Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dec. 2014

December 02, 2014

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

IMAGING - Clearer brain scans ...

A clever signal noise reduction strategy developed by a team that includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Ben Lawrie could dramatically improve brain imaging. By using quantum correlated beams of light, researchers reduced noise by 42 percent while doubling the signal in an optical magnetometer. They accomplished this feat, detailed in the journal Optics Letters, with no additional components. While conventional approaches to detect brain tumors and functions use techniques such as magnetoencephalography to measure electrical currents, they have historically required cryogenically cooled magnetometers, which add cost and complexity. This dramatic increase in performance greatly enhances the ability to detect the brain's magnetic fields, which, to provide a sense of scale, Lawrie noted are roughly 10 million times smaller than those of Earth. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

ENVIRONMENT - Giant outdoor lab ...

With the recent completion of a 40-meter observation tower in the nearby Walker Branch Watershed, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are poised to begin their part of a national study to better understand ecosystems. The $434 million National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, project involves scientists at 20 sites - called domains - around the nation. Over the next several weeks, the tower will be equipped with sensors to detect wind speed and direction, carbon dioxide, temperature and other meteorological data. Other work has involved stringing electrical and fiber optic lines to enable high-speed data transfer to the central NEON site. A walkway extending from the instrument hut for about 200 yards leads to a number of observation posts. "These posts will be instrumented to provide real-time data on soil temperature, soil moisture and carbon dioxide concentration all as a function of depth in the soil," ORNL's Scott Brooks said. The 20,000-acre Oak Ridge Reservation is the Department of Energy's only NEON site. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

MODELING - Glacial mystery no more ...

By analyzing a computer model output with four times the resolution of previous models, a team of researchers has perhaps explained what has been considered a serious inconsistency in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The findings, reported by a team that includes scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Princeton University, explain why glaciers in the Karakoram Range of the Himalayas have remained stable while nearby glaciers have been receding. By examining the region in 50-kilometer pieces instead of 210-kilometer squares, researchers were better able to take into account the Karakoram Range's distinct peaks and valleys. This combined with the Karakoram season cycle dominated by non-monsoonal winter precipitation protects it from reductions in annual snowfall under climate warming. "Our findings suggest a meteorological mechanism for regional differences in the glacier response to climate warming," said ORNL's Moet Ashfaq. The study, which appears in Nature Geoscience, could explain why the Himalayan glaciers aren't likely to succumb to climate change by 2035 as had been predicted by the IPCC. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

MATERIALS - Micro heat exchangers ...

Heat exchanger components fabricated with 3-D printing and analyzed with neutron imaging create a world of opportunities for electronic devices, refrigerators and potentially high-performance engines. These tiny devices, used to cool electronics, could potentially be scaled up to work in heating and cooling systems. "The idea is that future micro-channel heat exchangers would be smaller, cheaper and would require less refrigerant, which has global warming implications," Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Patrick Geoghegan said. "Electronics would operate more efficiently under these improved cooling conditions." Geoghegan used ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor to visualize the flow structure within these world's smallest 3-D printed micro-channel devices, which enabled him to explore the limits of this manufacturing approach. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

COLLABORATION - Jülich, ORNL partnership ...

An agreement between Germany's Research Centre Jülich and Oak Ridge National Laboratory will pursue advances in materials study with neutrons, high-performance computing and simulation science, nanoscale materials and more. Other goals of the recently signed five-year memorandum of understanding include making significant scientific contributions to biological and environmental sciences and spearheading advances in materials and processes for energy. The research center in Jülich is represented with a branch office at ORNL, where it operates a neutron spectrometer at the Spallation Neutron Source. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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