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OAK RIDGE–A groundbreaking ceremony held recently at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory marks a first-of-its-kind partnership among ORNL, the state of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee.

Construction of the new facility to house the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences and the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies occurs as part of a landmark project fusing the resources of DOE’s largest multipurpose laboratory and the state’s flagship university. Located inside the ORNL complex, the $10 million JICS/ORCAS facility is being funded by the state of Tennessee and will be managed by UT-Battelle, a joint venture between the University of Tennessee and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

“We at ORNL are extremely grateful to Don Sundquist and the Tennessee Legislature for their vision in funding this facility,” said ORNL Director Bill Madia. “We look forward to collaborating with Dr. John Shumaker and the University of Tennessee to strengthen the research programs at both institutions.”

Gov. Sundquist shares Madia’s enthusiasm. “Many of us in Nashville were excited by the opportunity to help the University of Tennessee develop such a close and valuable partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Sundquist said. “Our flagship university now has access to equipment, talent and research facilities that we otherwise could never hope to have. This is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come at both UT and ORNL.”

The new 52,000-square-foot facility will house two important programs: one to promote the use of high-performance computer resources in Tennessee, and another to establish a 21st century “think tank” for exploring major science and technology issues.

The University of Tennessee established the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences in 1991 to encourage and facilitate the effective use of high-performance computing resources in the state. The relationship with ORNL expanded when UT joined Battelle in April 2000 to manage the laboratory.

“The University of Tennessee benefits significantly from this partnership,” said UT President John Shumaker. “The university community is able to utilize computational research without solely building and maintaining the hardware. Perhaps more important, our faculty gain access to one of the world’s largest computers–an opportunity that would be unthinkable in the traditional university environment. The contribution of this joint initiative to our research mission will be enormous.”

The new JICS facility will be part of ORNL’s efforts to expand the lab’s high-performance computing capacity. Already home to the eighth fastest computer in the world, ORNL has been selected by the Department of Energy to develop a new computer that will challenge the Japanese Earth Simulator as the world’s most powerful.

“The expanded partnership with UT will strengthen ORNL’s ability to compete for a variety of new research programs in areas such as genomics, climate change, and national security that require enormous computing capabilities,” said Thomas Zacharia, ORNL associate laboratory director for Computing and Computational Sciences. “The construction of this facility is crucial to our efforts.”

DOE’s Center for Computational Sciences at ORNL has partnerships with universities, government institutions and major industrial firms. The partnerships are essential to solving complex scientific problems that require the enormous power of supercomputers.

The other program to be housed in the new facility, the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies, will bring together scientists and educators from leading institutions across the nation to form the intellectual core of a 21st century “think tank.”

“ORCAS is a unique partnership in the Southeastern United States among ORNL, its partner universities, and other national and international experts,” Madia said. “Our purpose is to bring together some of the greatest minds in the world to work on scientific challenges that are too big for any single laboratory or university. The program will be comparable with facilities like the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and the Aspen Institute in Colorado.”

Madia added that visionary thinkers from ORCAS will meet this fall in Washington, D.C., with researchers from the National Academy of Sciences and key universities and industries to address energy infrastructure assurance. “The results should help us understand energy assurance implications for future energy systems,” he said. “This symposium provides an excellent example of how ORCAS can enable our scientists, and those of many other institutions, to concentrate their expertise on issues crucial to our nation.”

Building contractor for the JICS/ORCAS facility is CMC Construction of Oak Ridge. The facility is scheduled for completion in January 2004.