Research Highlights

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.
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. 
ORNL is developing a new airport and runway lighting technology to enhance visibility for pilots during takeoffs and landings.
Efforts to bring ORNL’s wireless sensor platform to market are on target and proceeding as planned. In April 2015, ORNL formed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Molex, a premier international electronics manufacturer, to make the low-cost wireless sensors commercially available for buildings applications.
The development of the ultrasonic clothes dryer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a prime example of collaboration among various divisions at the lab—drawing upon the expertise necessary no matter where a scientist sits to transform a well-researched idea into a great invention.
The construction and demonstration of the Additive Manufacturing + Integrated Energy (AMIE) project was a unique opportunity to showcase Oak Ridge National Laboratory expertise and collaboration in many areas, including 3D printing and vehicle and residential technologies. The contributions of the Electrical and Electronics Systems Research (EESR) Division—wireless charging, energy transfer, secondary battery energy storage, and advanced sensors and controls, to name a few—were essential to the project’s innovative functionality.
Madhu Chinthavali wide bandgap
The Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division’s (EESR’s) Power Electronics and Electric Machinery (PEEM) Group is putting its unique wide bandgap (WBG) evaluation facilities to work in benchmarking components used in devices such as inverters, converters, and onboard vehicle chargers. PEEM’s WBG facility can autonomously evaluate any WBG device, in any package or in bare semiconductor form, for any power level. Results covering a variety of performance and efficiency metrics are available to research partners, academia, and industry through the PEEM website.
Grid monitoring
In August 2003, an alarm system failed to warn workers at an Ohio electric utility of a minor problem with a single high-voltage power line, so the workers didn’t respond immediately. This combination of human error and equipment failure had a cascading effect on the electric grid that led to a massive blackout in the Northeastern United States and Canada—affecting some 50 million people, costing an estimated $6 billion, and contributing to at least 11 deaths.
The term “grid modernization” means different things to different people. A power systems engineer may think of updating and upgrading measuring devices with sensing capabilities, whereas someone interested in renewables may picture wind farms, solar panels, and battery storage. Both viewpoints are accurate but represent only part of the picture. Grid modernization also may mean bringing new sensing capabilities to components of the nation’s installed grid.
When it comes to a challenging application for embedded instrumentation and control, none quite beats an environment of molten salt at 700 degrees Celsius. But that is just the application chosen by scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to demonstrate the advantage of embedding controls—or systems that drive moment-by-moment adjustments to a machine or process to improve efficiency and reliability.
When asked to assist with the evaluation of first responder equipment, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Technical Testing and Analysis Center (TTAC) brought in special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team members from across the country to assist in the project—a task that presented unique challenges in preparation and coordination.
Under a collaborative partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), a new automated measurement system developed at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will ensure quality production of plutonium-238 while reducing handling by workers. 
In the quest to better understand and cure childhood diseases, scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital accumulate enormous amounts of data from powerful video microscopes. To help St. Jude scientists mine that trove of data, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created custom algorithms that can provide a deeper understanding of the images and quicken the pace of research.
Ways to give homeowners more centralized control over how much electricity their home uses—from the air conditioning unit to the heat pump water heater—are being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
With a fiber-optic network that provides Chattanooga residents and businesses with exceptional high-speed communications, the city’s Electric Power Board (EPB) provides the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with an ideal testbed for smart grid research.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers in multiple disciplines recently paid a field visit to exploration and production company Pioneer Natural Resources as part of a new Technologist in Residence (TIR) program.
ORNL’s Frank Combs and Michael Starr of the U.S. Armed Forces (driver) work in ORNL’s Vehicle Security Laboratory to evaluate a prototype device that can detect network intrusions in all modern vehicles. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy
A new Oak Ridge National Laboratory-developed method promises to protect connected and autonomous vehicles from possible network intrusion. Researchers built a prototype plug-in device designed to alert drivers of vehicle cyberattacks. The prototype is coded to learn regular timing of signals in the communications network of an individual vehicle and detect abnormalities in timing frequency that could indicate a network intrusion or malicious software. Initial prototype testing in ORNL’s Vehicle Security Laboratory demonstrated near-perfect intrusion detection rates.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have released the largest-ever single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) dataset of genetic variations in poplar trees, information useful to plant scientists as well as researchers in the fields of biofuels, materials science, and secondary plant metabolism.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently conducted a study to quantify the required logistical resources to support the development of a corn stover bioeconomy. Corn stover was selected as it is the most abundant biomass residue in the USA due to the massive production of corn grain in the country. It is currently the primary feedstock for cellulosic ethanol (i.e. ethanol from corn stalks) production in the USA.