Washington Update

DOE Advisory Committee Outlines Strategies for Research Success

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Thursday, September 16, 2021

On August 24, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) convened to discuss opportunities to advance basic energy sciences research. Established in 1986, BESAC is comprised of representatives from universities, national laboratories, and industries. The committee provides recommendations to the department on issues related to program management, interlaboratory collaboration, and industrial participation.

Last month’s meeting emphasized the importance of continued investments in basic science to ensure future discoveries and technologies. DOE representatives highlighted that while the United States is recognized as a leader in basic science, other nations such as China and the European Union are rapidly catching up and overtaking the United States due to their sustained increases in research. In contrast, U.S. investments in basic energy sciences have flattened. To solidify the United States’ position on the global stage and strengthen scientific innovation, BESAC outlined four broad strategies for success:

  • Increase investment in basic energy sciences research
  • Boost support for early-career and mid-career scientists
  • Enhance opportunities for staff scientists at advanced research facilities
  • Better integrate energy sciences research across the full spectrum—from basic to applied to industrial research

BESAC members underscored how advanced research facilities serve as an important component for each of the outlined strategies and overall U.S. leadership in science. For example, the 17 DOE-funded national laboratories provide access to small-, mid-, and large-scale shared instrumentation for researchers, functioning as hubs of multidisciplinary collaboration. The advisory committee noted how this cooperation was critical for facilitating the rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling researchers to rapidly sequence the virus’ genome and develop the vaccine.

However, BESAC members highlighted that support for advanced research facilities is declining at a time when competing nations are rapidly increasing investments. To reverse this trend and ensure the United States retains talented scientists, members recommended balancing the development of world-leading facilities with access to technical support of existing facilities. Creating a more sustainable career path for facility scientists was also recommended, including the development of financial support mechanisms for investigators at all career stages.

Several of BESAC’s recommendations align with FASEB’s recent report, Maximizing Shared Research Resources – Part III: Addressing Systemic Challenges and Opportunities. For more information on how shared resources and advanced research facilities contribute to scientific progress, visit FASEB’s resources and the BESAC website.