February 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.
An instrument that can detect tiny (nano) explosions could lead to a hand-held instrument to screen people and luggage at airports or to detect land mines. The technology is based on miniature micro-machined silicon cantilevers one-tenth the width of a human hair that can detect tiny forces caused by heat-induced nano-explosions. The device, which boasts parts-per-trillion sensitivity, works by absorbing TNT molecules given off by explosives. As the semiconductor material absorbs the TNT and is heated with power from a simple battery, the TNT molecules undergo tiny explosions that are detected by an optical beam. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; email@example.com]
Flat-screen, high-definition televisions and flat-panel displays could be more affordable with an emerging ORNL technology that could lower the cost of owning and operating these modern marvels. The technology involves the use of tiny particles that serve as "cages" for atoms that are intentionally added to emit light of different colors. This technology could make possible flat-panel displays that are sharper and use less power than laptop computer screens, extending the life of batteries for these units. It could also lead to higher-resolution detectors of gamma rays, X-rays and other ionizing radiation as well as those of fluorescent tags on DNA fragments. Highly efficient laser diodes for optical circuits may also be made using this technology. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; firstname.lastname@example.org]
New green chemistry technology that substitutes benign carbon dioxide for noxious industrial solvents holds great promise for the $368 billion per year U.S. chemical industry. The chemical industry plays a vital role in the nation's economy, representing 10 percent of all manufacturing and employing more than 1 million Americans. The industry uses about 3.8 million tons of solvents per year, most of which are potentially hazardous to health, safety and the environment. Solvents are necessary as media for chemical reactions, chemical separations and cleaning. A new approach utilizes newly developed chemicals, called surfactants, to disperse insoluble substances in carbon dioxide. The technique is being pioneered by ORNL, the University of North Carolina, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Texas. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; email@example.com]
ORNL and Advanced Optical Systems are developing lightweight mirror technologies that could provide an alternative way to manufacture mirrors for telescopes used for space exploration and military applications. The key is in using existing technologies such as casting, nickel plating and precision machining to produce lightweight aluminum-silicon alloy mirrors. The process is less expensive than approaches that use exotic materials such as beryllium or composite materials yet yields surfaces with similar stiffness-to-weight ratios. NASA needs lightweight mirror technologies to increase launch capacities, provide easier steering of the mirrors and make possible more portable ground-based applications. These low-cost telescope mirrors also have military benefits of extremely low image distortion and low scattering of light. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; firstname.lastname@example.org]
China's decrease in cloud cover accompanied by increased average nighttime temperatures casts into shadows the generally accepted theory that ties increases in global nighttime temperatures to increased cloud cover. The time series analysis by ORNL's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) shows a significant decrease in both daytime and nighttime cloud cover in China from 1954 through 1996, with an especially large drop-off beginning in 1978. Raw cloud amount data were provided by the China Meteorological Administration to CDIAC. The study, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, raises many questions and may prompt additional research into atmospheric circulation patterns over China since the 1950s. [Contact: Media Relations; 865.574.4160; email@example.com]