Ridge laboratories are favorite destinations for a lot of researchers
FRANK MUNGER, email@example.com
November 6, 2006
RIDGE - Doug Scalapino, a theoretical physicist at the University
of California at Santa Barbara, allots about four weeks each
year to visit other facilities to advance his scientific studies.
trying to explain aspects of high-temperature superconductivity,
such as an interaction that causes electrons in certain materials
to glue together instead of repelling each other.
the course of his lengthy career, Scalapino has anchored his
research at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and
Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and other beloved institutions.
is now where I come," Scalapino said as he stretched his
lanky frame in a comfortable chair at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's
Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences.
his stay, Scalapino occupies a third-story office at the newly
opened nanoscience center - a $65 million facility that boasts
plenty of tools to characterize and synthesize materials at a
near-atomic scale. But CNMS is not the only thing that attracts
Scalapino to Oak Ridge.
and his research teammates are using ORNL's Jaguar, a Cray supercomputer
that can perform trillions of calculations per second, to explore
their theories of how things work. He's also anxious to have
scientists test some of the theories with experiments at the
newly constructed Spallation Neutron Source, a $1.4 billion complex
that's just gearing up for action.
CNMS was the first of five nanoscience research centers funded
by the U.S. Department of Energy. It's part of a strategy to
make the U.S. more competitive in this super-hot area of science.
of the Oak Ridge staff - including Linda Horton, the director
- moved into the 80,000-square-foot facility months ago, even
as construction continued around them. That proved helpful as
they tweaked the interior design, reduced the number of offices
and opened up more conversation areas for scientists to share
thoughts and generate ideas.
nanoscience center is next door to the Spallation Neutron Source
and actually adjoins the main office complex for SNS researchers.
arrangement makes it easy for visitors to use both facilities.
Researchers can prepare samples of newly engineered polymers
and other materials at the nanoscience labs and evaluate their
structures and properties with neutron-scattering experiments
at the SNS.
Kilbey, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering
at Clemson University, is on a year's sabbatical and spending
his time at ORNL.
has been coming to Oak Ridge for a few years as part of the "Jump
Start" program, which was designed to help U.S. researchers
get going on nanoscience projects. He's one of the few scientists
already taking advantage of both the nanoscience labs and the
Spallation Neutron Source is still in its early test phases and
probably 18 months away from full-scale research operations,
but Kilbey is working there during the setup of instruments.
not exactly research, but the work will give him an intimate
understanding of the neutron-scattering instruments and might
ultimately help him design better experiments.
a trade-off," Kilbey said.
CNMS is stocked with $20 million worth of specialized equipment,
such as electron beam lithography and a scanning electron microscope
with polarization analysis.
Li, physics professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee,
uses the special microscope to look at the way electrons spin
in material samples - some of which he prepared at his college
lab, some of them fabricated here. He's trying to create new
materials that would integrate magnetism into semiconductors,
a project with potential to improve computers.
worker fitted in a "bunny suit" enters the
photo-lithography research area, one of the "clean
rooms" at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s
Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences. The suit is
designed to reduce skin flakes or other body particles
from contaminating the facility.
idea is to combine two properties with one material," Li
said during a recent visit to the Oak Ridge facility. He previously
did his experiments at the National Institute of Standards and
want to manipulate and control the properties exhibited by materials
at the nanoscale and then extend that understanding to produce
10,000-square-foot enclosure on the first floor of CNMS is maintained
as a Class-1000 "clean room," which means it has fewer
than 1,000 particles per cubic foot of air.
much cleaner than a hospital operating room, and scientists and
technicians using the facilities must wear "bunny suits" to
cover their skin and minimize contamination from skin flaking.
No makeup is allowed.
be surprised how much stuff falls off your skin," said Tony
Haynes, user coordinator at the nanoscience center.
particles could create havoc when fabricating materials on the
scale of a nanometer - a billionth of a meter.
particles are a thousand times larger than that," Haynes
said. "It's like a big boulder sitting on top (of the sample).
So it's not just a contamination issue. It actually breaks the
is a national user facility, as are many of ORNL's other research
facilities, and it's built to make visiting scientists - expected
to grow from about 100 the first year to 250 in 2008 - feel right
Pickel is a chemist on the Oak Ridge staff and part of a research
group dedicated to creating new breeds of polymers.
stringent procedures, we can make polymers behave the way we
want them to," Pickel said.
could mean a class of polymers that behave like metals and conduct
electricity but retain the flexibility of plastics.
ideas out there are just amazing," Pickel said during a
tour of the chemistry labs. "We're working the area of electronic
polymers, polymers for solar applications, polymers for biomaterials
- such as drug-delivery devices. We're doing a lot."
of ORNL's polymer chemists have become expert glassblowers, creating
their own chemical reactors and equipment to support their experiments.
glass instruments - some of them quite elaborate - are needed
to purify chemicals and keep them free of oxygen or anything
that might cause them to react until it's time to combine the
for the type of polymerization we do, you pretty much have to
be a glassblower," Pickel said.
what if you can't get the hang of it? "You become a theorist," one
of course, is a big deal.
have a very large theory group because in every aspect of nanoscience
research, there is a role for theory to play in interpreting
the results and leading the science forward and understanding
the phenomena," Horton said. "We really wanted to emphasize
that strength of ORNL in our nanoscience center."
said the Oak Ridge laboratory offers the best of everything.
an incredible facility that's been built here. The people range
from biology all the way over to where I am, a theoretical physicist," he
said "What draws me here is partly the experimental work
that goes on and will go."
theorists want the experimentalists to test their theories, and
the experimentalists want the theorists to help them interpret
a two-way street," Scalapino said. "That's the real
part of being here - the communication. You can read people's
papers and you can write a paper, but it's a huge difference
when you sit down and talk with them."
Californian said there's something special about ORNL that goes
beyond the nano and the neutrons and the teraflops.
talking with an extremely satisfied user. This thing is really
working," Scalapino said. "There's a real difference
coming into this lab and coming into some of the other labs -
in terms of the people who let me in through the gate, people
who get you the badge, people who set up your computing. I don't
know if it's just being in the South, but there's a certain gentleness
or welcoming. There's an attitude that makes people very comfortable."
writer Frank Munger may be reached at 865-342-6329.
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