A Celebration of 50 Years of Health and Environmental Research
Martha A. Krebs
Director, Office of Energy Research
U.S. Department of Energy
It is a pleasure for me to be here to celebrate 50 years of health and environmental research. I have been the director of the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Research (OER) for a fairly long time. Any director becomes embedded in the history and traditions of his or her institution, and there is no question but that I am proud to be affiliated with OER. Today's events highlight the rich heritage of science that is the fruit of our investments over the last 50 years and of which I am proud to be a part.
We are the sponsors of the great contributions that the scientific community made during World War II and in the decades that followed. We have built on that success and advanced the frontiers. Through endeavors in high-energy physics and nuclear physics, materials science, and, of course, health and environmental research, we have established a standard of excellence and relevance for the important problems facing our nation now and in the future. As the director of OER, I believe that it is important to remind every audience that DOE is a science agency and that our science enables us to meet the energy challenges ahead. All too often, DOE is the forgotten science agency, despite its ranking among the top federal supporters of basic, applied, academic, and overall research. The department is the primary supporter of advanced research facilities, including our extensive scientific user facilities and world-class national laboratories. Among academic disciplines, DOE is the primary source of federal funding for physics and the other physical sciences and ranks among the top 5 for engineering, mathematics, and environmental and life sciences. The relevance of its diverse support to DOE missions has often come into question. It is the work and accomplishment of the people within OER to advance individual disciplines in the context of our overall energy and defense missions. But I want to remind this audience, as you get ready to listen to the particular contributions of the Office of Health and Environmental Research (OHER), that that support is just a part of a total portfolio that contributes broadly to science, as it advances energy security, environmental quality, and stockpile stewardship.
A few years ago, the contributions of DOE were less clear in Washington and even among academic communities. There were always the questions, Why the life sciences? Why is DOE doing this? What difference does it make? I think that what this audience knows, what you are celebrating here today and what will be detailed later, is the answer to those questions. It is important to recognize that if DOE were not making its investments, critical fields of scientific research would lack support. One example is the environmental research associated with energy use and ultimately climate change. This work includes climate modeling and some remarkable experimental programs, from atmospheric-radiation measurements to free-access CO2 experiments. These experiments are changing how science is examining the world around us by combining traditional experimental approaches and introducing new instrumentation, data-gathering techniques, and computation capability.
The DOE scientific-user facilities are perhaps our most unusual contribution to science. Our synchrotrons, with some advances in nuclear magnetic resonance techniques, are helping to redefine structural biology. In addition, nuclear medicine has been recognized, from the very beginning, as a major contribution of DOE and its predecessor agencies. If DOE had disappeared, the loss of nuclear medicine would have been felt by every American family.
One of the most-exciting news stories of the last year was the validation of the existence of a third form of life: the Archaea. That validation was made possible by the investments and shared vision of DOE and the National Institutes of Health, driven by the insight of Charles DeLisi, to pursue genome sequencing. It is a testament to the capabilities and resources that DOE, with its laboratories and its principle investigators, uses to carry out such grand projects. Without that capability, without that vision, we would not have been in a position to fund The Institute for Genomic Research, to sequence one of the extremophiles and to learn that this creature was truly unlike any previously known.
The story of the microbial genome is intriguing. It also provides a justification of our approach to science by demonstrating how breakthroughs happen in an organization like OER. Our ability to support excellent science with casual connections to our energy mission has, in turn, advanced our mission in surprising ways. The human-genome project and the microbial extremophiles are 2 examples. These programs seem as remote from each other as they are from our energy mission. However, they come together in a discovery that creates a mind-bending experience in the scientific community: a new branch of life. In OER, we see the potential for equally important effects on energy and the environment that will continue to justify the kinds of investments that we have made in these programs.
Earlier here, Kenneth Shine commented that the next century will be the century of biology. As a physicist, I am less than happy about that idea, but I am intrigued. Yesterday, I spent the morning with a group of CEOs at the American Chemical Society. The purpose of the meeting was to stimulate ideas for the 75th anniversary of Chemical & Engineering News. In a focus group, we discussed the future of the chemical industry. Our final task was to predict some of the important trends or possible events in the chemical industry from a scientific or institutional perspective. As we went around the room, several people commented on the connections between material science, chemistry, and biology. The group explored discoveries that we might expect from these connections and their effect on world markets. We also discussed the effects of the Internet in connecting the researchers' communities and enabling the discoveries we identified. The use of large databases and collaborations across institutions and the ability to do science "at a distance" are expected to change not only the conduct of research, but the character and efficiency of innovation across the chemical industry.
I believe that those changes are taking place throughout science and are bridging the gaps between disciplines. In energy research, particularly in biologic and environmental research, we are leading this evolution in science. Fifty years ago, 25 years ago, and today we have been exploring the connections between the biologic sciences, the physical sciences, engineering, and computation in ways that bring together institutions, disciplines, and researchers. The technologic challenges of our mission have required this cross-programming and continue to drive our efforts.
OHER has one of the most-balanced programs within OER. Through investments in universities and national laboratories, OHER uses and unifies diverse disciplines to support and carry out its program. OHER provides a model for success. I want you to know that I recognize and value the success of OHER. It has a tradition of excellence and partnership that we must build broadly on within DOE and beyond. I am very happy to be here with all of you to celebrate that tradition.
The Biological and Environmental Research Program at 50
Ari A. Patrinos
Associate Director of Energy Research
Office of Health and Environmental Research
U.S. Department of Energy
On May 17, 1997, at the commencement address at Morgan State University, President Clinton said that if the last 50 years were the age of physics, the next 50 years will be the age of biology. (In fact, he upped the second number 15 minutes later to make it a century.)
Throughout the 2 days of this symposium, you will be hearing several speakers and panelists about the accomplishments and the future of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program. Also, you will see the many posters and exhibits in the Great Hall, where you can dig into the details of specific elements of the program. Tomorrow afternoon, we will be honoring 13 of our major scientists who have been associated with the BER program and have made important contributions to its advancement and progress.
My colleagues Benjamin Barnhart and Murray Schulman have dug into the archives of our office in the DOE to distill some history. Kenneth Shine spoke earlier about the history of the BER program, starting during World War II when a medical advisory committee under Stafford Warren developed health and safety policy and associated research activities for the Manhattan Project. In 1946, the Atomic Energy Act created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which came into being on January 1, 1947. Part of the act dealt with improving our knowledge of the potential damaging effects of ionizing radiation while extending our fundamental knowledge of the interactions between radiation and living matter and ensuring distribution of isotopes for medical and biologic applications. Research in health physics and radiation biology got under way at Oak Ridge, Hanford, Los Alamos, and the University of Chicago.
In September 1947, AEC and the National Academy of Sciences created the Advisory Committee for Biology and Medicine, which promptly recommended the creation of a Division of Biology and Medicine in AEC. In fact, the precise date is September 24, 1947, which is perhaps the birthday of the BER program.
Parallel to the many biologic applications were many applications in the environmental sciences, starting from the pioneering work in radioecology that began in the early 1950s and including studies aimed at determining the fate of fallout through atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine media.
In 1974, the Energy Reorganization Act created the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) for "environmental, physical, and safety research related to the development of energy sources and utilization technologies"; this expanded the scope of the old Division of Biology and Medicine's research to
include all aspects of energy production and use. Thus was formed the Division of Biomedical and Environmental Research; when DOE was created 3 years later, it gave birth to the Office of Health and Environmental Research (OHER), which is what we have been for the last 20 years. OHER joined the Office of Energy Research in 1981. For most of the time since ERDA became DOE, Congress has known us as the Biological and Environmental Research program, and that is how our budget is titled.
At the doorstep of the 21st century, the BER program is poised to make important contributions to the exciting scientific advances that lie ahead. Our vision is to bring revolutionary solutions to energy-related biologic and environmental challenges. We believe that a diverse research portfolio like ours drives science at the interface where most of the advances will take place. One example is the interface between the biologic sciences and the information sciences that will essentially bring a revolution to biology in the next century. Another is the interface between global environmental change and greenhouse gas emissions. Martha Krebs has already referred to some of the programs. Our global-change program will continue to provide the rigorous science needed to put climate-change prediction—in fact, global environmental-change prediction—on solid ground.
International greenhouse-gas agreements loom ahead, and the need to become more rigorous in investigating the ecologic effects of global environmental change will prompt the BER program to expand its efforts in looking at the effects of global environmental change. That is one subject in which we have pioneered and expect to play a major role in the years ahead.
The BER program engages a diverse set of performers. Of BER's fiscal year 1996 operating funds of $313 million, $167.6 million (53.5%) went to the national laboratories, $82.7 million (26.4%) to colleges, $12.9 million (4.1%) to nonprofit institutions, and $49.8 million (15.9%) to the private sector. Such diversity challenges headquarters and the advisory committees that serve us to provide guidance for the scientific activities.
We are proud of the shining examples that we have had of interagency and intra-agency cooperation, such as the cooperation with the National Institutes of Health in the Human Genome Program and the collaborations with many sister agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others in the Global Change Research Program. Even within the DOE, we have an excellent working relationship with the Office of Environmental Management in launching and promoting the Environmental Management Science Program. There are many interactions with other program offices in the Office of Energy Research, such as those with the Office of Technology and Computational Research and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
We are committed to pushing and promoting that kind of cooperation because we believe strongly that the science of the future will be interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and will require this multiagency and multi-organizational approach to developing and promoting successful activities.
I end by reminding you that a Biological and Environmental Research program like ours—a diverse research portfolio—drives science at the interface where most of scientific advances will occur.