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

December 01, 2003

Story ideas from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and Community Outreach staff member identified at the end of each tip.

TECH TRANSFER -- Brighter sensors . . .

Production of prototype sensors that combine living cells with integrated circuits could begin within a few months. Micro Systems Technologies, a startup company in Dayton, Ohio, recently licensed bioluminescent bioreporter integrated circuit technology developed by Mike Simpson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Gary Sayler of the University of Tennessee. These whole-cell living bioreporters are genetically engineered to generate light when they have taken up the targeted substance. Because these sensors can detect chemical and biological agents in the air, water or soil in near real time, they have potential applications in a wide range of environments. Joe Williams, chief executive officer of Micro Systems Technologies, envisions using them for environmental contaminants monitoring, for detecting weapons of mass destruction (homeland security) and in medical care devices. Their low cost and small size make them ideal for use in areas where other analytical instruments would be impractical. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;]

ENVIRONMENT -- Military in step with wildlife . . .

Uncle Sam may want you, but he also wants to better understand and protect the habitat of species like the red cockaded woodpecker, vegetation and other components of the ecosystem. So the mission of Virginia Dale of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and collaborators is to develop a Web-based model to examine and predict the impacts to the environment -- and surrounding area -- of military training bases. The five-year $1.7 million project is funded by the Department of Defense and combines the talents of researchers at the University of Tennessee, Georgia Tech, the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, and ORNL. Collectively, the researchers are performing a variety of tasks, including habitat, air, water and noise modeling, as well as risk analysis and land use modeling. At the end of the project, which began in June 2002, Dale plans to have a model that takes into account a multitude of variables and examines what's at risk under different scenarios. While Fort Benning in Georgia is the subject of the study, the model will have applications nationwide. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;]

CHEMISTRY -- Single-cell analysis . . .

To better understand diseases, scientists need to gain a far more detailed picture of cell function and how individual proteins interact and respond to various stimuli. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health is specifically interested in defining the function of genes relevant to cardiovascular function and has awarded $15 million to a team led by the Medical College of Wisconsin and including Oak Ridge National Laboratory. ORNL's task is to develop a technique to perform exhaustive biochemical analyses of single cells with particular emphasis on proteins. ORNL is to receive about $4 million over seven years to develop microfluidic devices to extract the full complement of proteins from single cells, isolate individual proteins and introduce them into the gas phase so a mass spectrometer can perform structural analysis on them. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are developing a mass spectrometer capable of the sensitivity needed to characterize individual proteins. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

ENVIRONMENT -- Remediation naturally . . .

Hundreds of sites around the country contaminated with chlorinated solvents such as trichloroethylene may be candidates for monitored natural attenuation. Researchers are evaluating whether monitored natural attenuation, which exploits natural physical, chemical and biological processes in the subsurface, could be applied more broadly nationwide and harnessed more effectively to contain and break down contaminants. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Tom Early, who serves on a technical panel, said researchers are exploring ways to enhance one or more of these natural processes to improve on nature's ability to minimize or eliminate the impact of contaminants in the environment. During the next several years, testing of promising approaches for enhancing some of these processes will take place on the Savannah River Site. A final goal is to develop a protocol with the involvement of regulators and stakeholders. The Department of Energy funds the three-year project led by the Savannah River Technology Center. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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