The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, operated by Battelle Memorial Institute for the U.S. Dept. of Energy, is known for its campus in Richland, Wash. The lab has more than 4,300 employees in areas including energy, the environment and national security, working on projects for federal agencies including Homeland Security, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and others.
But PNNL, as it’s known, has been quietly building up a large presence in Seattle — with more than 100 people in the city, including a growing team in the cutting-edge area of data analytics. And now it’s aiming to partner with tech companies in the Seattle region, boosting its mission and potentially their businesses in the process.
The strategy “has potential to transform PNNL and define a new model for national laboratories in the 21st century” while delivering “revolutionary solutions” to some of the nation’s most-challenging problems, the lab says in an internal brochure explaining the new partnership program.
The new program is part of a broader effort by PNNL to increase its pace of innovation on behalf of its federal sponsors, said Dave Thurman, PNNL Computing Portfolio Manager and the senior management representative for the lab’s Seattle location. The idea is to collaborate with nimble tech companies, and benefit from their unique perspectives, while also helping those companies leverage the lab’s longer-term research initiatives and relationships with government agencies.
“Figuring out how to weave those two together is the focus of this new emerging strategy,” Thurman said. “For this to be a useful partnership there’s got to be something in it for both partners. … We’ll end up with a set of projects that we’re working on, each of which we’re working with somebody in the community on.”
PNNL’s staff of more than 100 people in Seattle gives it a sizable footprint in its own right. The lab’s presence in Seattle dates to the late 1980s, starting with employees who needed to be in the city for family or other personal reasons. But increasingly the lab has grown its presence here in strategic areas such as its nuclear non-proliferation work, data science and initiatives focused on energy and the environment, including computational oceanography.
Another big area for growth at PNNL in Seattle is data science and analytics, with a team of about 30 people in the city. They are part of a larger group of 400 people working on data science and analytics across the lab in areas including cyber-security, high-performance computing, software engineering, visualization and data analytics.
Technical leaders in the Seattle office include Mark Greaves, who was hired by PNNL nearly three years ago from Vulcan Inc., where he led key research initiatives for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. At PNNL, Greaves is leading a new internal research initiative focused on streaming data analytics, such as research data from sensors, but with the potential for broader applications. Others working on the initiative include Rob Jasper, formerly vice president of data sciences at PayScale, who joined the PNNL in Seattle earlier this year.
Partnerships reached by PNNL with Seattle-area tech companies could range from simple agreements to share information and collaborate in areas of mutual interest, to subcontracts through which tech companies and potentially university partners would work with the lab on projects for the federal government. Interested companies can connect with the lab and Thurman through this site.
As part of the initiative, PNNL is also looking into the possibility of holding events and technical competitions as part of its outreach to the tech community.
“It used to be that a lot of the really creative, innovative stuff — say, 20 years ago — was primarily coming out of government and academic research,” said Thurman. “But the advances in computing, and the commoditization and consumerization of computing, have resulted in this shift where a lot of the innovation is occurring in the consumer-driven market, and in the business driven market. There’s a lot of innovation going on there.”
“We’d like to both take advantage of that,” he said, “and help drive it in new directions.”