“Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of our economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas” is the second of four goals in the “U.S. Department of Energy Strategic Plan” that was released last month. The plan is described as “a comprehensive blueprint to guide the agency's core mission of ensuring America's security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.”
The plan is 60 pages long. A seven-page section entitled “The Science and Engineering Enterprise” is one of what DOE describes as “four distinct categories, representing the broad cross-cutting and collaborative efforts taking place across the Department’s headquarters, site offices, and national laboratories.” Other categories are entitled “Transform Our Energy Systems,” “Secure Our Nation,” (nuclear security) and “Management and Operational Excellence.”
As the federal government’s largest source of funding for research in the physical sciences, DOE sponsors research at 540 educational institutions, “supporting approximately 5,800 faculty and postdoctoral fellows and 3,600 graduate students.” It addition to the national laboratories, DOE maintains a broad range of user facilities serving 26,000 people a year.
The describes the importance of science and technology to competitiveness, and warns that U.S. leadership may be slipping:
“Innovation will drive our economic prosperity in an increasingly competitive world. Although the United States still leads the world in computers, communications, biotechnology, aerospace, and other technology industries, we are being challenged in all of these areas. The competition is closing in rapidly -- the United States has become a net importer of high technology products, and our leadership in future technology revolutions is not guaranteed. It is imperative that we reverse the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, particularly in high technology manufacturing, and maintain a wide set of opportunities for our citizens by rebuilding manufacturing capabilities.
“A cornerstone of technology leadership and its accompanying jobs is a vibrant science and technology enterprise. Although the United States still has the world’s greatest research institutions - in no small part due to the Department’s efforts - this leadership is at risk. We must remain focused on effectively nurturing our research enterprise.”
The plan’s section on “The Science and Engineering Enterprise” has four components with ten “Targeted Outcomes.”
The first component, “Extend Our Knowledge of the Natural World” has three sections:
Subatomic Physics – Targeted Outcomes:
“Complete construction of nuclear physics facilities by the end of the decade at Jefferson Laboratory and Michigan State University to test quantum chromodynamics, the theory of nuclear forces, and produce exotic nuclei of relevance in astrophysical processes.
“Perform a series of experiments through 2020 in the intensity, energy and cosmological frontiers to illuminate questions about the unification of the forces of nature, the structure of black holes, and the origins of the universe.”
Chemical and Materials Research – Targeted Outcomes:
“Explore the construction and use of X-ray free electron lasers and the next generation of synchrotron light sources.
“Develop and explore a broad spectrum of new materials that have novel properties, such as catalytic activity, electrothermal behavior, radiation resistance, or strength, or otherwise contribute to the advancement of energy technologies by 2020.”
Climate Science – Targeted Outcome:
“Determine the major sources of uncertainty in our understanding of the coupled climate system by 2015.”
The second component is “Deliver New Technologies to Advance Our Mission.” The first section, “Materials in Energy and Security-Related Systems” does not have a targeted outcome. Other sections are as follows:
Bioenergy – Targeted Outcome:
“Apply systems biology approaches by 2015 to create viable biofuels processes and greatly increase the understanding of microbes in carbon-dioxide climate balance.”
Fusion Energy – Targeted Outcome:
“Execute U.S. responsibilities for construction of the ITER project, consistent with sound project management principles.
“Exploit the National Ignition Facility by 2012 in a credible National Ignition Campaign and establish an open-science user program.”
The third component is “Lead Computational Sciences and High-Performance Computing.” It has one targeted outcome:
“Continue to develop and deploy high-performance computing hardware and software systems through exascale platforms.”
The fourth and final component is “Sustain a World-Leading Technical Workforce.” It has one targeted outcome:
“Provide support by 2015 to graduate students in a manner designed to address skill gaps identified by senior Departmental leadership in the Department’s scientific and technical workforce.”
In describing DOE’s goal to “Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of our economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas” the plan states:
“Scientific discovery feeds technology development and, conversely, technology advances enable scientists to pursue an ever more challenging set of questions. The Department will strive to maintain leadership in fields where this feedback is particularly strong, including materials science research, bio-energy research, and high-performance computing.”