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From the Directors of Photon Science and SIMES: 
An Energy Facet of the SLAC–Stanford Partnership

We are all acutely aware of the importance of energy—the criticality of reliable and sustainable supplies, the role of its cost on our economy, and the impact of energy production and use on the environment. The challenges facing us in the energy arena are not simple and solutions will come only through sustained investment in basic research and development utilizing multidisciplinary strategies that can be translated into practical applications.

This is recognized by our government and is being reflected in national strategic planning for future investment. Stanford and SLAC are both taking steps to contribute to this important mission. Recently, Stanford has expanded and consolidated its role in the energy arena by creating a new energy institute, the Precourt Institute for Energy. (See "Stanford Launches $100 Million Initiative to Tackle Energy Issues" and "New Initiative Energizes Stanford/SLAC Collaboration.") The Precourt Institute will focus on bringing together scientific expertise to solve energy problems. The Department of Energy's Office of Science has identified a series of grand scientific challenges, many of which relate to the creation, storage and use of energy, and is planning a new funding paradigm to create Energy Frontier Research Centers to address these challenges. SLAC, through its photon science institutes and unique accelerator-based X-ray tools, can leverage the strength in basic sciences at Stanford to address the energy challenges we are facing today.

In order to contribute to this important agenda and enhance the energy research activities at SLAC and Stanford, the lab needs to further develop SLAC's unique facilities and expertise for energy related research, and communicate them to the broader scientific community. An example is the application of nanobeams for precision materials characterization—which will be critical for new generations of batteries, fuel cells and solar cells. Essential energy technologies are also dependent on fundamental knowledge of materials in extreme environments, such as the conditions that can be created and studied in SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source. We need to be innovative in developing new models to leverage SLAC's capabilities to collaborate on energy research and development with industry and capital markets, especially given our location at the center of many such activities.

Our two photon science institutes—the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, or SIMES, and the PULSE Institute for Ultrafast Energy Science—provide a platform to investigate, in partnership with Stanford and outside scientists, the basic sciences important for future energy technologies. Strengths of basic science research in our institutes will provide a knowledge reserve for technology and policy decisions, help maintain the vitality of our facilities and help to chart future directions and innovations. Equally important, these institutes will train and educate the next-generation scientific workforce with skills critical to our nation's energy strategy.

Opportunities abound to more effectively implement these ideas. First and foremost is the need to bring new talents and leadership for energy research, including joint appointments between the SLAC Department of Photon Science and faculties in other Stanford schools. We at SLAC should seek opportunities with Stanford's Schools of Humanities and Sciences, Engineering, Earth Sciences and Medicine. We should encourage new initiatives through programs like seed funding from the photon science institutes and Stanford's interdisciplinary programs, and through mechanisms like Laboratory Directed Research and Development at SLAC. There are excellent opportunities in the area of education that draw upon the talents of Stanford and SLAC, for example our well-established Synchrotron Science and Ultrafast X-ray Science summer schools, which already bring Stanford expertise to the nation and also bring external expertise to Stanford. Stanford and SLAC leadership are engaged in ongoing planning to extend these exciting opportunities within the framework of the energy arena.

As emphasized in a SLAC Today director's column last spring, our combination of intellectual talent, science institutes (SIMES and PULSE, which are joint with Stanford), scientific user facilities (SSRL and LCLS), stewardship under the auspices of the Department of Energy for many programs, and educational opportunities position SLAC and Stanford to deliver a truly unique, internationally competitive approach for timely scientific discovery in an area that is critical to our future economy and well-being. 

—Keith Hodgson and Zhi-Xun Shen
SLAC Today, February 13, 2009