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BER Molecular Science Challenges

Report from the May 27–29, 2014, Workshop

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Operating within the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) convened the Molecular Science Challenges workshop, which brought together scientists representing the full spectrum of BER program elements that depend on molecular science. BER research—spanning biological, environmental, and climate sciences—has evolved over recent years to require a much more robust understanding of the molecular systems and processes that underpin program goals. The workshop was held May 27−29, 2014, in Germantown, Maryland.

Participants were tasked with assembling 10-year projections of scientific and technological challenges and opportunities in molecular science relevant to BER's mission and, once these were identified, with developing high-level progressions of scientific objectives to address these challenges and opportunities. Workshop participants were assigned to one of three breakout groups: (1) atmosphere– land surface interactions, (2) near- and below-surface interactions, and (3) synthetic and genomic bioscience. Although the disparate disciplines and expertise of the participants led to far-ranging discussions and revealed the enormity of the scope of BER activities, the workshop did result in identifying gaps in knowledge and tools needed for molecular science research and development. The following workshop charges guided the breakout group discussions:

  • Understand the molecular systems and processes that underpin BER program goals.
  • Integrate across the breadth of spatial and temporal scales of BER research areas.
  • Take advantage of DOE national laboratory and facility resources.
  • Identify molecular science challenges and opportunities.
  • Describe research pathways to overcome barriers in BER-relevant molecular science over a 10-year timeframe.

The workshop's goal was to identify knowledge gaps that must be filled and to imagine and suggest tools— either not yet readily accessible or not yet in existence— that could provide data for knowledge growth and development. Workshop organizers guided the participants through structured working sessions to identify broad areas of opportunity for future research and capability development. These opportunities include understanding, describing, and modeling molecular- to global-scale processes based on synergistic, integrated, multidisciplinary approaches that will enable better informed policy decisions to address future needs.

This report provides individual summaries of the molecular science research needs developed from the (1) atmosphere–land surface interactions, (2) near- and below-surface interactions, and (3) synthetic and genomic bioscience breakout discussions and concludes with a summary of the workshop's crosscutting themes.

Publication date: April 2015

Suggested citation for this report: U.S. DOE. 2015. Office of Biological and Environmental Research Molecular Science Challenges Workshop Report, DOE/SC-0172. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

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