Newswise — RICHLAND, Wash. – World-class chemist Liyuan Liang has been selected as the director of EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory – a Department of Energy user facility on the campus of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Liang comes to PNNL from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she has helped set research strategy, directed investments in strategic new research areas, and led large teams of scientists tackling some of the nation’s most important scientific problems.

At EMSL, she will be responsible for setting a scientific vision that attracts outstanding staff scientists and users of EMSL facilities and programs, promotes innovative research, and fosters the creation of robust scientific teams and communities.

Perfect fit for EMSL“Dr. Liang brings outstanding experience providing strategic vision and planning to advance high-impact cross-disciplinary research,” said Allison Campbell, associate director at PNNL and leader of the laboratory’s Earth and Biological Systems Directorate. “Her experience leading projects and teams of scientists focused on research supporting the Department of Energy and other government sponsors is a perfect fit for EMSL and PNNL.”

More than 750 scientists from around the world each year turn to the capabilities at EMSL, a center of environmental and molecular expertise sponsored by DOE’s Office of Science, to seek answers to questions important for our future. The laboratory, equipped with 150 high-tech experimental instruments as well as a scientific staff with a wealth of scientific knowledge, enables scientists to address the nation’s most critical biological, environmental, and energy challenges.

Scientists using EMSL are looking into questions involving the harnessing of the Sun’s energy efficiently to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, the effects of wildfires on the climate, the use of biological materials like plants for fuel, and the effects of climate change on our planet – beneath our feet, in the air we breathe, and in the waters that bathe our planet.

Chemistry of complex systemsThose are the types of issues that Liang addressed in a variety of roles at Oak Ridge. She is an expert on the chemical reactions that determine the fate of metals and other compounds in complex systems like groundwater and soil – learning how chemicals move through such systems, how to reduce potential negative impact, and how to create new ways to cleanse water and soil.

Much of her work has focused on mercury, a substance that can cause brain damage and even death. Liang has studied how mercury is transformed into its most dangerous form, methylmercury. In a paper published in the journal Science, she discovered two genes in bacteria that are needed when the transformation happens – crucial information for scientists trying to lessen the harmful effects of the substance. Now she is looking at how mercury from sources like volcanoes and coal-fired power plants is spread worldwide through the atmosphere.

She has also studied many aspects of carbon in the environment, including the effects of warming on the storehouse of carbon in the tundra and new ways to store or sequester carbon in the Earth.

At Oak Ridge, she has directed the lab’s Office of Institutional Planning, managed the laboratory’s programs for a DOE program known as ARPA-E, and served as a Distinguished Scientist at the Spallation Neutron Source. While at Oak Ridge she has also served as a professor at the University of Tennessee.

In addition to her career at Oak Ridge, Liang has held faculty positions at the University of South Carolina and at the University of Wales, Cardiff. A frequently invited speaker at scientific meetings, she is the author of more than 125 peer-reviewed articles and co-editor of the book, “Neutron Applications in Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.” She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Liang received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Northeastern University and a master’s degree and doctorate in environmental chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. She will join EMSL this summer.

# # #