Story Tips, March 2004

Released: 3/5/2004 3:40 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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COMPUTING -- Safer highways . . .

Designing highway barriers better able to protect motorists, buildings and their occupants is the driving force behind a project headed by Srdan Simunovic of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Computer Science and Mathematics Division. His task is to fine-tune a Federal Highway Administration computer model of a single-unit truck (26,000 pounds) typical of an appliance delivery truck. The truck is seen as the "bullet" that Simunovic and colleague Gustavo Aramayo use in computer programs to crash into different types of barriers common across the country. Engineers design barriers to either stop or deflect a vehicle, and researchers have to take into account dozens of factors, including speed of the vehicle, the height of the barrier, the angle of impact, the type of suspension and the materials used in the truck. Results of actual staged truck crashes are then compared to the computer model crashes performed on ORNL's IBM Cheetah supercomputer. The research is funded through NTRC Inc. by the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration.

SENSORS -- A nose for chemicals . . .

Mimicking the function of a nose is no small task, but researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) equivalent that can detect dozens of chemicals. Panos Datskos of ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division envisions the MEMS nose being useful to detect organic solvents, chemical warfare agents and explosives. Sensitivity and selectivity can be adjusted to optimize them for a particular chemical or entire family of chemicals. At the heart of the nose is a multi-array of micro-machined silicon cantilevers that sample the air. Recognition and signal processing systems using patented technologies then tell the user what chemical is present. The battery-powered unit would be about the size of a cellular telephone. Funding for the project, which is a collaboration with the University of Tennessee and Mike Sepaniak, is provided by the Department of Energy.

HOMELAND SECURITY -- New neutron detectors . . .

Instruments better able to detect evidence of nuclear weapons could be in production in a couple of years because of a patented process developed by a team led by Sheng Dai of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. At the heart of the method is a room-temperature hybrid sol-gel process, which simplifies manufacturing and results in a more sensitive -- and more versatile -- detector. Instead of employing commonly used high-temperature fiber optics, which are costly to manufacture and limited in the number of activators they can accommodate, the ORNL technique simplifies the manufacturing process and allows different coatings to be applied directly to the detector. The research takes advantage of recent breakthroughs in material sciences and applies them to advanced neutron sensors. Dai, of the lab's Chemical Sciences Division, will be presenting this research at the 227th national meeting of the American Chemical Society later this month in Anaheim, Calif.

PARTNERING -- Bringing industries together . . .

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's High Temperature Materials Laboratory routinely works with industries toward solving challenging problems. In a recent case, ORNL played matchmaker between a firm with a problem and another with a solution. A North Carolina company, Porvair, came to ORNL for help in evaluating a metallic foam that the firm has developed. About the same time, the paper producer Weyerhauser approached ORNL for help with a problem with stress cracks in some of its heat-recovery equipment. ORNL researchers decided to apply the metallic foam to the problem with the heat-recovery equipment in an attempt to accommodate swelling that causes the cracks. The two companies were introduced and the result is one company with a new customer and another company with a much-improved process.


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