One of the most important milestones in the recent history of Oak Ridge Laboratory was the simple act of taking down a fence. Since the Laboratory's inception in 1942, the ORNL campus had been defined by miles of imposing chain link fence, interspersed at strategic points with turnstiles and guards that provided rigidly controlled access to the grounds and facilities. Not surprisingly, six decades of working in such a closed environment gradually shaped the Laboratory's culture. As the first and last thing they saw each day, the inescapable presence of the fence produced an institutional mindset among both managers and research staff that turned their focus inward, leaving many unaware and often indifferent to the opportunity for collaborations with the scientific community on the other side.
Over time, the fence had an impact—perhaps subliminal but not necessarily unintended—on a variety of ORNL operational policies that extended well beyond the security of human and scientific assets. An institution that operated behind a fence built to keep people out was not instinctively open to sharing the Laboratory's talents and technologies. Thus, while ORNL staff did a commendable job of delivering the research mission for their Department of Energy customer, the Laboratory as a whole did not fully leverage its magnificent range of research facilities by making these unique assets available to large numbers of researchers from universities, industry and other national laboratories.
Though not without controversy, UT-Battelle's decision in 2001 to take down the fence was a symbolic act designed to underscore a desire for expanded research partnerships as well as renewed access, both literally and figuratively, to ORNL's world-class capabilities. This issue of the Review is dedicated to the programs in a portion of the Laboratory's user facilities, where a rapidly increasing number of visiting researchers are taking advantage of what can accurately be described as a fundamental cultural change in Oak Ridge. Today, thousands of visiting researchers from around the world are spending anywhere from two days to two months at ORNL's unmatched suite of user facilities. The number is expected to increase sharply as new user facilities such as the Spallation Neutron Source complete installation of additional experimental instruments.
Indeed, for some research facilities, the growth of ORNL's user program has greatly exceeded expectations. The annual number of users at the National Center for Computational Sciences has grown from 578 to 1,030 in the span of only three years. Even more dramatic is the increase in the number of users at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, which has skyrocketed from 42 to 359 during the same period. In both instances, the number of applications for research at ORNL has expanded to the point that it now surpasses the available slots.
A change of such magnitude in ORNL's user program did not occur by chance. Guided by the Department of Energy's desire to maximize the impact of the agency's scientific investments, ORNL has undertaken a long-term commitment not only to expand the Laboratory's user program, but to do so in a way that provides visiting researchers a level and quality of support services equal to those enjoyed by resident staff.
Meanwhile, the fence, once an enduring symbol of the Laboratory, is today only a reminder of the challenge and potential that lie ahead for Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
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