White House science advisor John Gibbons tours LBL

October 7, 1994

By Jeffery Kahn, [email protected]

White House Science Advisor John Gibbons, a major player in the effort to reshape the nation's research and development infrastructure, visited LBL on September 30.

Gibbons, the assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said he was impressed both with the range and quality of research underway here.

Gibbons and LBL Director Charles Shank discussed the future of the United States' R&D effort, a subject currently under review by the National Science and Technology Council, chaired by President Clinton. Gibbons was particularly interested in Shank's view of the future of the national laboratories, and how the labs fit into this picture.

Gibbons, who has a Ph.D. in physics from Duke University, not only is charged with advising the President, but also with coordinating science and technology policy throughout the federal government. Prior to assuming his present posts, he directed the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment for 13 years.

While providing Gibbons an overview of LBL, Shank talked about the on-going expansion of life sciences research here and the continued growth likely in the decade ahead. Focusing on the Human Genome Project, he described the partnership between the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, which fund the genome project. Shank said this collaboration has been so successful that it could serve as a model for future federal interagency cooperation.

During a tour of the Advanced Light Source, Gibbons heard brief presentations on current research, which ranges from basic chemistry to micro-machining to geochemistry and biology. He said he was impressed by the versatility of the ALS.

AFRD Director Bill Barletta briefed Gibbons on the proposal to construct a $58 million ILSE (Induction Linac Systems Experiments) accelerator at LBL. The project has been designed to resolve questions about inertial-confinement fusion in which pellets of thermonuclear fuel are compressed to the point of ignition by beams of heavy ions.

Barletta and Shank noted that even though scientific reviews of ILSE have been uniformly favorable and the approach is cost-competitive, the program has been underfunded. Currently, the lion's share of funding for fusion energy goes to magnetic fusion programs.

Gibbons spent 15 years as a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and did pioneering studies on energy efficiency and minimizing the environmental impacts of energy production and consumption. Familiar with a number of the programs in LBL's Energy and Environment Division, he was particularly interested in seeing the sulfur molecular emitter lamp being developed here.

Firing up the lamp, E&E's Francis Rubinstein called it "the lamp of the future," noting that it does not contain mercury, and that the spectrum of light it produces can be controlled. From behind sunglasses, Gibbons said he was amazed at its efficiency, which is 10 times that of an incandescent bulb.

Materials Sciences Division Director Daniel Chemla also briefed Gibbons. He used a sampling of current research--high-temperature superconducting magneto-cardiograms, nano-crystal growth, and pathogen-detecting films--to make the case for the critical importance of material science research to the nation and to its economy. Federal support for basic science in this field has eroded significantly, Chemla said. One result is that research facilities that are supposed to be state-of-the art are operating with outdated equipment.

Chemla stressed that U.S. industry no longer is investing in long term research. Either the U.S. makes this investment, he said, or ultimately the nation will face the consequences of living off of past discoveries.