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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2012

BIOLOGY -- Waterlogged protein . . .

Proteins' biological functions, such as the ability to metabolize drugs in our bodies, are known to rely heavily on the presence of water, but mechanisms behind the relationship have remained unclear. In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory have provided new evidence that suggests water is even more involved in protein dynamics than previously thought. Through a novel combination of supercomputer simulations and neutron scattering experiments, the research team found that the effects of water reach into the very core of a protein instead of remaining on the surface, as earlier research had suggested. "The implications are that surface hydration may lubricate dynamics in interior protein active sites, thus enabling biological function," said lead author Jeremy Smith. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308;]

ELECTRONICS -- Quantum leap in security . . .

Intrusion detection is moving up a couple of notches with a technology that overcomes one of the main vulnerabilities of conventional security systems. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Quantum Optical Seal, ideal for securing nuclear, military and chemical facilities, monitors an optical network for tampering using entangled pulses of light that are exclusively described by their quantum mechanical properties. "This offers the quantum optical seal a unique ability to identify sophisticated attempts at deception, including those attacks that would go unnoticed by more conventional techniques," said Travis Humble, who led the team of inventors. The patented technology is inherently immune to replication, a standard technique used to defeat less sophisticated intrusion detection systems. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

MATERIALS -- Steel shield . . .

A protective coating developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory can extend the life of costly cutting and boring tools by more than 20 percent, potentially saving millions of dollars over the life of a project. The nanostructure coating, NanoSHIELD, is made from the laser fusing of glassy iron powders. The product was designed for high-wear applications such as tunnel boring, construction, drilling, industrial rock crushing and excavation operations, said Bill Peter, one of the inventors. While the coatings can be applied to any type of steel, its first application was for tunnel boring tools used to cut granite for the Combined Sewer Overflow Tunnel in Atlanta. Also, in 25 years of testing disc cutter coatings at Colorado School of Mines, NanoSHIELD-coated cutters were the first to not spall after one pass at actual rocks. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

NUCLEAR ENERGY -- Supercomputer speeds path forward . . .

By using graphic processing units in a test bed for the Titan supercomputer, researchers have more than tripled the speed of a code designed to improve efficiency, longevity and safety of nuclear reactors. The algorithm, dubbed Denovo, sweeps through a virtual reactor to track the location of radioactive particles. When run on graphics processing units, Denovo ran 3.5 times faster than what was possible with ORNL's Jaguar, which uses only central processing units. With this increase, 3D simulations are now within reach, said Tom Evans, who led the Denovo development team. Titan is a GPU/CPU hybrid to be installed over the next several months. This research supports the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors ( [Contact: Dawn Levy, (865) 576-6448;]

MATERIALS -- Atomic hybrids . . .

Atom-by-atom studies of a two-dimensional hybrid material at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are paving the way toward novel low-power electronics. ORNL researchers used electron microscopy to examine newly synthesized samples of a combination of graphene and molybdenum disulfide, which could one day form the backbone of new electronic devices such as flexible cell phones. "In the future, it could be possible to imprint flexible electronic circuits using graphene and two-dimensional semiconductors such as molybdenum disulfide," said ORNL's Juan-Carlos Idrobo, a co-author on the team's study in Nano Letters. "But first, we need to understand how the atomic layers in these 2-D hybrid materials grow with respect to each other before we can start to make devices out of them." Microscopic analysis showed that atoms in the two materials are locked in a nonrandom orientation that is favorable for potential electronic applications. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308;]


Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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