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Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne leverages resources, expertise and facilities for crisis rapid response

From a history-making quartet of lightbulbs powered by nuclear energy to discoveries enabled by the one of brightest light sources in the Western Hemisphere to insights into the dark corners of the universe, 75 years of Argonne research have produced breakthroughs that have changed our society and made our lives safer, healthier and more prosperous. This article is part of a 75th anniversary series describing Argonne’s history of discovery, current science program and future research thrusts.

Disasters tend to highlight the inequities that exist in our society, with those that have the least often being hit the hardest. When crises have struck, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has mobilized to assist response efforts in many ways. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Argonne responded by bringing its resources, expertise and facilities to fight the virus. By making full use of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and the Advanced Photon Source (APS), both DOE Office of Science User Facilities,  researchers were able to solve protein structures and construct artificial intelligence-informed models of potential treatments. Other scientists created models to simulate the virus’s spread in the Chicago region that were used by decision-makers in the City of Chicago and Illinois.

These breakthroughs do not happen overnight — for instance, work conducted roughly a decade ago at the APS helped speed the development of COVID-19 vaccines and make them more effective.

COVID-19 is just the most recent crisis that Argonne has helped alleviate.

Argonne has developed significant infrastructure-related analysis and resilience assessment capabilities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, working extensively with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Argonne’s studies have assessed infrastructure vulnerabilities by industry sectors (such as food and banking), by regions (pipeline infrastructure) and within cities (medical facilities, electricity infrastructure).

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, Argonne infrastructure analysts worked onsite with DHS and FEMA to help Puerto Rico prioritize near-term investments and help make its energy, water, communications and transportation infrastructure more resilient. In 2019, a multidisciplinary Argonne team bolstered the U.S. electric grid with tools to make it more resilient against natural disasters and terrorism.

Argonne will continue to pursue energy projects that have benefits across the board, not just for the best-positioned. In this way, we can help protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of the next natural disaster.