Award-Winning Virtual Pandemic Research Team Includes Jefferson Lab CTO

  • Drew Weisenberger

Jefferson Lab’s Chief Technology Officer is part of team awarded the Secretary of Energy Achievement Award

NEWPORT NEWS – Drew Weisenberger wears several hats for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, serving as the Chief Technology Officer and leader of the Radiation Detector and Imaging group. Last year, he also undertook a new role as Jefferson Lab’s liaison to the newly established National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory. Now, he is already being recognized for his hard work by DOE, as the NVBL cohort was recently honored with the Secretary of Energy’s Achievement Award.

The NVBL was established by DOE at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to bring together thought leaders from its 17 national labs to address key challenges in responding to the COVID-19 virus.

According to Weisenberger, the virtual team has been meeting nearly weekly since inception, and its impressive progress is only outshone by a high level of collaboration across disciplines and expertise.

“This is a very exciting group to be a part of,” said Weisenberger. “The creation of the NVBL marks the first time that all 17 of the Department of Energy labs have been pooled together to tackle a single issue. It makes a very impressive resource.”

Each week, the team discusses ongoing and forecasted pandemic needs. Subgroups work to provide specific proposals on how to contribute toward solving these needs by creatively pooling the collective resources of the group.

“Every lab has certain specialties, but taken as a whole, large problems can be tackled by the NVBL,” explained Weisenberger. “One of the proposals we presented on behalf of Jefferson Lab was a technique that used the electron beam as a large-scale sterilization method.”

Weisenberger also offered up Jefferson Lab expertise in high-performance computing when assistance was needed in helping researchers better understand the virus with the help of supercomputers.

“Due to the nature of our work here at Jefferson Lab, we have very strong computational abilities,” shared Weisenberger. “We were able to bring those abilities to the table as NVBL began to study protein folding. Our computation techniques worked to understand how the virus attaches to cells, how a therapeutic could be designed to attach to the virus, and more.”

NVBL meetings included time for different representatives to present their ideas and pain points within various proposals. The larger group was then able to thinktank any problems and move the concepts forward.

“The DOE labs have different research strengths, such as nuclear power, structural biology, energy storage or nuclear physics, to name a few,” commented Weisenberger. “This was a remarkable opportunity to learn about the other labs and develop a network, even outside of the NVBL. There are certainly opportunities to pattern on the research others are doing, even if there isn’t an immediate or obvious link. An example of this is the direct application of Jefferson Lab’s electron beam as a treatment for difficult pollutants by water treatment facilities.”

The efforts of this groundbreaking national collaboration were applauded by the Secretary of Energy as he presented the NVBL with the Secretary of Energy Achievement Award. The Secretary of Energy Honors recognize DOE employees and contractors for their service and contributions to the department’s mission and the benefit of the nation. The various awards in the group signify one of the highest honors an employee can receive. Each year, nominations are assessed in a comprehensive appraisal and selection process.    

“The NVBL has been a remarkable collaboration opportunity and allowed our labs to contribute directly to our national pandemic response,” Weisenberger said. “I am very proud of the collective group and our contributions. I am proud to be involved in this exciting work.”

Further Reading
Department of Energy Announces Secretary’s Honor Award Recipients

Computing the Building Blocks of the Virus
National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory

By Jessica Bedenbaugh

Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, kcarter@jlab.org

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Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.