The Best is Yet to Come: “Breaking the Mold” Chronicles UT-Battelle’s First Decade of Management at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
KNOXVILLE – Great things can happen when someone decides to take a risk.
The University of Tennessee made a bold move in 1999 when it went public with plans to compete for the management contract of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In a partnership with Battelle Memorial Institute, a global research and development organization committed to science and technology, the University presented DOE with a groundbreaking proposal and assumed responsibility for the lab in April 2000.
Immediately, UT-Battelle began an ambitious and innovative plan to modernize the lab’s deteriorating infrastructure, improve safety and expand the lab’s research portfolio by aggressively competing for research funding and programs. UT-Battelle brought innovative approaches to the tough problems ORNL had been trying to solve.
The result of these actions has brought tremendous benefits to ORNL, the University, the state and the nation.
“Breaking the Mold” is the story of the UT-Oak Ridge partnership’s transformational past 13 years and a glimpse of what’s to come. The 95-page hardcover book was commissioned by the UT System Office of the Executive Vice President and published by the University in collaboration with UT Press. The book is on sale in print and available online.
The plans put into place by UT-Battelle have made ORNL a world leader in supercomputing, neutron science and energy research. The partnership places the University of Tennessee in an elite class of premier research universities and strengthens Tennessee’s economic development efforts.
UT is now the lab’s largest research partner with 116 faculty who have joint appointments at the University and ORNL, as well as five joint institutes, 11 Tennessee Governor’s Chairs scientists, and an interdisciplinary graduate program enrolling some of the best doctoral students anywhere.
The increased funding—ORNL now has an annual budget of approximately $1.6 billion—and a commitment to recruit top researchers significantly contribute to the Tennessee economy. More than $275 million in ORNL procurements came from Tennessee companies in fiscal 2012, more than a third of the lab’s annual total.
UT-Battelle’s success required unprecedented collaboration with local, state and national officials. The support has bridged the administrations of three governors: Don Sundquist, Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam.
“The partnership between the University of Tennessee and Battelle has had a huge impact on East Tennessee and the entire state,” Haslam said. “Having a world-class university located 25 miles from a globally-recognized laboratory is an incredible advantage in attracting the best and brightest in research and business, and I want to thank the partnership for everything it has done and all that will come from their innovative work together.”
UT-Battelle’s decision and plan to modernize the lab made it more efficient and safe and provided optimal space for resources such as supercomputers. The effort changed the entire culture and appearance of the lab, demolishing many old, industrial-style buildings and creating a world-class research campus complete with a quad and landscaping that highlights ORNL’s location in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. More than 500,000 square feet of inefficient space was removed and almost $1.8 billion was invested in 1.3 million square feet of new space.
In an unprecedented move, UT-Battelle used federal, state and private funding for the buildings. The state provided $26 million for three facilities at ORNL that are owned by UT: the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences, Joint Institute for Biological Sciences and Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences. The use of private funding was accomplished through the transfer of six acres in the middle of the lab from DOE ownership to a new company, UT-Battelle Development Corp. On this site, formerly a giant parking lot, UTBDC constructed facilities valued at $72 million, including the world-class Center for Computational Sciences.
The building set the stage for another risk. It was built in 2002 with no program to put in it, but UT-Battelle saw that high-performance computing was emerging as a groundbreaking tool for some of the toughest scientific problems. UT-Battelle’s foresight ensured DOE had the facilities to support this critical national need. Today, ORNL is home to Titan—the most powerful supercomputer in the world—as well as UT’s Kraken. In fact, UT has provided nearly 60 percent of National Science Foundation (NSF) supercomputing capacity worldwide over the past several years on its Kraken machine, built with $65 million from NSF and $10 million from UT. The University is currently competing for a new supercomputing award for a machine to be called Firefly, which will have 10 times the speed and capacity of Kraken.
“Since we assumed management responsibility in 2000, UT-Battelle has been focused on excellence in science and technology, operations and community relations," said ORNL Director Thom Mason. "The partnership with UT has been key to both revitalizing physical infrastructure and developing innovative programs for creating the next generation of researchers. We’ve strongly positioned ORNL to address global needs in clean energy and global security, and our efforts have created economic opportunity for the state and nation.”
UT-Battelle was given responsibility for lab management and operations in the middle of construction of the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), which was completed on schedule and within budget in 2006. The research tools at SNS, combined with upgrades to the High Flux Isotope Reactor, made ORNL the ideal place for DOE to locate the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, one of five nanoscale science research centers.
Energy is a research area that has become synonymous with Tennessee, and that is due in part to ORNL and UT. In 2006, ORNL competed for and won one of DOE’s three $125 million Bioenergy Science Centers, a proposal boosted by the Joint Institute for Biological Sciences and a $70 million state-funded biorefinery project operated by UT through a private partnership. The lab then competed for and won funding for DOE’s first Energy Innovation Hub, taking advantage of its supercomputing resources and nuclear expertise to lead the Center for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors in partnership with UT and others.
“Having achieved success in the last 13 years means we set the bar higher for the future,” said UT System President Joe DiPietro. “The University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory together must continue to push the boundaries of science and research capacity and our own expectations.
“The UT-Oak Ridge partnership is a tangible example of how the University fulfills its mission to educate, discover and connect. It’s also an asset of tremendous value to the University, the lab and the people we jointly serve at the state and national levels. As our success grows, so does our contribution to Tennessee’s economy, competitiveness and quality of life.”
The UT-Oak Ridge partnership has succeeded by taking risks, and that future is likely to continue because of its ability to bring innovative solutions to difficult problems.
As the book’s final chapter states: “UT-Battelle looks ahead to this future, guided by the same simple goals that first accompanied them to ORNL in 2000. They aspire to provide the Department of Energy with the world’s foremost research laboratory. They will partner with the University of Tennessee to maximize one of the state’s most valuable assets. And they will use the extraordinary resources of the Laboratory to foster economic prosperity for the region and the nation. For the heirs of those UT-Battelle staff who began their journey in the rusted Quonset hut back in the winter of 2000, the best is yet to come.”
“Breaking the Mold” is based on interviews and records documenting the UT-Oak Ridge partnership and was edited by David Millhorn, Stacey Patterson and Billy Stair.
For more information about the book and to download an e-book version, visit utpress.org/breaking.
Contacts:Gina Stafford, (865) 974-0741, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Davis, (865) 974-5179, email@example.com