Today at Berkeley Lab

Message From Director Witherell on Molecular Foundry Anniversary

witherellThis week we are celebrating the many scientific breakthroughs made possible by the Molecular Foundry in its ten years of operation. It is a good time for us as a Laboratory to consider why this new scientific user facility developed so quickly into a scientific powerhouse and what that means for us in thinking about future facilities.

The DOE’s Office of Science Laboratories are known throughout the world for their scientific user facilities, which provide unique instrumentation free of charge to scientific users based on competitive merit review of proposals. Many of these facilities are instruments that are too large, complex, or expensive to reproduce at many universities. Examples of these in the national lab network are the Advanced Light Source (ALS), the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), and the Fermilab Accelerator Complex. From the constant stream of over 10,000 scientific users each year, we know much of the value that Berkeley Laboratory provides to the national research enterprise is through our scientific user facilities.

The Molecular Foundry and its four other sister Nanoscale Research Centers (NSRCs) in the national lab network are user facilities established by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences on an innovative new model. Each one provided laboratories for synthesis, theory and simulation, advanced characterization, and nanofabrication, including unique instruments, together with very strong facility support. Other institutions provide such instrumentation on a recharge basis, but the NSRCs alone provide them on the user facility model, available without charge to scientists and engineers conducting open research.

Berkeley Lab had a central role in inventing the idea of national user facilities developed for the benefit of the diverse nanoscience research community. As founding Director of the Molecular Foundry, Paul Alivisatos established a “congenial, collaborative environment where scientifically and culturally diverse researchers can work together in pursuit of the new scientific opportunities presented by this innovative facility” ( Because of its location at this Laboratory, the Foundry was able to set up special arrangements for its users to take advantage of the unique capabilities at ALS and NERSC. In addition, all Foundry staff split their time evenly between user support and their own research programs, which helps to provide the uniquely creative research environment at the Molecular Foundry. Jeff Neaton, a postdoc and staff scientist in the early days of the Foundry, continues this inventive spirit as Senior Faculty Scientist and Foundry Director.

We are very pleased to be joining the Office of Science in celebrating the great scientific return on the nation’s investment in the Molecular Foundry and the other Nanoscale Research Centers. The Foundry’s success in advancing nanoscale research encourages us to think creatively about emerging areas of science and technology that might benefit from similarly innovative user facilities.