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Story tips from the Departments of Energy's Oak Ridge National Lab -- March 2009

MATERIALS -- Entering a new domain . . .

With the aid of a one-of-a-kind instrument at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, scientists have made a series of discoveries that could open new pathways for nanoscale electronics. The study, published in Nature Materials ( and led by Ramamoorthy Ramesh of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has revealed that domain walls in a material called bismuth ferrite possess an unexpected electron conductance. The nanometer-scale domain walls separate the regions of a material with different magnetic, electric and other properties. Scientists believe that they hold a key to making great strides in logic and memory functions of tomorrow's electronic devices. Leading the collaborative effort from ORNL was the team of Peter Maksymovych, a Wigner fellow, and Sergei Kalinin. The ORNL team is pursuing the fundamental polarization and transport behaviors of ferroelectric materials, of which this and a recent study of local polarization switching are the first examples. This research was funded by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within the Department of Energy's Office of Science. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

ENERGY -- Hydrogen shake . . .

Hydrogen for transportation may have received a boost with the discovery of an enzyme cocktail that converts cellulosic materials and water into hydrogen fuel. A team of researchers from Virginia Tech, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Georgia report in the journal ChemSusChem (Chemistry and Sustainability) that by mixing 14 enzymes, one co-enzyme, cellulosic materials isolated from wood chips and water heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, they produced hydrogen gas pure enough to power a fuel cell. Cellulosic material from crop waste or switchgrass could also be used, making this potential source of energy even more economically feasible, according to the research team led by Virginia Tech. ORNL's Barbara Evans and Jonathan Mielenz of the Chemical and Biosciences divisions, respectively, are co-authors of the paper. This work improves and extends to cellulose the concept for enzymatic production of hydrogen from glucose pioneered by ORNL and funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Research for this latest project was provided by Percival Zhang's (Virginia Tech) DuPont Young Professor Award and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

MATERIALS -- Blown away . . .

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory study of structural damage from Hurricane Ike in 2008 shows that buildings with large openings such as garages and loading docks are more prone to hurricane damage -- even if the structure's construction meets local building codes. The findings by ORNL engineer Andre Desjarlais are part of a report by the Roof Industry Committee on Weather Issues on damages from Hurricane Ike. According to the report, set for release this month, wind rushing into the large openings pressurizes the building, adding more force on the roof and increasing the likelihood for damages. Post-hurricane construction damage assessments to learn more about why the buildings failed are continuing. The ORNL study is funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Building Technologies. [Contact: Fred Strohl; (865) 574-4165;]

MATERIALS -- Bulk metallic insight . . .

A combination of neutron, X-ray and atom-probe analysis has given researchers previously inaccessible insight to the atomic structure of a new multicomponent bulk metallic glass. The research by a team led by Xun-Li Wang of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has revealed the structure of the complex alloy comprising zirconium, copper, nickel, aluminum and titanium with potential applications from biomedical devices to sports equipment to aerospace structures. When fabricated under exact conditions, the alloy, which would normally be crystalline, becomes amorphous--a metallic glass--with special properties. The researchers combined data from the separate methods to gain a better understanding of the structure behind the material's unique properties, which could lead to further, more useful advanced materials. The research, funded by DOE Office of Science, Basic Energy Science program, is featured on the cover of the current issue of the journal Advanced Materials. [Contact: Bill Cabage; (865) 574-4399,]


Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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