Maryville Daily Times: Alexander touts success of Oak Ridge Corridor

Posted on December 6, 2019

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., had his regional pride on display Friday in Oak Ridge as he spoke to members of the East Tennessee Economic Council.

“Americans invented the internet. And the personal computer. We invented nuclear power. And the polio vaccine. Government-sponsored research has helped make America the greatest country in the world. And much of that is happening right here in the Oak Ridge Corridor,” he said, speaking at the far end of the Pellissippi Parkway that extends northwest from Old Knoxville Highway into his home county of Blount.

The Maryville native was touting record funding for America’s national laboratories, supercomputing and biomedical research. He called it “the best-kept secret in Washington.”

Alexander said that last year Congress sent $4.6 billion to the Oak Ridge complex that funds the nation’s largest science and engineering laboratory, Y-12, which is building the largest federal construction project in Tennessee since World War II. It also boasts the best federal environmental cleanup program in the country, according to the senator.

It is hard to think of a major technological advancement since the Manhattan Project that hasn’t drawn support from government-sponsored research, Alexander added. That’s why, as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, he is working to provide record funding for the Office of Science for the fifth consecutive year. The Office of Science provides most of the funding for 17 national laboratories.

“National laboratories are our secret weapon. And funding for our national laboratories is on track to increase by 42% over the last five years,” he said.

Advanced technologies

Alexander discussed how Oak Ridge has the most advanced facilities for materials, 3-D printing and is home to the world’s fastest supercomputer. The annual cost to keep America first in supercomputing is $2 billion spent at ORNL. From fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2020, funding for supercomputing is set to increase by 64%.

Supercomputers can help solve problems in every area of scientific research — improve advanced manufacturing, simulate advanced reactors and weapons before they are built, find terrorists, protect against cyberattacks, more accurately predict the weather and simulate the electric grid in a natural disaster, Alexander said.

The senator, a Maryville native, also noted how the Senate is on track to provide the fifth consecutive year of increased funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, a 40% increase over the past five years.

Alexander concluded his remarks by talking about the “Oak Ridge Corridor” and Oak Ridge Institute.

“As president of the University of Tennessee in the late 1980s, I would tout the concentration of brainpower in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area and compare the Oak Ridge Corridor to Massachusetts’ Route 128, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, and even California’s Silicon Valley,” he said.

“Some people thought this was a little far-fetched. But, 35 years later, the idea of an Oak Ridge Corridor doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. The Knoxville airport now has a new sign that says: ‘Welcome to Knoxville: Gateway to the Smokies and The Oak Ridge Corridor.’ And it’s about time we celebrate it,” Alexander said.

“I have come to think of the Oak Ridge Corridor not as something that requires renaming a highway, but as a concept — a regional brand that can include Maryville and Morristown, Kingston and Sevierville, and any other East Tennessee community that wants to claim it.”

With the resources of the University of Tennessee that with the Battelle Memorial Institute manages the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, recognition of the corridor is taking the next step to becoming a recognized reality.

“It will be a pipeline for a new supply of American-trained scientists and engineers, which our country sorely needs in this competitive world,” Alexander said.

“With such a strong foundation and such strong current leadership, I am betting that during the next 80 years, the brand Oak Ridge Corridor and the UT-Oak Ridge partnership will be clearly recognized as one of the most important science and engineering alliances in the world.”