Recent technical enhancements at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's High Flux Isotope Reactor are providing researchers with a more comprehensive suite of characterization tools that could help extend the lives of U.S. light-water reactors.
With these new capabilities, scientists can discern microstructural stresses in vessel steels from the microscale – millionths of a meter – to the nanoscale – billionths of a meter.
This work is especially significant because nuclear reactors supply about 20 percent of the nation's electricity, and recent budget constraints have made extending their lives a key component of the federal government's energy policy.
ANALYTICS – Device has ORNL pedigree . . .
With the introduction of Prosolia's flowprobe, researchers have an instrument that could accelerate drug discovery, aid in cancer research and improve the way scientists perform hundreds of tests.
The flowprobe system, which is based on a technique invented by Gary Van Berkel of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division, allows for efficient, automated direct sampling of surfaces while mapping the location of each chemical.
Indianapolis-based Prosolia expects flowprobe to be especially useful for researchers doing clinical research or pathogen characterization. The company expects the product to be available in May.
CLIMATE – Going small with big computers . . .
ORNL's supercomputers are allowing climate scientists to zoom in on smaller and smaller areas to try to determine whether local and regional droughts influence climate extremes on a larger scale.
What is the probability of a drought developing in the Southwest this decade? Ultra-high-resolution climate models may improve our ability to provide informed projections. In the highest-resolution model, grid cells are a mere one-quarter of a degree (23 miles) wide. "Data at this scale is only accessible with leadership computing resources," says ORNL mathematician Rick Archibald, one of nine ORNL researchers collaborating with scientists at Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories on the Ultra-high-resolution Global Climate Simulation project.
TRANSPORTATION – Highway to green . . .
Aggressive government policies, technological advances and increased use of alternative fuels will be needed to reduce petroleum consumption by 80 percent by 2050, according to a National Research Council report.
"If technology advances and the transition is achieved, the total benefits to society are likely to be many times the extra costs of the transition," said Oak Ridge National Laboratory's David Greene, who contributed to the report. He and colleague Changzheng Liu noted that the benefits include not only reduced greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum independence, but also energy savings and increased consumer satisfaction with advanced technology vehicles, resulting in increased sales of cars. The 186-page report is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18264.
ENVIRONMENT -- Seeing through soil . . .
Recent droughts have drawn attention to the importance of water availability and management in agriculture and forestry, yet how plants absorb and distribute water is not well understood by scientists.
ORNL researchers are working on ways to study how plants take up and move water through their roots, which has been difficult to do because roots are underground. The research team recently used a nondestructive technique called neutron imaging at ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor to track and measure water flux in live plant samples.
"We can see the roots hydrate and watch how water moves within the roots under different environmental driving forces," said ORNL's Jeff Warren. "We've never been able to visualize this process." Data from the experiments will be used to improve root representation in climate models that could help farmers and foresters adapt to changing environmental conditions. The team's research is published in Plant and Soil.