The power of the world’s fastest supercomputers and most intense neutron beam will soon be added to NC State’s nanoscience equipment list. Both are being built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, a U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory now managed in part by NC State.

In April 1, 2000, seven universities and the Battelle Memorial Institute were selected by DOE to manage and operate ORNL, where a 300-million-dollar modernization program will add a dozen new buildings over the next five years. Among them are the Spallation Neutron Source—the nation’s biggest science project ever—the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, and the Center for Computational Sciences with its ten-teraflop supercomputer, nicknamed “Cheetah.”

ORNL is a multipurpose research laboratory with 4,500 employees and a research budget of about $700 million per year. It began as a Manhattan Project lab during World War II, and had the world’s first nuclear reactor. Today, ORNL is DOE’s largest multipurpose energy science laboratory, and the national leader in neutron science, materials research, and high-performance computing.

ORNL director Dr. Bill Madia is especially proud of the lab’s pioneering work in nanoscience, declaring: “Nanoscience is the heart of rock and roll if you’re a scientist.” Madia is eagerly anticipating the 2006 completion of the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), now under construction at a cost of $1.4 billion. The SNS will generate the world’s most intense pulsed beam of neutrons, with concentrations at least ten times greater than at any other facility in the world. Scientists use neutron beams to see how atoms are structured in nano- and bio-materials.

The “new” ORNL plans to make interactions with universities its highest priority, including: joint university/ORNL faculty positions, joint seminars and workshops, joint research proposals, summer programs for students and faculty, and joint think tanks. ORNL is looking to team up with more university experimental programs to complement its analytical programs.

In fact, both ORNL and NC State believe that the partnership will make it easier to attract prominent scientists from other prestigious research institutions. They are betting that offering the best of both university and national laboratory world will be a draw in certain cases. Joint research institutes have already been suggested in areas of strength such as advanced materials and nanoscale science, advanced computational science, complex biological systems, proteomics and structural biology, neutron science, bioinformatics, genomics, environmental science and technology, and homeland security.
NC State’s chancellor, vice chancellor for research, and several research faculty serve on key steering and review committees at all levels at ORNL. Dr. Ray Fornes, associate dean for research in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, acts as a direct liaison with ORNL’s deputy director for science and technology, facilitating new research relationships between faculty and ORNL scientists. “Our faculty now have easy access to the expertise of Oak Ridge’s world-class scientists, which is so important in this highly technical arena,” Fornes points out. “Together, we can be a powerhouse of nanoscience capability for research funded through the National Nanotechnology Initiative.”

Beyond all that, it is difficult to even try to estimate the value of ORNL’s resources as a training ground for graduate students and post-doctoral research associates. “It can be pretty irresistable to young scientists,” says Fornes, “to learn they might be able to do their dissertation research at a national laboratory of this caliber.”

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