Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, November 2006

November 10, 2006

ENGINEERING -- Real world stress . . .

To see if your system or instrument will stand up to real-world stresses, put it through its paces in Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Environmental Effects Laboratory. The EE Lab boasts a suite of instruments and mechanisms that can simulate just about any insult the world can throw at a piece of equipment. Team leader Peter Chiaro said the project looks at and mimics real-world situations such as extreme temperatures, humidity, air pressure, magnetic fields, electromagnetic interference, ionizing radiation, voltage variation, vibration, shock and even dust. Devices can simulate collisions, impacts and changing conditions that, in tests, can assure that equipment performs to field environment specifications. The EE Lab, funded by the Work For Others Program, has tested commercial equipment, including more than 200 models of radiation detection instruments. Check the Website at public.ornl.gov/estd/ACTS/. [Contact: Bill Cabage, (865) 574-4399; cabagewh@ornl.gov]

BIOLOGY -- Determining protein function . . .

With genetic sequencing now routine, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are taking the next step toward understanding the molecular function of living things by identifying and characterizing protein interactions in cells. Using a combination of molecular biology, mass spectrometry and computational tools, researchers at ORNL's Center for Molecular and Cellular Systems can now decode the interactions of 16 target proteins per week, a rate that will double each year over the next four years. Understanding these interactions in bacteria and other microbial species, in which groups of proteins function as little molecular machines to perform a variety of functions, could lead to their application in tasks ranging from degrading or sequestering pollutants to producing fuels such as ethanol or hydrogen. [Contact: Larisa Brass, (865) 574-4163; brasslm@ornl.gov]

ELECTRICITY -- Power to spare . . .

With thousands of substation power transformers around the nation operating on borrowed time, the need to develop a new generation of transformers is taking on increased importance. In a project led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Waukesha Electric, researchers are focusing on new alloys and insulation materials for transformers with more operational flexibility and greater power densities. This will result in increased reliability and will provide faster restoration in case of failures. The transformers, which, depending on the application either increase or decrease voltage, will feature modular design to give them plug-and-play capability and will be made with materials that will maximize magnetic and dielectric (insulation) properties. Many of the estimated 180,000 transformers in the United States are between 30 and 40 years old and are custom-made, which adds to their cost. The new transformers would be far more adaptable, which would make it feasible for utilities to optimize their spare inventories. The third partner in this project funded by DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability is American Electric Power. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

HOMELAND SECURITY -- Threat identification . . .

Methods to search tens of thousands of documents could become more effective with a system developed by a team led by Cathy Jiao of ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. The method, called dynamic dimensionality reduction, helps search engines perform their jobs much more efficiently by reducing the original amount of information, making what remains manageable. "Conventional methods to perform dimensionality reduction typically make tradeoffs that ultimately sacrifice the effectiveness when dealing with changing data streams and the high dimensionality of data," Jiao said. Each unique word in a document is called a dimension. Unlike conventional approaches to dimensionality reduction, ORNL's proprietary method is designed to handle dynamically changing data. The system stores a small fixed amount of information and reduces the dimensionality of data in real time. This avoids the problem of too much stored information, which over time can crash systems. This project, designed to identify threats to the U.S., is funded by the Department of Homeland Security. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]
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DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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