Large Scale Scientific Instrumentation

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One of the DOE Office of Science’s most important contributions to the U.S. scientific effort is support of the construction and operation of major scientific user facilities at the DOE national laboratories. This was intended to be an integral part of the DOE national laboratories’ mission from the start. One purpose of the national laboratories, when they were first established after World War II, was to serve as home to large, costly scientific facilities that universities could not afford but that would be essential for America to maintain leadership in science.

There are 29 DOE Office of Science user facilities at DOE national laboratories. Each year nearly 30,000 researchers make use of these facilities, with access determined on a competitive basis using peer review.

These large-scale facilities have become increasing vital in certain key areas of research, especially areas with major potential impact on industrial innovation and national economic competitiveness. As a result, the global competition in certain categories of facilities has grown increasingly fierce in recent years.

Key facilities include:

  • Supercomputers. Supercomputers have become enormously powerful tools of both science and industry—enabling modeling and simulation of complex systems beyond the reach of experiment and accelerating the process of industrial design of such major items as jet turbines and fuel-efficient vehicles. DOE leads the U.S. supercomputing effort, with the DOE Office of Science spearheading high performance computing for open science and industry, at the Argonne and Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facilities and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Currently, DOE owns the world’s most capable supercomputer, Summit at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and five out of the world’s fastest ten. But it will require sustained effort to ensure continued leadership as other nations have recognized the power of supercomputing and continue to develop and deploy their own resources. .

  • X-Ray Light Sources. X-ray light sources are critical tools for materials science, chemistry, and biology, as well as powerful instruments for medical research and pharmaceutical discovery. The DOE Office of Science fields five of these: the Linac Coherent Light Source and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory; the Advanced Light Source at LBNL; and the National Synchrotron Light Source-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory. While the U.S. once commanded the light source landscape, international competition has intensified, which also explains why DOE continues to update and improve the light source portfolio to maintain U.S. preeminence in this area.

  • Neutron Scattering Sources. Neutrons provide an alternative window into matter and have similarly important applications to materials, chemistry, and biology. The DOE Office of Science has two such facilities at ORNL—the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) and the High Flux Isotope Reactor. SNS is in the early stages of adding a second target station.

  • Nanoscale Science Research Centers. Nanoscience—investigations of matter on the scale of a nanometer, or 1 billionth of a meter, 1/100,000 the width of a human hair—has become key to innovation in energy and a range of other industrial applications. The DOE Office of Science operates five such centers with specialized capabilities at Argonne, Brookhaven, Oak Ridge, Lawrence Berkeley, and Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, accessed by thousands of users from universities, national laboratories, and other institutions across the country each year.

  • Joint Genome Institute (JGI). Genomics has become increasingly vital as we move toward a new bio-economy with expanding production of fuels and products from reengineered microbes and renewable plant resources. JGI at LBNL is the only federally-funded, high-throughput genome sequencing and analysis facility for microbes and plants related to energy and the environment, has thousands of users nationwide, and sequences 200 trillion base pairs per year.


    More information on DOE Office of Science user facilities can be found here.