January 2006 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.
Tiny insects that feast on juvenile pinon pine needles can have a dramatic impact on soil microclimates, which can cause a cascade effect sufficient to cause changes on a far greater scale. In a study conducted in northern Arizona by a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Aimee Classen, researchers found that scale insects like those found on house plants reduced foliage of susceptible trees by 39 percent. Because of the reduction in this leaf area index, soil moisture and temperature beneath the susceptible trees increased by 35 percent and 26 percent, respectively. These and other changes in the microclimate below the affected trees were similar to predicted climate change scenarios over the next century and are sufficient to drive changes in the ecosystem process. Classen and colleagues from Northern Arizona University also found evidence supporting the notion that genetic resistance to insect herbivory occurs in the tree population. This study, published in Soils Science Society of America Journal (November-December 2005), is the first of its kind and could serve as a model for the effect bark beetles and other outbreaking insects have on defoliation and devastation of forests and, ultimately, climate change. In the U.S., insects and pathogens cause damage estimated at more than $2 billion per year. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
Preliminary results of an optical sensing technique for early detection of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are encouraging, according to developer Justin Baba of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While traditional techniques involve cost-intensive physical examinations and often unnecessary tissue biopsies, this technique is non-invasive and would provide rapid and efficient early detection of skin cancer. A prototype version of the instrument, which utilizes multiple wavelengths of polarized light, was used to image nine consenting patients at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Researchers were evaluating the ability of the instrument to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous lesions. Data gathered during this recent trial will serve as the basis for a National Institutes of Health proposal for further instrumentation development and miniaturization of the device. Each year, melanoma accounts for about 7,600 deaths in the United States alone. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]
With federal requirements calling for a 90 percent reduction in particulates from diesel engines by 2007, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are working with Industrial Ceramic Solutions of Oak Ridge, Tenn., in testing a cylindrical silicon carbide fiber filter to capture the diesel soot before it is emitted into the atmosphere. Utilizing an electron microscope at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's High Temperature Materials Laboratory and facilities at the National Transportation Research Center in nearby Knoxville, Industrial Ceramic Solutions President Dick Nixdorf is working with Oak Ridge researcher Larry Walker in evaluating the filter media, which requires less backpressure on the diesel engine than existing technologies, thus reducing its stress. The fiber filter contains a lower thermal mass that requires less heat to regenerate and is more energy efficient. The fiber filter is one-third the weight of conventional wall-flow filters that require more regeneration energy, a higher backpressure, is less expensive to produce and easier to clean while also improving fuel mileage. The funding source is DOE's Office of FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies. [Contact: Fred Strohl; 865.574.4165; email@example.com]
The Department of Energy's Spallation Neutron Source, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is homing in on this year's completion, with focus being directed to the neutron analysis facility's scientific instruments. The SNS's instrument team has successfully installed the liquids reflectometer incident arm, goniostat and detector arm in one of its beam lines. A goniostat is a mechanism capable of more than two dozen precision motions, which will be required to position the instrument's detector arm and sample arm for performing neutron analysis. These advanced devices are indicative of the SNS's inclusion of state-of-the-art instrumentation and robotics to accomplish its neutron science mission. The SNS remains on budget and on target for completion this year. [Contact: Bill Cabage; 865.574.4399; firstname.lastname@example.org]