Pacific Northwest National Laboratory turned a little more crimson and gray on Tuesday.
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz was at the Tri-City campus to announce the creation of three joint institutes by WSU and the Department of Energy national lab in Richland.
The research and higher ed institutions have combined their resources to form the Institutes for Nuclear Science and Technology, Advanced Grid and Bioproducts.
“We are going to be evolving today from being colleagues to true collaborators, teammates and partners in moving science and technology forward in these areas,” said Steven Ashby, PNNL director.
PNNL now has 82 joint appointments — researchers who do work both at the national lab and 21 universities, said Suresh Baskaran, PNNL director of research partnerships.
But PNNL has the most with WSU, 27 joint appointments.
With the three areas of mutual interest identified, more joint appointments are likely, Baskaran said.
There also could be more WSU-educated staff joining the strong contingent already at PNNL as the joint institutes create a pipeline of WSU graduate students who may join PNNL as scientists and engineers.
Of the 4,500 PNNL employees, about 850 are Cougars, Ashby said.
All three new institutes have research programs that fall into areas of high interest to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., — grid modernization and cybersecurity; advancing nuclear science to help with the environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation; and bioenergy and clean energy.
The institutes will drive innovation, prepare a new workforce and help solve some of the nation’s pressing problems, she said at WSU Tri-Cities on Tuesday.
WSU and PNNL each has significant and complementary strengths in the areas of the new institute, with a history of already working together on projects in the three areas:
▪ For 10 years, WSU and PNNL have been partners in the Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory, known as BSEL, a $24 million facility at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland.
The new Bioproducts Institute will continue the partnership as researchers and graduate students work together to develop ways to produce valuable materials and chemicals from waste or engineered plants.
Replacing petroleum products with bioproducts will require a systems approach, combining science and technology with technical and market analysis to develop and commercialize new processes.
▪ With the Advanced Grid Institute, WSU and PNNL will develop ways to protect the nation’s aging electric grid, which is at risk from both extreme weather and also cyber attacks, and to modernize it with technologies such as grid-scale storage of renewable energy and features to make it more responsive and reliable.
WSU and PNNL will work together to develop an improved simulation of the grid nationwide and data frameworks for advanced controls of the grid and operation of complex power systems.
▪ The Nuclear Institute will tackle problems ranging from preventing the use of illicit nuclear materials, to managing nuclear waste, to understanding and controlling how materials change when exposed to radiation.
WSU already awards half the nation’s doctoral degrees in radiochemistry, and with DOE funding has graduate students working alongside radiochemistry experts at PNNL.
PNNL has 1,000 staff with with expertise in nuclear areas and is one of the few institutions worldwide with the expertise and capabilities to conduct nuclear forensics — determining the source of nuclear materials — to support nuclear nonproliferation and help prevent the movement of nuclear materials across borders.
PNNL and WSU believe the collaboration will strengthen their reputations nationally and worldwide, helping attract more top researchers to their programs.
For WSU the collaboration with a DOE national lab is a key step toward its goal of becoming one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities, Schulz said.
He looks forward to more joint institutions with PNNL, he said.