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Breakthroughs Magazine

A diamond in the desert


It's a bright, shining gem . . . tucked away among sagebrush, polished and refined by the sands of innovation and determination. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy's national laboratories, is truly a diamond in the desert.

Located in the shadow of Southeastern Washington's imposing Rattlesnake Mountain, Pacific Northwest's boundaries encompass a research and development agenda of a nationaland internationalscale. Here, researchers are finding ways to turn chemicals from corn into car bumpers, helping Korea can spent nuclear fuel, and developing hungry microorganisms that consume environmental waste.

Bill Madia

"Just like a diamond, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is multi-faceted. Our staff have many skills and talents, which when drawn together, enable us to solve some of our nation's toughest problems."

--Bill Madia, Director,
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

A Rare Find

State-of-the-art equipment and facilities, world-renowned scientists and engineers, and unprecedented capabilities make Pacific Northwest a diamond in the desert. In partnership with DOE's Richland Operations Office, the Laboratory is a vital part of our nation's research and development enterprise and an important asset to the community in which it operates.

Part of the Laboratory's brilliance comes from its advanced equipment and facilities, like the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)the newest user facility in the DOE system. As a national scientific user facility, EMSL hosts researchers from around the world who seek solutions to the nation's toughest environmental problems. Those researchers who can't travel to EMSL can still access its capabilities and equipment through its collaboratory, a suite of technologies that allow real-time remote collaborations via the World Wide Web.

DOE's significant investments in EMSL, a $230-million facility, make it the cornerstone of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. EMSL houses more than 100 equipment systems, including one of the world's top 10 supercomputers and the most powerful, state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer ever built.

To keep Pacific Northwest National Laboratory "shining" and operating as efficiently, cost-effectively and safely as possible, the Laboratory took a look inside.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office, Pacific Northwest undertook a series of steps to improve its operations over the past several years. With these changes, it moved closer to a goal of becoming the benchmark standard for how laboratories should be run in the DOE system.

Our Operations Improvement Program, launched three years ago, provided us with the tools and systems we'll need to work safely and efficiently now and into the next decade. For example, we've implemented an integrated safety management program that better addresses environment, safety, and health issues throughout the entire lifecycle of our work.

Not surprisingly, DOE also is investing in EMSL's research programs. Last year, Laboratory scientists were awarded millions in new research grants that will lead to breakthrough technologies needed for today's complex environmental problems. The importance of EMSL goes well beyond environmental cleanup and remediation, however. EMSL helps Pacific Northwest expand to develop the next generation of scientific technologies needed for DOE's energy, national security, and fundamental science missions.

A Beacon of Light

More than equipment and facilities, however, Pacific Northwest is staffed with experts in the energy, transportation, medical, national security, and environmental industries. These experts often are relied upon to solve problems of national and international concern. For example, in the areas of energy and transportation, Pacific Northwest researchers are key players in the DOE-sponsored Northwest Alliance for Transportation Technologies (NATT). NATT, a partnership among Northwest industries, national laboratories, and universities, is focused on developing advanced lightweight materials for the vehicle of the future. Through this alliance, Pacific Northwest's scientists and engineers will participate in some of the most exciting automotive and materials research of the next century, including developing a vehicle that will operate with triple today's fuel efficiency and greatly reduced emissions.

Bob Rosselli

"The Department of Energy is pleased with the progress Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has made over the previous two years in completing the milestones associated with the Operations Improvement Program and thereby improving their basis for safe operations of facilities. We are even more pleased with the manner in which the Laboratory has taken the disparate parts of OIP and integrated them into a system for safe operations."

--Bob Rosselli,
Assistant Manager of Science and Technology,
Department of Energy,
Richland Operations Office

Internationally, Pacific Northwest staff travel the globe, working with a host of countries to improve the safety of Soviet-designed nuclear power plants following the aftermath of Chornobyl. Under the International Nuclear Safety Program, DOE and the Laboratory lead efforts to improve the physical conditions of plants, train plant operators, and establish modern safety technologies and methods. Other programs apply modern technologies to reduce the global danger from nuclear weapons. Our scientists and engineers have developed equipment for treaty verification, monitoring weapons stockpiles, and monitoring and managing nuclear material.

Some of our environmental work takes us to Mexico where we are helping to clean up air pollution using computer models designed to predict atmospheric conditions. These models also could potentially guide responses to pollution, such as changing the location or timing of pollution releases.

In the health field, scientists are developing bone implants using a bioactive coating process. Patterned after Mother Nature's method for developing shells, the process deposits a bone-like calcium phosphate mineral on the implant surface, creating a bioactive surface that facilitates rapid bone formation around the implant. This breakthrough process makes longer-lasting orthopedic implants, saving patients the pain, risk, and expense of repeated surgeries.

The Right Fit

From development of a lightweight automobile to three-dimensional scanning of injured soldiers, Pacific Northwest is developing technologies that improve our everyday lives. What brings customers back to Pacific Northwest is our unique resources, state-of-the-art equipment, and world-renowned scientists and engineers. It is here, in Southeastern Washington, where industry and government find their diamond in the desert.

Breakthroughs Magazine

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