This Wall Street Journal article (H/T SEFORA) is a useful reminder of how the national labs, administered by the Department of Energy, will play a larger role in national science and technology than they have in the past. The article focuses on the influx of resources from the stimulus, but I have to think at least some of this renaissance is from the difference in the Department’s leadership. Dr. Stephen Chu comes from the labs, and is the rare Energy Secretary coming from a scientific background.
The article is also worth reading for the sense of history behind the labs. We are now far enough from the post-Cold War search for purpose of the labs that reminders are helpful. It’s also useful to see the stutter-step history of attention and neglect the labs have managed. I grew up near one of these facilities, and while it was part of a larger DoE complex, we could feel in the community changes in the support provided by the government.
Another good reason to take a look is this interactive map of the 17 facilities supported either indirectly or directly by the Department of Energy as our national labs. Before you look at the map, try and name the 17 facilities. How many of you can name more than half? How many can you name that are east of the Mississippi River?