August 19, 2005  


Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman Addresses SLAC Community

U.S. Secretary of Energy, Samuel Bodman, addressing the SLAC community.
(Photo by Diana Rogers)

SLAC staff attending Bodman's address.
(Photo by Diana Rogers)

The U.S. Secretary of Energy, Samuel Bodman, visited SLAC on Thursday, August 4. Bodman spoke to an audience of about 1,000 SLAC staff and visitors on the role of the Department of Energy as the primary funder of research in the physical sciences in the Federal Government.

Thank you, President Hennessy. I’m privileged and a bit in awe at being here before you. I’ve been on this job now about six months which—as my colleagues have heard me say a few times as we visited other laboratory facilities—it’s beginning to be a little dangerous because I’m starting to think that I know what I am doing.

But the one thing we have been doing is working very hard with our friends in the Congress to get an Energy bill passed and I’m happy to report that I think America was the real winner last Friday when we did in fact get an Energy bill passed.

The President will sign it next Monday morning in Albuquerque out of deference to Chairman Domenici who led the Congressional effort to get the bill passed. It is not a perfect bill. It is frankly not the bill I would have written in every detail. But overall it’s a terrific, I think, step forwards for our country and something that I am very pleased and proud to have supported. And I know the President feels the same way.

Now that we have passed that hurdle, I am focusing more intently on trying to understand better how the Department runs, getting to know as many people as possible at the various DOE facilities around the country. I have promised myself to visit every DOE facility in the complex by the end of this year. I think I’m going to make it—I’ve got four or five left I believe.

I always worry when I say that. It’s a little like Richard Nixon running against Kennedy. He made it to every state, I think that was his pledge, but he didn’t seem to do too well in the election. I hope I am more successful in this endeavor than he was.

But the real objective here is to get to know the people of this Department and its various functions. And that’s really why I’m here so I will be relatively brief in my comments and be happy to then take questions and comments from any of you.

JoAnne Hewett (THP) asks Secretary Bodman a question.
(Photo by Diana Rogers)

Secretary Bodman receiving an honorary Beam Tree from SLAC Director Jonathan Dorfan.
(Photo by Diana Rogers)

I understand there was supposed to be a session of the summer institute program going on right now and I appreciate your rescheduling and I appreciate the number of student participants who are here and attending this morning.

I should mention that my classmate and fraternity brother of many years—whom I haven’t seen in 45 years—Bob Wagoner has served on the faculty here for many years. I had the fun of a reunion with him this morning and he was off to lecture to a group of students in a summer institute program right after our brief session this morning.

For more than 40 years, SLAC has been a leader in the design and the construction and operation of state-of-the-art electron accelerators. This is something you all know a lot about. It’s also been working on experimental facilities for use in high energy physics as well as synchrotron radiation research.

If you think back through the list of people who have been the founders of this place: Panofsky, Bjorken, Drell, Taylor, Perl, Richter, Quinn, Addis, Prescott, Winick, Farkus, Kunz, Breidenbach, Arnold, Atwood, Dorfan, Seeman… and the list goes on. It’s quite a list. It is arguably the most prolific group of scientists ever gathered together in one place at one time.

And I am in awe of the responsibility that I have in seeing to it that this extraordinarily prolific government-academic partnership moves forwards in an effective way. DOE is very proud of our relationship with Stanford and with the people who have founded this place. Now, those who founded the place are being asked to expand its role from high energy physics to increased work on photon physics. To a chemical engineer like myself that doesn’t seem like a big change. But I am informed reliably that it’s a little bit like getting Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe Di Maggio, etc. and having them coach a beach volleyball team. It’s a lot to ask.

And I’m here secondly to thank the founders—not just for what they have done in the past, but for their ability and willingness to pitch in and help create the future of this laboratory which we will be very eager to support.

A little bit ago I had a chance to visit SPEAR3 and the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) and I, of course, was very impressed. The LCLS is the world’s first [hard] x-ray laser that will provide unparalleled insights into physics, astronomy, biology and other fields. The President talked about that a few minutes ago. And will offer a host of practical applications in medicine, nanotechnology, electronics and, of course, in energy—something that is near and dear to my heart.

I had a wonderful conversation with an industry user who was using the device to develop new drug applications for diseases that I’m sure will be crucial in the years ahead.

I was very pleased to hear that SPEAR3 passed a major milestone just a few weeks ago in its progress towards operating at full capacity. I found these world renowned facilities as well as the BABAR detector and the [particle] astrophysics presentation quite fascinating. Any curious person would be impressed and captivated by all this. But I am especially interested in it because of my own background. I am simply an engineer and have described myself as that in the past.

The Department’s research facilities have special meaning for me. It is important in my view that if our economy is to be as productive and effective in the future as it is today—and as it has been for the last five decades—that we will have to maintain our leadership in science. This Department has a special responsibility for that. Private industry increasingly has had to reduce—or felt they’ve had to reduce—budgets in fundamental research that they were much more active in when I was a young person.

 Today, to a large degree, it is the Federal Government that is the funder of this kind of research. Our Department—belying the name of the Department—is the primary funder of research in the physical sciences in the Federal Government. And I want you to know that I view that as a special responsibility, especially as someone that is trained as an engineer. I am a product of the research university environment. I was educated on an NSF fellowship—$2200 a year—which was a lot of money in those days. It’s been a long time.

I come from that environment and I believe in my heart that we will start to lose it if we start to give up our leadership position. And I fear that we have started. And I mean to help—working with Dr. Orbach and the leadership of this laboratory and our other national laboratories as well as the academic community—particularly the research academic community—who will see what we can do about helping.

Researchers from around the world come here from the DOE laboratories. There have been more than 80 Nobel Prizes that have been won by workers, by faculty and researchers at our labs. I think five of those laureates are [from work done] here at SLAC. That’s something for you all to be very proud of. I know the people in the Energy Department are very proud of it.

But I am here to tell you that the challenges that our nation faces will only be met with the power that comes from a science environment like this one. And I’m very proud of the central role that our Department plays.

Yet the truth is that no equipment, no building, no facility is as important as the people who do the work. And that is why, in closing, I wanted to make one last plea to all of you and that is issues related to safety.

Safety is a primary concern of mine. It frankly became as such when I managed a chemical company, which I did for the 15 years before I came to the government. We had 50 plants in 24 countries that ran 24 x 7, 330 days a year. And there was always a worry in those environments that someone would be hurt. And we worked very hard to prevent that.

I know that we had a serious accident last fall here and that there has been a renewed emphasis on safety here at SLAC. I implore you to work hard to see to it that there are no more accidents.

I would like you to know that, in my judgment, you—the people who work here and your colleagues at the other facilities of this Department around the country—are the most important assets that we have. Not the buildings, or the machines, or the technology. And I would implore you to look after one another. Because that’s where it comes from.

That’s all I have to say. I’m very happy and proud to be here and I’ll be happy to take your questions. Thanks.





The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Friday August 19, 2005 by Chip Dalby