Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Frank Munger

Thom Mason spoke with confidence and satisfaction when he looked back at the 2014 performance at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which he has directed for the past seven-and-a-half years.

Mason noted that much of the lab’s work may be obscure to the general public but is important nonetheless.

He made specific reference to some research at the Spallation Neutron Source that was published in November in the prestigious journal, Nature. The breakthrough study may someday have a huge impact on areas of electronics and may even be applied to new-age “smart windows” that control the transmission of heat and light to a homeowner’s delight.

But, Mason asked rhetorically, “What does it mean (to the general public) that you’re understanding the effect of phonons in metal insulator transitions in vanadium dioxide, which has been a problem for decades?”

What seemed to please Mason most about 2014 was that it was a time of stability, following a period of contentious budget battles in Washington, D.C., and that allowed the lab to focus on what it does best — scientific research.

The laboratory management carried out a number of tough actions in recent years that resulted in job reductions and reduced benefits but were necessary to protect the fiscal and operational health of the lab. Mason said he thinks 2015 should be a relatively stable period, with some exciting prospects as well.

“I think there are a good number of things that are just poised to take off,” he said. “It’s exciting to watch that unfold in 2015.”

One thing that has Mason excited is a Department of Energy competition for a new manufacturing institute that will be focused on composite materials. ORNL submitted a proposal, in connection with the University of Tennessee and numerous other universities and industry partners, and he likes the chances of winning the competition. The new area of funding would fit in well with the lab’s existing research and development with carbon fibers and the work done at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.