Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Lawrence Berkeley National Lab - Roy Kaltschmidt, photographer

ALS dome looking across to San Francisco.

This fifth installment of the series on the Office of Science's National Labs focuses on Lawrence Berkeley: A golden gateway to imagination, inspiration and innovation.

Located in the hills above San Francisco Bay, Berkeley Lab has had a profound impact on science and society since it was established in 1931, first of Department of Energy's (DOE's) national laboratories. Managed by the University of California, it is currently led by Dr. A. Paul Alivisatos. More than 4,200 people are employed at Berkeley Lab, its main 200+ acre campus and multiple area facilities, which together make a $700 million impact on the local economy, and a $1.6 billion impact on the U.S. economy.

Berkeley Lab's researchers have also made a lasting mark on science. Thirteen lab scientists have received this nation's highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science. Lab researchers have also been honored with twelve Nobel Prizes. The first was Ernest Orlando Lawrence, the lab's founder and first director, who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing and developing the essential tool of modern science known as the cyclotron. Another lab director shared the 1997 Nobel in Physics for his work in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light…DOE's current Secretary, Steven Chu.

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Scientist Saul Perlmutter sitting atop a ladder with a large image of the universe in the background Lawrence Berkeley National Lab - Roy Kaltschmidt, photographer

Saul Perlmutter heads the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It was this team along with the High-z Supernova Search Team which found evidence of the accelerating expansion of the universe. He is also a lead investigator in the Supernova/Acceleration Probe project (SNAP).

The inspirations and innovations of the scientists at Berkeley Lab have brought real benefits and led to unexpected discoveries. The lab is a leader in energy efficiency research, and its battery of battery researchers are regarded as one of the best in the country. In fact, the National Research Council recently took a look at the impact of energy efficiency research at DOE. It found that efforts at Berkeley Lab, in collaboration with its industry partners, contributed to more than 75 percent of the total $30 billion in savings, a tidy sum of $23 billion.

In addition to their work on energy efficiency and biofuels, Berkeley Lab researchers have also identified good and bad cholesterol, improved the understanding of breast cancer and created a pocket-sized DNA sampler which is fast becoming an essential innovation in medical and public health projects. Berkeley Lab scientists determined that an asteroid collision killed the dinosaurs, discovered sixteen elements, confirmed the Big Bang and determined the existence of the mysterious stuff known as dark energy, which is causing our universe to expand at an accelerating rate. (For more information about the Breakthroughs by Berkeley Lab that have improved our lives and our world, please go to:

Much of the science at Berkeley Lab is done at its six user facilities, which are used by researchers from across the nation and around the world. One is the Advanced Light Source, which uses an electron beam the width of a human hair to generate X-ray beams a billion times brighter than the sun, and thereby illuminate tiny objects, such as molecular machines known as proteins. Another facility focused on the small—and large—is the lab's Molecular Foundry, one of the world's premier research institutions in nanotechnology.

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Scientist Claudia Piliego uses lab equipment to handle a solar cellLawrence Berkeley National Lab - Roy Kaltschmidt, photographer

Solar Cell research in Molecular Foundry - Claudia Piliego

Berkeley Lab is also home to the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM), one of the world's foremost centers for electron microscopy and microcharacterization, a place where materials and structures too tiny to see can be studied for potential use in innovations and applications. For instance, scientists at the NCEM recently revealed how tiny particles (nanoparticles) of metal make for extremely strong aluminum alloys, work that may lead metallurgists to make new alloys with desirable and useful properties:

Berkeley Lab also has three other user facilities, the ESnet (Energy Sciences Network), the Joint Genome Institute, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

The breakthroughs at Berkeley Lab may lead to startups. A study released last year on Berkeley Lab's economic impact noted, "Since 1990, Berkeley Lab technology has formed the basis for close to 30 start-ups, creating over 2,000 new jobs in these companies alone." The secondary impact—coming from the companies, their vendors and their associate employees—was estimated to be nearly $3 billion.

For the past eighty years, that's what Berkeley Lab has been about: Sparking insights and addressing challenges; using science to improve our lives and touch our world. It stands so today, a golden gateway to innovation, imagination and inspiration.

For more information on Berkeley Lab, please go to And for more information on the Department of Energy Office of Science, please go to:

Charles Rousseaux is a Senior Writer in the Office of Science.