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You are ‘great explorers of our society,’ DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman tells Sandia researchers

You are ‘great explorers of our society,’ DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman tells Sandia researchers

A chemical engineer by training and temperament, just-confirmed DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman told a near-capacity audience of Sandians at the Steve Schiff Auditorium that he is “in a bit of awe at being here, a bit in awe of the technical excellence and historical significance that Sandia and its sister laboratories represent. I consider it to be a personal and professional honor to be here.”

Bodman, making his first official trip as DOE secretary, received a day-long series of briefings at Sandia last week before speaking to the all-hands meeting that afternoon. Although Bodman spent many years in the financial industry — he was CEO of Fidelity Investments after serving as head of Fidelity Ventures — and served as deputy secretary in both the Commerce and Treasury departments during President Bush’s first administration, he still “I like to think I have retained the perspective of an engineer.” (He has a PhD from MIT and taught chemical engineering there for several years.)

In measured and deliberate words, Bodman spelled out his thoughts about his new job, his expectations of the laboratories, and his hopes for the continued relevance and success of DOE.

Speaking about how he will approach his job, Bodman cited lessons he learned in his reading of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

The book, he noted, offered deep insights into the personalities and the thinking of that generation of scientists who embodied — even invented — 20th century science.

The voices of those pioneering giants, coming to us across the span of years, Bodman said, can teach us that “science and technology have consequences.” “Now, that may sound like a simple idea — even trite — but I think its something worth reminding ourselves about.

“Research has implications beyond the quest for the accumulation of knowledge. Some outcomes are miraculously positive . . . but some have the potential to cause great harm. Does the fact that scientific advances may be used for catastrophic ends mean that we should not pursue them? Of course the answer to that question is no. But we must be aware of potential consequences and carefully consider them.

“In other words, as world-renowned engineers, chemists, biologists, materials scientists, computer scientists, developers of microsystems, and nanotechnology, you embody both vast opportunity and great responsibility.”

That responsibility, Bodman said, extends “beyond your commitments to intellectual rigor and ethics. You have real responsibilities to society. It is a public trust that we as a nation placed in our scientists and engineers and it is one that is well-earned.

“Our nation counts on you for great science, but it also counts on you to safeguard our most precious scientific information, information that must be protected from disclosure to ensure our collective national defense. In addition, you have a fundamental responsibility to protect yourselves and your fellow workers from harm so that you can continue to do the valuable science and engineering for which this great laboratory is known.

“Let me be crystal clear about this: It is unimaginable to me that one can separate scientific and technical excellence from security and safety at this laboratory, or anywhere else throughout our nuclear weapons complex.

“I expect that safety and security are integral to what you do and how you do it. No matter the temptations, scientific or otherwise, we must never lapse into complacency, [which is] the enemy of safety.

“Simply put, safety and security are critical, essential, and inexorably linked components of our mission at this lab. We cannot guarantee security if there are lapses in our safety, and we cannot guarantee safety if we compromise our security.

“I would hope that you will view me as a colleague, and I would like to think that you will be pleased at the work we will do together.

“This department started 60 years ago — not formally but started in fact 60 years ago on a nice spot in the desert of New Mexico. It is not random that I have come here on my first trip as your leader.

“To me, you are the great explorers of our society, people who are energetically pushing us forward into the unknown, to better, more prosperous, safe, and more secure days ahead. But also, be ever-cautious of the path you are forging. That is how I see you, and that is how I see this laboratory and this department. And that is how I hope the American people will come to view us and the work you do here.

“I commit to you that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the people of this laboratory receive the proper credit for what they have done in the past, for what they are doing in the present, and for what they will do in the future. In return, I would ask for your commitment to work with me to help find solutions to the common challenges that we face together and to move us forward to a future of many more breakthroughs and many more successes of the sort that you have experienced in the past.”