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DoE Official Gives Talk on Future of Research

By Don Lacey
Staff Reporter

An audience of more than 150 people was told that scientists need to find new justification for federal science funding in the post-Cold War era at a lecture on Friday.

Martha Krebs, director of energy research for the Department of Energy, addressed growing concerns that the changing political climate in Washington and a renewed focus on balancing the federal budget will lead to massive cuts in science funding.

At the talk in Room 6120, Krebs recognized the many contributions MIT has made to science. She also stressed the need for a continued emphasis on basic research, although today's economic and political realities dictate that federal funding continue at its current level. To keep research strong, more partnerships need to be forged between academia and industry, she said.

Krebs cited the Department of Energy's project for developing environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient vehicles as a prime example of areas where businesses and universities can cooperate in mutually beneficial ventures.

The Department of Energy hopes to allocate $2.8 billion, or about 13 percent of its total budget, for science and technology spending in 1996. Most of the proposed budget will be used to fund national security and environmental research programs.

Future funding programs

Krebs outlined the DoE's three main priorities in coming years: the Science Facilities Initiative, energy and environmental science research, and a review of high-energy physics programs.

The Science Facilities Initiative is designed to enhance the overall state of science research in the United States by increasing research funding, adding 3,000 new researchers to various DoE projects, and improving the general quality of DoE research facilities, Krebs said.

Much of the new funding will be directed to energy and environmental programs, which include examining the future of global climate prediction, finding future neutron sources, creating a new molecular science laboratory, and fusion energy research.

A review of high-energy physics projects, necessitated by the termination of the Superconducting Supercollider, is likely to result in increased funding for Europe's Large Hadron Collider project, Krebs said.

Research funding uncertain

Krebs emphasized that the past year was a very positive one for energy research, citing breakthroughs in fusion and high-energy physics programs. But she also cautioned listeners that because the 1996 budget has not yet passed Congress, the amount of funding researchers see next year could differ significantly from the Clinton administration's proposal.

Krebs encouraged concerned researchers to write letters to newspapers and members of Congress. She said many Republicans in the new Congress are not really anti-science, contrary to what many research scientists think.

"It's more correct to say that their concept of neat' science and technology is just different from that of a large part of the scientific community," Krebs said. "The message we convey to Congress must ultimately be about the end benefits of basic research to society."

Krebs received her degree from the Catholic University of America in 1975 and began her career in Washington as a staff director in the House of Representatives. In 1983 she was named Associate Director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories and became head of Energy Research at the Department of Energy in 1993.