With modern facilities, the challenge now is to produce great science.
ORNL is in the midst of the biggest expansion of its scientific staff in more than three decades. Because user facilities play a central role in the laboratory's research program, they are both a part of the reason for the surge in recruiting and beneficiaries of the newly added staff. "DOE would not have located the facilities at the laboratory if we did not have high-quality staff members," says ORNL's Director of Strategic Capabilities, Jim Roberto. At the same time, the user facilities are one of several tools the laboratory uses to create a community of users that can help identify and recruit candidates for staff vacancies. It's not uncommon for new staff members to be former users or to have professional connections to the laboratory through former users. "Our staff has a very extensive network of contacts who can help identify candidates," Roberto says. "This network is built, to some extent, by people who have passed through our user facility programs and have developed research relationships with the laboratory."
As he helps coordinate the laboratory's effort to ramp up recruiting to meet the demand of its expanding research program, Roberto is drawing on many of these contacts. "Our increase in recruiting began last spring when the laboratory learned about growing opportunities in the area of energy research," Roberto says. That's when ORNL received the first of several boosts to its research portfolio, $46 million in funding for the creation of two Energy Frontier Research Centers to further research into energy storage and the basic properties of materials. "We surveyed our research divisions to try to understand what the scientific and technology needs of the laboratory would be through the end of 2010," Roberto explains. "Altogether we identified close to 500 science and technology positions." Over the last year, ORNL has filled about half of these, leaving another 260 to fill in 2010. "Growth in the laboratory's research programs has occurred across the board," he says, "with the biggest increases in the areas of computational science and energy and engineering science."
Roberto notes that major scientific centers, like ORNL's 11 user facilities, play a significant role in attracting quality scientific staff to the laboratory. "Scientists come to ORNL because of the quality of our people, their interest in our portfolio of research programs and the opportunity to work with world-class facilities," Roberto says. One of the many ways in which ORNL cultivates interest in its research programs is by supporting opportunities for students, postdoctoral researchers and scientists from universities, industry and other research institutions to come to the laboratory and participate in both longand short-term research projects. Many of these visiting researchers conduct their own research at one or more of the laboratory's user facilities; others are involved in a range of research and development activities, from internships to collaborations to fellowships. "All of these programs are important in the creation of a large cadre of people who are familiar with the laboratory, what we do and the opportunities that exist here," says Roberto. "This has been a very effective recruiting tool for us."
Other effective recruiting tools are the research facilities themselves. Roberto is quick to point out that the design, construction and operation of major national research facilities are among the unique mission roles of the Department of Energy's national laboratories. These facilities are located at national laboratories because only laboratory-scale organizations can provide the large multidisciplinary teams needed to design them, oversee their construction and operate them successfully. Roberto contends that the scope of DOE's research facilities is unique in the world. "There is no agency on earth that has as many leading facilities in as many areas as the DOE system," he says. "We have world-class synchrotrons, neutron sources, accelerators, computational facilities, nanoscale science centers and much more."
ORNL is home to many of DOE's leading user facilities and has been fortunate in recent years to have been selected to host several more, such as the Spallation Neutron Source, the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. Roberto observes that the value of these facilities goes well beyond providing worldclass tools for ORNL scientists: "These facilities strengthen the research fabric of the nation and promote scientific interactions and partnerships across a broad range of disciplines with leading institutions across the country and around the world."
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