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King University News :: King University Science Students Participate in Conference; Tour Oak Ridge National Laboratory

King University’s Physical Chemistry class, taught by Dr. John Gilmer, professor of Chemistry at King University, recently travelled to Baltimore, Md., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

On Oct. 26, the class took part in the Undergraduate Symposium for Biology and Chemistry at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC). During this symposium, undergraduate students from colleges and universities throughout the eastern United States competed in a poster competition where they presented independent research.

Senior Chemistry and Biology major Sawan Jadav represented King University by presenting his research on the “Gel Formation in Solutions of Organic Photovoltaic Materials,” performed in collaboration with the research teams of Dr. Gilmer and Dr. Mark Dadmun, professor of Chemistry at the University of Tennessee.

In addition to the poster competition, the symposium program included a tour of the graduate labs at UMBC and an invited lecture by a distinguished biochemist.

“Attendance to this program afforded the class the opportunity to interact with other undergraduate biologists and chemists who are interested in independent research and are preparing for career paths involving scientific research,” said Gilmer.

The second event on Nov. 7 took the Physical Chemistry class to Oak Ridge, Tenn., for a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy. 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. Oak Ridge is also home to the supercomputer center, which consists of approximately an acre of computers including the fastest computer in the world called Titan.

“The tour of the ORNL facility informed the physical chemistry class members of many of the key areas of emphasis for current and future career paths in the sciences,” stated Gilmer. “It is vitally important for students in the sciences to have a vision of what their career options are once they have completed their degree and what this vision entails. Initially, most students only have a vague understanding of what it takes to succeed as a scientist in developing tomorrow's technology at a place like Oak Ridge, at a university, or in a corporation.” 

The tour, organized by Barbara Penland of the Visitor Services Department at ORNL, included a visit to the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), Graphite Reactor, High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), and the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS).

“At the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, the students learned about a range of projects including the modeling of plasma flow in fusion nuclear reactors, the compilation of studies on organic photovoltaic materials, and the modeling of macromolecules at the atomic size scale,” commented Gilmer.

The next stop on the tour included a visit 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 this 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.  

“The class learned the importance of this reactor in the Manhattan Project both in demonstrating controlled, sustained nuclear reaction and in the use of this reactor to produce plutonium-239,” said Gilmer. “The Graphite reactor used for some of the early stages of isolating the right fuels to make the atomic bombs was used at the end of the Second World War.”

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, the students visited the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), a swimming pool reactor. The class was able to watch the crew at work responsible for changing the reactor core. They learned that HFIR is the reactor that ORNL employed for characterizing the effects of material to the exposure of neutrons, physics experiments involving neutron scattering and diffraction, and for the production of Cf-252, the material used to initiate nuclear fission in uranium in commercial nuclear reactors. 

The Spallation Neutron Source 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. It contains the ‘brightest’ source of neutrons in the world.  At the SNS, neutrons produced by a spallation process are employed for the characterization of advanced materials by scattering, diffraction, and reflectometry. The class toured the spallation facility and the experimental hall containing neutron beam lines and instrumentation.

The final stop on the student’s tour was the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS). The CNMS focuses on electronic and ionic functionality, the design of hybrid polymer molecules for energy efficiency, and fundamental knowledge of the central role played by nanoscale fluctuations.

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King University is a Presbyterian, master's-level comprehensive university.  Founded in 1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, digital media, education, and humanities.  Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, and nursing.  A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and travel destinations are also available.  King University is a NCAA Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports.  For more information about King University, visit  King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability.  King University is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia.  For more information, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.