Argonne National Laboratory in the midwestern state of Illinois is one of the oldest and largest facilities operated by the United States Department of Energy. Originally established for the study of nuclear technology, Argonne is now on the cutting edge of research on alternative energy. Every few years, scientists at the lab have an opportunity to showcase their work to the general public in a popular open house that draws tens of thousands of visitors to the sprawling suburban Chicago campus.
Doug Sisterson gets excited when he explains his job to visitors at Argonne National Laboratory. He's a research meteorologist studying climate change. It's not what most people expect when they think of the lab, traditionally viewed as a nuclear research facility. "I think the labs are being utilized now more for applied science," he says, "What are the nations' problems that the brain power and the trust that's at the National labs can help the government in setting policy for a wide arrange of issues than just nuclear."
That brainpower at Argonne includes Charles Macal. He's a computational scientist helping the Centers for Disease Control understand how the H1N1 swine flu virus might affect the US population during the anticipated outbreak this fall. "And these computational models that we are developing here, will be, in the future in particular, now and in the future, starting now let's say, will be incredibly important for helping people in the government understand what they should do, what they should recommend, and what the cost and benefits are of various actions are of what they could take," Macal says.
These are two examples of the extensive role the National Laboratory plays in daily life.
Argonne Director Eric Isaacs says expanding the public's understanding of that role is an aim of the laboratory's Open House. "We do this because what we're doing here is very important for the national interest," he explains.
From national security to national health, scientists at Argonne are on the cutting edge, working to make everyday life easier, safer, and even longer.
Isaacs says the lab's important role is underscored by President Obama's increase in funding.
This year, Argonne received about $180 million in federal stimulus funds, allowing larger budgets for programs on alternative energy, battery powered cars and nuclear energy.
"We think nuclear energy is a very important part of the green energy solutions for the future," Isaacs says.
The benefit of nuclear power was one of the lessons Kathleen Brandeis learned about on her visit to Argonne's open house. "This little ball, if it was uranium, would light up 375,000 homes. That's unbelievable that uranium 235 could all that. That's just one thing," she notes.
That's the kind of reaction Eric Isaacs is looking for. "I'd like people to walk away saying it's very cool," he says, "what they're doing at Argonne."