Oak Ridge National Lab

UT manages the nation's largest, open-science lab. So, what's the big deal?

The University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

In Tennessee, federal and state leaders and a public research university have forged a unique relationship that promises to play a major role in setting the national and international science agenda.

The University of Tennessee manages and operates Oak Ridge National Laboratory through UT-Battelle with enthusiastic and substantial support from the state of Tennessee.  The research enterprise consists of $3 billion in research facilities, equipment and expertise in East Tennessee. These resources include the Spallation Neutron Source, a $1.4 billion science project; the world’s largest unclassified supercomputer, joint research centers, state tax exemptions, and funding for joint faculty appointments and form the basis for the UT-Oak Ridge venture and are both unique and uniquely successful.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy extended UT-Battelle's contract to manage Oak Ridge National Laboratory for another five years. The infusion of combined scientific capability UT and ORNL bring to the region enable addressing today’s and tomorrow’s most pressing scientific questions. Because of the close proximity of UT’s flagship campus and the national laboratory, the research and academic linkages are strengthened further. The University's partnership with ORNL today includes approximately 60 faculty members with joint appointments and more than 100 students working at the lab.

Linking faculty expertise to world-class facilities brings enormous potential. In key areas like high-performance computing, neutron scattering, nanotechnology and materials science, UT and ORNL have put together the facilities, expertise and vision to be among the world’s leaders. It is critical that our higher educational system take a leadership role in marshalling these resources, partners, and vision so our nation can remain competitive in science and research. Especially today as we face growing international challenges from China and India and elsewhere around the world.

What is so important about the fact the University of Tennessee manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory?

With the strong backing of the state, the UT-Oak Ridge enterprise is significant for several reasons:

  • The university’s venture with Oak Ridge National Laboratory yields world-leading expertise in the areas of high-performance computing, materials research, and nanotechnology. With UT as ORNL’s managing entity through UT-Battelle, the university and lab are making major strides in science.
  • Under UT management came the first state-funded construction of research facilities at a national lab.
  • Spallation Neutron Source is the world’s largest science program at a cost of $1.4 billion. This instantly catapults UT and ORNL into a global leadership position in neutron scattering ­research—the key to increasing our understanding of particles at the smallest levels.
  • SNS has already drawn global interest, and the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at ORNL, along with the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences, make the SNS campus the top destination in the field. If scientists want the best to work with neutrons, they will come to East Tennessee.
  • The National Institute for Computational Sciences is already home to one of the top 10 most powerful computers in the world. This computing power allows scientists to effectively process and understand the massive data created by a project like SNS. ORNL is on track to have the world’s most powerful unclassified supercomputer.
  • As these major projects come online, outstanding faculty are drawn from around the world to UT and ORNL. They are attracted by the scientific opportunities available, and by the advantages of holding joint appointments between the two institutions. Support from the state of Tennessee has led to the creation of the Governor’s Chair researcher positions, already drawing top scientists.
  • UT-Oak Ridge has also paid dividends in economic development. Since UT began managing ORNL, the technology commercialization program has spun off more than 90 new companies. These companies lead to new jobs and opportunity in the East Tennessee area and beyond, and the program serves to draw the most talented researchers to the lab.
  • A new program has been designed to increase the number of doctoral students in science, technology, engineering and math, and will add about 200 Oak Ridge researchers to the UT Knoxville faculty.
  • The university and the laboratory also cooperate to offer the Graduate School of Genome Science and Technology.