Story tips from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, February 2004

02/06/04

SPACE -- Life beyond Earth . . .

Techniques to find microbial life in the depths of our planet may be useful for determining whether there is life on Mars. At least that's the idea behind a five-year $5 million NASA project that taps the expertise of Tommy Phelps of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Susan Pfiffner of the University of Tennessee. The project, headed by Indiana University, also takes advantage of ORNL's unique capabilities in genomics, material sciences and instrumentation. Phelps, Pfiffner and other scientists who are part of the 18-member team from eight research institutions have found evidence of microbial life from South African gold mine samples, which were up to 100 million years old at depths up to three kilometers. It's essential to explore water at those depths because it has not been affected by people. Because of the extreme conditions and the complexity involved in such an endeavor, researchers must develop indirect ways – such as methods to identify specific genes critical to survival of microbes – in their quest to determine the presence of life on Earth and beyond. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

COMPUTING -- 10 trillion and counting . . .

With eight cabinets, 256 processors and 3.2 teraflops (3.2 trillion calculations per second) of computing power, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Cray X1 is the largest of its type in the world. Add that total to the lab's IBM Cheetah with 4.5 teraflops, the SGI Ram with 1.5 teraflops and the IBM Eagle with 1 teraflop and the lab's Center for Computational Sciences boasts aggregate power of 10.2 teraflops. The Cray X1 has passed its acceptance test and is undergoing evaluation on a suite of scientific computer programs including global climate modeling, high-temperature superconductivity, astrophysics and fusion energy. ORNL is working with DOE to secure funds to expand the Cray X1 to 10 teraflops this year and to 100-plus teraflops in 2006. Meanwhile, the SGI system also has passed its acceptance test, and researchers plan to evaluate running the entire 256-processor system with just one copy of the operating system. If they're successful, it would push the limits and open new possibilities in the name of science. Finally, the IBM Cheetah is undergoing an upgrade that will quadruple the speed of messages inside the machine. The hope is that this could double the performance of some applications. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

ASTROPHYSICS --Theory behind the spectacle . . .

New computer models have bolstered the case for a theory of what causes a white-dwarf supernova to occur. Under certain conditions, the massive stellar explosions happen when a white dwarf star in a binary system accretes material from its neighbor until, eventually, the big blast occurs. ORNL astrophysicists were among researchers who applied their computational and experimental support to work published in a paper by Arizona State University. The new models help explain why the white dwarf gathers the hydrogen from its companion instead of blowing off the material as it arrives. White-dwarf supernovae interest researchers because they are believed to be the stellar factories of the heavy elements such as iron, nickel and cobalt. They also have been used as "standard candles" for measuring astronomical distances. [Contact: Bill Cabage, 865-574-4399; cabagewh@ornl.gov]

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson