Labs & Scientific Facilities

FYI covers major policy developments related to universities, national laboratories, and other Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, especially those relevant to the physical sciences.

 

Congress followed the Biden administration's lead in delivering a moderate budget increase to the Department of Energy's Office of Science in the current fiscal year, but some lawmakers believe the office needs much more money than is being asked for to advance facilities projects and core research programs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s base budget is increasing 3% for fiscal year 2022, despite the Biden administration’s bid to boost it by around 40% to nearly $1.5 billion. The administration is making a similar push this year in large part to bolster NIST’s role in fostering advanced manufacturing and emerging technologies.

As the House and Senate prepare to convene a conference committee to reconcile their disparate proposals for sweeping national competitiveness legislation, a common vision has emerged for expanding the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The James Webb Space Telescope has successfully reached its orbit following a protracted mission-development process that was plagued by severe cost growth. Lessons learned from that experience have led to reforms in how NASA manages large space science missions.

The Department of Energy’s Nuclear Physics program is currently commissioning a major new user facility, ramping up work on a flagship particle collider, and mulling a multinational campaign to detect a hypothesized particle-decay process, all while facing widely diverging budget scenarios.

Aside from its highest-profile recommendations, the latest astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey recommends priorities for small and mid-scale projects, with a particular emphasis on time-domain and multi-messenger astronomy. It also calls for increased spending on technology development.

At a recent House Science Committee hearing, fusion experts highlighted recent breakthroughs in the field and urged the U.S. to embark on a path to build a pilot fusion power plant in the coming decades.

Among the highest priorities of the National Academies’ latest astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey are that the U.S. build a large infrared/optical/ultraviolet space telescope and advance one or preferably both of the ground-based facilities planned under the Extremely Large Telescope Program.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has concluded that a serious incident early this year at its research reactor can be traced to mistakes made by its staff, which has suffered from a loss of experience following several years of increased turnover.

Allocating its share of a special $3.5 trillion spending package Democrats are working to move through Congress, the House Science Committee has prioritized infrastructure renovation and research facility projects across several agencies, as well as climate science and clean energy R&D.