t's a great pleasure to be back in Russia and a great privilege to join in the observation of the 50th anniversary of the Kurchatov Institute with so many distinguished colleagues from around the world. Certainly, the world was a very different place 50 years ago--perhaps no place more so than Russia. Our predecessors in the mid-1940s could scarcely have imagined the events that would precipitate today's gathering of Russians and Germans, Americans and Japanese, Hungarians and Indians, British and Polish, French and Chinese. Even five years ago this agenda in this forum might well have seemed another half-century out of reach.
Anniversaries offer convenient vantage points for reflecting on the past and taking measure of the future, regardless of whether their timing is particularly significant. But it so happens that this anniversary, which many of us in this room share, really does represent a watershed--a time of transition from one great era to another.
The Kurchatov Institute, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and so many sister enterprises sprang from one single objective: creation of an atomic bomb. And the success of this endeavor changed forever the way science is conducted. No longer would the great majority of scientists be working in semi-isolation in this university laboratory or that industrial setting.The urgent and complex demands of the atomic weapons race required a new model, a new approach to science. In the United States and Europe, the solution was large government research centers where scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and others could collaborate on their nations' highest defense priority. And in a phenomenon somewhat like assembling enough uranium to reach a "critical mass," the synergy of these people working toward a single goal produced results faster and better than could have been possible under the old system.
Over the past five decades, these research centers have expanded on their success by going beyond their original mandates to address the great scientific challenges of our times. Virtually all of the diverse, peacetime activity in laboratories such as this one and ORNL can be traced to that original, wartime mission.
Technologies Born of War
I thought at this turning point it might be instructive to take a look at those fields of science and technology that have blossomed out of our World War II-era research. I've selected seven examples. Although they reflect the ORNL experience, they are, to a remarkable degree, universal.
The first, and most obvious, example is nuclear power--one of the first postwar applications of the Manhattan Project in the United States. It is a little-known fact, but the world's first electricity from nuclear fission was produced at ORNL. The first officially recorded generation of nuclear power took place in 1951 at a large government reactor in Arco, Idaho. But three years earlier, in 1948, engineers and operators in Oak Ridge had hitched ORNL's Graphite Reactor to a toy steam generator and lit a flashlight bulb with 1/3 watt of electricity. For the two decades following the war, there was tremendous activity and excitement in the field of nuclear power as many different reactor designs were developed and piloted at ORNL and other laboratories.
The result is that 23% of the world's electricity needs today are met with nuclear power. In the United States, nuclear power is in a holding pattern, pending solutions to technical challenges and economic and social impediments. But other nations continue to build nuclear plants, and at some point it is likely that a new generation of nuclear plants will emerge in the United States as well. To prepare for that likelihood, the U.S. nuclear industry is developing new standard plant designs--designs that emphasize modularity and passive safety. The first of these designs should be available for commercial order by the mid-1990s.
A number of energy analysts have tried to project a fuel mix that will serve the world's needs in the middle of the next century, given the prospect of population growth and global warming. Our own analysts at ORNL conclude that reducing carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 to 50 years can be accomplished only if three conditions are met: higher energy efficiency, a substantial growth in the use of renewable energy, and an expanded role for nuclear power.
The challenge for nuclear power is to develop solutions to the twin problems of accident potential and waste disposal--solutions that are both technologically and socially acceptable.
Another obvious outgrowth of the Manhattan Project was the production of radioisotopes, which quickly became big business for the United States and is now even bigger business for Russia. The world's first grams of plutonium-239 were produced in ORNL's Graphite Reactor in 1943. Three years later, we made our first shipment of radioisotopes for private use: a sample of carbon-14, which went to a cancer hospital. For two decades, ORNL's Graphite Reactor was the western world's foremost supplier of isotopes, which have been used for medicine, industry, agriculture, and research. In the United States radioisotopes are used in 36,000 medical procedures conducted each day and 50,000 treatment programs and almost 100 million laboratory tests conducted each year. These figures underscore the truth in an often-repeated quote from Alvin Weinberg, former ORNL director: "If at some time a heavenly angel should ask what the laboratory in the hills of East Tennessee did to enlarge man's life and make it better, I daresay the production of radioisotopes for scientific research and medical treatment will surely rate as a candidate for the very first place."
A third example, and a particularly strong one for ORNL, is materials science. Even in the 1940s, we were exploring the causes and effects of radiation damage in reactor materials--and designing higher-performance alloys that could withstand neutron bombardment and resist embrittlement. Work on various reactor designs over the years also led to heat-resistant ceramic fuels. These, in turn, have now led to toughened structural ceramics for such things as advanced diesel engines and gas turbines. Advanced materials designed at ORNL have been selected for use in jet engines and in turbocharger rotors for truck diesels that are built to go 1 million miles. Nuclear science–based research also spawned such revolutionary materials developments as ion-beam processing for complex semiconductors and ion implantation for hard, corrosion-resistant surfaces. And close on the horizon are a vast array of new products and processes made possible through advanced materials, among them new semiconductor technologies, optical ceramics for communication networks and optical computers, fusion materials, and polymers with tremendous surface hardness and new electromagnetic properties.
In the field of biology, our wartime work focused on the effects of radiation on people and animals. This work led to standards for radiation exposure that are still observed worldwide. From these beginnings evolved a biology program that has produced diverse and far-reaching results: discovery of the role of the Y chromosome in determining gender in mammals, discovery of the function of messenger RNA, the first successful bone marrow transplant, and development of techniques for freezing animal and human embryos for later implantation.
Today, our biology research has two strong focuses: First, understanding the mechanisms of genetic damage, using research tools such as transgenic mice to induce changes that can help us pinpoint key developmental genes in humans. Second, exploring and reengineering the fundamental workings of the cellular proteins that regulate the intricate biochemistry of life.
Promising applications for the future include biotechnology for energy production and waste treatment, protein engineering for boosting crop yields, development of monoclonal antibodies for cancer treatment, and the mapping of human genes so we can understand--and begin to cure--genetic diseases and disorders.
One inescapable result of our wartime work is, frankly, an environmental mess of our own making, at our own facilities. But even as contaminated wastes were first being produced, our predecessors began working on technologies to monitor and store them. Over the years we've developed a number of innovative ways of addressing these problems. These include radwaste isolation techniques, waste-shipment standards, and the use of genetically engineered organisms that consume waste or emit light to show researchers when, where, and at what rate waste is being consumed.
Over the past 50 years, we've expanded our focus to include broader environmental issues, such as nutrient cycling through various ecosystems, the acid-rain cycle, and the effects of different types of power plants. In the future, we expect to focus on two major challenges: improving ways to dispose of nuclear and hazardous wastes and increasing our understanding of such complex environmental phenomena as ozone depletion and global climate change.
High-performance computing is another clear case of a technology that grew out of weapons research. It was developed and employed specifically for modeling bombs. Since then, it has been applied to a wide range of mathematically complex challenges, including designing aerodynamic spacecraft, modeling the microstructure of superconductors, and--apparently hardest of all, judging by current practice--forecasting the weather . . . accurately. In the United States, the science community has identified several specific "Grand Challenges" for itself, all of which require tremendous computing power. Among these high-priority areas of research are mapping the human genome, modeling global climate change, and engineering advanced materials.
And finally, my last example--and one I am closely associated with--is high-energy physics. Although accelerators don't trace their origins to World War II, the state of the art was advanced considerably by scientists working to separate uranium-235 for use in atomic weapons. Specifically, they improved methods of building electronic and detection equipment and of fabricating accelerator components. After the war, these new techniques were put to work building larger and more reliable accelerators for both nuclear and high-energy physics. At ORNL, two major contributions were made to this field: First, we built the world's first heavy-ion cyclotron; and second, we advanced the technology for sector-focusing cyclotrons. Both of these were important milestones in the quest for machines of increasing energies for particle physics.
Today, many of us are pinning our hopes for the next great leap in high-energy physics on the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). Many of us expect the SSC to have a profound effect on the fundamental understanding of matter, which, in turn, should spur new insights in many other fields of science. Many scientists also think the construction and operation of the SSC will push the state of the art in such technological fields as computing, intelligent information processing, robotics, fast electronics, magnets, and materials.
Changes for the Future
In a nutshell, that's where we've come from, where we are now, and a hint at where we're going. Our missions have evolved remarkably over the past 50 years, and they will evolve remarkably over the next 50. In one respect in particular, I expect to see considerable change: Our research institutions were created to meet state-defined defense needs. And although our scope later broadened to address a host of other challenges, our laboratory research continues to be directed by the government. In the years ahead, I think we'll see far more collaboration across public and private lines to meet the needs of our citizens.
This is already beginning to happen in the United States, where the character of government research labs has changed dramatically. As recently as the late 1970s, for example, we hosted only a few hundred visiting researchers a year in Oak Ridge. Last year, by contrast, we hosted 4300 guest researchers (one-third of whom were from industry) and 24,000 precollege students at ORNL. Throughout the U.S. national-lab complex, similar changes are happening.
This change is embodied in the concept of "technology transfer," which has become a top priority of the U.S. government as it tries to restore America's competitive edge in an increasingly competitive world economy. The importance of technology transfer is reflected by the steady stream of legislation passed since 1980 to facilitate sharing of government equipment and expertise with private industry.
Through this legislation, we now have mechanisms that enable national labs to enter into cooperative research and development agreements with industry that promote licensing of government-developed technologies and that reward scientists if an invention is commercialized successfully.
The U.S. Congress will be considering two bills that promote greater public/private collaboration. The House of Representatives' version goes so far as to require that 10 to 20% of the budgets of federal laboratories be devoted to collaborative activities with private industry and state or local governments. It is unclear at the moment whether ORNL and its sister labs will be required to meet such specific spending targets. But clearly, the federal government expects us to play an increasingly active role in revitalizing the U.S. economy.
Of course, technology transfer is a two-way street, requiring both government push and market pull. The private sector understands this, so it has conducted studies of its own on how to facilitate the process.
One primary recommendation to come out of the private sector is that industry leaders be allowed to participate in setting the broad research agenda at government labs. On its face, this may seem threatening to government researchers. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that there is already considerable overlap between industry's needs and the laboratories' capabilities. For example, when the Council on Competitiveness, a consortium of business leaders, surveyed industry to determine its most critical needs, the top four categories turned out to be areas of strength at the national laboratories: advanced materials and processing, advanced computing, environmental technologies, and manufacturing technologies.
Advice for Russia
Although Russia does not yet have such separate and distinct public and private sectors, there is much to be gained here by improving methods of moving research results and technology developments from the laboratory into the marketplace. As reforms continue, it could show great foresight to think about forging these kinds of technology transfer links with emerging industry. By starting now to emphasize such transfer of technology, the Russian scientific community can avoid the delays and barriers that kept the U.S. laboratories isolated from the needs of industry for years. Instead, you can lay the foundations for exciting growth and partnership as private industry here begins to take hold.
Over the past several years, we've seen astonishing demonstrations, especially here and in Germany, of how dramatically political boundaries and barriers can blur and sometimes vanish. So, too, can scientific ones. In fact, as it becomes increasingly clear that we are all part of one world, scientific boundaries and barriers must start to be erased. We already have a head start in that direction, for even during the Cold War, U.S. and Russian scientists collaborated on challenges of mutual interest, most notably fusion. But now we must proceed much farther and much faster in collaborations on nuclear safety, environmental protection, and other urgent challenges.
The trend in science is to use bigger and bigger instruments to study smaller and smaller things. But "big science" is too expensive for each laboratory, or even each country, to pursue individually. The Superconducting Super Collider, for example, carried a price tag as high as $11 billion. And ORNL's Advanced Neutron Source, which will be the world's finest research reactor when it is completed early in the next century, will cost about $2 billion. Even "small-science" tools such as electron microscopes and mass spectrometers cost $1 to 2 million apiece.
Now more than ever, the challenges of humankind require interlaboratory, international collaboration: new energy sources for the future; an understanding of genetic diseases and disorders; better ways of handling the toxic, hazardous, and radioactive downside of our progress. These are challenges of humanity, not of nation states. And our laboratories must be the centers of intellect to solve these problems.
What's required of us to do this? Two things: to connect research with human needs and to collaborate across traditional divides. We know how, technically, to solve many of the problems facing the world today. But bringing the right solution to bear on the right problem often proves elusive. To be truly successful in our missions, we must work more effectively not just with each other--and not just with industry--but also with our own government officials and with leaders and organizations throughout the world.
The stakes are very high--perhaps far higher than they were 50 years ago. The world's population is likely to double by the middle of the next century. We must find ways to help developing nations improve their lot while preserving the natural environment. Otherwise, we'll all pay a high price: widespread deforestation, rising levels of greenhouse gases, irreversible climate change, worsening famines, and growing world tensions between the haves and the have-nots.
Three and a half centuries ago, the English poet John Donne wrote words that seem fitting as we look back 50 years and as we look ahead: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod [of earth] be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind."
All of us here today are likewise "involved in mankind." All of us share in the opportunities and responsibilities facing us. During the past half-century, we accomplished much. During the next, there is much, much more for us to do.
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