Today was Oak Ridge National Lab day. I got picked up this morning by Bonnie Hebert of the US ITER office and met with the director and deputy there. We talked about a whole range of issues around the future of ITER, how to communicate it and some of the challenges of managing a large-scale scientific co-operation of this type, pretty much unprecedented. They mentioned an interesting-sounding report (fun dinner reading for me tonight!) by the National Academy of Sciences called Rising above the Gathering Storm (http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463). For a look at the range of US opinions on ITER, you could have a look at a recent MSNBC article http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/04/02/851992.aspx?Ajax_CallBack=true. It makes interesting reading!
Then I went to talk to Stan Milora, chief technology officer for US ITER and director of fusion at ORNL. It’s easy enough to joke about fusion always being 50 years away, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been benefits from the research already and Stan outlined some of these, particularly in the materials area and magnets (some of the science done in fusion has helped develop MRI technology), as well as power grid infrastructure. Counter-intuitively, given what I’ve learnt about the US so far, there is not much industry involvement in US fusion – it’s seen as science, which is in a different “box” if you like.
I then went to talk to the Director of Communications for ORNL. They have computing facilities there that can perform over 260 trillion calculations per second. and by the end of the year it will be up to 1000 trillion calculations per second. Mind blowing stuff, huh! ORNL is a facility that scientists can come and use, even from private industry. Clearly the challenges of communicating science are the same all over the world as we talked about the fact that scientists talk to each other and something needs to be done to translate their work into the language of a fairly intelligent ordinary human being.
Anyway, the lovely Bonnie from ORNL has offered to take me out somewhere for dinner, which will get me out of the hotel, so I will leave it there!