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The Search For New Scientific Superstars


Editorial by Lee Riedinger
Associate Laboratory Director
for University Partnerships at ORNL
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the nation's leading energy research and development laboratory. This simple statement encompasses a wide range of activities and brings to mind images of coal-fired power plants, nuclear reactors, fusion devices, and overhead electricity transmission lines. But as we envision the nation's energy future here at ORNL, we focus on more than large-scale energy generation and transmission concerns for the Department of Energy. We also address the many issues that surround how energy is distributed and ultimately consumed, as well as how to encourage a more efficient use of energy.

The events of recent years have taught us the importance of energy to the stability of the world's economic and political systems. The worldwide recession caused by the first oil price shock of 1973 led to an explosion of new technologies and fostered new policies that encouraged more efficient energy use. Since that time, the United States has reduced the economy's energy intensity by 1 to 2% per year, thereby avoiding imports of billions of barrels of oil and the release of millions of metric tons of carbon and other health-threatening pollutants into the atmosphere. While today there is a lively debate on the causes and consequences of global climate change, the reality of climate change is increasingly accepted. This realization, combined with the recognition that the world needs ever-increasing supplies of energy to sustain the industrial economies of the developed world, as well as the rapidly growing economies of countries such as China and India, has led to increased attention not only to the problems of energy supply and demand but also to the need for more energy R&D worldwide.

After nearly six years, the end is within sight. With approximately $2 billion in new investments from the Department of Energy, the state of Tennessee, and UT-Battelle Development Corporation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is approaching the final stages of a historic modernization program. New state-of-the-art facilities house growing research programs in life sciences, microscopy, energy, and computation, including the National Leadership Computing Facility. Within twelve months, we will begin operation of the Spallation Neutron Source and the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, establishing Oak Ridge as the world's foremost center for the study of neutron sciences. Additional new facilities for biology and neutron sciences are funded and will be soon under construction.

We undertook such a daunting endeavor secure in the knowledge that these marvelous new facilities would be filled with internationally recognized scientists and engineers. Representing every continent and every age group, their collective talent is the source of ORNL's creative energy and the key to the scientific agenda that drives our modernization efforts. One of our challenges in the coming years will be to replace and expand this remarkable talent pool.

Our strategy is multi-faceted. We are seeking, quite simply, scientific superstars, ranging from young postdoctoral researchers to nationally and internationally recognized scientists at the pinnacle of their careers. Our efforts include an unprecedented initiative with the state of Tennessee to provide $20 million for outstanding scientists and engineers who will share distinguished joint positions with ORNL and the University of Tennessee, adding to an excellent cadre of joint faculty with the University.

This issue of the Review features another unique part of our recruitment strategy, an expansion of the Eugene P. Wigner Fellowship program that for three decades has served as both a doorway and an "incubator" for some of the Laboratory's most valuable research talent. Some 70 outstanding young scientists have been awarded this prestigious fellowship, which offers a highly competitive salary and benefits. Most significant, two-thirds of the Wigner fellows elect to stay at ORNL beyond their two-year fellowship period. About one-third are still providing outstanding service to ORNL, some at the highest levels of leadership.

In the past, ORNL has selected and hired two Wigner fellows each year. Looking forward, we will hire eight fellows in 2006, nine in 2007, and 10 in 2008. The articles contained in this issue provide a snapshot of why these outstanding scientists came to Oak Ridge and how over time they shaped our scientific agenda. As I read these articles I came to appreciate how these men and women, more than anything I can imagine, represent the energy and optimism that will define the future of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


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