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King University News :: King University Science Students Tour Oak Ridge National Laboratory

King University science students along with Dr. Ray Bloomer, professor of Physics and Astronomy and associate dean for Arts and Sciences, and Dr. John Gilmer, associate professor of Chemistry travelled to Oak Ridge, Tenn., for a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy on March 1, 2013.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system.  ORNL’s scientific programs focus on materials, neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology, and national security.

“It was a privilege for our students to see two of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s world-class facilities,” said Bloomer.  “We began with a tour guide whose family had been in Oak Ridge since 1850.  He told us of the history of ORNL - how it began and what life was life there in the 1940’s.  Our first stop on the tour was at the supercomputer center which consists of approximately an acre of computers including the fastest computer in the world called Titan.”  

Students observed a demonstration of what Titan can do through a simulation of wind flow around an 18 wheeler.  The data was displayed in 3-D on a screen approximately 40 foot wide.  Scientists researching ways in which to minimize drag displayed the wind in 3-D over the entire vehicle for all kinds of conditions, including adding various devices to minimize drag for economic reasons.  One objective of the research is to improve gas mileage.  Students also viewed a simulation of the world’s cloud and wind pattern as well as a 3-D representation of a proposed fusion facility that may be built in the next few years in France.  

“Fusion is the ultimate source of energy,” commented Bloomer.  “Should it become practical, fusion will change the world economy by reducing the need to burn fossil fuels.”  

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is home to two of the world’s most advanced neutron scattering research facilities: the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) and the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR).  While at ORNL, King students visited the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), the brightest source of neutrons in the world.  SNS is a one-of-a-kind research facility that provides the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development.  

“People come from all over the world to irradiate various things with neutrons,” said Bloomer.  “It is spectacular to see this world-class facility with the brightest neutron source in the world.  For people who want to perform scientific experiments with neutrons, the best place to go in the world is Oak Ridge.”

The final stop on the tour was to the Oak Ridge Graphite Reactor.  During WWII, the United States launched the top-secret, top-priority Manhattan Project out of fear of the Nazi’s discovery of uranium fission in 1939.  In response to concern, several remote sites were chosen to create atomic weapons – one was Oak Ridge.  Built in only 11 months, the Graphite Reactor’s job was to show that plutonium could be extracted from irradiated uranium slugs, and its first major challenge was to produce a self-sustaining chain reaction.  The reactor went into operation on Nov. 3, 1943.  After approximately four months, the Oak Ridge chemists produced the world’s first few grams of plutonium.  

“That reactor was used for some of the early stages of isolating the right fuels to make three bombs, one of which was dropped as a test in New Mexico at the Trinity Site, the second on Hiroshima, Japan, and the last on Nagasaki, Japan,” said Bloomer.  “This reactor was responsible for the science that led to the fuels which eventually built the bombs.  

“The students who participated in the tour were all science majors and have a general understanding of the terminology associated with the science taking place at Oak Ridge,” said Bloomer.  “However, it is one thing to read about it in a book, but it is entirely another to see how many billions of dollars it takes, and how many people had to commit their lives to making this happen.  It is truly a privilege for our students to be granted access, however limited, to a facility the likes of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Hopefully, this visit will open students to potential career paths they may not have considered previously.”  

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