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Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.

Study IDs Link Between Sugar Signaling and Regulation of Oil Production in Plants

UPTON, NY--Even plants have to live on an energy budget. While they're known for converting solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, plants have sophisticated biochemical mechanisms for regulating how they spend that energy. Making oils costs a lot. By exploring the details of this delicate energy balance, a group of scientists from the U.

High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Two-Dimensional MXene Materials Get Their Close-Up

Researchers have long sought electrically conductive materials for economical energy-storage devices. Two-dimensional (2D) ceramics called MXenes are contenders.


Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative

Alexander brings extensive management and leadership experience in computational science research to the position.

Kalinin, Paranthaman Elected Materials Research Society Fellows

Two researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sergei Kalinin and Mariappan Parans Paranthaman, have been elected fellows of the Materials Research Society.

Two PNNL Researchers Elected to Membership in the National Academy of Engineering

Two scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will become members of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.


High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


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Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

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Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

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Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

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Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

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More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

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NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

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Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

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University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

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Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

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Automated Measurement System Enhances Quality, Reduces Handling in Pu-238 Production

Article ID: 670359

Released: 2017-03-01 10:05:27

Source Newsroom: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

  • Credit: Jason Richards, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

    Pellets are assessed robotically to ensure they meet specifications before processing.

  • Credit: Jason Richards, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

    Researchers test the robotic retrieval of a raw material pellet.

  • Credit: Jason Richards, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

    A prototype of the automated measurement station under development in an ORNL laboratory.

  • Credit: Jason Richards, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

    Pellets are inserted into a target tube such as the one shown for processing.

February 28, 2017–Under a collaborative partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Energy, a new automated measurement system developed at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will ensure quality production of plutonium-238 while reducing handling by workers.

NASA has funded ORNL and other national laboratories to develop a process that will restore U.S. production capability of Pu-238 for the first time since the late 1980s when the Savannah River Plant ceased production. ORNL has produced and separated about 100 grams of the material and plans to scale up the process over the next several years to meet demand to power NASA deep space missions.

“We are bringing together multiple disciplines across ORNL to achieve this automation and ramp up so that we can supply Pu-238 for NASA,” said Bob Wham, who leads the project for the lab’s Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division.

The Pu-238 is produced from neptunium-237 feedstock provided by Idaho National Laboratory. Workers at ORNL mix neptunium oxide with aluminum and press the mixture into high-density pellets.

The new automated measurement system robotically removes the Np-237 pellets from their holding tray, and measures their weight, diameter, and height. “We’re excited to go from making these measurements by hand to just pressing a ‘GO’ button,” said Jim Miller, a scientist in the Fusion & Materials for Nuclear Systems Division who is employing the new system. “About 52 Np-237 pellets can be measured per hour using the new automated measurement system,” he added.

Pellets meeting specifications, as determined by the new automated measurement system, are placed in a cassette that moves to another location for loading into a hollow aluminum tube that is hydrostatically compressed around the pellets.

The Np-237 pellets loaded in the hollow aluminum tube later enter the High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL, where they are irradiated, creating Np-238, which quickly decays and becomes Pu-238.

The irradiated pellets are then dissolved, and ORNL staff use a chemical process to separate the plutonium from any remaining neptunium. Purified plutonium is converted back to an oxide powder, packaged and shipped to Los Alamos for final processing.

Plans are for initial production of 400 grams Pu-238 per year on average at ORNL and then to increase that quantity through additional automation and scale-up processes.

Several ORNL researchers contributed to the automated measurement system. Alan Barker was the software architect, enhancing early work performed by others on the system and serving as technical lead to finish the project. Richard Wunderlich further developed the software to professional grade with an emphasis on making it more robust, usable and maintainable. Michelle Baldwin also provided programming expertise, including software quality assurance, verification and validation. David West was the hardware architect, overseeing configuration tasks within the glovebox and making sure the system is safe and functional in a radioactive environment. Tim McIntyre was the project manager.

Project challenges included fitting the system into a glovebox that was only about 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep, and designing the system to be easy for workers to manipulate, maintain and repair, McIntyre said.

In another project funded by NASA, Miller said the lab is working to automate the creation of the target neptunium/aluminum pellets.

Miller also pointed to the collaborative nature of the automation development work at the lab. “I have a background in materials science, the Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division people have the electrical and robotics background, and others like the staff in the NSITD have a chemical engineering background. None of us individually could get this done,” he said.

The next NASA mission planning to use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator fueled by Pu-238 is the Mars 2020 rover, scheduled for launch in July 2020. The mission will seek signs of life on Mars, test technology for human exploration, and gather samples of rocks and soil that could be returned to Earth. In the future, newly produced Pu-238 from ORNL will fuel these kinds of missions.

NASA announced this week that is has accepted a small quantity of the new heat source for use on the rover.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/.