Science for the People

How the Department of Energy and its National Laboratories are finding solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

I only have a few days left as the United States Secretary of Energy.

But I know that science and technology will continue to pave the way for solutions to the global challenges of the 21st century — from climate change to nuclear security.

The Department of Energy is a science and technology powerhouse, and the National Labs are at its core.

Today, I am pleased to present the first State of the National Labs Report, which outlines the remarkable accomplishments and capabilities of these National Labs, and how we’ve worked together to improve management and coordination. Additionally, we have updated our policy on scientific integrity to enshrine the independence of the scientific process for decades to come.

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists holds a sample of microcapsules that capture CO2.

This matters to all Americans. Even if you’re not a scientist or a policy wonk, it matters because the Department of Energy is responsible for missions that keep Americans safe, expand our knowledge, and lay the foundation for jobs and prosperity. This report catalogues a strong National Laboratory system that is continually contributing to those missions in meaningful ways.

We depend on science.

Success for the Department of Energy — and for American leadership in the world — depends on building and nurturing a powerful science and technology enterprise.

  • We maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent, and work to reduce the threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
  • We advance a clean, secure and prosperous energy future through innovation.
  • We sustain America’s leadership in science and technology by advancing scientific frontiers, and by providing the American research community with cutting-edge facilities.
  • And we carry out the legal and moral imperative for environmental cleanup of the massive Cold War nuclear weapons complexes.

With the National Labs at its core, this science and technology organization has been able to deliver on these missions. I reported such progress on energy, science, and security to President Obama in my official Cabinet Exit Memo earlier this month.

The State of the Labs Report discusses how the Energy Department can maintain the excellence and health of the National Labs system, which itself has produced tangible and exciting results for the American people.

Science moves us forward.

This Shelby Cobra sports car was 3D-printed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory using carbon fiber composite materials.

The Department of Energy is the biggest single funder of physical research in the United States, and our 17 National Labs are home to capabilities and equipment that is available literally nowhere else in the world. Over the past 8 years in particular, the National Labs have been responsible for:

  • 11,000 peer-reviewed publications each year.
  • 32,000 users annually at our cutting-edge research facilities.
  • Six Nobel prizes since 2008. The Department and its predecessor agencies are affiliated with 115 Nobel Prizes.
  • Countless innovations from the thinnest wires ever, made with diamonds, to 3D-printing a sports car, to converting CO2 to ethanol in a single step with a catalyst.

Together with other parts of the Energy Department, the Labs have created jobs, reduced the costs of clean energy, and reignited America’s culture of innovation.

Science keeps us secure.

The National Labs also keep us safe and secure. The Department of Energy is responsible for designing and supporting the reactors that propel every nuclear-powered vessel in the U.S. Navy, including the new Ford-class aircraft carriers.

The Z Machine at Sandia National Labs is the world’s most powerful laboratory radiation source. It is gathers data used for modeling nuclear explosions without testing.
  • During the Cold War, the Energy Department and its precursor, the Atomic Energy Commission, conducted over 1,000 explosive nuclear tests, the last occurring in 1992. Through the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program, the Department maintains a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile without a need for nuclear explosive testing — and along the way, continue to develop some of the world’s fastest and most sophisticated supercomputers and big data analytics.
  • The Department’s scientific and technical expertise enabled teams at our National Labs to analyze options for the Iran Deal in near-real time. That expertise continues to support the Deal’s implementation.

To continue producing excellent results for the American people and to meet new challenges from world events like the Fukushima disaster or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we need to sustain our National Labs and our innovation ecosystem.

When scientists can do their jobs, the American people benefit.

That’s why scientific integrity is so important. An independent review in 2014 found that our scientific integrity policy wasn’t strong enough. So we strengthened it.

The roof of Energy Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C. is covered with solar panels.

Protection of scientific integrity is a necessary component of any plan to pursue world-leading innovation. We want to ensure that going forward, our scientific integrity policy makes it clear that:

Energy Department scientists are able to express their opinions.
Energy Department scientists must get the opportunity to review Department statements about their work.
Energy Department officials should not and will not ask scientists to tailor their work to particular conclusions.

As a scientist and an American, I care deeply about scientific independence and integrity, because they are essential components of the scientific method. Evidence, observation, experiment and analysis are the appropriate ways to test a hypothesis.

Scientists must be free to discover and state the facts.

For example, when I was negotiating the Iran Deal, I asked the National Labs to analyze proposals on the table. I needed a correct answer, based in physics — not the answer someone thought I wanted to hear.

The Iran Deal depended on scientific answers, not political ones.

When we set goals for reducing emissions, when we run analysis of large data sets to seek cures for cancer, and when we test equipment that will defend the electric grid from cyberattacks — we need correct answers, not convenient answers.

By strengthening protections for scientific integrity, we can ensure that the advancement of human knowledge and American ingenuity will continue — not just during the coming administration, but for decades to come.

Science is for the future.

It’s been my privilege over the past four years to work on these challenges, helping to steer and improve such a scientific powerhouse for the future.

The State of the Labs Report gives an excellent overview of the recent revitalization of the relationship between the Energy Department and the National Labs, and the hurdles that remain. It provides a starting point and roadmap for anyone hoping to support continued American leadership in science and technology. And our updated statement on scientific integrity makes sure that our scientists are able to do their jobs.

I came to the Department of Energy determined to leave the institution — and the National Labs — on an upward trajectory, with stronger infrastructure and stronger relationships. As the State of the Labs Report shows, we made a great deal of progress, and we have provided an excellent starting point for the incoming team to continue improving the relationship and enable Americans to benefit from American scientific leadership.

Scientists at Jefferson Lab use giant particle accelerators to explore an atom’s nucleus. Detectors like this one collect the information for scientists to analyze.