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

Medical -- Bone clone . . .
Life for the 2.2 million people worldwide needing bone grafts could get a lot better if a new hybrid material developed by researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee lives up to expectations. While conventional synthetic bone graft materials offer several advantages over donor bone and negate the need for the patient to undergo a second operation, all suffer from significant shortcomings. The beauty of the gel-like substance developed by a team that includes UT's Stacy Hutchens and Barbara Evans and Hugh O'Neill of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division is that it mimics the way bone grows in the body. Grafting with this material could improve healing around surgically implanted devices such as artificial joints or dental implants. Properties of the material -- calcium-deficient hydroxyapatite nanocrystals deposited in a bacterial cellulose hydrogel -- are described fully in a paper published on line in the journal Biomaterials. Funding for this research has been provided through the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and by the National Science Foundation. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

Geology -- New old detectives . . .
Geologists like Larry Anovitz may have a new weapon of choice for reconstructing ancient climates. Obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass, has been used for making tools and weapons since the Stone Age, but a team led by Anovitz of Oak Ridge National Laboratory has discovered another use for this sharp and shiny rock. While obsidian has proven difficult to date, Anovitz and colleagues from ORNL and the University of Tennessee have devised a way to exploit a characteristic that has previously been viewed as a liability to use obsidian as a measure of prehistoric climate change. For their study, Anovitz, Dave Cole, Mostafa Fayek, Mike Elam and Lee Riciputi looked at obsidian samples dated from the 6th through 16th centuries from the Chalco site in the Basin of Mexico. The results show that the technique may be useful as an alternate method for determining information on climate data for the last 15 centuries. The work, which is funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences and by the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of the Geological Society of America's GEOLOGY. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

Nanotech -- Electromechanics in liquids . . .
Recent advances in electromechanical imaging in liquid environments by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are paving the way to new analytical tools for the biological research community. The work for the first time demonstrates that piezo-response-force imaging is possible in aqueous and other liquid environments, a key step in developing this technique for applications in soft condensed matter and biological systems. Aqueous environments, required for living cells, were believed to be incompatible with electromechanical imaging because the electrically conductive liquid interferes with tip biasing and surface vibration detection and dampens the probe's cantilever. In work recently described in Physical Review Letters, the ORNL team overcame the problem by using high-frequency biases to probe the sample surface, which reduces both the damping effect and interference of liquid conductance. The team achieved 3-nanometer resolution by controlling the conductivity of the solution. The work paves the way to nanoscale piezo-response force microscopy of biomolecular systems. [Contact: Bill Cabage, (865) 574-4399; cabagewh@ornl.gov]

Energy -- Wider truck tires; longer miles . . .
Replacing the standard two thinner tires per wheel with a single wider tire makes heavy tractor-trailer trucks more fuel efficient and allows them to be made to run with more stability, Oak Ridge National Laboratory studies show. Interstate tests by ORNL's National Transportation Research Center show gas mileage increased nearly 3 percent with use of wider single tires on tractor-trailers. Bill Knee, who headed the study, said the change also allows widening of the trailer frame by six inches, providing a much more stable configuration. Knee said tire formulation and the design of the tire are likely contributors to the fuel savings. The fuel economy tests were conducted along a route from Western Michigan to Portland, Ore., that involved many types of terrain, varying weather conditions and different levels of congestion. Additional testing of five instrumented trucks over a 12-month period will be initiated this fall. Lessons learned from these types of studies are preliminary to further efforts to develop a heavy truck of the future that will be more energy efficient and stable than conventional trucks. The research is funded by DOE's Office of FreedomCar and Vehicle Technologies. [Contact: Fred Strohl, (865) 574-4165; strohlhf@ornl.gov].

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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