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Editorial: Putting East Tennessee on the Transportation Research Map

Automobiles and airplanes have driven the U.S. economy for most of the 20th century. Mass-produced, affordable cars and trucks, combined with the U.S. highway system, created the American middle class and spurred the growth of cities and suburbs. U.S. fighter jets helped achieve many victories in world and regional conflicts, and U.S. aircraft stimulated the growth of American businesses and U.S.-based international corporations.

Although transportation helped bring Americans peace and prosperity in the 20th century, it threatens to impair our quality of life in the 21st century. As gasoline prices rise, we are reminded of our growing dependence on foreign oil, a dependence that threatens our national security and economic health. Because the world's oil supplies may run out in 40 years, we must find ways to use gasoline more efficiently and rely on alternative fuels to ensure that the transportation needs of subsequent generations will still be met. Our transportation vehicles are responsible for one-third of our nation's energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, which could adversely affect the stability of our climate.

Lee Riedinger
Lee Riedinger

Because of a growing population, economic prosperity, and the resulting travel boom, congestion on our highways and at our airports is getting worse. Pollution from highway traffic is threatening air quality and health in our metropolitan areas and national parks. Additionally, we must continuously deal with threats to highway safety—ranging from cell phone use to defective tires—which are partly responsible for the 41,000 traffic accident deaths each year in the United States.

As President Clinton has noted, a competitive, growing economy requires a transportation system that can move people, goods, and services quickly, efficiently, reliably, and economically. Such a transportation system needs technological innovations to make it happen. A high-tech transportation system will increase fuel efficiency and safety and reduce air pollution, carbon dioxide emissions, and congestion.

The National Transportation Research Center, which opened in October 2000 in Knox County, Tennessee, is dedicated to helping develop and test advanced transportation systems and solve problems of the transportation industry. NTRC houses user facilities containing state-of-the-art equipment purchased by the Department of Energy. It has one of the largest concentrations of transportation researchers. It is expected to attract transportation research talent and businesses needing assistance. NTRC's 160 researchers—75% from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and 25% from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville—will make this center an important asset to the transportation community.

It is appropriate that transportation issues be studied in East Tennessee using world-class researchers and facilities. Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation in automotive manufacturing. Knox County has the second busiest truck weigh station in the nation, and the state of Tennessee ranks sixth in the United States in the number of trucks that pass through on the interstate.

NTRC demonstration trailer
Gary Capps shows a trailer at the National Transportation Research Center (NTRC) in which emerging truck technologies will be demonstrated. (Photo by Curtis Boles and enhanced by Jane Parrott.)

This special issue presents the story of the birth of the NTRC, the transportation issues its researchers are addressing, and the research achievements and capabilities of many of its researchers. This issue features equipment and research plans for some of these NTRC labs: composites, infrastructure materials testing, human factors, geographic information systems, materials packaging, transportation policy analysis, vehicle and engine testing, commercial vehicle operations, intelligent transportation systems and traffic control, military transportation vehicle simulation, power electronics, and materials modeling and characterization. NTRC's state-of-the-art equipment includes a pad and bridge crane for package drop tests, a package vibrator, "weigh-in-motion" static truck scales, and several engine dynamometers. Two chassis dynamometers will be installed to measure the performance and emissions of cars and trucks.

This issue also highlights the most recent ORNL technologies that have won the prestigious R&D 100 award. All these winners are excellent examples of ORNL science and technology at their best, and one especially has a strong link to transportation. The development of a new type of carbon foam has opened the door to many areas for application of lightweight heat sink technology, including for automobiles.

The NTRC is an example of what a new facility can do to stimulate collaborative research and transfer technical knowledge by minimizing barriers, such as guarded fences. We hope this special issue will increase awareness of East Tennessee's new repository of transportation research expertise and equipment. It is hoped that NTRC will open up new avenues for investigation to help steer the U.S. transportation system in desirable directions.

, Deputy for Science and Technology at ORNL

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Related Web sites

National Transportation Research Center (NTRC)
University of Tennessee at Knoxville

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