It is an honor to introduce myself to the Office of Science laboratory community. I’m ready and excited to pour my energy into making sure that we continue to be the world class, powerhouse science agency we have always been, and the steward of the research crown jewels that our labs represent. My first and foundational goal is to support, enable, and advocate for the work you all do to realize our shared vision: to support the best science across the full breadth of our world-leading portfolio of curiosity-driven and use-inspired basic research and to deliver the scientific tools the world needs to enable new discoveries. Together, I know we will make meaningful contributions to advancing our mission of scientific discovery by supporting our current workforce, and by developing a diverse and inclusive next generation of scientists to carry our SC mission into the future.
Allow me to tell you more about myself. I am an earth scientist and educator. I am passionate about soil – the thin veil of loose material covering the land surface that has an outsized role in regulating life as we know it. Soil is an intricate canvas upon which so much science unfolds. In addition to being the most complex biomaterial that we know of, soil regulates the Earth’s climate and is foundational to human and national security. Because of the complexity of soil, scientific investigations that seek to unravel the physical, chemical, and biological processes that take place in the soil system require advanced experimental, observational, and computational tools. Studying how the soil system regulates the Earth’s climate, learning about the abundant and diverse forms of life within soil, and even the energy systems that support said life requires that we employ approaches and training that consider multiple fields of study, complex and cutting-edge facilities, and team science. That is why I have had career-long ties to the Department of Energy, the DOE National Labs, and the advanced facilities managed by the Office of Science.
My research has provided me with many opportunities to collaborate with scientists throughout the DOE laboratories. But my connection to the DOE started much earlier in my educational journey. As a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the privilege of conducting research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The mentorship and the hands-on experience with DOE’s advanced facilities that I received were invaluable for my research and growth as an academic. I was subsequently able to apply the advanced spectroscopic tools at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory to advance our understanding of the rich composition of organic compounds in soil’s carbon reserve. Most recently, my mentees–four of whom are now employed at DOE labs–with their DOE scientist collaborators have been applying X-ray spectroscopy approaches available at Berkeley Lab and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, as well as mass spectrometry capabilities at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to advance our understanding of soil biogeochemical cycles.
President Biden has demonstrated that he recognizes the need to make significant investments to ensure U.S. leadership in the scientific enterprise, and to address some of the most pressing problems of our time. This includes climate change, which I have spent a good part of my career working on, and also advanced computing, energy science, and fundamental physics that advance our understanding of the universe. You were critical to the science and technology efforts that were launched to address COVID-19. These collaborations demonstrated what is possible when we fund basic science and allow scientists from across multiple fields to work together in the world’s most advanced scientific facilities–to enable timely discoveries. My hope is that we can capitalize on the innovations from the last couple of years to help tackle current and future challenges that have/may come our way.
As a scientist who has studied and works in public institutions of higher learning, I have always taken my responsibility to serve the public very seriously. I believe publicly funded science and technology are critical for inspiring the next generation of scholars. We have a responsibility to equitably serve the diverse communities of taxpayers that make our scientific careers possible and support our love of scientific research. It is my hope that we can make a tangible difference to not just advance science, but to also develop the scientific workforce of tomorrow and communicate our science and its value to society.
It is truly an honor to be entrusted by this Administration to lead the Office of Science. Together we can advance our mission of discovery science and inform and enable the broader missions of the Department of Energy.
I am eager to visit the labs and meet the rest of my extended SC family and look forward to seeing you soon!
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
Director, Office of Science