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Sensors and Controls

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) capability in the research and development of sensor materials, sensors technologies, new instrumentation, and measurement systems is critical to its ability to translate breakthrough science into robust technologies, systems, and methods that address high-risk, high-complexity, multidisciplinary issues of national importance. This capability is manifested in a culture that effectively creates and manages complex systems by (1) developing detailed analytical processes to establish requirements, (2) analyzing candidate system architectures, (3) engineering in critical performance attributes, and (4) delivering measurement systems that operate as expected from the outset and maintain their performance over extended periods with little to no intervention.

Fundamental to the successful integration and reliable functioning of these complex systems are sensor networks, measurements, and instrumentation that enable safe, optimum and sustainable operation. Thus, while the facilities, teams, and equipment encompassed by this core capability are distributed across ORNL, the Laboratory’s Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division provides a focal point for the translation of science to applications through the creation and application of foundational capabilities and technologies in electronics, sensors, signal processing, communications, and integrated systems R&D.

The ability to solve measurement problems holistically is essential to virtually all major ORNL programs and activities. Thus, this capability provides assistance to other core capabilities in delivering mission outcomes for a diverse set of sponsors, as illustrated by the following examples:

ORNL programs deliver and integrate innovations for cost-effective improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings, vehicles and engines, manufacturing, and electricity delivery. With the new Maximum Energy Efficiency Buildings Research Laboratory (MAXLAB), ORNL offers unparalleled resources for measuring and assessing new building technologies, systems, and processes; examining how these innovations interact in residential and commercial buildings; and exploring whole-building and community integration. The integration of clean buildings, renewable energy sources, and electric vehicles (EVs) is also advanced through ORNL’s operation of its own electricity distribution system, which serves as a test bed for innovative electricity delivery technologies, and management of a Power Delivery Research Center that includes facilities for testing transmission lines, advanced conductors, power electronics, high-current cables, and distributed energy communication and controls.

ORNL’s core capability in nuclear S&T, its decades of experience with nuclear operations, and its unique expertise in nuclear materials management and nuclear instrumentation and controls have been integrated to strengthen the nation’s nuclear forensic science capability. High-precision chemical and isotope mass spectrometry expertise and instruments have been brought together at the Ultra-trace Forensic Science Center, which also houses distinctive resources for collection science and specialty sampling system development. By combining advanced analytical capabilities, subject matter expertise, and nuclear processing operations, ORNL is meeting urgent needs in national security and basic science.

A new S&T area of focus within the sensors and signals research area is Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) for electric grid modernization, intelligent energy delivery in buildings, advanced manufacturing, and intelligent transportation systems.  The distinguishing feature of CPS technology is the ability to maintain critical function during intentional cyber attack.  This robust functionality is achieved by measuring the cyber-control posture to identify potential vulnerabilities, detecting intrusive signals that can act to usurp control or initiate damage-producing control excursions, and maintaining and applying control sequences within a context of the operational environment. In CPS, this control resiliency takes place below the network level, at the interface between sensors, electronics, embedded software of dedicated control elements. The nexus of sensors, signal processing and analysis, modeling, and advanced control algorithms and architectures underpin this important field of technology at ORNL.