Clear skies outside Madia's window
by R. Cathey Daniels
Oak Ridger staff
With an office window overlooking the largest overhaul of
laboratory facilities since the 1943 Manhattan Project, Bill Madia has good
reason for optimism.
As workers set rebar, and new rouge-brick walls rise into view of his work
desk, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory director contemplates the future with
"Oak Ridge National Laboratory is truly one of the world's greatest
research institutions," said Madia in an interview Tuesday. "We
have great researchers doing great science, and if you look at what we're
really good at here, like materials science, genomics and computational science,
we're absolutely the center of the universe -- we're extremely well-positioned."
Indeed, the view is enticing.
Plans call for $300 million in modernization, which will exchange 1.8 million
square feet of outdated space with about 600,000 square feet of modern, energy-efficient
buildings. At the end of the modernization tunnel is the very bright light
of 14 facilities, and Madia plans to fill them with world-class programs,
mostly already existing at the lab.
But modern facilities can be programmatic bait, and the potential catch could
be a stringer full of keepers.
Recently the Department of Energy gave strong signals that the come-from-behind
race to catch and beat Japan in building the world's fastest computer would
start with ORNL, and the facility rising from earth directly outside Madia's
window is being designed with that expectation.
And if one were to walk to the window and look northeast toward Chestnut
Ridge, one could contemplate the 1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source facility,
expected to generate an operating budget of $150 million per year when it
comes online; and the $65 million Nanophase facility, expected to generate
a $23 million-per-year operating budget; and the planned state-funded Joint
Institute for Neutron Sciences -- all three comprising an institution unto
itself for the neutron sciences.
Or lean back in your wicker-backed office chair and close your eyes to dream
of the new mouse house going up directly west of your desk, or the proposed
Joint Institute for Biological Sciences and any number of lab upgrades.
"We have very tangible evidence of programmatic growth," said Madia.
But that doesn't keep him from casting a keen eye on the Congress and its
"You're absolutely right, that's a big concern," said Madia of
recent federal deficits and the Bush administration's emphasis on defense
and homeland security spending, both acting as possible catalysts to draw
funds away from basic research institutions, such as ORNL.
"We're all watching the budget very intently. I can't predict what the
(fiscal years) '04 and '05 budgets are going to bring, nor how much the war
is going to cost.
"I have no idea what the future will hold, but to date there's been
no reduction in the science budget."
On the other hand, an anticipated continued budget resolution would essentially
flat-line the science budget, at least temporarily, and have an impact on
local programs, said Madia.
He noted that the National Science Foundation and the National Institute
of Health have doubled their budgets in the past five years.
That increase is larger than the entire DOE Office of Science budget, and
Madia indicated a need for comparable investments.
But, noted Madia, the science generated at the lab today and the science
of the future have their genesis in the rich science of the past, which gives
local researchers an anchor for optimism.
"Look at the SNS," said Madia. "I look at the SNS as the grandchild
of the Graphite Reactor. Our science today is grounded in the history of (Eugene)
Wigner and (Enrico) Fermi. It's our history to be at the center of science."
Another reason why it's mostly clear skies outside Madia's window.
R. Cathey Daniels can be contacted at (865) 220-5515 or
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