Within a 30-mile radius of SLAC are some "pretty cool companies to be working for and you could be making a helluva lot more money, most likely, than working in this place," he said. "The collaboration that goes on at an institution like this, the people that you get to rub elbows with ... is invaluable. You're making a difference."
Super-computing is a particularly important area of national laboratory research, he said.
SLAC is one of 17 national laboratories overseen by the energy department. Mr. Perry has been touring the labs in the western United States, including those in Livermore and Berkeley.
Over the past five years, SLAC scientists — and the engineers who design their special-purpose tools — have used their X-ray laser, powered by their accelerator, to watch a virus preparing to infect a healthy cell; to test a device that could reduce the environmental costs of producing hydrogen for vehicle fuel; to prepare a form of carbon that improves battery storage capacity; and to develop a protein that disrupts the process by which cancers spread.
In 2017 alone, they used the laser to sustainably produce ethanol from carbon dioxide; to decipher the atomic structure of an intact virus; to help uncover the blueprint of a vaccine for a hemorrhagic fever virus; and to create a stretchable plastic electrode from a substance used to thicken soup, among other uses.
A cool job
While being the energy department secretary is not the best job he said he's ever had -- that honor goes to his 14 years as governor -- it is, he said, the coolest job he's ever had. In his 40 years in government, he said he's found no other place with more passion on the part of its employees.
During his remarks, Mr. Perry recalled, without apology and to the amusement of his audience, his 2013 efforts as governor of Texas to run ads in California aimed at persuading California-based companies to relocate to Texas.
At the time, Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed Mr. Perry's campaign as insignificant, but to his SLAC audience Mr. Perry described the governor as still "a little bit raw about me coming over here to recruit businesses from California and take 'em to Texas. I get that. Competition's a good thing, whether you're a governor of a state or a scientist."
"We're working together but we're also competing," he said. "Because, God knows, in the world we live in today, we're competing. We're competing with some countries that really are good at what they do. We need to get it right and we need to be first," including in super-computing, he said.
Mr. Perry took two screened questions, one of which asked for his views on long-term energy security. It's a mix of renewable energy and fossil fuels, he said. "The world is going to burn fossil fuels. How do we do it in the cleanest way possible?" he said. "I'm very comfortable that the science for that is going to come from a university that's working with DOE."
Asked about regulation and its effect on consumers, Mr. Perry said a key to effective government regulation is to look out for unintended consequences. "The point is, we gotta take care of our environment, whether it's our economic environment, whether it's the environment we breathe, whatever it is, government has to take care of that," he said. "Can you do it in a way that is economically feasible and doesn't cost you more than what the benefit is?"
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