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Feed into Congress' discussion about US energy research and scientific discovery with DOE Office of Science director Dr. Fall

The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science plays a major role in US leadership in science and technology (S&T). It is “the nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, the steward of 10 of the Nation’s national laboratories, and the lead federal agency supporting fundamental research for energy production and security.”

During its hearing, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy will hear from director of the DOE Office of Science, Dr. Christopher Fall, on DOE priorities, promising areas of energy research, the nature of scientific discovery, diversity and inclusion in research and development, and how to maintain US leadership in S&T. We need your help ideas to inform lawmakers for this important upcoming hearing.

This website gives you an opportunity to tell Congress what issues should be discussed during this critical hearing, and to access nonpartisan resources to learn about the issues. You can submit questions that lawmakers should ask Dr. Fall (sample questions below), personal stories on your experiences related to energy research, or your general thoughts on DOE Office of Science operations.

Hearing details

The Department of Energy's Office of Science: Exploring the next frontiers in energy research and scientific discovery

What: House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy hearing

Who: The witness who will testify during this hearing is Dr. Christopher Fall, Director, Office of Science, US Department of Energy.

When: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 at 2:00pm ET

Where: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC / Webcast

Nonpartisan analysis and research

Sample questions for lawmakers to ask witnesses. Please share yours for lawmakers.

More sample questions will be added as objective contributions are received from the expert community. Email your submissions to us at [email protected]! Last updated Tuesday 1/14/2020.

Dr. Fall, “the mission of the High Energy Physics program is to understand how our universe works at its most fundamental level.” This requires the construction of large facilities and extremely sensitive instrumentation.

Given how resource-intensive this work is, how is the DOE Office of Science coordinating with other countries and international projects, such as CERN, to pool resources and conduct high energy physics research?

Dr. Fall, it is critical for both America and the world to transition to a low-carbon future to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. A recent study asserts that shortages of rare minerals and metals are a real possibility as more and more “cobalt, copper, lithium, cadmium, and rare earth elements” are used to make “solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle (EV) motors, wind turbines, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors.”

DOE and others have noted that “investment in research and development” is needed for new technological solutions “that would address three primary areas: Greater efficiencies in materials use, substitutes or alternatives for critical minerals, and recycling of critical minerals.”

What are DOE Office of Science’s current capabilities in these areas, and are any additional capabilities needed?

Dr. Fall, as you are aware, for renewable energy technologies like solar and wind to be real game-changers, we need better energy storage systems. Last week, DOE launched its Energy Storage Grand Challenge. The goal of the program is “to accelerate the development, commercialization, and utilization of next-generation energy storage technologies and sustain American global leadership in energy storage.”

What is your assessment of how US research efforts in this area compare to those of other countries?

Dr. Fall, in April, the Government Accountability Office sent DOE a report on actions that would be needed to fulfill previous GAO recommendations. One of these “priority open recommendations” was to address information technology systems and cybersecurity.

Generally, what is the current state of DOE Office of Science IT systems and cybersecurity, and how, in your view, could they be improved?

Dr. Fall, as you know, Congress, the White House, and federal agencies are all taking steps to address foreign interference in US taxpayer-funded research. While the improper sharing of confidential information, such as the back-channeling of research proposals or pre-publication data, should be stopped, the US must also remain welcoming to foreign talent and international participation in our research enterprise.

Along with its National Labs, DOE is developing a ‘risk matrix for technologies’ to help mitigate foreign interference. As you explained during November’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing, the risk matrix will assess the national and economic security implications of different technologies, evaluate risks posed by other countries, and determine what non-US research personnel our National Labs will be permitted to work with.

What is the status of the development of the DOE risk matrix for technologies, and can you please share some explicit examples of critical technologies, risks posed by countries, and what the results from the matrix would be based on those factors?

There is clear scientific evidence of increased CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere and a general rise in the earth’s average temperature over time. Strong evidence also exists that these two data sets are correlated.

On the other hand, predicting how the climate may change in the future is challenging, relying on many assumptions, and models based on a limited understanding of the atmospheric physics involved, such as the role of cloud type on heat fluxes.

The Office of Science’s “Biological and Environmental Research program supports scientific research and facilities to achieve a predictive understanding of complex biological, earth, and environmental systems…”

What is the Office of Science currently doing to improve the predictive modeling of climate change, and what are its plans moving forward?

Nuclear power is a proven, extremely low-carbon energy source that is slowly being replaced by, in some cases, far more carbon-intensive energy sources like natural gas. This will increase our carbon emissions.

A substantial number of older fossil fuel-based power plants will be retired over the next 10-15 years. New power plants will be constructed in their place to continue to meet America’s energy needs.

What are the Office of Science’s plans for supporting basic research into the development of nuclear power, such as small modular reactors, and should nuclear power be included in the energy mix, along with solar and wind, as we move away from carbon-intensive energy sources?

Dr. Fall, the high energy physics research community has a record of striving to maximize return on public investment in terms of both scientific discovery and innovations that often lead to additional benefits to industry and US quality of life.

Research at university laboratories is at the heart of these endeavors, both for the execution of the programs in this important field, and for the development of the next generation of scientists and leaders.

How is the DOE Office of Science engaging with the US research community to coordinate and optimize the balance between support for the research efforts that are vital for the success of high energy physics programs, and the construction and operation of the required large-scale facilities, to ensure that the projects are delivered on time and within budget?

The Princeton University political scientist Donald Stokes famously argued that the most productive area of research for society was “Pasteur’s Quadrant,” where researchers conduct fundamental research inspired by the possibility of application.

Dr. Fall, how much of what the Office of Science funds do you think should be oriented toward “Pasteur’s Quadrant,” especially with respect to uses that would address the problem of climate change? How much of it is now? If there is a gap between the two, how ought it to be closed?

Dr. Fall, you served in a leadership role at DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. What lessons do you think the experience of ARPA-E holds for the Office of Science? What steps are you taking or planning to take to implement these lessons?

The DOE “Office of Science is the steward of 10 of the 17 DOE laboratories.”

Is technology transfer and commercialization a high enough priority for DOE’s national labs? If not, what are the most important steps that the Office of Science and the DOE as a whole should take to raise this priority?

The Faculty and Student Teams, or FaST, Program funds groups of a faculty member along with two to three undergraduate students to conduct research at National Laboratories during the summer months.

Breakthrough research supported by the DOE Office of Science should be sure to address energy issues that disproportionately affect people from underrepresented or underserved groups. How successful has FaST been at attracting teams from institutions serving populations underrepresented in STEM fields? Please explain.

Follow-up: What types of additional DOE Office of Science programs may be needed to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM?

Dr. Fall, the Office of Science’s Low-Dose Radiation Research Program had potential to help reveal health impacts and improve safety. It focused on studying “cellular and molecular responses to doses of X- or gamma-radiation that are at or near current workplace exposure limits.”

In a November 2017 hearing held by this Committee, the Government Accountability Office’s John Neumann, now its Managing Director of the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team, submitted testimony that GAO “recommended that DOE lead development of a mechanism for interagency collaboration on research on low-dose radiation’s health effects.”

Now, the FY2020 Joint Explanatory Statement describes how no less than $5 million is to be used by the Office of Science to “develop a low-dose radiation research plan in coordination with the low-dose radiation research community, other federal agencies, and any other relevant entities.”

Given this mandate, will the Office of Science be able to restart an effective Low-Dose Radiation Research Program? What steps will the Office of Science take to coordinate interagency efforts around government sponsored research on the health effects of low-dose radiation?

Your evidence-based question could be here!

Quick reads

Variable renewable energy – Congressional Research Service In Focus

Federal quantum information science – CRS In Focus

Overview of artificial intelligence – CRS In Focus

Foreign STEM students in the US – CRS In Focus

Priority open recommendations: DOE – Government Accountability Office Highlights

FY2020 Budget Request for the Department of Energy – Congressional Research Service Insight

Deep dives

US-based electron-ion collider science – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report

Intense ultrafast lasers – NASEM Report

Critical minerals – Congressional Research Service Report

High-entropy materials, ultra-strong molecules, and nanoelectronics – NASEM Proceedings of a Workshop

Priority open recommendations: DOE – Government Accountability Office Report

Improving public access to research results – GAO Report

Effects of providing property to non-federal recipients – GAO Report

Additional resources

Nonprofit hubs

Summary of fiscal year 2020 DOE Office of Science appropriations – FYI: Science Policy News from AIP Piece

Fiscal year 2020 DOE Office of Science Budget – FYI: Science Policy News from AIP Federal Science Budget Tracker

Organizational design and management strategies to improve federal energy innovation and technology transfer to the private sector – Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Report


Game-changing advanced materials – MIT Energy Initiative Podcast

Researching, developing, and scaling energy storage – MIT Energy Initiative Podcast

Nuclear energy: Fact, fiction, future – DOE Direct Current Podcast

AI: This is just the beginning – DOE Direct Current Podcast

Turning noxious waste into useful bioenergy – DOE Direct Current Podcast

Legislative branch

Explanation of fiscal year 2020 DOE Office of Science appropriations – Joint Congressional Report (pages 80-82)

Executive branch

DOE Office of Science By the Numbers

DOE Office of Science News Archive

US DOE Selects Brookhaven National Laboratory to Host Major New Nuclear Physics Facility – DOE Press Release

DOE announces $32 million for small business research and development grants – DOE Press Release

Press clips

DOE launches challenge to accelerate energy storage and development – Solar Power World Piece

An out-of-the-box attack on diabetes. Researchers use proteomics to pinpoint new prevention strategy for type 1 diabetes. – EurekAlert! News Release

Polluted wastewater in the forecast? Try a solar umbrella. Berkeley Lab scientists demonstrate a ‘photo-thermal’ umbrella that can double evaporation rates, thus reducing environmental impact of settling ponds. – EurekAlert! News Release

Milestone in Advanced Light Source upgrade project will bring in a new ring – EurekAlert! News Release

Bipartisan bills

Better Energy Storage Technology Act, H.R.2986

Growing Artificial Intelligence Through Research Act, H.R.2202

Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act, H.R.2051

Engineering Biology Research and Development Act, H.R.4373

Engage and take action!

Contribute your nonpartisan, objective statements and questions. We will collate your submissions and post them here – anonymously – as part of this resource for policymakers. Submit to [email protected]!