Source: WBIR | Shannon Smith | November 1, 2018
“When you go to Thompson-Boling Arena and you see those beautiful bright lights that are covering the arena, those lights are cooled by material that came out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.”
What do cell phones, the Mars ‘Curiosity’ rover, and Thompson-Boling arena all have in common?
They’re all impacted directly by discoveries and advancements made at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
In honor of the city’s 75th anniversary, let’s take a look into some of the everyday items that are here because of hometown scientists.
“Each year they invent new things that have potential benefit both scientifically and also commercially,” said Mike Paulus, Director of Technology Transfer for ORNL.
It’s his job to take all this science out of the labs and get it in to the hands of those who can use it.
“Companies and academic collaborators and anybody that’s working in that space can learn about what our researchers are doing and take advantage of it,” said Paulus.
So who’s using what Oak Ridge inventions?
Let’s start with medicine.
“Initially ORNL was the first source of exotic isotopes and for years we were the primary deliverer of isotopes for medical treatment and for medical imaging,” said Paulus.
Those radioactive isotopes are used for cancer treatments. Paulus said worldwide, 40 million doses of radio isotopes are now used every day for nuclear medicine.
“So if you go in for a nuclear medicine study or for radiotherapy, you can thank Oak Ridge National Laboratory and our sister laboratories for that early development that lead to these isotopes that we now touch in our daily lives,” said Paulus.
A lot of Oak Ridge inventions work behind the scenes, like cooling carbon foam.
It’s orbiting earth right now, used to keep satellites from overheating. It does the same for LED lights here in Knoxville
“When you go to Thompson-Boling Arena and you see those beautiful bright lights that are covering the arena, those lights are cooled by material that came out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” said Paulus.
Remember when exploding cell phones made news? Oak Ridge scientists found a solution to that issue by creating a safer battery.
“It creates a barrier between the two electrodes so that you don’t dump that energy,” said Paulus. “And then a few moments later it can relax and give you a fully functioning battery again. So that technology called SAFIRE (Safe Impact Resistant Electrolytes) is one of our very newest things.”
That battery can also be used in electric cars, and it’s lighter because it doesn’t need a protective coating like other batteries.
And in the realm of cell phones, ORNL researchers developed a water-resistant finger print-proof glass. They licensed it to Samsung.
“One day we will hopefully have, with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the outside, the ability to repel water and to repel fingerprints on cell phones,” said Paulus.
A car company is working with it, too, hoping to use it for windshields, making pesky wipers obsolete.
“It’s capability to do experiments in a virtual space accelerates discovery and really makes the scientific process much more efficient.”
From new weather modeling technology, to optimizing airplane designs and creating new materials, there isn’t much Summit can’t do.
But scientists at Oak Ridge are always looking forward.
“Electronic systems improve and grow very rapidly,” said Paulus. “And so today’s fastest computer will be tomorrow’s middle of the pack computer.”
Designs are already in the works for Frontier – Summit’s super successor.
As researchers at Oak Ridge continue to make lighter engines, 3D print objects that are assembled while they’re being printed, and partner with NASA for better technology in space, they’re changing our lives, even if we don’t see it right away.
“I think if you find smart people, ask them to solve hard problems, give them the tools that they need, the results that you have can be surprising and can be used in a variety of places, perhaps not even the place that you were originally pointing their effort,” said Paulus.
It’s all happening thanks to thousands of scientists, engineers and researchers right in our own backyard.