Biologists are defined by both their field of investigation and where they work. When I was a tenured university professor in the pathology department of a medical school, my colleagues seemed to understand what I did for a living. Now that I work at a national laboratory, I am more likely to be greeted with blank stares. The questions that I do get, such as whether I need to write research grants (I do) or whether I work on the energy problem (I don't), indicate a pervasive lack of understanding of the nature of national labs and their important roles in biological research.

Most people do know that the national laboratory system was established after World War II as an outgrowth of the Manhattan project to build the first atomic bomb. Biology was central to the original mission of nuclear energy research because of concerns about the health effects of...

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