Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, April 2006

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

SWARM INTELLIGENCE -- Nature's way . . .

By borrowing from nature, Xiaohui Cui of Oak Ridge National Laboratory is devising more efficient ways to analyze large amounts of publicly available data and perform other tasks to make information more accessible and useful. While ants and birds don't know anything about mathematical models, they represent the ideal when it comes to teamwork, colony organization and devising the best way to accomplish a task. Using the same concepts that allow ants and birds to keep themselves in a colony and perform duties that are essential to their survival, Cui uses a technique called multiple species flock clustering, which sorts through news items on the Internet to extract useful information. Cui also is developing a disposable sensor network based on the ant colony mathematical model, which enables large numbers of sensors to self-organize and collect and exchange information. This can be used, for example, by 1,000 or more battery-powered sensors deployed in strategic locations to monitor environmental activity or gather other information over a long period of time. This work is funded by the Department of Homeland Security. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

NANOTECHNOLOGY -- Promise and perils . . .

Anthropologists like Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Amy Wolfe don't assume that technology always makes for a better life. Instead, they take a longer view and want to know what implications are likely over time and possible consequences whether the technologies and applications work or do not work as planned. "As social scientists, our job is to provide an analytical approach that asks better questions to help people make wiser choices," said Wolfe, a member of ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. Wolfe, co-editor John Stone of Michigan State University and a dozen other anthropologists examine in detail the bigger issues of nanotechnology in society in the Spring 2006 issue (Vol. 28, No. 2) of Practicing Anthropology. "Taken together, this collection of articles demonstrates that anthropologists and social scientists are far from passive or retrospective viewers of the rapid emergence of the nanoscience and nanotechnologies that may change our world," Wolfe and Stone write in the introduction. "The authors are front and center in the unfolding nanotechnology revolution." [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

ENERGY -- Heat exchange . . .

A research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is helping to design a more practicable and energy efficient heat exchange unit in air-conditioning systems for buildings. Ed Vineyard of the laboratory's Engineering Science and Technology Division heads a team designing a natural gas-powered 10-ton micro channel heat exchange unit that can correct uneven refrigerant flow – or maldistribution – through an air-conditioning system powered by generators and microturbines. Maldistribution reduces heat exchanger capacity that reduces an air-conditioning system's energy efficiency and contributes to higher costs for a unit. Working with United Technologies Research Center, Modine Manufacturing, Southwest Gas Corp., and DuPont, researchers are evaluating maldistribution with the use of a thermal imaging camera in ORNL's Heat Transfer Test Laboratory to determine steps necessary to correct the unevenness. The goal is to produce a heat exchange unit that will have a reduced profile on top of a building and operate more efficiently than conventional systems. DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability funded the work. {Contact: Fred Strohl, (865) 574-4165;}

BIOLOGY -- Skull and spinal defects . . .

Researchers at the Russell Lab, the Mammalian Genetics Research Facility at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have generated a mutant mouse with spinal curvature and defects in the skull. The mutated gene, Nell1, which the researchers identified, affects numerous genes that control bone and cartilage formation during early development. The research, recently published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, could help scientists better understand human skull and spinal malformations. Spinal curvature problems in humans can occur due to congenital disorders, as with scoliosis, and as a natural consequence of aging. ORNL is also collaborating with the University of California, Los Angeles, to further characterize the skull defects. Some children with prematurely fused skulls express too much of the Nell1 gene. Further study into the pathways leading to spinal curvature problems are being pursued at ORNL. The work is funded by the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. [Contact: Bill Cabage, (865) 574-4399;]


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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-- Sir Francis Bacon