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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, January 2004

DOE/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.

ENERGY -- Nearly too cheap to meter . . .

It cost a family of four living in a next-generation Habitat for Humanity house just 82 cents a day in total energy bills, and the project continues to gain momentum. The house boasts impressive air tightness in addition to an advanced ventilation system that controls mold, mildew and moisture. A main feature of the house, located in Lenoir City, Tenn., is a second-generation heat pump water heater integrated with the refrigerator and insulated crawlspace. Three houses have been built and another three are being designed as part of the Department of Energy Building America Zero Energy Habitat for Humanity project. The three existing houses are also part of Tennessee Valley Authority's Green Power Generation program. The photovoltaic system on the first house to sell solar power to TVA generated 1,940 kilowatt hours for the year, earning a credit of $291 from TVA. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;]

MILITARY -- 'Fort-to-port' lickety-split . . .

Military personnel loading military cargo planes with trucks and material can speed up the process and reduce the chances for mistakes with weigh-in-motion technology being developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Dave Beshears of the lab's Engineering Science and Technology Division notes that the ORNL system is five to six times faster than the static scales in use today. And, because the system is automated, there's little chance of mistakes common to methods that rely on manual scales, tape measures, calculators, paper and pencil. Determining the weight, center of balance and profile of a vehicle being transported is critical to avoiding crashes such as the one that occurred in June 2002 involving an Air Force MC-130H. The seven-month project funded by the Department of Defense began in November. "When we're done, we'll have a highly efficient system that will take the military closer to 'fort-to-port zero staging,'" Beshears said. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;]

HEALTH -- Decontamination in a flash . . .

Anthrax and other potentially deadly biological agents pose considerable threats to the military and the public, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers think they have a quick and safe cure. In a matter of seconds, the ultraviolet portion of an arc plasma lamp can kill the bacteria because it destroys the cells' DNA. Up to 10 percent of the lab's 300,000-watt lamp, manufactured by Vortek Industries of Canada, is in the ultraviolet spectrum, making it far more lethal to bacteria than lower-powered mercury vapor and xenon lamps. Researchers also believe the lamp can be used to neutralize chemical warfare agents on, for example, buildings, tanks or barracks. The process would involve spraying the area with a low-volume proprietary mixture of harmless chemicals and then zapping the area with the lamp. The light activates the mixture, which chemically breaks down the phosphates, leaving behind a harmless powder. The process has considerable advantages over methods using foam, which is corrosive and damaging to electronics, becomes contaminated, and causes disposal issues. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;]

BIOLOGY -- Attacking bioterrorism . . .

Some strains of mice aren't susceptible to anthrax or other bacteria and viruses while others are, and a project shared by Oak Ridge and Los Alamos national laboratories may help to explain why. ORNL has decades of experience making mutated mice while Los Alamos researchers have been studying host-pathogen interactions using anthrax and other agents. So the collaboration is a natural, says Dabney Johnson, a genetics researcher in ORNL's Life Sciences Division. "There are four or five host genes in mice that are known to have something to do with how susceptible mice are to anthrax," Johnson said. The plan is for Johnson and colleagues to make mutations that might confer resistance to anthrax and then send mutated and normal cells to Los Alamos, where researchers hope to learn why the mutated cells aren't susceptible. Genetically, mice are remarkably similar to humans, so this information could one day help develop treatments for anthrax and other diseases. [Contact: Ron Walli, 865-576-0226;]


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