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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, October 2007

BIOMED -- Sensitive skin . . .

People with tomorrow's prosthetic hands and arms will be able to feel heat, cold and touch through a series of developments by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NASA. Two different ORNL research groups, Ilia Ivanov and Dave Geohegan of the lab's Nanomaterials Synthesis and Properties Group, and John Simpson of the superhydrophobic materials group, are combining superhydrophobic material with thin layers of carbon nanotubes to mimic skin's properties. This artificial skin, dubbed FILMskin, combined with advanced sensors being developed by researchers at NASA will provide unprecedented utility to prosthetic wearers. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

FORENSICS -- Better body bag . . .

A novel body bag proposed by a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be a lifesaver for people who have to handle victims of natural disasters, wars or other events that claim multiple lives. While the basic body bag has changed very little since its inception, Arpad Vass of the lab's Biosciences Division is developing one that is leakproof, transparent and offers many other improvements. This body bag would safely contain the body until identification can be made while protecting people who have to handle the dead. The bag would contain titanium dioxide and, using 300- to 400-nanometer wavelength light, could be decontaminated in place. The bag would also contain a port from which a vacuum could be drawn to significantly slow down the decomposition process. Vass also noted that this advanced body bag would be useful for preserving evidence in homicides. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

CLIMATE -- Underground CO2 sinks . . .

Climate change may be atmospheric, but the secret to Earth's response could be buried underground. Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists are using new molecular tools to characterize microbial life beneath the soil and determine the role bacteria, protozoa, viruses and fungi play in helping plants and soils take up the extra carbon dioxide collecting in the atmosphere. Such understanding is key to developing models of potential climate change scenarios and could also play a role in human attempts to mitigate and adapt to global warming. In one such project, ORNL researchers are studying microbial activity in a field of switchgrass, a potential bioenergy crop, the development of which could both help displace fossil fuel emissions and sequester unwanted carbon from those emissions. [Contact: Larisa Brass, (865) 574-4163;]

ENERGY -- Steeper slopes . . .

A study of roofing damage incurred by Gulf Coast structures following Hurricane Katrina has found that buildings with steep sloped roofs held up better against the high-wind storm damage than buildings that had low sloped roofs. The study conducted on behalf of The Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues through a cooperative research and development agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratorys Buildings Technology Center determined that steeper sloped roofs held up better due to the fact the building materials composing the roof structure defend better against wind uplift forces that occur during hurricanes. The study, led by ORNL engineer Andre Desjarlais, concludes that construction of these structures should adhere to current local building codes that have been upgraded over previous codes, closely following manufacturers guidelines and using compliant edging systems. The funding source is DOEs Office of Building Technologies. [Contact: Fred Strohl, (865) 574-4165;]


Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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