Monday, March 23, 2009

Chu @ BNL

(Funny, my photo is similar to the Times one -- maybe because Revkin was standing next to me!)

Gee I barely had time to introduce this post. Steven Chu, our new Energy Secretary, chose to come to BNL today to announce a major round of funding for science, particularly for the national laboratories. I popped open the new netbook and didn't stop typing for 45 minutes, throughout what turned out to be a quite substantive talk. Enjoy the notes (as raw as they are!):

OK, the first slide is up: "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and America's renewed commitment to scientific research"

Cue Billy Joel muzak again, as with Paterson.

First visit of DOE secretary to a national research lab. Visited facilities and scientists.

He has chosen BNL to make an important funding announcment which will affect science across the US.

Sam acknowledging Kevin Law (NYPA), Schumer (not present), Tim Bishop (BNL's congressman)

Bishop speaking. Honored Secretary has chosen BNL as first lab since being appointed. "Underscores just what a treasure this laboratory is." Announcement will reflect wisdom of recovery act. Puts people back to work, and puts them where the US will lead.

Chu speaking. Grew up in Garden City, Long Island, age 3 to 18. Never made it to Stony Brook (laughter).

Thanking Aronson, BNL staff, Bishop, Dehmer. Struggling to get slides showing on the screen!

"This is an experiment". The secretary cracks wise! It seems the plug was kicked. "Now they're rebooting". "I hope NSLS II works better" (laughter).

There's going to be an announcment, and then "you're going to be subjected to a brief real talk"

Announcement: Obama's budget pledges to double office of science over the next 10 years. Calls for $15B per year into R&D for clean, renewable energy. Extends REsearch and experimentation tax credit for companies.

Slides are up.

Funding for DOE includes $150M for NSLS II.

Funding for 9 labs today. $65M for CEBAF. $277M for energy frontier research centers. $90M for grad students, postdocs and PhD scientists -- via which agency? Directly?

DOE: largest funder of physical scientists. 17 national labs. researchers at 300 universities. 88 nobel universities. LBNL has trained 30+ people who eventually received prizes.

NSLS II will continue scientific legacy that began w/ Cosmotron and AGS -- but in chemistry/biology/materials. What about nuclear/particle?

Photos of SC with TD Lee and Murray Gell-Mann. Story of doing crossword with MGM.

Strong focussing as major contribution of BNL to world. Reflects on early days of betatron oscillations to modern machines like NSLS II with tiny submicron beam spots.

Listing NSLS II properties (10k times brighter than NSLS I, spatial resolution of 1nm). As specs being prepared, LBNL folks were nervous -- major advance beyond known technologies.

Major contributions will be at the "Energy Frontier" (different than usual -- "energy" not "high energy"!)

"The Energy Problem": 1. national security and prospertiy linked to energy, 2. potential for geopolitical conflict from competition for resources, 3. climate change

Reviewing predictions for loss of forests and snowpack and heatwave mortality.

Death of British Columbian pine by 2013 since beetles not killed by frost. 40% already dead by 2006.

Permafrost less permanent.

Issue is preserving vegetation: microbes create lots of CO2 when they don't freeze

Human development index vs Electricity Use. US is highly developed (HDI of 0.95) but no correlation with electricity consumption. Canada and Norway much higher but due to hydro resources.

Showing per capita electricity use: flat in CA since 1973 despite GDP per capita doubling, grew 50%+ nationwide. NYS is 2nd best state in union.

Discussing development of refrigerators since 70's. Energy down by 4, cost by factor of 2-3. Energy saved by better fridges is double than all of renewable energy. One cannot stress how important energy efficiency is.

Buildings are 40% of total US energy. Lighting in commerical buildings is 26% of energy use. Huge opportunities for energy saving.

Experience from time at LBNL on making buildings efficient. Turns out lots of physics problems in helping architects and engineers to design better buildings. Can reduce consumption by 80% -- pays for itself in 10 years.

3 myths: one is that it's just political will. no it requires technology.

what is a transformative technology? electronic amplification and transcontinental telephones. vacuum tube was essential for amplifications (no-one knew exactly how they worked!). required red hot wire and burned out. needed something more reliable -- AT&T started development of transistor. Along the way, Nobel Prizes at Bell Labs (Davisson).

R&D started in late 1930's but wouldn't have started w/o development of Quantum Mechanics. By 1930, a theory for properties of atoms started being applied to condensed matter systems, e.g. Bloch waves. With better understanding of electron transport, maybe we can understand materials well enough that we can make a transistor.

It's unlikely that the transistor could have been invented w/o theoretical underpinning. Same for laser. This is why it's important to invest in basic science.

Batteries! No major change in technology since 1850 (only factor of 2). Big breakthrough by sony with Li-Ion battery - factor of 2 since 2000. Discussion of LBNL technology to improve battery performance. Co block polymer that self-assembles and prevents dendrites from forming and making shorts. 2x energy density of current LiIon. Bad at low temperatures. Instead of trying to fine tune old recipe, a new idea.

New batteries for plug in hybrids, perhaps in 5 years. Lots of smart people now spending time on this.

Moore's law curve of $/MWh vs. Megawatts installed. Factor of 10 between gas turbines and photovoltaics. Need major improvement in PV for it to be viable. DOE predicts parity by 2030. Right now a factor of 5 difference w/o all the subsidies.

"We need transformative solutions to solve the energy problem"

nanotech for producing solar cells.

Population issue? Paul Erlich predicted 100's of millions dying in the 1970's and 1980's. Productivity of land grew while land used stayed constant. 1970 nobel prize on dwarf strains of wheat. Improve food production per acre 3-6x. Also mentioned Haber's invention of artificial fertilizer at turn of century (Nobel prize!). Bosch got another prize for efficient production of ammonia. Another prize for figuring out how it worked. Science coming to the rescue, at least temporarily.

We need science to come to the rescue.

Feedstock grass can produce 1/2 current consumption of gasoline via ethanol. 15x more efficient than corn.
But we may need to invent an artificial plant...

Man first learned to fly by imitating nature. Leonardo invented plane by copying how birds flew. In this respect, Leonardo was a theorist.

Wright brothers had a hybrid solution: replaced muscle power with gasoline engine, but took features from bird wings. Now jets look nothing like birds. Also don't act like birds (e.g. mate and produce new little 747's).

Because you have access to materials not found in nature, can do better than nature (e.g. jet blades are single crystals!)

Can develop more efficient means of photosynthesis (Helios project).

This is part of the challenge.

And finally something else: funding increases for national labs, but how do we best organize assault on energy problem. Mentioning manhattan project and radar -- teams working hard to solve a problem. Bell labs -- strong individuals self-organizing into teams. Nobel prizes at Bell Labs.

There is no equivalent to Xerox PARC or Bell Labs in energy sector. National labs need to develop ideas that will be picked up by private sector.

Mentioning space program (Apollo). Earth - there's nowhere else to go.

Now taking questions.

- What about nuclear technology which can already now solve the problem? SC thinks NE is part of the energy mix. Compared to fossil fuels, no carbon emission. Of course waste & proliferation but they can be overcome. Some stimulus money for nuclear energy in ARRA. Should restart nuclear industry
- Nick Samios: part of Bell Labs was from monopoly power. Can there be regulations or incentives to revive basic research in industrial complex in the US. SC says this was part of BHO's announcement today, the R&E tax credit which needs to be made permanent. US is losing technologies to companies overseas. Need to recapture technologies by exploiting scientific lead and incentives to companies to say that we want these to be home-grown industries.
- How will ARPA-E (energy DARPA to invest in high risk things the private sector won't) being incorporated into DOE structure? Discussing conservatism of academics who need to keep their contracts renewed. So need something to encourage high risk research. He wants a lean organization: 20 people, $200M/year. No constraints. Describing his experience developing atomic fountains into better clocks using air force money (lots of money, but limited duration).
- NY Times reporter (Andrew C. Revkin) applicability of something makes an easy sell. how do you communicate energy/climate problem in a way that gets the same outcome. current R&D is $1B/year where war on cancer etc is 10's of $B/year. Times reporter is videotaping SC's answer! SC makes a comment that people often go to war for energy resources so it makes it crucial to act quickly. Also pace of climate change is worrying. Skeptics say that southern hemiphere is cooling down -- but this was predicted in climate models. Difference between now and ice age is 6 degrees C. 5-6 degrees hotter would make a dramatically different world. He sees people being motivated to go into science for this reason.

Sam has ended session. SC says "Don't clap -- get to work."


Emma said...

I read some of his other posts. Aren't his climate change solutions a wee bit technocentric? :-)

Tony Verow, MD said...

Outstanding ! Thank you for posting what must have been a feverish summary of a speech. Perhaps now my children (age 19 mos and 8 days !) will be encouraged to pursue careers in science (if they wish) instead of being buried in the anti-intellectualism of the last 8 years. Thanks again !