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Interdisciplinary research

Transformational potential

Solutions to major technological challenges rarely fit within a single discipline, and interdisciplinary research combined with the unique facilities and mission focus of the laboratories provide an ideal platform for addressing these challenges. This sort of extended collaboration is the model Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has put forward for finding solutions to our most pressing energy problems.

ORNL Review cover

The articles in this ORNL Review demonstrate that interdisciplinary research continues to flourish at ORNL. From recently formed interdisciplinary centers including the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, BioEnergy Science Center, Critical Materials Institute and Climate Change Science Institute to the assembly of interdisciplinary teams around emerging opportunities in carbon fiber, additive manufacturing, and membrane science, ORNL is tackling a new generation of interdisciplinary challenges.

All of these initiatives have transformational potential. CASL is delivering on its mission to provide a highly accurate and usable virtual reactor that harnesses the power of advanced computing to simulate operational and safety aspects of light water reactors. BESC is advancing the science and technology of bioenergy by specifically addressing recalcitrance (the resistance of plant cell walls to being broken down by microbes and enzymes), which is the central challenge of deriving ethanol from biomass.

CMI is applying interdisciplinary strategies to the difficult problem of ensuring an adequate and affordable supply of critical materials, such as rare earth elements for clean energy technologies. The CCSI is combining climate modeling, ecosystem science and data science to improve and extend the reach of climate predictions. Multi-disciplinary initiatives in carbon fiber and additive manufacturing offer the potential to revolutionize the transportation and manufacturing sectors, and combining the power of neutron science with biology and supercomputing is presenting opportunities to solve biomedical problems once considered intractable.

Interdisciplinary research is in our DNA. The frontiers of science and technology often reside at the boundaries between disciplines—and it is this interdisciplinary space that ORNL is uniquely positioned to develop and exploit.

Jim Roberto
Associate Director for
Science and Technology Partnerships
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Ramamoorthy Ramesh
Deputy Director for
Science and Technology
Oak Ridge National Laboratory