When the Lab’s “Old Town” buildings, located at the top of Charter Hill on the Lab’s main campus, were razed beginning in 2015 due to age and safety concerns, ideas for the future of the site had already begun to take shape. The location, adjacent to the ALS, solar fuels and energy storage hubs, and other materials and chemistry programs, presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to plan an integrated, state-of-the-art cluster of research buildings for materials and chemistry sciences. It was also clear that future research at the site would support multidisciplinary research, a differentiating strength of the Lab’s, and that input from many areas would be needed to develop a compelling and cohesive vision.
One of the early steps in the planning process was a 2016 workshop to define the vision for the Chemical Observatory, a proposed new type of research facility designed to integrate multiple probes, including the chemical specificity of the ALS’s soft X-rays, into laboratory spaces. Later, former Energy Sciences Area Strategic Advisor Ambika Bumb led a project to define the scope of the potential for new buildings and programs on the site. In addition, Jeff Philliber, chief environmental planner for the Lab, managed a 2019 redevelopment study that the Lab commissioned from an external architecture firm.
In Fall 2019, a multidivisional strategic planning committee was created to help lead the next phase of the effort to develop the science vision for the Charter Hill Materials Science and Chemistry Campus. Ashley White, recently named Head of Strategic Development and Communications for the Energy Sciences Area, was appointed to lead the committee. The group decided to first gather input from the Lab community through a series of events, beginning with a Town Hall in June of last year, which was attended by more than 200 people.
“It was great to see so much engagement from the start,” said Ashley. “The high attendance spoke to the broad interest across the Lab in the Charter Hill effort. Although the Energy Sciences Area is leading this effort, the vision we’re developing is for the future of materials and chemistry broadly, so it’s relevant beyond our Area, to researchers across Computing Sciences, Biosciences, Energy Technologies, Physical Sciences, and Earth and Environmental Sciences as well.”
The Town Hall was followed by a summer symposium series featuring thought leaders who shared their visions of the future of the materials and chemistry sciences.
The Charter Hill Strategic Planning Committee then tapped science leaders from across the Energy Sciences Area and Laboratory to organize five workshops from October 2020 to February 2021, to broadly gather ideas that will inform the science strategy for the envisioned Charter Hill research buildings.
The cross-disciplinary topics for the workshops were:
- Accelerated Design and Synthesis of Materials and Molecules. Novel materials and molecules drive key energy technologies developed at Berkeley Lab. What are the critical knowledge gaps, bottlenecks, and untapped potential in the design of new materials and molecules?
- Discovery of New Molecular and Solid-State Quantum Systems. Quantum materials and systems host an enormous range of novel properties and behaviors that hold fundamental importance and can also be leveraged for technology applications. How do we synthesize and fabricate quantum systems with the near-perfect structural properties necessary for the demanding applications in quantum information science and sensing?
- Exploring Dynamics and Equilibria across Time and Length Scales. The generation, conversion, and storage of energy, information, and matter involves a range of fundamental processes that span many orders of magnitude in length and time. What are the gaps in our fundamental understanding of how the collective properties and transformations of molecules and materials arise from their microscopic constituents, symmetries, and correlations?
- Function from Complexity: The Emergence of Functional Behavior in Molecular, Inorganic, Biological, and Environmental Systems. Chemical, biological, environmental, soft-matter, and materials systems can exhibit distinct behaviors that emerge from nonlinear processes, competing interactions, and interfacial phenomena. What are the gaps and opportunities in our understanding of complexity in a broad range of basic science areas and how do we enable a new kind of collaborative research environment in the envisioned Charter Hill laboratories that could address these opportunities?
- Innovative Design Features for the Lab of the Future. The unique site of the envisioned Charter Hill buildings in relationship to nearby world-leading capabilities, combined with rapid advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation, provides the opportunity to create new, integrated facilities enabling collaboration and accelerated discovery and understanding of complex materials. How could the future Charter Hill buildings’ designs and infrastructure encourage and enable the scientific opportunities that were brought forth in the first four workshops?
Nearly 250 participants across 27 divisions engaged in the Charter Hill workshop series. Reports from the first three workshops are available. Reports for the last two workshops will be released within the next few weeks.
“The ideas brought forward from across the Lab in these workshops were really exciting,” said Ashley. “It was particularly great to see so many early career researchers involved, since these buildings would define the future of materials and chemistry research for the next generation. We’re grateful for everyone’s contributions, which will help us create a compelling science vision for Charter Hill.”
The Charter Hill Strategic Planning Committee hopes to release a comprehensive science vision document this summer. For more information about Charter Hill efforts, visit this website.