Berkeley Lab Responds to Birgeneau Report

October 17, 1997

By Ron Kolb,

Responding to a federal advisory committee report which analyzed synchrotron radiation facilities such as the Advanced Light Source, scientists and managers at Berkeley Lab pledged this week to recommit themselves to making the ALS the premier facility of its kind in the world.

The "Birgeneau Report," a Department of Energy-commissioned study of four DOE light sources headed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Science Dean Robert Birgeneau, urged the continued operation of all four facilities. However, it placed the ALS fourth in funding priority and cited it for shortcomings in its science programs, user relations and institutional support.

"I consider the ALS the top priority activity at this laboratory," Berkeley Lab Director Charles Shank told about 150 attendees of the annual ALS users' meeting on Monday. "I place solutions to these challenges at the top of my responsibility list. My number one goal is to create the most effective program we can. I'm convinced that together we can."

Shank said he is initiating a review of all ALS science "from top to bottom," with the intent of developing a roadmap for dealing with the issues defined in the Birgeneau report. This "focus path," as he called it, will make the case for the ALS as an international leader by "taking the technological excellence and matching it with scientific excellence."

Pat Dehmer, DOE's associate director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES), affirmed that the ALS "should be the premier soft x-ray EUV (extreme ultraviolet) facility in the country. I am absolutely committed to making it world-class. We're in this together. Let's reflect over the next couple of weeks how to get where we want to be."

What triggered their reaction was the Report to the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC), presented on Oct. 8-9 at a meeting in Washington, D.C. The Synchrotron Radiation Light Source Working Group, convened by Office of Energy Research Director Martha Krebs, had spent a year reviewing the performance of hard x-ray facilities at Brookhaven, Argonne and Stanford and the soft x-ray light source here. Its charge was to reassess the need for such programs in an era of tighter budgets and to make appropriate budget recommendations.

The good news in the report was the panel's unflinching support for light sources: "The Committee concludes unanimously that shutdown of any one of the four DOE/BES synchrotron light sources over the next decade would do significant harm to the nation's science research programs and would weaken our international competitive position in this field," Birgeneau stated as his "most important" recommendation.

The sobering news for Berkeley was the mixed review the ALS received--praised for its technical performance and its aggressive and innovative industrial research programs, but questioned for what the report called "underdeveloped" science programs, user discontent, and levels of support from Lab management and the university.

"It is clear that science was the most important driver," Dehmer said, "and the case wasn't as compelling here as it was at other sources."

In reiterating the ALS priority here, Shank pointed out that while the ALS has represented 10 percent of the overall Lab budget, it has also received 19 percent of Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD) grants, 25 percent of University of California Directed Research and Development (UCDRD) grants, and 25 percent of General Plant Projects (GPP) for ALS-related property--the most discretionary funding of any activity at Berkeley Lab.

"I'm concerned that the committee didn't have that information," he said.

The Birgeneau report recommended that the ALS receive funding for fiscal year 1998 as requested by the DOE--$35 million. However, it listed as higher priorities the funding of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab (SSRL), the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven, and Argonne's Advanced Photon Source (APS). The report also suggested $3 million to study a fourth-generation light source, $11 million in beamline enhancements at the APS and NSLS, and $27 million in facility upgrades at the NSLS and SSRL--all ahead of the ALS in priority. Its overall budget recommendation of $188.5 million is 11 percent more than the DOE's requested budget for the four light sources.

Dehmer described these suggestions as a "road map" for the long term rather than a directive for the next fiscal year, and emphasized the need for flexibility during budget negotiations for FY98.

ALS Program Director Brian Kincaid reminded the group that the facility has made significant strides in just two years of full-time beam delivery. And he pledged, "We will work arm-in-arm with the user groups to find out the issues and deal with them."

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