Research Highlights

Kaushik Biswas
Inspiration often strikes in the unlikeliest of places and for Kaushik Biswas, a mechanical engineer in ORNL’s Building Envelope & Urban Systems Research Group, a moment spent enjoying entertainment led to the idea of developing self-healing vacuum panels for buildings. “I was watching a movie in which tires on a presidential limousine could self-repair or inflate when damaged,” he recalled. “This intrigued me, and I thought, if tires can repair themselves, why not vacuum insulation panels?”
September 4, 2018 - Vacuum insulation technology called modified atmosphere insulation, or MAI, could be a viable solution for improving the energy performance of buildings, based on a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and industry partners. ORNL researchers used a specialized environmental chamber to characterize panels containing foam-encapsulated MAI cores and exposed them to outdoor weatherization tests via real building applications.
August 28, 2018 – With the combined mind share and facilities of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee, East Tennessee has long been a bastion for high-performance computing (HPC). For ORNL’s part, the Department of Energy’s largest science and energy laboratory has stood up three of the world’s fastest computers, and its latest champion—Summit—is hailed as the “smartest,” or most AI-compatible, supercomputer ever designed.
A stream classification system developed by ORNL researchers shows the influence of human activity on streams in the Eastern U.S. The map shows streams classified by their alteration status, highlighting the extent of networks that are impounded (magenta)
July 25, 2018 — A stream classification system developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory can help assess physical changes to United States streams and rivers from human influences and aid in more effective management of water resources.
May 1, 2018 – A study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory detailed the response and recovery of certain tree species after short-term, extreme weather events such as heat waves. Scientists exposed sets of four different saplings to dramatic temperature swings that peaked above 120 F, or around 50 C, in a climate-controlled test chamber. Sensors attached to each tree and located throughout the chamber tracked telltale signs of heat and drought stress such as fluxes in carbon uptake and shifts in water demand.
April 2, 2018 - Oak Ridge National Laboratory has partnered with FCA US LLC and casting manufacturer Nemak to develop a new cast aluminum alloy for engine cylinder heads, which could lead to more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines.
Adam Witt, left, and Mark Bevelhimer
Harnessing the power of water is a practice that has been around for thousands of years, from the ancient Greeks’ use of waterwheels to grind wheat to today’s massive hydroelectric dams that supply power to millions of customers. But given the high price tag, potential environmental impact and difficulty of licensing large dams, the future of hydropower may shift to standardized projects with a smaller footprint, built with less customization and lower cost on a variety of waterways.
NSITD Joule Award Presentation
On Thursday, April 12, five researchers from the Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division (NSITD) and Reactor and Nuclear Systems Division (RNSD) received Joule Awards from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control (NPAC).
Nanoscale spikes of carbon help catalyze a reaction that generates ammonia from nitrogen and water.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 2, 2018—The search for a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly method of ammonia production for fertilizer has led to the discovery of a new type of catalytic reaction.
A team of computing researchers and physicists from the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has become the first group to successfully simulate an atomic nucleus using a quantum computer.  
May 1, 2018 – Algorithms designed to parse data gathered by roadside sensors could make it easier to identify vehicles sought in AMBER Alerts and to assist researchers studying traffic patterns. Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists built a sensor platform to collect detailed images of cars, as well as electrical pulses and audio signals from engines, to uniquely identify vehicles. “Two cars with an identical make, model and color would be difficult to differentiate on the road,” said ORNL’s Ryan Kerekes.
Singanallur “Venkat” Venkatakrishnan is helping scientists get a better view of objects under study by some of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s most powerful instruments by creating algorithms that turn data into 3D renderings with fewer images. The result is a better understanding of the inner workings of everything from new materials to human protein receptors.
Christina Forrester
Christina Forrester’s meticulous nature is a plus for her work leading technical testing and analysis of radiological and nuclear detection devices, whether that work takes her to the Desert Southwest or to her own lab outfitted with specialized equipment at Oak Ridge.
Nab setup at SNS
The Nab experiment is the next experiment to run on the Fundamental Neutron Physics Beamline (FnPB) at the Spallation Neutron Source. The experiment will make precise measurements of the angular correlation between neutron beta-decay products, and the beta energy spectrum, both stringent tests of the Standard Model of Particle Physics. The Nab magnet (7m long, superconducting, 4T maximum field) passed all acceptance tests and has been installed the SNS target hall. Installation of shielding (radiation and magnetic), access platforms and utilities is underway.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory engineers have devised a testbed that lets them mimic high-voltage equipment in a safe, low-voltage setting. The Software-Defined Intelligent Grid Research Integration and Development platform, or SI-GRID, operates below 100 volts—less than a household outlet— and has been used to develop communications and controls for microgrids. The platform gives researchers crucial information on how the grid functions when loads suddenly shift during a power outage, and how it can more quickly recover.
As temperatures change, snow melts, and days grow longer across North America, a network of sensors captures these vital data, measuring key weather metrics that inform an array of scientific endeavors from wildlife biology to crop studies to modeling future environmental change.
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory broke the exascale barrier, achieving a peak throughput of 1.88 exaops—faster than any previously reported science application—while analyzing genomic data on the recently launched Summit supercomputer.
Last November a team of students and educators from Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge and scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory submitted a proposal to NASA for their Cube Satellite Launch Initiative in hopes of sending a student-designed nanosatellite named RamSat into space. NASA's CSLI provides opportunities for small satellite payloads built by schools and nonprofit organizations to fly on upcoming launches.
The hCA II active site is flanked by hydrophilic (violet) and hydrophobic (green) binding pockets that can be used to design specific drugs targeting cancer-associated hCAs. Five clinical drugs are shown superimposed in the hCA II active site
New insights from neutron analysis of glaucoma drugs and their enzyme target may help scientists design drugs that more effectively target aggressive cancers.   A team of researchers led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used neutron macromolecular crystallography to investigate the different states of three glaucoma drugs as they interact with the targeted enzyme, human carbonic anhydrase II (hCA II).
The recently discovered element 117 was officially named "tennessine" in Nov. 2016 in recognition of Tennessee’s contributions to its discovery. Researchers at ORNL, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Tennessee played a critical role in producing this superheavy element. To learn more about the discovery, please visit
A recently formulated triaxial rotor model was used to extract empirical moments of inertia of atomic nuclei from nuclear structure measurements. This model suggested that the unstable refractory nucleus 110Ru is the best candidate for ground-state triaxiality to date. Measurements of Coulomb excitation with a beam of 110Ru could give hints of a triaxial ground state for this unstable nucleus.
While most subatomic nuclei have shapes that are spherical or slightly deformed, it is known that some excited states of certain nuclei can have unusual ellipsoidal (or triaxial) shapes. Researchers have been searching for such odd shaped nuclei that exist in their ground state (lowest energy state), to no avail. Finding such nuclei can yield important information about how subatomic nuclei are held together. Theorists postulated that 110Ru, an unstable nucleus with a 12 second half-life, could be a candidate for a triaxial ground state.
The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) was used to search for the formation of hydrodynamic-like excited nuclear medium being created in d+Au collisions. The team, including members of the Heavy Ion Group in the ORNL Physics Division, found near-side azimuthal correlations that are not present in elementary p+p collisions. The pattern they measured could not be an elementary particle process, but is consistent with formation of a hydrodynamic, excited quark-gluon plasma (QGP). This work demonstrates excited medium formation in systems smaller than previously thought possible.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and most powerful particle collider, is at The European Laboratory for Nuclear Research CERN. Thomas M. Cormier, who heads the Heavy Ion Research Group at ORNL, is leading an upgrade of the electromagnetic calorimeter used in ALICE (A large Ion Collider Experiment). The 10000 metric ton, 50-foot high ALICE system is used to detect high-energy collisions of lead ions which create tiny samples of matter at energy densities not seen in the Universe since microseconds after Big Bang.
This experiment, being carried out by an international collaboration, is measuring parity-violating (PV) neutron capture in Helium-3. Together with other PV experiments (including the NPDGamma measurement at the SNS), it will provide a complete set of such measurements in simple nuclear systems, and thus determine the strength of the fundamental forces between protons and neutrons. The experiment performed well, collecting sufficient data to allow for the desired 10 ppb precision.
The nEDM@SNS experiment will measure the electric dipole moment of the neutron - essentially the roundness of its charge distribution. This measurement will help distinguish between different theoretical explanations for the existence of matter in the universe. This measurement requires isotopic purification, to the level of 1 part in a trillion, of 15 liters of Helium for every 2000 second long run cycle. The purification is achieved through application of small temperature gradients (the ìheat flushî) that move the Helium-3 isotope to the cold regions.
Two researchers in the ORNL Physics Division and the University of Tennessee (NICS) addressed the stochasticity and efficiency of core-collapse supernova explosions by using a highly simplified supernova model. With this model, they were able to run 160 simulations in 3D, by far the largest such ensemble, to explore a wide range of parameters describing core-collapse supernovae. Their model also allowed them to control whether convection or a Standing Accretion Shock Instability (SASI) was the dominant instability in the explosion.
Using first-principles calculations, ORNL researchers computed the nuclear structure of nickel-78 to improve understanding of the origin, organization, and interactions of stable matter. They used the NUCCOR nuclear coupled-cluster code developed at ORNL to compute increasingly larger nuclei in a more efficient manner on increasingly more powerful supercomputers. These are the first realistic calculation of the structure of nickel-78 and its isotopic neighbors from first principles, and include the role of three-nucleon forces, coupling to the continuum, and nuclear correlations.
New mixtures of liquid scintillators have been developed for a time-of-flight neutron detector array with position sensitivity, high light output, and excellent pulse shape discrimination (PSD) to be used for studies of nuclear reactions producing neutrons such as (alpha,n) and (d,n). Measurements of such reactions are of crucial importance for studies of cosmic element synthesis as well as for homeland security and nuclear non-proliferation. The custom scintillating liquid was synthesized in the ORNL Physics Division.
The 306 keV resonance in the 35Cl nucleus may, depending on its properties, play a dominant role in the capture of protons on 34S. This reaction serves as a step in a larger series of reactions which fuels the thermonuclear runaway in nova explosions. Uncertainties in the properties of this resonance contributes to an orders-of-magnitude uncertainty in the rate of this reaction. To reduce this rate uncertainty, the 37Cl+p —> 35Cl + t reaction was measured at the ORNL's Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility to constrain the spin and parity of this resonance.
Coincidence measurements of protons and gamma rays produced via the (d,p gamma) transfer reaction with neutron-rich radioactive beams can give high resolution information on single-particle states in these exotic nuclei. This information is needed to understand the evolution of shell structure and neutron capture rates for the r-process in neutron star mergers and in core-collapse supernovae.
A priority target of gamma ray astronomy, observing the decay of radioactive 18F nuclei in space can help diagnose the mechanism of nova explosions which create and disperse this radionuclide. A possible resonance in the nucleus 19Ne below the threshold of the 18F(p,a)15O reaction has contributed a large uncertainty in the net 18F synthesis in novae.
It is essential to determine neutron capture reaction cross sections on heavy unstable nuclei to better understand the rapid neutron capture process in neutron star mergers and in core collapse supernovae. An innovative nuclear spectroscopy technique was benchmarked at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan State University to better determine these cross sections. Researchers compared measurements at high and low beam energies where neutrons are ìtransferredî from target nuclei to those in a beam of 86Kr nuclei.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 26, 2018 - If equal amounts of matter and antimatter had formed in the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago, one would have annihilated the other upon meeting, and todayís universe would be full of energy but no matter to form stars, planets and life. Yet matter exists now. That fact suggests something is wrong with Standard Model equations describing symmetry between subatomic particles and their antiparticles.
Particle physicists at the Spallation Neutron Source recently made the first observation of the elusive neutrino's most common interaction with matter with a pint-sized detector. This first observation of coherent elastic neutrino nuclear scattering reported in the journal Science provides a new tool for particle physics, nuclear physics, and astrophysics.
The PROSPECT experiment is the search for the transformation of electron antineutrinos produced in a reactor into a new form of matter - sterile neutrinos. It involves measuring the energy of antineutrinos coming from the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at ORNL. This experiment will produce the most precise measurement of the 235U antineutrino energy spectrum in the world.
Commissioning of the second module of detectors in the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR (MJD) has begun. In May 2016, the second and final full module containing 29 germanium detectors was turned on for commissioning. After testing, it will be installed in an ultra-clean shield made from lead and copper. The MAJORANA experiment is located 4850 feet underground in the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, SD. It will search for neutrinoless double beta decay in 76Ge.
The MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR (MJD) experiment has been operating since Oct 2016 inside a clean room 4850 feet underground in the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, SD. The DEMONSTRATOR is searching for neutrinoless double beta decay in 76Ge using 29.7 kg of detectors made from germanium enriched to 88% in that isotope. If observed, this extremely rare decay will prove that the neutrino and the anti-neutrino are identical particles and therefore that lepton number is not a conserved quantity. This would be evidence of physics beyond the ìStandard Modelî.
A novel technique was used to determine a complete set of electromagnetic moments B(E2; 0+-2+), Q(2+), and g(2+) in single experiment. This work demonstrated that experimental g(2+) and B(E2; 0+-2+) values provide a powerful and sensitive tool to distinguish between theoretical models. The experimental results indicate a prolate deformation, and a wavefunction that is dominated by excited neutrons rather than protons.
New measurements of beta-decay properties of fission products (abundant in nuclear reactors) were performed in 2015 and 2016 at ORNLís Tandem laboratory using a Modular Total Absorption Spectrometer (MTAS). Fission products were created using a 40 MeV proton beam from the ORNL Tandem and a 238U carbide target coupled to an ion source at the on-line mass separator. Mass-separated and sometimes isotopically-pure radioactive beams were collected at the movable tape and transported into MTAS for counting.
ORNL inventors Bruce Warmack, left, and Nance Ericson display an early prototype of the DC hotstick. Credit: Carlos Jones/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 21, 2018 – North Carolina-based Hotstick USA has exclusively licensed a direct-current detector technology developed by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help emergency responders safely detect high voltages.
A shield assembly that protects an instrument measuring ion and electron fluxes for a NASA mission to touch the Sun was tested in extreme experimental environments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory—and passed with flying colors. Components that will fly aboard Parker Solar Probe, which will endure intense heat near the Sun after it launches this summer, will contribute data to improve our ability to forecast space weather, which can disrupt communications satellites and power grids.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have released pbdR 1.0, a full suite of software packages they developed to make the R programming language easy to use for high-performance computing. R is the most commonly used statistical data analysis software among academic researchers.
Despite exponential increases in computing power over the last couple of decades, many physical processes still present unique challenges for researchers seeking to advance their fields via modeling and simulation. These processes are so complex that accurately capturing the entirety of their physics is rarely possible with one application. In these cases, researchers look to “couple,” or combine, different codes to get the answers they need.
In a controlled environment, the fastest-growing orientation of graphene crystals overwhelms the others and gets "evolutionarily selected" into a single crystal, even on a polycrystalline substrate, without having to match the substrate’s orientation.
A new method to produce large, monolayer single-crystal-like graphene films more than a foot long relies on harnessing a “survival of the fittest” competition among crystals. The novel technique, developed by a team led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, may open new opportunities for growing the high-quality two-dimensional materials necessary for long-awaited practical applications.  
JENSA gas jet target system
Measuring the yield of radioactive decays of 18F nuclei that are produced in nova explosions and ejected into space can help diagnose the mechanism of these violent outbursts, making this a priority of billion-dollar gamma-ray astronomy observatories.  A possible excited quantum mechanical level in the nucleus 19Ne  below the threshold of the 18F + p --> 15O + alpha reaction has contributed a large uncertainty in the total amount of 18F synthesized in a nova.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Bo Shen works with a prototype window air conditioning unit that cools using propane, which lowers costs, increases efficiency and benefits the environment.
Cooling homes and small office spaces could become less costly and more efficient with new early stage technology developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Researchers designed a window air conditioning unit that uses propane as the refrigerant, cooling the air with 17 percent higher efficiency than the best ENERGY STAR® commercial units. “Propane offers superior thermodynamic properties and creates 700 percent less pollution than standard refrigerants,” said ORNL’s Brian Fricke.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently worked with Whirlpool Corporation to print and machine a mold used to make refrigerator doors. The process took a single day, unlike the conventional casting process for the tool that can take as long as 14 weeks.