Brown’s National Labs Day showcases research ties with national labs, opens door for new partnerships

The daylong conference brought together scientists, engineers and technical experts from Brown and the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories to strengthen existing partnerships and enable new collaborations.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University’s inaugural National Labs Day brought research collaborations to the forefront for University scientists and the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories.

Hosted by Brown’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the School of Engineering, the daylong conference on Friday, April 19, convened scientists, engineers and technical experts from a number of the country’s national laboratories and experts on College Hill to highlight, celebrate and advance important research.

“Brown researchers have a lot to offer the nation when it comes to basic and applied research, including areas where national labs are eager to engage with the academic community,” said Jill Pipher, Brown’s vice president for research and a professor of mathematics.

In all, almost 100 Brown faculty members, students and researchers joined 10 staff scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories for a series of panel discussions, breakout sessions and networking opportunities on topics where expertise at Brown intersects with the workforce development needs and research efforts of national labs.

“This marks the first time that Brown has dedicated a day to learn firsthand about the national labs scientific priorities and to hear about their workforce development needs,” Pipher said. “The meeting highlighted current partnerships between Brown and the national labs and provided an excellent opportunity for our research community to learn more about potential partnerships with national labs by better understanding their needs and priorities."

At Brown, current and past collaborations with researchers from national labs have included work that has led to breakthroughs in next-generation solar cells, longer lasting batteries and fuel-cell technology, enzyme structures that could spur new medical therapies, high-performance fabrics and insights into brain trauma — as well as research that has helped advance the understanding of fundamental aspects of how the universe works, like projects on detecting dark matter and research that details the complexity of entangled quantum states.

Panels, moderated discussions and poster sessions during the event touched on a number of these topics, including quantum materials, energy research, computational modeling and the study of materials under extreme conditions. Many presenters from the lab discussed the world-class scientific facilities, capabilities, and resources at their respective labs.

At the opening panel on quantum materials, for instance, Mark Lumsden from Oak Ridge Lab and Mark Dean from Brookhaven Lab spoke about their work, career paths, research collaborations and instruments available at the labs to university researchers likes accelerators, lasers and X-rays.

“There’s an enormous amount of equipment that’s available to you,” Dean said during the panel.

Another panel focused exclusively on best practices for research collaborations and how university and national laboratories can initiate, optimize and sustain research collaborations. Suggestions from panelists and audience members included exploring internships, visiting faculty programs and joint appointments with national labs —  such as ones held by Brown professors George Karniadakis, who holds a joint appointment with the Pacific Northwest lab, and Mark Ainsworth, who who holds a joint appointment with the Oak Ridge lab.

“The themes for the day were chosen not only because they are major areas of research excellence at Brown, but also because they are important challenges to address in our society,” said Tejal Desai, dean of Brown’s School of Engineering. “As a community, we approach these topics and areas from a number of different perspectives and we think that by bringing together our expertise and really collaborating with the DOE’s labs across the nation, we can amplify our impact in ways that previously haven't been done… and make those leaps to uncover new discoveries that are able to translate into real technologies and solutions.”

The national attendees also toured Brown facilities and labs, learning more about the University’s robust research in engineering, physics and chemistry. The day concluded with a poster session and reception in the Hazeltine Commons that offered attendees an opportunity to further network and engage with each other while also setting the stage for future partnerships and breakthroughs.

The country’s 17 national labs are an outgrowth of immense investment in scientific research initiated by the U.S. government during World War II. For more than 70 years, the labs have been at the forefront of scientific innovation in the U.S., confronting some of the most critical scientific challenges facing the nation and the world — from combating climate change to studying the origins of the universe or how atoms work at their smallest levels.

Throughout that history, collaboration with research institutions like Brown has been essential to their continued success. That’s no different today.

“From the laboratories’ point of view, collaborations with universities, including the many collaborations with Brown researchers, are important to delivering world-class research and strengthening overall contribution to the nation’s research enterprise,” Pipher said. “Events like today help advance that effort and furthers our initiatives supporting and maintaining Brown’s excellence in science research.”