Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory February 2011

Published: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 12:38 in Physics & Chemistry

Fishy behavior . . . Proposals to install hydrokinetic turbines – like underwater windmills – in rivers across the U.S. are prompting questions about the environmental impacts of this new hydropower energy source. In response, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are investigating how electromagnetic fields generated by the turbines could affect the behavior of freshwater fauna such as snails, clams, minnows and sturgeon. "We know that certain marine organisms like sharks are sensitive to electromagnetic fields, but almost nothing is known about freshwater organisms," ORNL's Glenn Cada said. The scientists say the research will help companies and regulators make decisions and form policies about hydrokinetic installations. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308;]

BIOLOGY -- Database a likely lifesaver . . .

Highly effective anti-virus programs for computers are providing the inspiration for a system to protect people from deadly genetically engineered biological bugs. While the National Cyber Security Division's US-CERT provides cyber security updates and tools to safeguard computers within federal agencies, industry, state and local governments and the public, no such program exists to protect the public from harmful biological threats. That could change, however, with BioSITES, the vision of Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers Robert Cottingham and Tom Brettin. "Through CERT, we have a giant knowledge base that provides a national infrastructure to protect our computers from viruses," Brettin said. "In the same mold, we see BioSITES as a system to defend against potentially lethal bio-engineered microorganisms." [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

SENSORS -- Setting standards . . .

By testing radiation detection equipment and helping establish national and international standards, a team of Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers protects the people who keep the nation safe. The Graduated Rad/Nuc Detector Evaluation and Reporting program fulfills a Congressional mandate to set capability standards and establish a test and evaluation program for radiation and nuclear detectors. "The basic idea is to ensure that we identify the functional limitations of radiological and nuclear detection equipment," said Pete Chiaro, who leads numerous international and American National Standards Institute standards committees. "A key goal is to make sure our soldiers and front line officers have what they need to keep them and us safe." [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

FUSION -- Intense neutron detectives . . .

What does it take to withstand the conditions of ITER, the world's largest fusion energy reactor? Neutron scattering is one way to find out. The Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory offers fusion researchers with the U.S. ITER Project Office at ORNL, the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and the ITER Organization a unique resource for improving the performance of superconducting cables. In the ITER design, toroidal magnetic confinement fusion relies on superconducting cable that must endure extreme magnetic fields and electromagnetic forces. SNS has the most intense neutron beams of any pulsed neutron source in the world, and the facility's VULCAN engineering diffractometer can handle large samples like the ITER cable. "VULCAN provides unique information on actual volume fractions and residual strains in constituent materials that is very valuable for characterizing the true state of superconducting cables," said Wayne Reiersen of the U.S. ITER Project Office. [Contact: Deborah Counce, (865) 574-0644;]

Source: DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory


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