Our Voice: PNNL's expansion plans extend lab's mission to produce amazing science

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory officials want to expand their campus and the comment period is now open.

They want to add 100,000 square feet of additional laboratory and office space.

Commenting periods are valuable to communities that care about their future. And they meet a legal obligation.

Land use is an important topic in the Mid-Columbia, especially when it comes to the north end of Richland.

That area is where PNNL meets up with Hanford, north of Battelle Boulevard.

All of these entities contribute to our community. However, because the lab is seeking to expand we've got PNNL on our minds today.

We suspect that to most residents of the Mid-Columbia, "the lab" is mysterious at best.

That's a pity.

But to scientists around the world, PNNL is a famous -- and respected -- institution.

Closer to home, PNNL is known as the biggest employer in our community. Even after recent layoffs, the lab employs around 4,000 people and has an annual budget of more than $1 billion.

It would be tough for any one person really understand every aspect of a facility that is so diverse and complex.

Much of PNNL's research is for Homeland Security, although the lab's focus changes as our world changes.

PNNL scientists also study climate change and energy and nanotechnology and how the world works at a molecular level.

When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, some of the scientific details are tough for laymen to grasp. But you don't have to be a scientist to get a feel -- and an appreciation -- for many of the projects.

For starters, take a look at PNNL's website. On the front page are a few slides -- easily understandable -- that highlight some of the lab's recent work.

Current stories include a study of how sand storms induce climate change, how natural gas powered plants become more efficient when paired with solar energy and how to combat deadly viruses.

These archives go back over several years -- and they are surprisingly readable.

While you're at the website, you also can take a virtual tour.

Disclaimer: The editorial board occasional gets to go on real tours of the lab. And it's always impressive.

But even then, a couple of hours at the lab only gives us a tiny peek at all the world-class research PNNL's scientists are doing.

A virtual tour is better in some ways because you can see more pieces of the puzzle, and you can go whenever it's convenient for you.

Whether you're scientist, or just live in a community with a bunch of them, you can appreciate the mission of PNNL.

The lab is an amazing asset for our community and the nation. It's worth taking a few moments to contemplate all its contributions.

The draft environmental assessment is posted at pnso.oro.doe.gov under "Documents". To comment, email kimberly.williams@pnsl.science.doe.gov or mail Kimberly Williams, PNNL South Federal Campus EA, P.O. Box 350, MS K9-42, Richland, WA 99352.