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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, January 2016

January 05, 2016

To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications 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

COLLABORATION - World of opportunities ...

With the creation of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Research Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory makes available tools and capabilities with applications in environment, energy, infrastructure, security and humanitarian efforts. For example, the ability to fly over land that is not easily accessible allows the center to carry out detailed critical structure, agricultural and environmental inspections, said Rick Lusk, director of UASRC and leader of ORNL's Data System Sciences and Engineering Group. Unmanned aerial systems can provide virtually unlimited amounts of information about airborne contaminants, bridges, dams, transmission lines, cell towers, pipelines and can help first responders determine needs during a natural or man-made disaster. Tactical surveillance is another key application for unmanned aerial systems and the center, which will allow industry and government agencies to tap into a wealth of resources. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


Cutline: Drones can play an important role in a number of areas, including making the U.S. safe, improving crop yield and safeguarding the environment.

MATERIALS - Clear advantages ...

Touchscreens, smart phones, liquid crystal displays and solar panels of tomorrow could be more efficient because of a new material profiled in a paper published in Scientific Reports. Researchers at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a transparent conducting oxide thin film that relies on fundamentally different physics than existing transparent conducting oxides. "The charge carriers in our material are highly mobile and can move very fast under electric fields, allowing logic devices to switch rapidly such as for the on/off operation in transistors," said UT's Ramki Kalyanaraman, who led the team. "This property also allows them to carry electrical current efficiently." Researchers noted that their approach isn't based on indium, a precious metal, yet is already competitive with the state of theart. The paper is available at [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


Cutline: New transparent conductor made from more earth-abundant elements promises lower cost solar cells and displays.

POPULATION - New modeling component ...

By studying hospital occupancy rates in hospitals of countries where data is readily available, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers hope to further refine their population distribution and dynamics work. For this effort, researchers are focusing on night and day population density for more than 50 facility types, including hospitals. "This research is important to the project in support of the best modeling algorithms for building occupancy around the world, including in data-poor regions," said Jason Kaufman, who will be presenting the work at the Association of American Geographers conference in San Francisco. Kaufman noted that the data play an important role in natural hazards loss analytics, population distribution estimates and green building technologies. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

SENSORS - Extending limits ...

Through manipulation of two laser beams and plasmonic sensors, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are pushing the boundaries for detecting trace biochemical compounds. These sensors, which exploit local electromagnetic fields and the ultra-sensitive plasmon resonance, are widely used for commercial sensing and in research labs. Detecting individual molecules, however, typically requires long integration times, but by reducing the noise floor with quantum states of light, Ben Lawrie and Raphael Pooser have enabled faster detection of trace biochemical signals. Their work appears in ACS Photonics. This finding builds on research just published in Physical Review A in which they used quantum noise as the signal in an otherwise identical plasmonic sensor. "We showed that instead of reducing the noise floor we can use quantum noise as the signal for plasmonic sensors, amplifying the sensor response for a given change in chemical concentration," Lawrie said. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


Cutline: The entanglement between the two beams of light enables researchers to resolve trace signals from the plasmonic sensor that would otherwise be undetectable.

ECOLOGY - Mapping forest canopies ...

A new data analytics approach developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory could help forest and wildlife managers track changes in vegetation and wildlife habitat across large land areas. Computational researchers from ORNL's Climate Change Science Institute designed a framework to transform complex LIDAR remote sensing data into high-resolution maps of vegetation canopy structures. In collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, the team used the tool to characterize the diverse ecosystems found in the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "Over time, we can track if vegetation is shifting from one type to another and understand how structural changes might affect habitats for animals, especially bird species," said ORNL's Jitendra Kumar. The tool uses machine learning to classify the vegetation types and incorporates knowledge from existing maps. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308;]


Cutline: This ORNL-developed map depicts different classes of vegetation canopy structure in the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

COMPUTING - Patterns and predictions ...

Drawing connections between seemingly disparate and vast amounts of text could become easier thanks to software developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Researchers Matt Sangkeun Lee and Sreenivas Rangan Sukumar bring "six degrees of separation" to the computational field with holistic graph analysis technology, a smart data tool that scales on Cray's URIKA-GD. The open-source software generates webs of patterns and predictions from stored data while automatically extracting tidbits of useful knowledge. For a world of disparate data such as social media or healthcare, this is a promising tool for visualizing and discovering new information from stored data. "We have the hardware and the software," Lee said. "It's not just theory anymore." [Contact: Ashanti B. Washington, (865) 241-9515;]


Cutline: ORNL's open-source software mines for insights in Big Data, enabling timely detection of useful information such as fraud within a healthcare service provider network.

MATERIALS - Steel like none other ...

Steel unlike any forged in the last 2,000 years will be in the spotlight at the TMS 2016 Annual Meeting & Exhibition Feb. 14-18 in Nashville. Lynn Boatner of Oak Ridge National Laboratory will present a paper that describes the "intrinsically decorative steel" manufactured with no forging operations whatsoever. "The process for forming this material is unlike that of any of the fabrication methods utilized in making the original Damascus steels or the more recent pattern-welded steels," Boatner said. The material begins as melt-grown single crystals of an iron-nickel-chromium alloy that, following additional non-mechanical processing steps, emerges as steel that earned second place honors at the 2015 International Metallographic Contest and Exhibit in Portland, Oregon. It has applications spanning cutlery, automotive, jewelry and a variety of other uses. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


Cutline: This is an example of the decorative pattern formed on a surface of an austenitic alloy single crystal.

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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