Public Release: 

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

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

BIOMETRICS - The eyes have it . . .

By discovering and quantifying the "limbus effect," Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have advanced the state of the art for human iris recognition systems. While the iris is a proven and reliable biometric for verification or identification, non-ideal images -- such as those captured off axis -- are problematic. Reasons include cornea refraction and the limbus effect, causing iris recognition performance to decrease and in many cases fail entirely. Now, using an anatomically accurate human eye model and some slick math, a team led by Chris Boehnen of ORNL and Ed Chaum, an ophthalmologist at the University of Tennessee-Memphis, has demonstrated a technique to improve off-axis iris recognition. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

BIG DATA - Predictive power . . .

Knowing when and where diseases such as the flu will strike and their expected severity can save lives, save money and improve healthcare for millions of people, and that's the focus of the Oak Ridge Bio-surveillance Toolkit, or ORBiT. This collection of novel statistical and machine learning tools, developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Laura Pullum and Arvind Ramanathan, integrates datasets from prescription drug sales records and social media such as Twitter. "Through this approach, we can bound the confidence in the statistical predictions - much like the cone of uncertainty in hurricane forecasting - of where diseases might strike," Pullum said. ORBiT will ultimately provide decision-makers with a tool that maximizes their ability to forecast biological threats, reduce false alarms and prevent and treat diseases. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

MATERIALS - Less costly carbon fiber . . .

A newly patented system that uses microwave energy could greatly reduce the cost of producing carbon fiber from polymer precursors while cutting the amount of effluent gases. The technology, invented by a team that includes Felix Paulauskas of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, consists of an elongated atmosphere-controlled chamber in which the material undergoes complete carbonization. This microwave-assisted plasma carbonization is equivalent to the entire low- and high-temperature carbonization in the conventional conversion process. These steps represent much of the time and cost in the overall carbon fiber manufacturing process. The patent, US 8,679,592 B2, is titled "System to Continuously Produce Carbon Fiber via Microwave Assisted Plasma Processing." [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

BIOFUELS - Eucalyptus gold . . .

By optimizing the production of terpene in eucalyptus plants, researchers hope to reduce this organic compound's volatility and ultimately increase energy yields per plant. Terpene, a hydrocarbon, can be converted in sufficient quantities into a biofuel, specifically jet fuel. Leading this multi-partner effort is Jerry Tuskan, who is deciphering the genetic basis and structural features of oil gland formation in the plants. Researchers initially started with 15 species and will select the best candidates based on oil glands' ultrastructure, number of oil glands per centimeter and terpene content and chemistry. Annual harvests of the foliar portion of eucalyptus will maximize the return on investment and increase potential energy production, according to Tuskan. Other advantages of annual harvests include expanded plant adaptability and improved land management options for marginal agricultural lands. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


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