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April 4, 2012

NUFO Goes to Capitol Hill: Celebrating Science Outreach and Promoting Economic Benefits of User Research (3/28-29/2012)

Representatives from 45 national scientific user facilities converged on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 28 and Thursday, March 29 for an exhibition organized to recognize exciting science and promote the overall benefits of user research.  Arranged by the National User Facility Organization (NUFO) in response to Congressional invitations, the exhibition included a poster from each NUFO facility plus posters describing industrial and small business research at NUFO facilities.  More than 200 people–legislators, members of their staffs, funding agency representatives, and members of the general public–attended all or part of the two-day event, held on Wednesday afternoon in the Dirksen Senate Office Building and on Thursday afternoon in the Cannon Caucus Room.

Brief remarks on Wednesday by Tony Lanzirotti, Chair of NUFO (The University of Chicago), Sam Aronson (Director, Brookhaven National Laboratory), Pat Dehmer (Deputy Director, Department of Energy Office of Science), and Steve Wasserman (Senior Research Fellow, Translational Science & Technologies, Eli Lilly) focused on the economic benefits to the nation of the partnership between government, academia, and the private sector.  Aronson began by commenting that the partnership between NUFO, the user facilities, and national laboratories is a great symbiotic relationship.  Dehmer cited not only the Nobel Prizes won by users of the light sources for very fundamental work, but also current real-world applications.  Drug manufacturers use light sources to design drugs, engineers examine engines non-invasively in real time, and high-performance computers enable real-world engineering designs.  Dehmer concluded by stating that “research at the NUFO facilities now is allowing us to see, understand, predict, and eventually manipulate the world around us.”  Wasserman commented that the concepts and insights that make technology start-up companies successful are invariably in place when the companies are founded and are often based on research conducted by users at national scientific user facilities–facilities that comprise a major component of the “unparalleled scientific infrastructure of the United States.” Wasserman noted, however, that, “with uncertainties in federal support for user facilities, organizations such as his are forced to examine options abroad.”

Remarks on Thursday by A. Paul Alivisatos (Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), Guebre X. Tessema (Program Director, National Science Foundation) and Yan Gao (Senior Scientist, GE Global) echoed the theme of economic benefits of these private/public partnerships.  Alivisatos stressed that a core mission of national laboratories is to provide access to research tools that are beyond the practical scope of universities or companies.  Tessema concurred that NUFO facilities are a major part of the “innovation ecosystem,” and Gao continued by commenting that GE Global has such a broad range of research programs that access to the range of tools provided by NUFO facilities is critical to his company’s core mission.

The more than 90 volunteers enjoyed the opportunities to share their research accomplishments and network with representatives from other facilities, funding agencies, and the public.