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Energy Department Science Education Initiative Launched

July 8, 2004

Palo Alto, Calif. — U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced today that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its national laboratories are launching an initiative to promote science literacy and help develop the next generation of scientists and engineers.

"It is critical that we leverage the resources of this Department—and of all our national labs—to help create a new generation of scientists who will achieve the scientific breakthroughs and technological advances so essential to our future security and prosperity," Secretary Abraham told a gathering of researchers and graduate students at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a DOE national lab. "That is why I am announcing today a series of changes in the way the Department of Energy will address the growing and serious problem of science and math literacy in this nation."

Secretary Abraham outlined a seven-step program named STARS: Scientists Teaching and Reaching Students. The program is designed to enhance the training of America's mathematics and science teachers; grow students' interest in science and math, especially in the critical middle school years; and draw attention to the women and men who have done DOE science so very well—and thereby encourage young people and prospective teachers to pursue careers in math and science.

"The risks of a scientifically illiterate nation in the 21st century are too great for business as usual," Secretary Abraham said. "We will work with our partners at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education and others as we explore new opportunities to attack this challenge."

The Secretary's science education initiative includes the following steps:

  • Through a pilot program starting this summer, bringing K-12 teachers and community college faculty instructors to seven of DOE's national labs where they will work with scientists and engineers with the goal of improving their knowledge of science and their ability to teach. The DOE Laboratory Science Teacher Professional Development program will provide participating teachers with three-year, mentor-intensive science experiences that promises to result in better trained teachers—and improved student achievement. DOE plans to expand the program to all DOE labs.
  • Upgrading and expanding the scope of DOE's Argonne National Laboratory's successful "Ask A Scientist" website. "Ask A Scientist" has served as an excellent resource for students, teachers and members of the public, providing an online forum where more than 12,000 basic and complex questions have been fielded by expert scientists since 1991. DOE will offer a link to "Ask A Scientist" on its home page, and the department will improve the site's software, add services and publicize the site so even more teachers and students from around the country know about it and can use it.
  • Organizing and hosting this fall the first of an expected yearly conference called "What's Next?" that will bring together scientists and corporate innovators to demonstrate the breakthrough technologies and science they expect to become commonplace in the future. The event would serve to focus national attention on how exciting science may change our lives—and provide another way to highlight science for students.
  • DOE national laboratories will sponsor Career Day Programs—sending their scientists out to local schools, especially middle schools, to conduct hands-on experiments in science classes and discuss career opportunities with students, to hold open houses that highlight lab scientists and their research and to support local science fairs and students doing science projects.
  • DOE national laboratories will plan and host Science Appreciation Days that will bring one thousand fifth-graders and one thousand eighth-graders to their facilities each year for a day.
  • Taking advantage of DOE's scientific leaders, including Nobel Laureates, and craft ways to draw attention to science as a career.
  • Creating an Office of DOE Science Education that will be responsible for coordinating and implementing the Secretary's initiative.

Secretary Abraham also announced that he is creating a special Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force to assess what additional ways DOE can help improve science education in America. The special task force will be chaired by a prominent leader in the world of science, technology and business who will be named soon. The task forces will be charged with reporting its findings and recommendations to Secretary Abraham by the end of this year.

The Department of Energy's missions are national security, energy security, environmental clean-up and science. To help accomplish these missions, the department's National Nuclear Security Administration, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Environmental Management, Office of Fossil Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology and Office of Science fund research and development projects at the DOE's national laboratories, all of which maintain science education programs for teachers and K-12 students. The department supports math and science education to help provide a technically trained and diverse workforce for the agency and the nation.

Information about the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) science education programs can be found at NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's premier laboratory for renewable energy research and development and a leading laboratory for energy efficiency R&D. NREL is operated for DOE by Midwest Research Institute and Battelle.

More information about all of the components of the department's science education initiative, the text of the Secretary's remarks and information about the labs' science education offerings are available via the Internet .

Teachers and students can ask for more information about the department's science education initiative by sending an e-mail to

—Sarah Barba