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ORNL History Timeline (1939-2003)




Nuclear fission discovered





Oak Ridge selected as site for
World War II Manhattan Project

First sustained and controlled
nuclear chain reaction in Chicago;
Eugene Wigner present






The $12-million Graphite Reactor, the world's first continuously operated reactor, goes critical after 9 months of construction




Plutonium produced at Graphite Reactor, setting stage for Hanford reactors' production of plutonium for war-ending atomic bomb




Discovery at Graphite Reactor
of element 61 (promethium)


First neutron scattering studies at a reactor (by Ernie Wollan and Cliff Shull; Shull won 1994 Nobel Prize for physics for his pioneering work at the Graphite Reactor)




First shipment to a cancer hospital of a radioisotope from a reactor



Pressurized-water reactor conceived (later used for nuclear power and submarine propulsion)

Radiation detectors and dosimeters devised





Mice used to study radiation's genetic effects on mammals


Atomic Energy Commission established




Union Carbide named
government contractor in Oak Ridge

Fuel elements designed
for use in research reactors


Materials Testing Reactor
designed at ORNL
and built in Idaho




Purex process developed at ORNL; became worldwide method of recovering uranium and plutonium from spent reactor fuels




Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology established

Low Intensity Test Reactor first operated




Startup of
Bulk Shielding Reactor



Neutron's half-life measured


Van de Graaff
accelerator installed




ORNL's first heavy-ion cyclotron built


Based on studies of irradiated mouse embryos, ORNL advises against
x-raying possibly pregnant women

Homogeneous Reactor Experiment first run




ORACLE, world's then
most powerful computer,
installed at ORNL


Transportable reactor designed by ORNL for Army's use at remote sites




ORNL ecology program started

ORNL's experimental aircraft reactor tested


Tower Shielding Facility
first operated, to provide
data for ill-fated nuclear
airplane project

First detailed study of chemical reaction using colliding molecular beams of
two different reactants




ORNL's small "swimming-pool" reactor shown to President Eisenhower at UN Conference on Peaceful Uses of the Atom


Alvin Weinberg named
ORNL director, a position
he held for 18 years




Messenger RNA discovered; first bone marrow transplant demonstrated


Projections by National Academy of Sciences committee of genetic effects of radiation on humans, based on ORNL mouse data




Determination of permissible levels of radiation for medical uses and of radionuclides in the workplace influenced by ORNL leadership


ORNL's first fusion research device (Direct-Current Experiment) built




Startup of Oak Ridge Research Reactor

Project Salt Vault, the first national effort to site a high-level nuclear waste repository, started by ORNL




Maleness in mouse found to depend on presence of Y chromosome


Reactor shielding for the first U.S. nuclear-powered civilian ship evaluated by ORNL researchers




Pocket screamer devised for use as personnel radiation monitor


Program started to measure genetic effects of chemicals on mice

ORTEC and Tennelec founded by ORNL employees




Development begun on
radioisotope heat sources
to power space satellites

Neutron transmutation doping method developed at ORNL reactor; later used for making electronic components




Health Physics
Research Reactor completed


Ion channeling discovered with aid of computer modeling

Civil defense research program started


Forest stand tagged with cesium-137; analyses showed hazards of fallout from nuclear weapons testing




Radiation Shielding Information
Center established at ORNL

Oak Ridge Isochronous
Cyclotron first operated



ORNL becomes first national lab to hire social scientists (initially for civil defense research)

ORNL concept of nuclear desalination
featured at UN conference




Startup of
High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) and Molten Salt Reactor (MSR)


Heavy-Section Steel Technology program for reactor safety studies begun

ORNL-UT graduate program in biomedical science established




Graphite Reactor named a
National Historic Landmark

KENO Monte Carlo code developed
for assessments of nuclear criticality safety




Walker Branch Watershed
research facility opens
for ecosystem studies


ORNL selected to lead U.S. ecosystem research under International Biological Program

Viruses separated in high-speed ORNL centrifuges


Simulation code developed for assessments of protective ability of radiation shields




Second MSR operated using uranium-233 (first reactor to use this fuel)

Centrifugal fast analyzer invented
for medical diagnoses


Ultrapure vaccines produced using
ORNL-developed zonal centrifuges

Stainless-steel alloy designed to
better resist neutron-induced swelling




Neutron cross-section
measurements first made
using new Oak Ridge
Electron Linear Accelerator


ORNL becomes leader in geographic information systems combined with remote sensing

Apollo 11 moon rock scoop designed




SCALE code developed to help ensure safe storage and transportation of spent nuclear fuel

ORMAK—the Lab's first doughnut-shaped (tokamak) fusion research machine—operated for plasma physics experiments




Aquatic Ecology Laboratory built; data on fishes' water temperature preferences obtained for environmental impact statements


The likely shape of a deformed uranium-234 nucleus determined in accelerator studies




Energy conservation research program launched


Mouse embryos frozen, thawed, and implanted in surrogate mothers that gave birth to healthy mouse pups

Garden soil bacteria in bioreactors
found to remove nitrates and trace
metals from industrial waste effluents


Discovery of giant quadrupole resonance; wide study of these giant vibrational modes of nuclei resulted




of moon rocks


Ultrasonic fish tag devised to measure and transmit fish's water temperature preferences




Herman Postma
appointed ORNL director,
a position he held for 14 years

Chrome-moly steel developed; used in electric utility boilers and oil refinery furnaces worldwide





AEC abolished; replaced with Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

Computer models of ecosystems developed, making ORNL leader in systems ecology



Tough iridium alloy developed to encapsulate nuclear fuel in space probes




Pilot ANFLOW bioreactor installed at Oak Ridge municipal sewage treatment plant

Program started to improve production of liquid and gaseous fuels from coal and determine their biological effects





Department of Energy created




Jimmy Carter
visits ORNL

Pellet injection method for refueling fusion energy research devices developed and adopted worldwide




ORNL's neutral-beam injectors help Princeton Plasma Physics Lab reach record fusion plasma temperatures


ORNL assists NRC in identifying causes and consequences of Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident

Ethylnitrosourea (ENU) found to be the most effective chemical for inducing mutations in mice


In rat study, nitrites in food preservatives found to react with food and drug amines, forming cancer-causing nitrosamines




Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility (HHIRF) opens as nuclear physics user facility

HFIR becomes user facility when National Center for Small-Angle Scattering Research opens


National Environmental Research Park (12,400 acres) opens

New ion-implantation accelerator techniques found to improve materials' surface properties


Longer-lasting artificial joints made after ORNL implants titanium alloy with nitrogen ions

Computer models built to predict power plant impacts on Hudson River fish


ORNL researchers start REMOTEC, world leader in making robots for hazardous duties




Whisker-toughened, fracture-resistant ceramic developed; used in commercial cutting tools




Standards and designs developed to increase efficiency of refrigerators and heat pumps

Insulation standards developed; later adopted by federal agencies


Modified nickel aluminide alloys developed; used in commercial production of steel and automotive parts

Superconducting electromagnets successfully tested by fusion energy researchers at Large Coil Test Facility


Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center established; world-renowned repository of global-change data




Martin Marietta becomes ORNL managing contractor, succeeding Union Carbide




Experiments started to produce energy-rich hydrogen from water using photosynthesis in spinach and algae




Fatty acid labeled with iodine-123 developed for medical scanning diagnosis of heart disease


UT-ORNL establishes Science Alliance

Gelcasting developed; now used commercially to form ceramic parts for microturbines




ORNL determines when Chernobyl nuclear plant accident occurred, and why it released so much radioactivity




High Temperature Materials Laboratory opens as user facility for industrial researchers seeking to build energy-efficient engines


Lasers used to make
superconducting materials

All ORNL reactors shut down in response to DOE's concerns about Lab's reactor safety management




Advanced Toroidal Facility
starts up for fusion energy
research using a stellarator

Alvin Trivelpiece named
director of ORNL, a position
he held for 12 years




First draft of "generic environmental impact statement" for NRC to renew nuclear power plant operating licenses




ORNL's acid rain research leads to curbs on industrial sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions

Z-contrast electron microscope images columns of atoms


Computer code helps military better deploy personnel and equipment to war zones

Existence of quarks inside neutron confirmed






Neutron activation analysis at HFIR refutes theory that a U.S. president died of arsenic poisoning


Software written to solve problems by linking widely dispersed PCs




George Bush
visits ORNL

Rhenium-188 isotope generator invented; used worldwide to treat cancer and heart patients


Thin-film lithium microbattery invented

Mouse agouti gene identified and cloned; mutated gene found to cause obesity, diabetes, cancer


GRAIL developed for recognizing genes in DNA sequences on computer




Optical biopsy technique devised to find cancerous tumors in esophagus without surgery


UT-ORNL ranks top 500 supercomputers




"Lab on a chip" invented; now used commercially for protein analyses and drug discovery experiments


Mass spectrometry techniques devised for detecting pollutants, explosives, proteins

ALLIANCE software developed to make team of robots work cooperatively


Codes prepared to run models of future climate on new parallel supercomputers




Startup of Intel Paragon XP/S 150, then the world's fastest supercomputer


RABiTSTM method devised for making high-temperature superconducting wires

Ultrafast system for storing and retrieving supercomputer data developed


ORNL's DNA-protein crystals grown in space aboard Columbia space shuttle

Signal analysis system developed for Navy to detect passing submarines





Popular refrigerator model altered to cut its energy use in half

Discovery of graphite foam that transfers heat unusually well


Heartbeat detector devised to spot terrorists, prisoners hiding in vehicles

Searchable electronic notebook helps collaborators run experiments remotely over Internet




Device developed to verify conversion of Russian weapons-grade uranium to reactor-grade fuel


Initial design of mass spectrometer to help Army detect chem-bio threats

First approved release of genetically engineered microbe


VITALE devised to enhance signals from damaged videotapes, helping police solve crimes

World's largest watershed experiment shows effects of drought and heavy rainfall on forests




MicroCAT scanner invented; maps internal changes in mutated mice

Outdoor FACE experiment shows sweetgum trees grow faster in enriched CO2 atmosphere


ORNL techniques help semiconductor firms find problems causing defects in computer chips




Vice President Al Gore
speaks at Spallation Neutron
Source groundbreaking


Multifunctional biochip devised to rapidly detect diseases in humans

Alloy studies lead to retrofitted or new boilers in paper industry, making it safer




UT-Battelle is new ORNL managing contractor; Bill Madia named ORNL director

Two new supercomputers brought online


ORNL places in top 4% in international protein structure prediction competition

UT-ORNL opens National Transportation Research Center


Energy-saving heat pump water heater developed

ORNL helps sequence 3 human chromosomes


Fusion energy theorists begin design of Quasi-Poloidal Stellarator




HFIR resumes operation after beryllium reflector replaced, research building added


Direct-to-digital holography for 3D defect inspection devised for semiconductor firms

GRAIL used in Science and Nature's landmark papers on sequencing human genome


Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham visits, transfers DOE land to ORNL for new construction

Superconducting transformer and high-temperature superconducting cable developed with industrial partners

Groundbreaking for long-awaited new Mouse House



IBM Power4 supercomputer starts up; fastest supercomputer aim of ORNL-Cray partnership

Groundbreaking for
UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences


Construction begins for $300-million modernization program

DOE approves Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at ORNL


Habitat for Humanity
home showcases ORNL
energy technologies

Actinium-225 shipped from ORNL to treat leukemia patients




Privately funded facilities: Constructed on land deeded from the Department of Energy, the 300,000 square-foot facility will house state-of-the-art labs for energy and computational science.

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