January 2000


Breaking ground behind the scenes
Events on the scale of last month’s groundbreaking for the Spallation Neutron Source don’t just happen at the spur of the moment, although this one came close. Vice President Al Gore’s plans to attend weren’t confirmed until a few days before the event.

Plant and Equipment Division workers made sure the site was ready in time, including keeping the gravel road up to the site passable for the equipment and vehicles, including the buses that carried several hundred attendees to the event. They did a great job, especially considering the soaking rain that finally stopped just a day before the event. P&E also provided the electricity, built the stage and press stand, put down temporary carpet and applied appropriate coats of paint.

Posters and materials created by the Lab’s graphics and publishing groups, who ramped up during those crucial days-before-the-holidays, went up inside the tents or were made available to attendees and visiting media.

Finally, Protocol Officer Nancy Gray did her usual excellent “nightmare-wedding” job of making sure things went well, with some critical assistance from the Conference Office’s Norma Cardwell in coordinating the preparations.

It all came together, pretty close to perfect. The sun even came out. ORNL’s support folks might think about adopting a motto: “VIP visits R us.”

P&E Division carpenters "set the stage" in brisk conditions for the December 15 SNS ceremony.
Keeping a strong computing hand
Since the once-supreme Intel Paragon supercomputer was unplugged and dismantled last April, supercomputing at ORNL has anything but languished. The Computer Science and Mathematics Division is working with the IBM SP supercomputer it acquired this year and plans to bring in a new computer this spring.

“We just upgraded the IBM SP from 100 billion operations per second to 400 billion operations per second,” says CSMD’s Buddy Bland. “This compares with the 150 billion operation per second Intel Paragon that we shut down in April, 1999. The IBM SP at ORNL is now one of the most powerful computers available to researchers in the DOE Office of Science.”

Bland adds that ORNL will also bring in another 256-processor supercomputer, probably in March. “Having the IBM SP and the second supercomputer, with the same number of processors and similar power, side by side at ORNL will offer us a great opportunity to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each architecture and to improve on both of them,” says Bland.

Meanwhile, what happens to old supercomputers once they’ve outlived their incredibly short-lived usefulness? In the Paragon’s case, after four years at ORNL it’s still being useful. Parts of it are now at Ames Laboratory—still working for researchers.

Transition: A little head start
Although early speculation that the contract changeover to UT-Battelle would be moved up hasn’t panned out, the transition is getting a little head start. LMER and UT-Battelle have agreed to move the official beginning of transition activities up from the original February 1 to January 18.

The actual day of the contract change is still the same, however: April 1, 2000.

Meanwhile, Bill Madia, who will direct ORNL come April 1, has made several appearances at the Lab to speak to various groups. Among subjects he has addressed most recently is a desire for “a new campus” for the Lab, which means new facilities to replace ORNL’s aging buildings.

“Customers walk into an old lab and think ‘old science and technology.’ It’s hard to convince someone that you’re on the cutting edge,” he told a group of managers last month.

With little prospect of that much capital coming purely from government coffers, funding such a building drive would require assuming some risks and working closely with DOE, he concedes, adding that UT-Battelle is prepared to make long-term financial commitments for such a drive.

Madia says his top three priorities are, first, getting the SNS on a stable footing, then looking over the rest of the Lab’s portfolio and strengthening areas such as materials science and computational biology. Third, he says, is the new facilities plan.

P&E, OEP beautify the creek banks
P&E's Tim Russell tends to the banks along White Oak Creek.
ORNL has worked hard on improving the quality of the water in its streams over the years, and it’s paid off. Many of the creeks, such as White Oak Creek, teem with little fish and other wildlife. Now the streams are getting a better look as well.

Trees and a variety of other plants growing along the stream banks are being maintained in a project between the Office of Environmental Protection and the Plant and Equipment Division to establish natural buffer zones along the creeks. OEP’s Glenn Anderson and Elizabeth Wright say the zones improve stream quality by filtering runoff water and reducing the sediment load. The zones also allow for a variety of plants that shade the creek, controlling the temperature during the summer heat.

In addition to looking better, the buffers help ORNL maintain a natural stream environment as required by state and federal regulations. In fact, the zones, says Anderson, provide a habitat for wildlife that live in and around the creek.

Reported by Bill Cabage