Volume 33, Number 1, 2000
Science at the Interface
The first article in this issue of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review is titled "Science at the Interface: A Roundtable Discussion." The idea for this roundtable discussion came out of a meeting of the ORNL Review Editorial Board. We were looking for interesting ideas for future articles for the Review. We concluded that gathering a group of senior scientists in a lively discussion could accomplish this goal and also uncover some interesting opportunities in science and future directions for ORNL.
We chose "science at the interface" as a theme for the discussion because Oak Ridge National Laboratory has long recognized the importance of working across traditional boundaries. The vision in the current ORNL Strategic Plan acknowledges the advantages of the expanding opportunities in "science at the boundaries." Major ORNL initiatives such as nanoscale science, engineering, and technology and complex biological systems, as well as Laboratory Directed Research and Development projects in these areas, have purposefully engaged all scientific competencies. We believe that ORNL should continue this commitment to ensure that it remains a center for scientific excellence in the new century.
Another article in this issue concerns a project that would not be possible without multidisciplinary research and collaboration among various institutions. Its focus is the ORNL-conceived Virtual Human Project, whose goal is to develop a highly sophisticated computer model of the structure and functions of the human body and all its organs. New information is expected to arise from the intersection of various disciplines, which occurs, for example, when computer scientists interact with biomedical engineers, chemists chat with biologists, and physicists talk to physiologists.
This issue also provides an update on the U.S. government's largest civil construction project, the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), which will be built at ORNL by 2006. Its design and construction will be the product of multidisciplinary research and a partnership of six Department of Energy laboratories. In addition to providing neutrons for studies of the structure and atomic interactions of physical and biological materials, the SNS also will be a source of neutrinos, which ORNL proposes to use for neutrino detection research of astrophysical interest.
Other examples of ORNL's multidisciplinary research and collaborations involving laboratory, academic, and industrial partners are also reported in this issue. Here's a sampling of the topics: Natural gas turbine power plants that have higher efficiency and lower emissions partly as a result of ORNL's materials research. More efficient energy technologies, such as a gas-fired heat pump air conditioner, a heat pump water heater, and a method of using sunlight to both produce electricity and directly illuminate building interiors. The opening of DOE's Center for Structural and Molecular Biology (one of 17 user facilities at ORNL), which combines the talents of ORNL experts in neutron science, mass spectrometry, and computer science to study interactions of biological molecules such as proteins. The use of computers to discover genes in newly sequenced human chromosomes. Plans to develop an early version of a Superman suit to amplify human abilities, such as strength, speed, and endurance. The use of ORNL's radioactive ion-beam accelerator to get results that help astrophysicists accurately predict the amounts of isotopes produced when stars explode.
Integrating science requires an environment that brings together scientific leaders who are outstanding in their disciplines, who have competence and appropriate perspectives in other fields, and who are committed to collaborating across disciplines. This environment must include special experimental research facilities, advanced computational and information systems resources, educational programs that attract and develop the next generation of scientists, and partnerships that center the Laboratory within the global science enterprise. We have all this at ORNL and more, and you will see more evidence of "science at the interface" from the Laboratory in the future.