Story tips: Cool smart walls, magnetism twist, fuel cost savings and polymers' impact

September 01, 2020

Buildings - Cool smart walls

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers used additive manufacturing to build a first-of-its kind smart wall called EMPOWER. The wall, designed for a building's interior, also functions as a cooling system to optimize energy use and lower overall cost.

The prototype wall was manufactured with a cable-driven, field deployable concrete additive manufacturing system and embedded with a thermal storage and active insulation system. A chiller connected to the wall pumps cool water through pipes. That coolness is stored in the interior and then transferred throughout the room as needed.

"With the ability to function not just as a support wall but also as the room's cooling system, the wall can lower utility bills and maintain occupant comfort while reducing energy use," said ORNL's Melissa Lapsa, who led the project sponsored by the Federal Energy Management Program.

Researchers will build two additional walls for installation in office buildings and monitor their performance and functionality for a year.

Media Contact: Jennifer Burke, 865.414.6835,


Caption: ORNL researchers 3D printed a concrete wall embedded with a thermal storage and active insulation system that allows the wall to function as a cooling system. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Materials - Magnetism does the twist

Scientists discovered a strategy for layering dissimilar crystals with atomic precision to control the size of resulting magnetic quasi-particles called skyrmions. This approach could advance high-density data storage and quantum magnets for quantum information science.

In typical ferromagnets, magnetic spins align up or down. Yet in skyrmions, they twist and swirl, forming unique shapes like petite porcupines or tiny tornadoes.

The tiny intertwined magnetic structures could innovate high-density data storage, for which size does matter and must be small. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led project produced skyrmions as small as 10 nanometers - 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.

"The way we design and synthesize the superlattice creates the atomic-scale magnetic interactions responsible for twisting the spins," said physicist Elizabeth Skoropata, who co-led the study with John Nichols, both formerly of ORNL.

ORNL's Ho Nyung Lee added, "Our finding demonstrates how to precisely engineer interfaces in oxide quantum heterostructures to create nanometer-sized skyrmions."

Media Contact: Dawn Levy, 865.202.9465,


Caption: The layering of crystals into a superlattice yields a nanoscale magnetic structure of twisting, swirling spin orientations, shown from red to blue, that deflect electrons, shown as white dots. Credit: Adam Malin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Nuclear - Fuel cost savings

A developing method to gauge the occurrence of a nuclear reactor anomaly has the potential to save millions of dollars.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is looking to answer a longtime question: What's the risk associated with fuel fragmentation, relocation and dispersal? That happens when fuel pellets in a reactor core degrade under accident conditions and extensive operation. If the cladding protecting the fuel bursts, fuel could be dispersed into the reactor core, potentially increasing the accident consequences.

Nathan Capps and colleagues are using the BISON fuel performance code and ORNL's hot cell-based severe accident test station - one of two worldwide - to identify and mitigate risk. That could pave the way for reactors to safely operate on longer cycles with less waste. The environmental impact and cost savings would be significant, he said - millions annually.

"This approach completely revolutionizes the nuclear industry, making nuclear energy safe and economically viable carbon-free energy sources," Capps said.

Media Contact: Kristi Nelson Bumpus, 865.253.1381,


Caption: This graphic shows the evolution of a rodlet during a high burnup loss-of-coolant accident test at the ORNL severe accident test station facility. As the rod's cladding balloons and bursts, fuel fragments can be dispersed. Credit: Jaimee Janiga/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Caption: Fuel pellets sometimes degrade to a sandlike consistency and can disperse into the reactor core if a rod's cladding bursts. ORNL researchers are studying how often this happens and what impact it has, in order to let reactors operate as long as possible without increasing risk. Credit: Jaimee Janiga/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Nanomaterials - Short polymers, big impact

Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists have discovered a cost-effective way to significantly improve the mechanical performance of common polymer nanocomposite materials. The discovery could lead to stronger, more durable materials for applications ranging from biomedical devices to automobile tires.

Glassy polymer nanocomposites, or PNCs, are sought-after materials with hard filler nanoparticles dispersed throughout their soft polymer matrices. While studying why PNCs demonstrate certain advantageous properties, researchers tried mixing in short and long chains of the same polymer.

"We found that by adding a small amount of the short polymer chains, the resulting mechanical properties were improved by 20%," ORNL's Vera Bocharova said. "This is good for practical applications."

Experimental data and computer simulations revealed that changes to polymer-nanoparticle interactions, polymer stretching, and density at nanoparticles' interfaces were responsible for the enhanced properties. The study results can be universally applied to PNCs and may help researchers design future materials with desired qualities.

Media Contact: Abby Bower, 865.323.9943,


Caption: Researchers used computer simulations to produce images of polymer nanocomposite materials. Nanoparticles are shown in pink and long polymer chains in cyan. Credit: Jan-Michael Y. Carrillo/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Caption: Simulations depict polymer nanocomposite, or PNC, materials. Mixing optimal amounts of short and long polymer chains, purple and cyan, improved PNC mechanical properties. Credit: Jan-Michael Y. Carrillo/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Related Polymer Articles from Brightsurf:

Impurities enhance polymer LED efficiencies
New research published in EPJ B reveals that the higher-than-expected efficiency of PLEDs can be reached through interactions between triplet excitons, and impurities embedded in their polymer layers.

Safety of bioabsorbable polymer against durable polymer DES in high-risk PCI patients
A novel study sought to reveal whether drug-eluting stents (DES) coated with bioabsorbable polymer (BP) presented a safety advantage without compromising efficacy compared to durable polymer (DP) formulations.

Polymer membranes could benefit from taking a dip
A new technique developed by a team including researchers from the US Department of Energy (DOE)'s Argonne National Laboratory makes atomic layer deposition possible on nearly any membrane.

New polymer material may help batteries become self-healing, recyclable
Lithium-ion batteries are notorious for developing internal electrical shorts that can ignite a battery's liquid electrolytes, leading to explosions and fires.

Researchers add order to polymer gels
Gel-like materials have a wide range of applications, especially in chemistry and medicine.

Bundlemers (new polymer units) could transform industries
From tires to clothes to shampoo, many ubiquitous products are made with polymers, large chain-like molecules made of smaller sub-units, called monomers, bonded together.

New synthetic polymer degradable under very mild acidic conditions
A new type of degradable synthetic polymer was prepared by Rh-catalyzed three-component polymerization of a bis(diazocarbonyl) compound, bis(1,3-diketone), and tetrahydrofuran.

New polymer tackles PFAS pollution
toxic polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) pollution -- commonly used in non-stick and protective coatings, lubricants and aviation fire-fighting foams -- can now be removed from the environment thanks to a new low-cost, safe and environmentally friendly polymer.

New polymer films conduct heat instead of trapping it
MIT engineers have flipped the picture of the standard polymer insulator, by fabricating thin polymer films that conduct heat -- an ability normally associated with metals.

Polymer reversibly glows white when stretched
Polymers that change their appearance in response to mechanical forces can warn of damage developing in a material before the stress causes structural failure.

Read More: Polymer News and Polymer Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to