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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, March 2008

To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip. For more information on ORNL and its research and development activities, please refer to one of our Media Contacts. If you have a general media-related question or comment, you can send it to

HOMELAND SECURITY -- Protecting ports . . .

Knowing beforehand whether a system for detecting weapons of mass destruction at U.S. ports will be practical and effective can make for smooth sailing. PortSim, a security simulation and visualization tool developed by Dan Koch, does just that by taking away any guesswork for evaluating the operation and cost of proposed inspection procedures. With more than 27 million 20-foot equivalent units coming through our 150 ports, the challenge of examining the contents of every container is enormous, said Koch, a member of Oak Ridge National Laboratorys Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. PortSim allows users to look at and adjust a number of parameters to evaluate the cost and impact on port operations. The research is funded by the Department of Homeland Security. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

INDUSTRY -- Wireless sleuths . . .

Wireless systems able to monitor and perform diagnostics on motors used in industrial processes could improve production efficiency by 10 percent to 20 percent, according to Wayne Manges of Oak Ridge National Laboratorys Industrial Technologies Program. With electric motor-driven systems accounting for nearly one-fourth of all electricity consumption in the United States, the potential for savings is huge, Manges said. While Industrial Technologies Program partners are releasing new wireless sensor technology expected to eclipse previous successes, Manges noted that worldwide standards are needed to promote market acceptance and to accelerate the use of wireless sensors, and that ORNL has a long tradition of supporting the standards development process. Cost savings with wireless systems are substantial, as running wire in plants costs between $160 and $4,000 per foot. The typical payback is about six months for a wireless system vs. 23 months for wired. This research is funded by the Department of Energys Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

BIOSCIENCE -- Genomic forensics for plants . . .

Want to sleuth out the secrets to plant behavior? You need a genomic signature, of course. Using the latest tools of genetic analysis, ORNL researchers have developed a way to determine why plants behave the way they do at a molecular level. The technique involves genetically analyzing plants exposed to an unknown environmental stress and then comparing that genomic signature against a database of already known phenotype information linked to specific genes within the plant. A network analysis determines the gene clusters responsible for the behavior. These clusters are then used to create a signature that ties a particular group of genes to a specific function of the plant. Tracing these genomic signatures will help scientists understand the mechanisms of plant response to climate-change and determine the best varieties of plants for bioenergy crops. [Contact: Larisa Brass, (865) 574-4163;]

NEUTRON SCIENCE -- Spallation neutron record . . .

The Department of Energys Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most powerful pulsed neutron spallation source. The SNS recently ramped up beam power to more than 300 kilowatts, producing 4.8 x 10e 16 neutrons per second. The SNS is currently sending neutrons to five instruments of an eventual 24, and its first article has been accepted in Physical Review Letters and is expected to be published soon. With an eventual beam power of 1.4 megawatts, every time the SNS ramps up, it will set a new neutron production standard. [Contact: Bill Cabage, (865) 574-4399;]


Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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