DOE Office of Science Publishes Update of Landmark Plan, "Facilities for the Future of Science: A Twenty-Year Outlook"

WASHINGTON, DC –   The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science today released a comprehensive update of its landmark 2003 publication, Facilities for the Future of Science: A Twenty-Year Outlook, that shows the agency has made “significant progress” in deploying the scientific facilities and instruments that the United States needs to capture world scientific leadership, extend the frontiers of science and support the Department’s missions.

When it was published four years ago, the Facilities Outlook was the first long-range facilities plan prioritized across disciplines ever issued by a government science funding agency anywhere in the world.  It remains so today – and serves a model for other countries and regions that are developing roadmaps for research infrastructures.

The 2003 plan listed 28 new scientific facilities and upgrades of current facilities that will define scientific opportunities over the next 20 years in all fields of science supported by the Office of Science, including fusion energy, advanced scientific computation, materials science, biological and environmental science, high energy physics and nuclear physics.  The facilities were ranked according to their scientific importance and readiness for construction, and they spanned scientific fields to ensure the U.S. retains its primacy in critical areas of science and technology well into this century.

“The world-leading scientific facilities we create, maintain and operate are key to continued U.S. leadership in physical and biological research,” writes Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach in the introduction of Four Years Later: An Interim Report on ‘Facilities for the Future of Science: A Twenty-Year Outlook.’  “This leadership, and the transformational scientific discoveries that flow from it, are critical to meeting the challenges our Nation faces in the twenty-first century in the areas of both global economic competitiveness and energy security.”

“Our purpose [in the Interim Report],” Dr. Orbach continues, “is to give our citizens, legislators, and stakeholder communities a relatively digestible summary of where our Facilities Outlook stands today – and a flavor for the continual careful effort of analysis, evaluation, and internal and external review that goes into our facilities planning and decision-making.”

The new Interim Report provides a summary update on the status of the original 28 facilities and features three charts.  One lists the 28 facilities as of the original November 2003 publication, including their R&D, conceptual design, engineering design, construction, and operation status at that time.  The other two charts show the updated list of facilities and their projected status, respectively, by the conclusion of the 2007 fiscal year, which ended September 30, 2007, and by the conclusion of the 2008 fiscal year, ending September 30, 2008.

The write-ups about each of the 28 facilities include an update on their status since the Facilities Outlook and a section about their scientific purpose and significance and their prospective societal and other benefits.  In cases where Department decisions about facilities have changed, a summary of the rationale behind those decisions is provided.

The Interim Report lists the 28 facilities by priority, in the same format used in the original Facilities Outlook.  Some are noted individually; however others, for which the advice of Office of Science program advisory committees was insufficient to discriminate among relative priority, are listed in “bands.”  In addition the facilities are grouped into near-term, mid-term, and far-term priorities over the full 20-year period, according to the anticipated R&D timeframe of the scientific opportunities they would address.

A central purpose of the 2003 Facilities Report, according to its introduction, was to offer “a vision of the future” and to reassure the public that “its government makes its decisions on such important and costly facilities in the open with a transparent process.”

The Facilities Outlook, as intended, “has served as a roadmap, providing an overarching strategic framework and long-term vision to guide year-by-year DOE policy and funding decisions,” Dr. Orbach says in the Interim Report.  “Significant progress has been made in implementing the plan and deploying many of the planned facilities.”  For example:

  • In 2003, the number one priority, ITER, the international collaboration that aims to harness fusion energy, which powers the sun and stars, to generate electricity, was the subject of negotiations.  In late 2006, the U.S. signed the ITER agreement with six international partners, and construction of the large-scale experimental fusion reactor is scheduled to begin in the 2008 fiscal year.
  • When the original Facilities Outlook was published, its number two priority, Ultrascale Scientific Computing Capability, was a proposal to increase by a factor of 100 the computing capability available to support open (as opposed to classified) scientific research.  DOE now leads the world in civilian supercomputing, enabling researchers to understand combustion processes, analyze climate change data, reveal chemical mechanisms of catalysts and study the collapse of a supernova.
  • As planned in 2003, one of four facilities tied for the third priority, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), is now under construction at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, with approval to start initial operations planned for the 2009 fiscal year.  The LCLS will be the world’s first x-ray free electron laser, enabling scientists for the first time to observe chemical reactions at the molecular level in real time – with countless potential applications to medicine, pharmaceuticals, electronics, materials science, nanotechnology and fields not yet invented.

“At the same time,” Dr. Orbach points out, “contemporary science and technology are undergoing change, as always, and the Office [of Science] has been careful not to adhere with inappropriate rigidity to the 2003 snapshot, but to respond to technological progress in reordering and restructuring its priorities…. Some planned facilities have been accelerated; a number have been reoriented, some in a substantial way. One was terminated in light of facilities abroad.”  For example:

  • In 2003, the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), the first of the next-generation of synchrotrons, was listed as tied for twenty-first priority; it ranked high on scientific merit, but low on readiness to proceed.   Then came a revised proposal in 2004, very positive reviews by scientific leaders in the field worldwide, and DOE decisions in 2005 to approve its mission need and in 2007 to locate the machine at Brookhaven National Laboratory and initiate project engineering and design in fiscal year 2007.  The NSLS-II will enable routine nanometer-scale characterization of materials, with powerful applications in biotechnology, nanotechnology and the study of materials under extreme conditions.
  • The 2003 Facilities Outlook proposed a suite of four facilities (one tied for third, one for seventh, and two for fourteenth) organized by function – production and characterization of proteins and molecular tags, characterization and imaging of molecular complexes, whole-proteome analysis, and analysis and modeling of cellular systems – to enable the Genomics:GTL program to achieve breakthroughs in basic science needed for cost-effective bioenergy production, carbon sequestration and environmental remediation.  In February 2006, a National Research Council panel supported making GTL systems biology research a “high priority” but recommended research “institutes” instead of a succession of facilities organized around function.  Accordingly, the Office of Science reoriented the facilities, DOE issued a funding opportunity announcement for bioenergy research centers in August 2006, and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced in June 2007 the award of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers to pursue development of cost-effective cellulosic ethanol and other new biologically-based, renewable energy sources.
  • In 2003, BTev (“B-particle physics at the Tevatron”), a proposed experiment at Fermilab to study the imbalance between matter and anti-matter in the universe, was priority number 12.  However, when its completion date had to be delayed beyond the time when it would be competitive with a similar experiment being constructed in Europe called the LHC-b, the proposed BTev detector was terminated in 2005.

The DOE Office of Science leads the world in the conception, design, construction and operation of large-scale facilities.  These facilities include particle accelerators, synchrotron light sources, neutron scattering facilities, supercomputers, high-speed networks and genome sequencing facilities.  Each year, they are used by more than 21,500 researchers and students from universities, private industry, and other federal science agencies.  These state-of-the-art facilities are located at national laboratories and universities, are open to researchers on a peer-reviewed basis, are shared with the science community worldwide and feature technologies and capabilities that are available nowhere else.  These very large and complex machines have enabled U.S. researchers to make many of the most important scientific discoveries over the past six decades, with spin-off technological advances creating entirely new devices and industries.  Learn more information about the DOE Office of Science and its scientific user facilities.

Download the original Facilities Outlook and the new Interim Report.

Media contact(s):
Jeff Sherwood, (202) 586-5806