Today, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that the Omnibus spending bill – a must-pass bill that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year – includes $75 million for the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) and its OMEGA Laser Facility. Today’s announcement is the continuation of their multi-year effort of advocating for federal investment in LLE. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 spending bill, which will be voted on by both the House and Senate this week, provides essential funding that allows the University of Rochester to continue the critical work being done at its lab. The FY2018 allocation represents an increase of $7 million over the $68 million allocated to the Lab in FY2017. With this funding, the University of Rochester will be able to continue its critical research and work in the fields of physics, optics, and material science, which have the potential to completely eradicate U.S. dependence on foreign oil and strengthen national security. This funding will also provide the resources necessary to support the Lab’s work in the Department of Energy’s nuclear Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP). Since underground nuclear testing ceased, the only way to get the information needed by the federal government on the performance, weapons effects, and the safety of our current nuclear weapon stockpile is by doing ICF (inertial confinement fusion) test experiments. Eighty percent of these ICF test experiments are done at the University of Rochester Laser Lab. Absent this funding, the Lab could have been forced to lay off scientists and engineers, reducing their capacity and limiting their partnerships with national laboratories.
“When I stood at the lab with it’s 340 workers earlier this month I pledged to focus like a laser to ensure this facilities doors would stay open, and that is what we have done. This is a major milestone in our quest to secure the funding needed to allow the University of Rochester laser lab to continue its world-class research and scientific exploration. The inclusion of this provision in the omnibus bill will ensure that 340 Rochester workers can now stay on the job at the Laser Lab keeping our nuclear weapon stockpile safe and reliable while pushing the frontiers of energy research at a time when countries like China and Russia are working to beat the U.S. to new technological advances,” said Senator Schumer. “The next step is for this bill to pass both the House and the Senate, and then the legislation heads straight to the President’s desk. I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to vote for this bill and help us secure the $75 million needed for the lab – $7 million more than last year – so that we can keep the University of Rochester at the cutting edge of high-tech innovation and maintain Rochester as a job-creating center of laser innovation.”
“This funding is an important investment that will help ensure that the Rochester region continues to be at the forefront of scientific progress and the high-tech economy,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The University of Rochester’s Laser Lab is an incredible asset to the state and nation. Scientists are drawn to Rochester to conduct cutting-edge research that creates hundreds of good-paying, local jobs and helps drive economic growth and innovation in the region. I was proud to fight for this funding, and I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to ensure that the University of Rochester’s Laser Lab has the necessary support to succeed in the years ahead.”
Established in 1970, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) of the University of Rochester is a unique national resource for research and education in science and technology as well as a major asset not found at any other university in the country. Both the Rochester area and the University have a history of innovation that provides a singular environment for LLE within a technologically-sophisticated scientific community. As one of the premier institutions training the next generation of leaders in the fields of physics, optics, and material science, LLE is an economic development magnet that provides high-tech jobs and attracts scientific talent to the Rochester community. Many Rochester companies including Sydor Technologies, QED Technologies, and Lucid were created as a result of the Lab and now employ hundreds of employees. The Laser Lab itself employs more than 340 professional, technical, and administrative staff. Since its inception, the LLE has attracted almost $2 billion to New York State to support cutting-edge research and more than 1,000 individuals are currently involved in the program. Through the LLE’s mission, the University also attracts as many as 300 additional visiting scientists each year to Rochester from national laboratories, universities, and companies, and currently hosts 141 students (graduate, undergraduate, and high school).
Schumer and Gillibrand explained this $7 million increase in funding for the LLE will allow the program to continue its vital work in the field of technology. Schumer and Gillibrand said the continued federal investment in the Rochester Laser Lab will allow LLE to advance its critical research and work in fusion power, which is key to the strategic work for an independent energy future.
Schumer has long advocated for LLE’s continued operation. Earlier this month Schumer visited the Rochester Laser to launch a three-prong push for funding, to ask Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to approve a 5-year Cooperative Agreement between DOE and LLE and to invite the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty to visit the lab. Schumer stated that he will continue his efforts in Fiscal Year 2019 and beyond to help grow the laser lab, which is a key driver of Rochester’s optics and photonics industry and in maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapon stockpile while developing new clean energy sources. Schumer’s three-pronged push for funding, the cooperative agreement, and bringing the NNSA Administrator to LLE would be major milestones for the University and their scientific mission.
Gillibrand has also been an active advocate for the University of Rochester’s LLE, pushing appropriators for continued funding for the laboratory in this year’s spending package in multiple efforts, including a letter from last spring and fall, and most recently this month.
Additionally, in past years, Schumer and Gillibrand helped secure millions of dollars for the lab and pledged to continue their work for funds to strengthen this first-class institution. Schumer helped secure $68 million in funding in the Fiscal Year 2016 spending bill for the LLE and again helped deliver $68 million in Fiscal Year 2017.