Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, April 2005


To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications staff member identified at the end of each tip.

PHYSICS -- Stirring the Big Bang soup . . .

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are setting up for some cataclysmic number crunching. Data from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider's PHENIX detector, located at Brookhaven Laboratory in New York, will be piped to East Tennessee, where ORNL physicists will search for a handful of significant particle-collision "events" hidden among billions. Even after the multitude of heavy ion and proton collisions generated by RHIC are winnowed down to an interesting few thousand per second, the PHENIX experiment, which runs 24-7 for six months a year, generates enough data to fill a 50-gigabyte hard drive in a few minutes. The ORNL researchers will use a new array of high-end processors to peruse the data for those magical events that reveal matter as it existed in the fleeting microseconds just after the Big Bang. That's when the theorized soup of quark and gluons were at temperatures and densities never seen again except, possibly, in these experiments. (Contact: Bill Cabage, 865-574-4399;

CHEMISTRY -- Molecules in jail . . .

By devising a method to confine molecules within individual pores of silicon dioxide, A.C. Buchanan and Phil Britt have perhaps unlocked the key to advances in better control over chemical reactions used in the manufacture of thousands of industrial products. Buchanan and Britt, members of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Chemical Sciences Division, are especially excited by the prospects of controlling reaction rates and selectivity. "These are considered the holy grail for chemists and for the chemical industry," Buchanan said. For years, scientists have successfully confined individual molecules in zeolites (microporous crystalline structures), but this new ORNL work creates a world of possibilities. The challenge now is to gain a better understanding of how these larger highly uniform pores can be used as "nano-reactors," Britt said. The hope is that they will be able to do more selective chemical manipulations and perhaps speed reaction times, both of which would be boons to the chemical processing industry. This research is funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences. (Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;

ENERGY -- Heat pumps and more . . .

Advanced heat pumps and refrigeration units for residential, commercial and industrial users will be among the technologies showcased at the 8th International Energy Agency Heat Pump Conference May 30 through June 2 at Caesars Palace. More than 400 representatives from the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, industry, universities and several countries are expected to attend the event, which will summarize advances and trends in global markets, applications and technology developments. Carrier, ClimateMaster, Lennox and several other manufacturers will be represented at the conference, which will feature 150 technical papers, exhibits, cutting-edge research and developments and tours of Lake Las Vegas and Rocky Research. Conference participants are from Austria, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. For additional information about the conference, visit (Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;

ENERGY -- Nuclear fuel study . . .

High-resolution three-dimensional images gained with a new specialized instrument will provide insight into the relationship between materials microstructure, processing conditions and nuclear fuel performance. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Gene Ice, Eliot Specht and John Hunn of the Metals & Ceramics Division led a team that worked with Xradia to customize an X-ray tomography system to examine nuclear fuel with an unprecedented resolution of 1.6 microns. A fuel particle is about .5 millimeter in diameter. The $600,000 instrument, similar to a CAT scan system, provides ORNL with a unique ability to nondestructively characterize the fuel particle coatings and answer several long-standing scientific questions about how to make nuclear fuel more reliable. "We're looking for cracks and other imperfections in the layers of the particle," Specht said. Funding for this activity was shared by the offices of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology and Fusion Energy Science; National Nuclear Safety Administration and a DOE Work for Others program customer. (Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;

ENVIRONMENT -- Tracking truck emissions . . .

Stricter federal diesel emissions standards to take effect in 2007 will require a more accurate reading of the chemical makeup of truck exhaust and emissions. Engineers at the National Transportation Research Center -- a user facility of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory -- have developed the Spatially Resolved Capillary Inlet Mass Spectrometer, which measures the chemical makeup of intake and exhaust air as it travels through the engine. An adsorber serves as a catalyst in reducing the amounts of oxides of nitrogen, transforming the emissions into harmless nitrogen. The SpaciMS can characterize and measure the different chemicals present in the catalyst, and how those change over time as the NOx is converted to nitrogen. The SpaciMS contributes to increasing fuel efficiency while meeting upcoming new emissions standards. (Contact: Fred Strohl, 865-574-4165;

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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-- Vincent Van Gogh