Renewing the commitment
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is America's largest energy research facility, supported by capabilities in advanced materials and high-performance computing recognized as among the foremost in the world. Until recently, ORNL's international reputation for cutting-edge research in energy, materials and supercomputing was not widely associated with comparable capabilities in the area of national security technologies.
Time and circumstances have changed dramatically. Today, ORNL has a research portfolio that contains more than $400 million in projects related directly to national security customers. These customers predictably include agencies such as the departments of Energy, Defense and Homeland Security. Perhaps less predictable, ORNL is increasingly the laboratory of choice for industrial clients seeking to find new and unique uses for a broad array of technologies.
This issue of the ORNL Review examines the Global Security Directorate, one of the laboratory's fastest growing sectors and a program that, by its very nature, is less visible than other research areas. While much of the directorate's work is appropriately classified, a look into the growing number of projects reveals activities that would surprise many not familiar with the technological challenges of thwarting a complex and diverse set of security threats.
Indeed, a recurring theme is the fact that solutions to a host of security-related needs do not require the development of brand new technology. Instead, they often involve identifying existing technologies—developed at ORNL as a part of other research projects—and adapting these technologies to solve an entirely different, security-related problem.
ORNL's strategy of identifying security needs and matching them with existing technologies can be a critical asset in the effort to stay ahead of a sophisticated adversary whose success is measured in violence and destruction. In many instances, the most important factor is the time saved by using existing technologies, as opposed to a start-up approach, to develop solutions or countermeasures to a rapidly evolving variety of terrorist threats.
Some of ORNL's contributions to national security are relatively well known. The laboratory has played a leading role in the Department of Energy's successful effort to reduce the proliferation of nuclear materials, especially in the former republics of the Soviet Union. ORNL has also undertaken less well-known projects for both the Navy and the Army. One is designing signal processing improvements for submarines; another seeks to support troops in the desert by making potable water from diesel exhaust. The ultimate goal of both projects is to save American lives.
In some respects, the expanding role of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the field of national security should not be surprising. The laboratory was founded in the dark days of World War II with the sole purpose of responding to the greatest security threat in America's history. The response was absolutely vital to the defeat of our enemies and the preservation of our democracy. That purpose and that history are the context for a renewed commitment to making the laboratory's talents and assets available to meet a different, but equally serious, contemporary threat to the freedoms we cherish.
Billy Stair, Director
Communications & External Relations Directorate
Oak Ridge National Laboratory