Q&A with Renee Carder and Thomas RosenbaumBy Steve Koppes
For nearly 60 years, the University has managed Argonne National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy. Argonne was formed in 1946 as an outgrowth of the University’s involvement in the Manhattan Project, which in 1942 produced the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Today, in addition to basic science, Argonne researchers study problems in energy production, the environment, transportation, medicine and other fields. Thomas Rosenbaum, Vice President for Research and for Argonne National Laboratory, oversees Argonne’s operations with the support of Renee Carder, Assistant Vice President for Strategic Research Initiatives. They spoke about collaborations between the University and Argonne.
Two Argonne scientists have received the Nobel Prize in Physics during its history, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Alexei Abrikosov in 2003. What other milestones have been achieved at Argonne?
Rosenbaum: We have a mix of great individual contributions as represented by the Nobel Prize and also by the development of great facilities that permit new types of science to be done. Throughout Argonne’s history you can point to discrete elements like the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source. That technology at Argonne is the foundation of the newest centerpiece of neutron scattering research in the world, the Spallation Neutron Source, which will be operational in a couple of years at Oak Ridge. Argonne has the Advanced Photon Source, which is the pre-eminent X-ray source in the United States, one of the three leading ones in the world. Argonne also has the ATLAS, the Argonne Tandem Linear Accelerator System, which is going to be the basis for the Rare Isotope Accelerator, which will put nuclear physics and astrophysics research on a new level. These examples merely scratch the surface of milestones in transportation, energy, nuclear power, computation and so forth, which are only possible in a national laboratory context.
What types of collaborations are going on between Argonne and University researchers?
Carder: More than 100 University faculty and Argonne scientists have joint appointments, so research collaboration is a big topic. One of the most ambitious joint projects is our success with the Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory that complements it. This involves Argonne and University biologists and computational scientists. But we’ve really expanded that, so we even have social scientists working with people at Argonne in areas such as homeland security. One of the projects is looking at some of the root causes and the consequences of terrorism. Then we have more obvious collaborations, like the Consortium for Nanoscience, and collaborations in computational science.
The University also has operated the smaller Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, but will not after Tuesday, Feb. 1. Is that correct?
Carder: Yes, in November, the DOE chose a team led by the Battelle Energy Alliance over the University team (or the Idaho Laboratory Affiliates led by the University) and other competitors to operate the new Idaho National Laboratory. Next month, the Idaho component of Argonne will become part of Idaho National Laboratory, and the University will no longer have responsibility for its operation.
Was the process nonetheless a valuable exercise?
Rosenbaum: Information has been sparse coming from the DOE, in part because of the litigious environment in which we live. I’m still convinced that for the long-term health and success of a premier civilian nuclear energy research laboratory, our proposal was the right one. However, I would say that we learned invaluable lessons in this competition. We produced a bookshelf-long proposal in collaboration with a number of industrial entities, which was a new experience for the University. This experience will serve us in good stead as we move forward into two new competitions, one for the Rare Isotope Accelerator later this year and of course one for Argonne in 2006.
As you mentioned, the University is competing to have the $1 billion Rare Isotope Accelerator sited at Argonne. Scientists will use RIA to study the generation of energy in the stars, test new ideas about the fundamental forces of nature that govern the universe, and possibly produce new commercial and industrial applications. Why is Argonne the best location for this new accelerator?
Rosenbaum: There is existing infrastructure at Argonne that can be applied to RIA, such as ATLAS. In addition, Argonne has site infrastructure, a secure setting with facilities that run well and with management systems in place. Then there is location. RIA will be a national and an international facility. We’re sitting close to O’Hare Airport. It’s easy to reach us. And then there is intellectual capacity, including especially nuclear physics at Argonne, cosmology at the University and nuclear astrophysics at both. Of course, Argonne developed the technology that is the basis for this new accelerator. Our competition is likely to be Michigan State University, which does not run a national laboratory. You might make the analogy that we have a house that’s functioning well and we would be putting on an addition with new capabilities, versus starting from scratch and building a whole new house on a lot that doesn’t even have sewer lines running out to it. So I think Argonne is really the most likely, economical, safest and best choice for the DOE.
Carder: There also are cultural issues. To make RIA a success will involve all of the other national laboratories and a community of scientists. If you look at the way the Advanced Photon Source is run at Argonne, it’s an international facility. The University and Argonne have many years of experience in ensuring a culture of openness and collaboration that distinguishes the Argonne and Chicago scientific enterprise. There is a culture of interaction that we have established time and again with successful projects.
The University will soon name a new director for Argonne. What challenges and opportunities will the director face at this important juncture in the lab’s history?
Rosenbaum: The director will have to work to keep intellectual values front and center in a business environment. The environment that national laboratories operate in clearly demands strong management, but a successful science lab demands more: creating a culture of inquiry. And so connections to the University, attracting people who would not come to the University alone or Argonne alone, and building in that fashion are going to be the prime measures of success.
Carder: We went through all these great projects that are happening, more so than we’ve had in many years, and you can argue that maybe the director’s job is just to maintain the course we’re on. But we like to look at it as just phase one, and there’s so much more to do. There are still people at the University and at other universities who aren’t aware of all the opportunities at Argonne.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Rosenbaum: We are positioned to address the great problems the nation has because of our alliance with Argonne. We have an opportunity to develop ideas from the most basic area to the most applied. You can do that in collaboration with a national lab. With the demise of the great industrial laboratories, this sort of research and technology development is not found anywhere else. The national labs have an opportunity to fill that vacuum with the right leadership, which is what the University can provide.