April 2000 Story Tips
Story ideas from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip.
Paper laboratory notebooks may go the way of the typewriter with the invention of the DOE Electronic Notebook. It provides scientists and inventors with a system to input and retrieve information much like a paper notebook but has many additional advantages. Researchers will be able to share a common project notebook with collaborators around the world. ORNL records personnel are working with electronic notebook developers to ensure that the electronic version meets all the regulatory requirements for scientific records. Another advantage of the notebook is that after typing their password, users can read and write to the notebook using their Web browser. No special software needs to be installed on a user's computer. Hundreds of groups at DOE labs, universities, industries and medical centers are already using the new notebook, developed by researchers in the Computer Science and Mathematics Division. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; email@example.com]
Manufacturers of components made of plastics, polymers and metals may be able to reduce time and energy costs significantly with direct thermal systems developed by researchers in the Metals and Ceramics Division. The direct thermal systems use a non-conventional heating method that permits the application of thermal energy to locations where heat is needed to manufacture or assemble components. It reduces the number of steps in manufacturing or assembly of components, results in huge savings in production cycle time and improves product quality. The technique is expected to play a major role in the production of electric power steering systems, which will improve fuel efficiency and eliminate environmental problems associated with traditional power steering fluid used in today's automobiles. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; firstname.lastname@example.org]
ORNL researchers have built a "smart" transistor that takes advantage of their recent materials breakthrough in depositing a high-quality film of barium titanate on germanium. The device, which is the world's most powerful ferroelectric transistor, is "smart" because of barium titanate's semi-permanent internal field. Depending on whether it's up or down, the field either pulls up or pushes away electrical charges in the germanium substrate, facilitating or resisting the flow of electrical current (and making an "on" or "off" transistor). Unlike the case with a silicon transistor, the field on the new transistor stays up or down all the time, so no external power is needed unless the field must be flipped. In addition, all the information in the "on" and "off" transistors is retained even when the power is turned off. The new transistor could pack in much more information than a silicon transistor, making possible a low-power gigabyte chip that could serve as the hard disk drive of a laptop computer and greatly extend the lifetimes of laptop batteries. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; email@example.com]
A new breed of chemical sensors is expected to make practical the monitoring of drinking water, groundwater and streams near industrial discharge sites. Bioluminescent bioreporter integrated circuits developed by researchers in the Instrumentation and Controls Division and the University of Tennessee combine genetically engineered bacteria with low-cost micro-electronics technology. Because the sensing element is a living cell, it detects not only the presence of a targeted substance but also whether it can be taken up by living organisms. This helps scientists determine health consequences arising from exposure to the substance. The chips' small size allows it to be used in areas where analytical instruments would be impractical. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; firstname.lastname@example.org]