ORNL Podcasts

All podcast episodes available from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

When the universe was formed billions and billions of years ago, the building blocks of life were forged with it. Hydrogen, carbon, iron, nitrogen, calcium, oxygen are just a few of the elements born from the cosmos that make up life on Earth. There are currently 118 known elements and we use the periodic table to organize and understand them. But straightforward as the periodic table seems, it contains a lot of mysteries. Scientists have catalogued more than 3,000 known isotopes and speculate there are thousands more yet to be discovered. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, also known as FRIB, has come online at Michigan State University to help researchers in their quest to create new isotopes and study their exotic behavior. FRIB has been years in the making. In fact, several of the instruments and detectors used originated from a historic facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In this episode, you'll hear from several scientists who have been along for the journey about the history and future of this new facility – and what it means for science and society.  

In May 2022, history was made at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Frontier, the lab’s newest supercomputer, officially did what no other computer in the world had done before — it crossed the exascale barrier. If you're not familiar with the field of supercomputing, an exascale computer is an incredibly powerful system that is capable of a quintillion calculations per second. Frontier’s arrival marks a new era of computational performance that will help enable scientific breakthroughs never before possible. But this milestone didn't happen overnight. The journey to Frontier has been years in the making, with plenty of challenges and dramatic moments along the way. In this episode, you'll hear a behind-the-scenes account of what it took to launch the world’s first exascale computer. 

Electrifying transportation is key to cutting carbon emissions. However, cumbersome cables, lengthy charge times and range anxiety have some potential electric vehicle adopters hesitant to make the switch. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are working to make those concerns a thing of the past with a high-power wireless charging technology that could make powering an EV as easy, or easier, than gassing up a car. In this episode you'll hear from the scientists leading this technology, as well as industry partners working with the team to advance the technology and get it to market.  

Soundbite: In our last episode, you heard about how scientists are working to harness the power of the sun on earth with fusion. Achieving fusion on a large scale could bring about a new age of unlimited, carbon-free energy. Scientists are getting closer to making this a reality, but there are still a few hurdles to overcome.  One of those is finding materials that can withstand the insane conditions of a fusion reaction. Oak Ridge National Laboratory already has unique capabilities for testing these materials with the High Flux Isotope Reactor, or HFIR. While a fission reactor like HFIR produces some pretty extreme conditions, it’s still no match for what a material will experience inside a fusion reactor. That’s where the Material Plasma Exposure eXperiment, or MPEX, project at ORNL comes in. Hear how scientists like Juergen Rapp will use MPEX to take materials testing to the next level. 

Building a sun on Earth to produce unlimited, carbon-free energy may sound like science fiction, but it's not. It's a nuclear process called fusion, where two atoms join together and create an abundance of energy. Recreating the power of a star is no easy feat, but scientists across the globe are hard at work to make it a reality. From materials, to confining sun-hot plasmas, to fuel, there are a lot of scientific challenges to overcome to build a fusion reactor. In this episode, we talked to several Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists about how they are tackling these problems and why the future of fusion looks brighter than ever right now.


Soundbite: Have you met FRED? The Fine Root Ecology Database — also known as FRED — is a collection of root trait data from research performed around the world. Roots play an important role in all ecosystems, but are often overlooked by computer models. The data in FRED can help computer modelers more accurately predict climate change scenarios. In this shorter installment of "The Sound of Science" podcast series, you'll hear from ORNL scientist and root aficionado Colleen Iversen, who leads the effort to collect data for FRED.

Deep in the forests of northern Minnesota, lies something that looks a little out-of-this-world. Long boardwalks connect a series of octagonal pods that serve as gateways into the future. But this isn’t some secret alien colony. It’s a large-scale research project that’s studying the effects of climate change on the peatland ecosystem. The project is called the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments experiment, or SPRUCE. The goal of the project is to understand how climate change impact this delicate landscape. In this episode, you'll hear from members of the SPRUCE team about what they've learned from the experiment so far. 

The Arctic tundra of Alaska features a picturesque landscape, teeming with plants and wildlife. But below ground lies a significant threat to the environment. As temperatures rise around the globe, layers of soil known as permafrost, which have been frozen for up to thousands of years, are beginning to thaw. And with that, threatening to release massive amounts of trapped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. To study these dramatic changes, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments, or NGEE Arctic, project. NGEE brings together an interdisciplinary team to study the complex scientific processes that occur as the permafrost starts to thaw. In this episode, you'll hear members of the team discuss their research, what it's like to work in the Arctic tundra - including a wildlife story or two. 


Soundbite of "The Sound of Science": In the last episode, we discussed the strange world of quantum mechanics. The laws of quantum mechanics describe the odd behavior of subatomic particles. Harnessing the power of quantum mechanics could create a technological revolution. While quantum technologies might sound like something out of science fiction, the reality is quantum applications in computing, materials, sensors and networking could have a profound impact on our everyday lives. Scientists at ORNL are working to advancing quantum technologies in these areas. In this shorter installment of "The Sound of Science" podcast series, you'll hear from Nick Peters, one of the scientists at ORNL who is working on using quantum to improve network security against cybersecurity threats.

Quantum mechanics. Does the term alone make your brain hurt a little? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a very complex branch of physics where things are just kind of ... weird. However, it's this strange behavior particles exhibit at the subatomic scale that has the potential to create a technological revolution in computing, materials, networking, and sensing. To harness this power, the U.S. Department of Energy has established a suite of quantum information science research centers at five of its national laboratories. In this episode, you'll hear from several researchers at ORNL to understand what they hope to accomplish.