News Release

Story tips: Fueling up on savings, COVID’s behavior effect, cosmic collisions, seismic and sound, and space-to-ground comms

Peer-Reviewed Publication

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

COVID — Changing behavior

image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers quantified human behaviors during the early days of COVID-19, which could be useful for disaster response or city planning. view more 

Credit: Nathan Armistead/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Transportation — Fueling up on savings

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers determined that for every 5 miles per hour that drivers travel over a 50-mph speed limit, fuel economy decreases by 7% and equates to paying an extra 28 cents per gallon at current average U.S. fuel prices.

This finding was released in the updated 2022-23 Fuel Economy Guide, which provides tips to save on fuel. Researchers use data from demonstrations to show impacts on fuel efficiency such as speeding, low tire pressure, neglecting vehicle maintenance or carrying a heavy roof rack.

“Simple adjustments can lead to big impacts,” ORNL’s Stacy Davis said. “Make sure you’re driving the most fuel-efficient vehicle and using the recommended octane. The difference for a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon and one that gets 30 miles per gallon is about 7 cents per mile. That’s a savings of $70 for a 1,000-mile roundtrip.”

Davis also recommended using the guide’s Trip Calculator to estimate fuel expenditures.

Media contact: Jennifer Burke, 865.414.6835,


Caption: The online Fuel Economy Guide, compiled by ORNL researchers, provides simple tips to save at the pump including the Trip Calculator tool to better navigate vehicle choice and estimate mileage. Credit: Storyblocks


COVID — Changing behavior

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have empirically quantified the shifts in routine daytime activities, such as getting a morning coffee or takeaway dinner, following safer at home orders during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. These insights, published in the Journal of Transport Geography, could help officials better understand traffic patterns and supplement the response to emergencies or crises. 

Using SafeGraph data of GPS markers at millions of points of interest, the team identified the times when people were most active over 24-hour periods and how those differed from pre-pandemic timetables.

“We saw the largest differences in temporal and geographical behaviors during the morning and evening in 2020. With an increase in remote work and virtual schooling, we can see how people’s activities changed when normal commutes changed,” said ORNL’s Kevin Sparks.

Notably, the sheer size of the datasets being ingested, cataloged, queried and analyzed for research required the team to build a significant compute infrastructure based on scalability and connectivity.

Media contact: Liz Neunsinger, 865.341.0249,  


Caption: Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers quantified human behaviors during the early days of COVID-19, which could be useful for disaster response or city planning. Credit: Nathan Armistead/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Physics — Cosmic collisions revealed

Scientists are using Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Multicharged Ion Research Facility to simulate the cosmic origin of X-ray emissions resulting when highly charged ions collide with neutral atoms and molecules, such as helium and gaseous hydrogen.

“This facility gives us a new X-ray observational window to peer into otherwise invisible processes found in star-forming galaxies, galaxy clusters, supernova remnants and relativistic jets from black holes,” said ORNL’s Charles Havener.  

Havener and collaborators developed techniques to collide beams of ions with neutral atoms or molecules present in space. They measure X-ray emissions from charge-exchange processes using an X-ray quantum calorimeter developed at the University of Wisconsin with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Its high resolution will enable improved understanding of astrophysical processes.

“In the future, we want to measure X-ray emissions from charge exchange with atomic hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe – but the most challenging measurement in a lab,” Havener said. 

Media contact: Dawn Levy, 865.202.9465,   


Caption: Physicist Charles Havener uses the NASA end station at ORNL’s Multicharged Ion Research Facility to simulate the origin of X-ray emissions from space. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Seismic — Feeling it out

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory team developed a novel technique using sensors to monitor seismic and acoustic activity and machine learning to differentiate operational activities at facilities from “noise” in the recorded data.

Using the lab’s High Flux Isotope Reactor as a testbed, the researchers placed remote sensors near the facility and continuously recorded data. Their published results showed they could predict whether the reactor was on or off with 98% accuracy. They could also tell whether seismo-acoustic activity was coming from reactor-specific operations or other sources, such as equipment vibrations from a nearby cooling tower.

“We got creative with the tools, and we were able to tease out the information from that seismic noise a technique that worked well,” ORNL’s Monica Maceira said.

The team’s new approach could be used as a protective measure for sensitive facilities and nonproliferation applications and as a monitoring tool for building structural health.

Media contact: Sara Shoemaker, 865.576.9219,


Caption: With seismic and acoustic data recorded by remote sensors near ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor, researchers could predict whether the reactor was on or off with 98% accuracy. Credit: Nathan Armistead/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Communications — Space to ground

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is debuting a small satellite ground station that uses high-performance computing to support automated detection of changes to Earth’s landscape. The new system will reduce the time it takes to collect, process and analyze satellite imagery, saving precious seconds when human life may be at risk.

The HPC-enabled automated change detection and satellite integration can help speed emergency response and relief efforts following crises such as wildfires, natural disasters or sudden population migrations.

Once the system’s installation is complete, expected this summer, satellites across UHF and S Band frequencies will be able to downlink data direct to ORNL’s supercomputing facility for analytics and other tasks.

“We can collect data from one satellite to identify something and then re-task another constellation to look at it from a different perspective,” ORNL’s David Page said of the process to connect satellite constellations.

ORNL is working with private small satellite companies and plans to expand its footprint.

Media contact: Liz Neunsinger, 865.341.0249,


Caption: Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers built an Earth-to-space communications system to work with private and government partners with the goal of directly connecting data downlinks to high-performance computing. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

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