Climate and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD)

William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

The William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSLExternal link) is a DOE Office of Science User Facility for molecular-level research where multi-disciplinary scientists use premier instruments for experimental studies, high-end computing, and open-source software tools to iterate between theory and experiment to unravel the interactions of physical, chemical and biological processes that underpin climate, energy and other environmental challenges facing DOE and the nation.

Located at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)External link in Richland, Washington, EMSL provides the user community with suites of mass spectrometry capabilities, high resolution and unique imaging capabilities, nuclear magnetic resonance capabilities, x-ray and laser spectroscopy capabilities, and many other capabilities for molecular-level studies. In addition, EMSL provides a High Performance Computing (HPC) capability optimized for molecular-level modeling and simulation, the open source NWChem computational chemistry code, data storage systems, and collaborative software tools. Collectively, these capabilities provide users with a problem-solving environment in which they can iterate between experiment and theory to investigate and simulate atomic- and molecular-level biological, chemical and physical processes.

By co-locating multiple types of capabilities and scientific expertise in a single facility, EMSL serves as an ideal place for research teamsExternal link to use multiple capabilities to investigate complex scientific challenges, or for individual investigators from senior researchers through early career scientists and graduate students, to use premier capabilities to conduct a wide range of single-investigator studiesExternal link. All of the EMSL capabilities are made available to scientists from academia, national laboratories, other federal agencies, and industry.

The EMSL User Program supports both open and proprietary research.  Open research is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community while proprietary users intend to withhold all or part of the information or results from the public. A limited amount of proprietary research may be conducted in the EMSL under a proprietary user agreement.

To showcase the science, people and capabilities that constitute a problem-solving environment, EMSL uses a variety of multimedia tools, including an RSS feedExternal link, videosExternal link and animations, images, print products and social networking capabilities including FacebookExternal link, TwitterExternal link, YouTubeExternal link, Flickr,External link and LinkedInExternal link. The EMSL Virtual TourExternal link provides additional insight into some of the premier instruments and laboratories in EMSL.

DOE Mission Relevance

The DOE Strategic Plan calls for transformative science and technology to enable the DOE to address its mission to focus on the energy, environmental and nuclear challenges facing the United States. Scientific breakthroughs leading to new sources of energy such as biofuels and hydrogen, improved catalysts and materials for industrial applications, insights into molecular reactions that influence climate science, carbon and nutrient cycling, and carbon sequestration processes, and new approaches to managing legacy wastes such as radionuclide and heavy metal contamination, cannot be fully realized without detailed knowledge of the physical, chemical and biological interactions occurring at the most fundamental levels. The complex nature of these interactions requires a broad range of premier instruments for experimental studies and HPC capabilities for modeling and simulation to enable multi-disciplinary research on these challenges.

Scientists use EMSL’s capabilities to study aerosol particle formation and transformations; carbon and nutrient cycling in soils, sediments and the rhizosphere; intracellular metabolic processes in bacteria, archaea, fungi and plants; microbial community, fungal and plant root interactions with soils and hydrologic processes relevant to bioenergy and biofuels; the fate and transport of inorganic and organic contaminants in soils, groundwater and the vadose zone; the long-term stability of nuclear waste in glass and ceramics; carbon sequestration in geologic media; battery and fuel cell energy storage materials; and catalyst, nanomaterials/nanostructures, and chemical sensor performance and optimization.


Potential users may submit a general proposalExternal link for any of the EMSL User Program capabilities through the EMSL user portalExternal link at any time. In addition to accepting general proposals, EMSL issues an annual call for Science Theme proposalsExternal link and periodic calls for other types of proposalsExternal link, including calls for research campaigns and scientific partnerships. All proposals are peer reviewed.

  • Science Theme proposals are responsive to one or more of the three EMSL science themes: Biological Interactions and DynamicsExternal link, Geochemistry/Biogeochemistry and Subsurface ScienceExternal link, and Science of Interfacial PhenomenaExternal link. The EMSL science themes are aligned with broad program areas within the DOE Office of Science, build upon EMSL’s historical scientific expertise, and allow EMSL to match user research with in-house expertise.
  • Research campaigns are solicited in specific areas and not only combine experimental and computational research efforts but also multiple methods and approaches. These proposals are most often larger in size than most Science Theme user projects and involve partnerships between external users and EMSL staff to combine measurements, computation and/or data in ways not previously possible.
  • Scientific partner proposals can be submitted by individuals or groups who wish to partner scientifically with EMSL staff to enhance an existing capability, or to develop and build unique new capabilities that enhance EMSL’s user program.

For users who need access to EMSL capabilities for rapid turnaround of data to meet a specific deadline or for a proof-of-principle experiment, EMSL accepts Rapid Access proposalsExternal link. These types of proposals can be submitted at any time, undergo expedited management and peer review, and are valid for 30 days.

Capabilities and Applications

With more than 75 major experimental instruments, HPC systems and data storage, EMSL’s capabilities are organized into eight groups:  1) Cell Isolation and Systems AnalysisExternal link, 2) Deposition and MicrofabricationExternal link, 3) Mass SpectrometryExternal link, 4) Microscopy,External link and 5) Molecular Science ComputingExternal link. 6) NMR and EPRExternal link, 7) Spectroscopy and DiffractionExternal link, and 8) Subsurface Flow and TransportExternal link. While users can submit proposals to use one capability within a single group, most EMSL users submit proposals that make use of multiple capabilities that cut across multiple capability groups.

Some capabilities can be remotely operated/used from another institution or location (e.g, the HPC system and the mass spectrometers) and run 24/7, but most of the instruments require staff support and are only available 10h/day, five days a week.  Some capabilities are used to synthesize or analyze unique materials or surfaces.  A few capabilities can be deployed outside the building in “field campaigns.” Some users collaborate with EMSL staff to develop new NWChem modules or other software products that are made available to the scientific community. When MyEMSL is fully deployed, remote users will have access to multiple types of experimental and theoretical data, thereby enabling data analytics research.

In late 2011, EMSL opened the Quiet WingExternal link, a unique research environment that houses an integrated suite of ultrasensitive microscopy instruments. The Quiet Wing protects against acoustic noise, floor vibrations, air flow, temperature fluctuation and electromagnetic interference, and enables users to apply these instruments for studying fundamental, atomic-level reactions relevant to catalysis, energy storage, subsurface science and microbial and plant biology.

In early 2013, EMSL opened the Radiochemistry AnnexExternal link. The Annex includes laboratory space that is designed for studying contaminated environmental materials and examining radionuclides and chemical signatures, and it features NMR capabilities as well as several types of surface science analysis capabilities.

Data Sharing Policy

Allocations of time on EMSL’s capabilities are contingent on adherence to EMSL’s terms and conditionsExternal link as well as EMSL’s data management and releaseExternal link policy.


BER is committed to managing the operations of EMSL to the highest standards of overall performance using merit evaluation with independent peer review. The expectation is that EMSL will achieve an average operation time of greater than or equal to 98% of the total scheduled annual operating time. The EMSL Operating HoursExternal linkare tracked quarterly.

More Information about the Program and Its Accomplishments

The EMSL User Program seeks to attract new, highly qualified users and honor their major contributions through a variety of Fellowships and AwardsExternal link, including extended user visits and the ability to play a role in shaping EMSL’s future directions. For example, the Wiley Visiting Scientist ProgramExternal link is designed to enable distinguished scientists to spend extended periods of time at EMSL focusing on their research and helping to plan or develop EMSL capabilities. The William Wiley Post Doctoral FellowshipExternal link gives highly qualified PhD scientists the opportunity to conduct creative original research using EMSL capabilities. The Wiley Research Fellow ProgramExternal link recognizes scientists who make significant contributions to EMSL and offers them a role that allows them to help determine EMSL's future directions. Outstanding achievements by an EMSL postdoctoral fellow are honored annually with the MT Thomas AwardExternal link.

Research highlights, facility information and user activities are described in a variety of EMSL publications:

Science Highlights, General News and Feature StoriesExternal link

EMSL Newsletter (The Molecular Bond)External link

Workshop Reports, Journal Covers and Research PublicationsExternal link

Program Manager

Mr. Paul E. Bayer
Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, SC-23.1
U.S. Department of Energy, GTN Bldg.
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585-1290
Phone: (301) 903-5324
Fax: (301) 903-8519

Last modified: 3/5/2016 8:05:00 PM