Meeting our country’s long-term energy needs in sustainable, environmentally-friendly ways requires cutting-edge research facilities where the world’s top academic and industry scientists can work together to achieve important breakthroughs.
The Energy Department’s Patricia Dehmer, deputy director of the Office of Science, has helped meet these goals, using her exceptional management and leadership skills to expand the number of government research facilities and lay the groundwork for numerous scientific advances.
“Pat has revolutionized the department’s approach to scientific research for energy,” said William Madia, vice president of the Energy Department’s Linear Accelerator Center at California’s Stanford University. “She has delivered major scientific facilities that renewed the national laboratories and will produce discoveries for decades.”
Under her leadership, the department has made significant advancements in fossil, solar, nuclear and renewable energy as well as energy efficiency.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz described Dehmer’s work as “a very, very big deal.”
“It is the backbone of a huge amount of research in the U.S,” he said. “It has great consequence for American science.”
In her current role, Dehmer is the senior career science official in an office that is the third-largest federal sponsor of basic research in the U.S. and the primary supporter of the physical sciences in the country. She relies on her in-depth knowledge of science and strong management abilities to oversee six science programs ranging from basic energy sciences to nuclear physics.
During her tenure, she laid the groundwork for creating 32 new research centers to study transformative energy technologies. She also marshaled support for some $3 billion in investments in major research facilities for scientists to study high-temperature superconductors, next-generation silicon chips and biological proteins on the smallest scales.
Many challenges come with the job of overseeing the Energy Department’s science portfolio and expanding research capabilities, Dehmer said. Building new facilities requires “aligning all of the interests” and “getting everyone on board in the agency, within the administration, within Congress, and then with the laboratory or the university that will be constructing it.”
Dehmer acquired in-depth scientific expertise during a 23-year career as a research scientist in atomic, molecular, optical and chemical physics at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, Illinois before moving to the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Pat develops a very focused strategy on a set of things that she wants to get done and then systematically works with great patience, piece by piece, steadily getting there, pulling on all the levers she has at her disposal,” said Thom Mason, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Dehmer was responsible for overseeing the planning, design and construction of more than a dozen major projects, including the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This unique research facility produces the most intense neutron beams, or stream of neutrons, in the world, which scientists use for research on biotechnology, magnetism, superconductivity, nanotechnology and complex fluids.
Dehmer also helped establish DOE’s five Nanoscale Science Research Centers, the premier centers for scientists doing interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale—the size of one-billionth of a meter.
In addition, Dehmer spearheaded the reconstruction of a major laboratory at Stanford that provides extremely bright X-rays scientists use in research to probe matter on the scale of atoms and molecules. And she is credited with starting major energy research facilities at Stanford and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, both of which provide state-of-the-art capabilities for X-ray imaging and high-resolution energy analysis.
“The types of investments Pat has made have been influential in every energy science area,” said Eric Isaacs, provost and professor of physics at the University of Chicago. “In terms of scientific leadership, she’s one of the top people in the country.”
Along with these accomplishments, Dehmer helped shift the department’s approach to energy research with the creation of the Energy Frontier Research Centers program, which competitively awards five-year grants to teams that are accelerating research designed to solve some of the nation’s most critical energy challenges.
Currently, 32 such centers run in partnership with universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and for-profit firms engaged in high-risk, high-reward research aimed at developing transformative energy technologies. Now in its seventh year, the program has “drawn together academia and the national laboratories in common purpose and inspired a generation of young scientists to tackle energy challenges,” Madia said.
Mason, at the Oak Ridge laboratory, said Dehmer has “cracked the code” of how to expand and improve the department’s research capacity to “do great science” and promote “better and cleaner energy sources.”
“Her role doesn’t always have a spotlight, but if you look at the things that have happened, her fingerprints are all over them,” Mason said.