Being a good neighbor is more than engaging with those on our block and near our homes. To the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), steward of 17 National Laboratories across the country, we strive to be good members of the neighborhoods and communities that surround our facilities, serve as our workforce, and develop the next generation of energy professionals.
On August 5, Dr. Chris Fall, Director of the Office of Science, and Sir Steven Cowley, Director of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey, hosted a conversation about science and the community. Part of their roles is to expand engagement of their office and Lab with elected officials, community residents, and business leaders, knowing that partnership and solid community input leads to stronger results for our work.
Being Your (Good) Neighbor
We know we have a big footprint. DOE is the largest funder of basic physical science research, which means we drive discoveries in particle physics, nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, materials science, chemistry, and fusion energy.
For our neighbors, and the community, this means we have a responsibility to ensure that society and the economy reap the benefits of basic research, with the innovations we make possible in our National Lab system.
In fact, there’s a clause in all contracts of the National Laboratories to reinforce our commitment to the community, and our Labs routinely conduct community outreach events like open houses, free lectures and events, and STEM education opportunities as well as attend community events, visit local schools, and much more.
STEM Education in Your Backyard
STEM education and workforce development opportunities are a critical piece of our community engagement. As Director Cowley said on the call with elected officials, community leaders, and students, programs like the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships exist to “raise a new and more diverse generation of scientists, and communicate the joy of being a scientist.”
Director Cowley also highlighted the Lab’s Science on Saturday lecture series, which typically brings in over 300 students, teachers, parents, and community members to learn about a variety of science topics throughout the winter.
Students can also be part of the Community Planning Process phase of our Labs’ long-range planning. This provides DOE with an opportunity to hear from our neighbors in town halls, workshops, solicited white papers, and other public forums.
“We can’t do one-sided planning,” said Fall. The Energy Department deliberately selects early and mid-career scientists in much of our long-term planning as we know they will be the ones to own and use the resulting plans. An example is the 2020 Decadal Assessment of Plasma Science report. This was written by a panel of a number of early and mid-career scientists and other subject matter experts, and the National Academies published it recently with our support.
The Trump Administration is proud to support the work being done by our National Laboratories, as we train the next-generation of energy leaders who will help ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. In order to seek an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy strategy, we have to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to pursue STEM fields.
Expanding Science Communications
The call also touched on other topics beyond STEM and student engagement, including science communications with the community, combating anti-science attitudes in our society, and the future for fusion energy, a priority topic of research for Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
The Energy Department and the Office of Science in particular, said Director Fall, are “famous for our engagement in the community, but it’s with the science community. Everything we do is hyper-coordinated.” Now, we’re looking on expanding that reach and making connections through activities like yesterday’s call and our Labs’ community relations offices and communications teams.
“It’s a privilege to have a life of science paid for by the public,” Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Director Cowley said, “and we ought to make sure they are involved with what we are doing.”