Their redefined mission is leading researchers at DOE labs to take on unusual -- sometimes bizarre -- assignments

At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, researchers are taking the bang out of old munitions dumps, using a special group of TNT-eating microorganisms. Meanwhile, on a weapons-test site near Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., a remotely operated, minature robot helps biologists study the behavior of the American badger.

Scenes like this are becoming more and more common at United States Department of Energy (DOE) labs as the facilities shift from their traditional focus on weapons development and energy investigations to new applications in a wide array of disciplines.

They are responding to President Bill Clinton's mandate that the labs use their capabilities for more practical, economically worthwhile purposes (B. Goodman, The Scientist, July 25, 1994, page 1). In so doing, investigators from such diverse fields as materials science,...

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