David Kirkpatrick

December 9, 2008

December media tips from Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Here’s the monthly group of story pitches from Oak Ridge.

The release:

December 2008 Story Tips

(Story Tips Archive)

Story ideas from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip.

Climate—Spotlight on CO2 . . .

Data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory combined with computational power and tools provided by ORNL researchers will result in unprecedented levels of information about atmospheric carbon dioxide. The satellite, scheduled for launch in mid-January, will collect precise global measurements of CO2 and transmit that information to Earth. Using version 5 of the Goddard Earth Observing System model (GEOS-5), developed by a team that includes ORNL’s David Erickson, scientists will with great precision be able to see sources and sinks of atmospheric CO2. The combination of Jaguar’s massive computing power – 1.64 petaflops per second (peak) – and scientific interpretations aided by NASA satellite data should for the first time give scientists a clear picture of where carbon is being produced and where it ultimately ends up. Funding is provided by NASA and the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research. 

Energy Efficiency—Heat to power . . .

Combined heat and power (CHP) technologies, which capture and reuse waste heat from electric or mechanical power, account for about 9 percent of annual U.S. power generation. Roughly doubling that capacity could cut projected U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2030– the equivalent to taking 45 million cars off the road — an Oak Ridge National Laboratory study shows. Current CHP systems made up of gas turbines, fuel cells or engines combined with heat exchangers and chillers cut 1.8 billion Btu of fuel consumption and 266 million tons of CO2 emissions compared to traditional separate production of electricity and thermal energy. In addition to the 60 percent CO2 reduction, raising CHP generating capacity to 20 percent would create a million new jobs; $234 billion in new U.S. investments; and fuel savings equivalent to nearly half the total energy now consumed by U.S. households. The ORNL report on “Combined Heat and Power: Effective Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future” is sponsored by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Industrial Technologies Program.

 

Isotopes—Banner year . . .

Californium-252 and actinium-225 generated half of the $5 million in sales for the Department of Energy’s National Isotope Data Center at ORNL in fiscal year 2008. That amount represents a $1 million increase from 2007. Californium-252 — used as a start-up source in nuclear reactors, in analyzers for the coal and concrete industries and in detectors for homeland security — produced $2 million in sales. Actinium-225, an isotope extracted as a product of the decay of thorium-229 and used in radiotherapy trials for various cancers, including ovarian, lung and myeloid leukemia, accounted for more than $500,000. The Californium-252 is produced at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor in conjunction with the lab’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. ORNL offers a wide range of capabilities in isotope production and irradiation tests for materials research. Beyond these contributions, HFIR, supported by the Office of Science, is a world leader in producing neutrons for materials studies.

 

Sensors—On the prowl . . .

Mathematics and sensors come together in some new ways to form a powerful tool for combating terrorism, piracy and the transport of drugs. In a project that combines resources at ORNL and Clemson University, researchers and students are using something called Level 3 sensor fusion to identify and predict the behavior of ships, tanks, people and more. “This means we not only know where they are, but we can make educated guesses about what they’re going to do and when,” said Chris Griffin of ORNL’s Computational Sciences & Engineering Division. The system, called LEPERD – Learning and Prediction for Enhanced Readiness and Decision Making – involves a lot of new math and uses techniques from pattern recognition, learning theory, statistical analysis and control theory. Funding is provided by the Office of Naval Research.

November 13, 2008

More nanoparticle caution

I’ve blogged on nanotechnology drawbacks before, and here’s a new release providing a little more caution on nanotech. Sounds like this research may be more alarmist than truly useful. Be sure to take your grain of salt here.

The release:

Nanoparticles trigger cell death?

Nanoparticles that are one milliard of a metre in size are widely used, for example, in cosmetics and food packaging materials. There are also significant amounts of nanoparticles in exhaust emissions. However, very little is yet known of their health effects, because only a very small portion of research into nanoparticles is focused on their health and safety risks. Nanoparticles have even been dubbed the asbestos of the 2000s bys some researchers, and therefore a considerable threat to people’s health. While the use of nanoparticles in consumer products increases, their follow-up procedures and legislation are lagging behind. The European Union chemicals directive REACH does not even touch upon nanomaterials.

The research teams of Professor Ilpo Vattulainen (Department of Physics, Tampere University of Technology, Finland) and academy researcher Emppu Salonen (Department of Applied Physics, Helsinki University of Technology, Finland) have together with Professor Pu-Chun Ke’s (Clemson University, SC, USA) team researched how carbon-based nanoparticles interact with cells. The results provided strong biophysical evidence that nanoparticles may alter cell structure and pose health risks.

It emerged from the research that certain cell cultures are not affected when exposed to fullerenes, i.e. nano-sized molecules that consist of spherical, ellipsoid, or cylindrical arrangement of carbon atoms. Cells are also not affected when exposed to gallic acid, an organic acid that is found in almost all plants and, for instance, in tea. However, when fullerenes and gallic acid are present in the cell culture at the same time, they interact to form structures that bind to the cell surface and cause cell death.

The research demonstrates how difficult it is to map out the health effects of nanoparticles. Even if a certain nanoparticle does not appear toxic, the interaction between this nanoparticle and other compounds in the human body may cause serious problems to cell functions. Since the number of possible combinations of nanoparticles and various biomolecules is immense, it is practically impossible to research them systematically.

 

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The research on cell death caused by fullerenes and gallic acid was recently published in the nanoscience journal Small [E. Salonen, S. Lin, M. L. Reid, M. Allegood, X. Wang, A. M. Rao, I. Vattulainen, P.-C. Ke. Real-time translocation of fullerene reveals cell contraction. Small 4, 1986-1992 (2008)].

Descriptions of group leaders and their research groups:

Professor Pu-Chun Ke:
Prof. Pu Chun Ke won a Career Award from the National Science Foundation for his research addressing the fate of nanomaterials in biological systems and the environment. His research lab has first demonstrated the delivery of RNA using single-walled carbon nanotubes and invented the use of lysophospholipids for obtaining biocompatible nanomaterials. Based at Clemson University, USA, the Single-Molecule Biophysics and Polymer Physics Laboratory led by Prof. Ke (http://people.clemson.edu/~pcke11/) also examines topics in DNA damage and repair, microscopy, and fundamental and applied soft matter physics.

Professor Ilpo Vattulainen:
The Biological Physics Group (http://www.tut.fi/biophys/ and http://www.fyslab.hut.fi/bio/) of 26 people located at the Department of Physics at Tampere University of Technology, Finland, is directed by Prof. Ilpo Vattulainen. The Group is part of the Computational Nanoscience team selected as a Center of Excellence by the Academy of Finland. The Group is also an affiliate member of the MEMPHYS Center for Biomembrane Physics in the University of Southern Denmark, selected as a Center of Excellence by The Danish National Research Foundation. The Biological Physics Group focuses on computational and theoretical studies of biological systems, the topics including biomembranes, nanomaterials, lipoproteins, drugs, and carbohydrates.

Academy researcher (Dr.) Emppu Salonen:
The Computational Soft Matter Research Group (http://www.fyslab.hut.fi/soft/) is based at the Department of Applied Physics, Helsinki University of Technology (TKK). The group is headed by Dr. Emppu Salonen, who currently has a Research Fellow position with the Academy of Finland. The focus of the group’s research is in environmental and biological effects of nanomaterials, most importantly carbon-based nanomaterials such as fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. The current nanomaterial-biomaterial research of the group is funded by the Academy of Finland.