Office of Science

About EMSL

Dr. Wiley and EMSL

The genesis for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory can be traced to 1986. Laboratory Director William R. Wiley and a handful of his senior managers met to discuss how the Laboratory could respond to scientific challenges facing DOE, as identified in the National Academy of Sciences report entitled "Opportunities in Chemistry." This document, often referred to as the Pimentel Report, identified several scientific challenges relating to energy and the environment that depended on fundamental research in chemistry. The report went so far as to suggest that the missions of some of the national laboratories be reshaped to focus on these challenges.

The concept that came out of that meeting was for a center for molecular science research that would bring together theoreticians with expertise in computer modeling of molecular processes and experimentalists from the physical and life sciences. Wiley and others at the Laboratory, knowing of tremendous advances in scientists' abilities to characterize, manipulate, and create molecules, believed molecular-level research would be required to solve problems associated with environmental clean up, energy efficiency, health, and other fields.

Besides the NAS report, Wiley and his team had something else going for them. DOE, in cooperation with the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, believed each of its five multiprogram national Energy Research laboratories—Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest—should develop national scientific user facilities. While many of the other laboratories were envisioning large projects associated with high energy physics or synchrotron radiation, Wiley saw a need for a user facility dedicated to small science that would group together the most advanced equipment for molecular-level chemistry.