more than 15 years ago and toward building a new laser-based accelerator facility.

Dehmer
Credit: DOE
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Dehmer
Credit: DOE

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, in Menlo Park, Calif., will receive about $68 million from ARRA. These funds will "enable SLAC to accelerate delivery of science from our premier new facility, the Linac Coherent Light Source," SLAC Director Persis S. Drell said when the details of DOE's science spending plan were announced. "We are very excited that these funds will allow us to make new investments in this lab and in the scientific future of this country," she added.

When completed, the Linac Coherent Light Source will allow scientists to make "stop-motion movies of chemical processes in action," according to DOE.

Some of the stimulus funding provided to these two California-based laboratories will also be used to shore up facilities—including SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, a bright X-ray source—to better withstand seismic events. This money will enable much-needed modernization of SLAC's facilities, Drell said, noting that it will also bring "new hope and jobs to the local economy."

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in Oak Ridge, Tenn., will receive more than $71 million. The lab will use its stimulus funds to ramp up construction of a new chemical and materials science research building. The facility will replace an aging one that contains inefficient laboratories in need of repair, according to Thom Mason, director of ORNL. Built in 1952, the current facility is plagued with high energy costs, leaky underground pipes, and unreliable utilities, he noted.

At C&EN press time, DOE estimated that construction of this building will begin within the next eight weeks. When the 160,000-sq-ft facility is complete, it will be certified for excellence in sustainability and low energy consumption, the agency said. DOE expects that the facility will house approximately 200 researchers working on projects involving solar battery development, corrosion-resistant materials, and superconducting electrical transmission.

DOE will shunt remaining ORNL funds to other infrastructure repairs and to support a new beam line at the Spallation Neutron Source, an accelerator-based neutron source completed in 2006. Researchers who use this facility are currently engaged in advanced materials and energy research.

OTHER NATIONAL LABS will also gain from Chu's plan. Specifically, the plan gives $75 million to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, in Newport News, Va., for upgrading its electron beam accelerator and improving infrastructure; nearly $35 million to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, in Batavia, Ill., for infrastructure improvements and construction of a neutrino detector in Ash, Minn.; $13 million to Argonne National Laboratory, in Argonne, Ill., for infrastructure improvements; and $2 million to Ames Laboratory, in Ames, Iowa, for energy conservation projects.

The remaining $142 million in lab-devoted funds has not yet been precisely directed, according to Jeff Sherwood, spokesman for DOE's Office of Science.

Beyond the national labs, approximately $277 million of the stimulus money will be provided to Energy Frontier Research Centers. These centers support scientists within DOE's own facilities in addition to outside scientists working on basic research that provides the basis for "transformative" energy technologies, according to DOE. The ARRA funds will be used to support applicants selected from a pool of more than 260 submitted before Oct. 1, 2008, the last solicitation deadline. The selected centers, which are expected to be announced this month, according to DOE, will be funded with $2 million to $5 million per year for an initial five-year period.

Chu's plan also calls for approximately $90 million to go to "other core research" projects. Among the programs included under this allocation are "initiatives in plasma science, high-energy physics, and nuclear physics, as well as the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program," Sherwood said.

Of the $90 million, Sherwood said, more than $31 million is slated to go to work currently being done in these areas at the national laboratories, but the details are still being determined. The remaining $59 million will support two centers under the plasma research centers program and other projects within the Office of Nuclear Physics.

With the bulk of the ARRA funds now spoken for, the Office of Science is "poised to move aggressively on these projects—many already existing, some new—to ensure maximum job impact and scientific payoff," Dehmer said. "At the same time," she added, "we have put in place controls to ensure a high level of accountability, transparency, and responsibility in the deployment of these taxpayer dollars."

The agency is still ironing out the details of how it will spend the remaining portion of the $1.6 billion allocated to the Office of Science.

 
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