center tightens focus to build on early success
FRANK MUNGER, email@example.com
January 9, 2008
for Nanophase Materials Science at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
was the first of five federally funded nanoscience research
facilities to come into being within the past couple of years,
and it's also been the busiest.
to ORNL officials, the new lab attracted about 300 scientific
users during fiscal 2007
- surpassing the goal and pretty much stretching the capabilities
of the lab in its first full year of operations.
impressive, and the $65 million facility, which is directed by
is getting good marks from people in high places.
here is conceivably the best of the five," Ray Orbach, the
Department of Energy's undersecretary for science, said during
a visit to Oak Ridge last week.
a pretty strong statement, considering that Orbach's Office of
Science has oversight of all
five nanoscience centers, where researchers study and manipulate
materials at the atomic scale. So, presumably, he'd be
bathed in an embarrassing light if it were discovered that he
said the same
flattering things at each site. Right?
other nanoscience centers are located at Argonne National Laboratory
National Laboratory in New York, Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory in California, and Sandia and Los Alamos National
in New Mexico.
been a good start at Oak Ridge. No question about that. Everything,
however, isn't perfect.
committee with roots in DOE's Basic Energy Sciences program
took a long look
at CNMS some months ago and came up with some suggestions.
The bottom line: focus, focus, focus.
reviewers thought the Oak
Ridge facilities might be trying to do too much,
spreading its research agenda wider than warranted.
of the reasons
for the broad interests at CNMS was the broad
materials expertise that already existed at Oak Ridge National
Laboratory. There were
multiple areas of research interest with world-class
reputations, so there was a natural temptation to pursue
all of them,
a result of that review, the Oak Ridge staff
did a strategic plan
and did, in fact, throttle back its research
focus to three themes: instrumentation for looking at the functionality
emerging behavior of nanostructures; and synthesis
polymeric and hybrid materials.
said she viewed the
critique in a positive
"This was not saying we were doing anything wrong. This
was saying we can do things better," she said.
was particularly important to have such a review early in the
life of a new research
center to make sure the path forward
is freed of unnecessary obstacles to success.
"This was a course correction, not a redirection," Horton
noted: "Focus is always important. You can't do
everything. You have to pick things that you're absolutely the
best in the world at and concentrate on them.
"The huge user
interest in CNMS during its first year was great, but it also came "pretty
close to the limit that we can handle at the current funding level," the
ORNL director said.
operating budget is about $18 million a year.
"I think what we don't want to do is get into a situation
where we're making promises that we can't keep," Mason said. "It's
always better to under-promise and over-deliver. So I think we
want to make sure we do that with CNMS and not over-extend ourselves
and then have people coming in and find they can't get the work
toured ORNL during his visit last week, and he said he witnessed
firsthand the synergy among the different research
said he stopped by the High Flux Isotope Reactor, where scientists
neutron-diffraction equipment to analyze
the structure of material
samples that had been formulated at the nanoscience center.
"That's exactly what we hoped would happen," he
writer Frank Munger may be reached at 865-342-6329.
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