Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science Director Asmeret Asefaw Berhe made a two-day visit to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) this week. The visit focused on PNNL's drive to conduct discovery science that will create a safer and cleaner world, commitment to science for an equitable future, and development of a diversified future STEM workforce. PNNL’s Laboratory Director Steven Ashby welcomed the Office of Science Director and commenced the visit with an overview of PNNL’s Science and Technology portfolio, facilities, Lab priorities, and initiative to achieve net-zero emissions and energy-resilient operations.
“As an Office of Science-stewarded Laboratory, we were excited to showcase to Dr. Berhe and her team the breadth and depth of our programs at PNNL that advance DOE’s missions and address global challenges. We appreciated her interest in our contributions and the entire team’s engagement with our talented staff,” said Ashby.
Berhe met with STEM and student STEM ambassadors. They shared stories about their personal career and science journeys, and she talked about the importance of science communications and outreach. They conversed about different ways they are engaging their peers, students, teachers, and communities in science conversations to make knowledge accessible, build curiosity, and invite engagement about world challenges that science confronts.
“It is incredibly inspiring to meet with and learn from the PNNL’s STEM Ambassadors and Students,” said Berhe. “Through the STEM Ambassadors program, science communication is getting a serious boost—reaching new audiences, engaging the next generation of scientists and researchers, and spreading the word about the incredible science happening in our national labs across the country.”
While on campus, Berhe toured the newest facility that is strengthening PNNL’s position as a leader in discovery—the Energy Sciences Center. The tour explored ESC’s unique experimental capabilities to address fundamental science questions in supporting the development of clean-energy technologies, carbon capture, hydrogen storage, and plastic recycling.
Conversations later in the day centered around grid modernization and the impact of climate change from global to neighborhood levels. Berhe was briefed on how PNNL is working toward grid modernization and decarbonization with an emphasis on equity and human well-being when analyzing decarbonization scenarios.
PNNL’s Chief Human Resources Officer and the Chief Diversity Officer (who is also the Director of the Office of STEM Education) had the opportunity to share information about programs advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts for the DOE and PNNL.
Berhe’s tour concluded at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) before heading to the Molecular Observation Network (MONet) Launch ceremony. EMSL is an Office of Science scientific user facility, located at PNNL, which hosts about 750 users annually. Several labs in EMSL were toured and the vision for Microbial Molecular Phenotyping capability was described.
The MONet Launch, at which Berhe was a guest speaker, was attended by in-person and virtual participants from national laboratories and universities across the country. Molecular processes involving carbon and essential nutrients control the ability of soils to uptake or release greenhouse gases, yet how these processes operate and dictate emergent properties at regional and continental scales remains poorly understood. To fill the knowledge gaps, EMSL is leading the development of the national MONet, which is collecting molecular-level information about the composition and structure of soil, water, and resident microbial communities.
“MONet is critically important to better understanding essential soil processes, the critical roles the soil system plays in controlling the climate system, and impacts of climate change. The molecular data it will capture will inform our understanding of fundamental processes and our ability to capture them in earth systems models,” said Berhe. “All researchers—from citizen scientists to academia to industry—are welcome to contribute, and all will benefit from MONet.”
Berhe is an expert in soil science and the two-way relationship between the natural environment and human communities. She spoke about the value of MONet and its impacts on advancing the Office of Science mission for clean energy and climate mitigations.