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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, April 2015

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

ENVIRONMENT - Invertebrates' role in bioaccumulation ...

By studying fish and invertebrates in a creek with known mercury contamination, researchers are gaining a better understanding of the relationship between the toxin in the stream and bioaccumulation in organisms. While mercury concentrations in East Fork Poplar Creek in Oak Ridge, Tenn., have decreased significantly over the last 30 years, levels in tissue from fish have remained the same or increased. To understand why, a team led by Monica Poteat of Oak Ridge National Laboratory is examining the intricacies of the food chain and the biodiversity of the stream at locations about 10 kilometers apart. "Downstream sites have more complex community structures, which can lead to greater transfer of mercury to fish through the food chain," said Poteat, who presented this work at the Carolinas Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Annual Meeting. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

ENERGY - School retrofit paying dividends ...

A ground source heat pump installed at rural Cedarville High School in Arkansas through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has reduced energy use by 53 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 52 percent, according to an Oak Ridge National Laboratory report. ORNL researchers Xiaobing Liu and Mini Malhotra also noted that the new system has dramatically improved air quality while providing cooling to areas that previously had none. Energy savings will result in a 15-year payback of the $1.6 million ARRA grant, Liu said, adding that further energy savings can be realized with improved control of the pumps that circulate water. Results are to be presented this summer at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (https://www.ashrae.org) annual conference in Atlanta. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

BATTERIES - Simulation software aids design ...

Designers of safe high-performance batteries for electric vehicles are getting a hand with a new computational toolset created by a team led by Sreekanth Pannala and John Turner of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The software simulates key battery performance indicators, including charge and thermal transport, electrochemical reactions and battery mechanical stresses. This capability will accelerate the research and design process for academic, national laboratory and industry users. "We developed integrated tools so that one doesn't have to employ different performance models for different applications," Pannala said. The software, known as Virtual Integrated Battery Environment, was developed as part of the Computer-Aided Engineering for Batteries program and is available for download at http://www.batterysim.org. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

ENERGY - Microbes vs. buildings ...

While reflective roofs can save energy and money for homeowners, microbial communities and the biofilms they create can eat away at the effectiveness and savings. A study led by Mengdawn Cheng and Andre Desjarlais of Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that the amount of energy absorbed instead of reflected doubles from its initial value in slightly more than a month. The culprits are strains of fungus, algae and bacteria that attach to surfaces and grow, causing soiling of the roof surface and the loss of reflectivity. Researchers who performed genetic sequencing to pinpoint the strains of bacteria set up multiple test sites in Florida, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. While bacterial distributions across the three states were similar, fungal distributions varied by region with Tennessee having the least fungus. Ultimately, Cheng expects this and follow-on research to help in the development, testing and compliance of Energy Star cool roofs. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; wallira@ornl.gov]

COMPUTING - Reconstructing neurons ...

Supercomputing resources at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will support a new initiative designed to advance how scientists digitally reconstruct and analyze individual neurons in the human brain. Led by the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the BigNeuron project aims to create a common platform for analyzing the 3-D structure of neurons. "We have to start from the images of neurons and figure out where all the 'wires' are and how they are connected, and this process requires massive computational power," said ORNL's Arvind Ramanathan. ORNL supercomputers will be used to run, test and evaluate the algorithms that the Allen Institute and a worldwide consortium are developing as part of the BigNeuron project. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308; mccorkleml@ornl.gov]

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