Page One

Lab Officials Use ‘Science Fair’ to Avoid Foundry Issue

Friday May 16, 2003

The stage was set for chaos and confusion to be followed by anger and grief. Concerned citizens had been told by Mayor Tom Bates that the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory would hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed molecular foundry. Citizens were skeptical because they had received invitations for a broadly conceived “Conversation about Lab Activities” to discuss the proverbial kitchen sink including not only “Nanoscience and the Molecular Foundry” but “Energy Efficiency and the Berkeley Lamp, other Scientific Initiatives, Fire Protection and Vegetation Management, and Science Education Programs.”  

Meanwhile hardy citizens found their way to the Strawberry Canyon Recreation Area, where the room in the Haas Club House was set up like a science fair with tables and posters, but no chairs for people to sit in. Director Shank made introductory remarks introducing interns who had won a prestigious prize. Mayor Bates thanked the lab for holding the meeting.  

And then all hell broke loose when one of the foundry directors started giving a presentation on nanotechnology. Concerned citizens wanted to know when they could speak. No answer was given to the first questioner.  

Then a second person asked. And before long there was a chorus of people asking when they could ask questions. Finally, the community relations officer did what she should have done in the first place and told the audience what they should have known, i.e. the agenda for the evening.  

As concerned citizens began to speak, the community relations officer directed them to ask their questions. It was unfriendly and poorly timed given the evening’s billing as a conversation.  

Concerned citizens have been blamed when these meetings go awry but it should be clear that the unfriendly circumstances were engineered by the lab. As  

concerned citizens were trying to make public statements, lab employees were talking at their booths that were located at the perimeter of the room, effectively ignoring the speakers and successfully distracting from what the speakers had to say.  

Concerned citizens felt set up, just as the room had been set up for small group conversations rather than for a large group conversation. The lab employees probably knew not what we were told, and meanwhile, we knew not what the lab employees were told. It was a needless collision of the two groups, and they as we were innocent bystanders.  

Meanwhile, the proposed six-story building and molecular foundry go forward for approval from the UC Regents without benefit of an Environmental Impact Report.  

Less than one-third of a mile from a neighborhood, even closer to the intercollegiate rugby and softball fields, in endangered Alameda Whipsnake habitat, competing with flora and fauna for every inch of space in Strawberry Canyon, spilling construction debris into No Name Creek, it is obvious that a real public meeting would have caused great peril to an expedient completion of the lab’s replacement to the Cyclotron, i.e. the well-funded National Nanotechnology Institute otherwise known as the molecular foundry. 

Janice Thomas is a Berkeley resident.