July 2003 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.
With the acquisition of a Silicon Graphics, Altix 3000 system, ORNL scientists will have another powerful resource to analyze large sets of data and perform other research vital to science. The new system features 256 just released Intel Itanium2 processors, 2 terabytes of global shared memory and 1.5 teraflops of computational power. A teraflop is equal to 1 trillion calculations per second. The huge amount of shared memory greatly simplifies the task of a single user gaining access to large amounts of memory. ORNL plans to use the new installation to drive a new class of applications -– including advanced computational biology, environmental research and climate simulations -– that generate exceptionally large and complex data sets. Researchers expect to take delivery of the system in August. DOE's Office of Science is providing the funding. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
A mere 25 degrees can make a big difference in the operating efficiency of a turbine engine, and researchers at ORNL are helping Rolls Royce to demonstrate a technique called phosphor thermography. The technique could be used in the future to optimize turbine designs. Using special optics, a laser and phosphor powder, Steve Allison and colleagues in the Engineering Science and Technology Division can make extremely accurate measurements at temperatures up to 1,706 degrees Celsius. The ORNL method, which is patented and has received an R&D 100 Award, uses fiber optics and pulses from a small ultraviolet laser to excite the phosphor. Light detectors measure the time it takes the fluorescence to decay, giving researchers an extremely accurate measure of temperature. The technique promises to be more reliable and accurate than conventional methods using wires and thermocouples or pyrometers (cameras). In the project with Rolls Royce, ORNL is assisting with the Advanced Military Demonstration Engine for the U.S. Air Force. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]
If researchers can duplicate in the field what they have done in the lab, uranium that contaminates soil and water could be immobilized at a fraction of the cost of other methods of decontamination. The goal of Matthew Fields and other researchers in ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division and at Stanford University was first to identify what kind of bacteria, or bugs, inhabit the water and soil of a Y-12 National Security Complex site contaminated with uranium. Next, they determined which bacteria could immobilize iron and uranium by forming insoluble complexes. By increasing the activity of the bacteria with this desired trait, researchers hope to dramatically reduce the chances of uranium-contaminated water leaving the site. Researchers expect this approach to have applications at many sites that are contaminated with uranium, chromium or technetium. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
People living in the north-central section of the United States have been treated to earlier hints of spring, according to findings of T.J. Blasing and colleagues in ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. Over the last 25 years, the rapid temperature increases typical of late winter are occurring about a week earlier than they had before 1975. Blasing's data shows a decrease in the number of bitter cold high-pressure systems moving from western Canada into a region bounded by Manitoba, Canada, to Nebraska and Michigan to Montana in mid- to late February. This change may not be closely linked to global warming, but it could be related to the thermal state of the north Pacific Ocean surface, Blasing said. The research, funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Science, was published in Geophysical Research Letters (Volume 30, No. 9). [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]