April 2000


State of Lab: Excellent, best wishes
“I believe that the state of the Lab is excellent!” said outgoing Lab Director Al Trivelpiece at March 15’s State of the Lab/farewell/birthday celebration. The director’s final assessment of the Lab segued into a series of tributes from old friends and colleagues from far and near.

The tribute included reminiscences by former Director Herman Postma, former Deputy Director Murray Rosenthal, former Rep. Marilyn Lloyd, former Office of Science Director Martha Krebs, current Office of Science Director Jim Dekker and Michelle Buchanan, who represented Lab researchers.

Postma, who was pretty funny as the emcee, recalled how he lured Trivelpiece to the directorship in 1988 with false notions of a slow pace of life with plenty of free time for things like research.

After his top Lab director prospect expressed initial reluctance, “I started lying,” Postma said.

In his State of the Lab talk, which coincided with his birthday, Trivelpiece recounted a history of significant events for ORNL, such as the HFIR restart, Tiger Teams, the end of the Cold War, the end of the Advanced Neutron Source and the subsequent birth of the Spallation Neutron Source project.

“It has never been dull,” he said of his 11 years.

Gas prices? What gas prices?
Brendan Kirby checks under the hood.
One ORNL employee isn’t feeling much pain over soaring oil prices. Brendan Kirby, who works in the Energy Division, glides to and from work in an electric vehicle.

It’s not particularly futuristic, like the car Environmental Sciences Division researcher Jonathan Scurlock described in the December 1999 Reporter. In fact, Kirby’s ride is a little retro.

“It’s a 1980 Ford Courier pickup chassis that was converted into an electric vehicle for the 1982 World’s Fair,” says Kirby. “The fair gave it to the University of Tennessee, which then sold it to a junkyard in Maynardville.”

Kirby tracked it down there and essentially pushed it off the lot, reworked it and now drives it on the 25-mile commute to work and back. It can go about 60 miles per charge and scoots along pretty well. “I’ve had it up to 70 on level road,” he says.

The truck, which has a new state-of-the-art controller that greatly enhanced its range, is powered by 20 deep-cycle lead acid batteries. He plugs it in nightly. Heat is provided by a small ceramic heater that “works really well.”

Kirby has a background in electric vehicles: He worked on them in college and previously owned an electric Pinto.

On a test spin, the “ElectroVan” demonstrates good pickup and a quiet ride (essentially gear whine without the putt-putt). “I love to drive it,” he says.

He should, especially now. The gas gauge needle is permanently resting on “E.”

Values drive aids Ronald’s house
ORNL employees came to the aid of families with seriously ill children on March 28. Staff members, through the Lab’s Values Committee, donated items to Knoxville’s Ronald McDonald House.

Families may stay at the McDonald’s Corporation–sponsored facilities at low cost while seriously ill children are treated at nearby hospitals. A second house has been opened in the Knoxville area, adding to local needs.

The network has almost 200 houses nationwide. Although McDonald’s provides the facilities with grants, each house relies heavily on community support.

“We collected quite a few items, especially household goods, small appliances and food,” said Amy Dindal of the Chemical and Analytical Sciences Division, who added that two vanloads of goods were sent to the area quarters.

Ongoing Values projects include roadside trash pickups, greeting card recycling for St. Jude’s Hospital and the Recycle Your Vision program for used eyeglasses.

Flouting Murphy won the Nobel
Bill Phillips shared the Nobel prize for physics in 1997 for his work with cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. He described the method, which is highly useful in the development of better atomic clocks and is one of the focal points of research at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, where he is a fellow.

The liquid nitrogen flowed freely during Nobel laureate Bill Phillips' talk.

The idea behind laser cooling of atoms is that the force of light can slow an atom’s motion. Conventional refrigeration doesn’t work because the cooled gas simply solidifies, liquifies or condenses onto the side of the container. With laser cooling, the atoms can be cooled to almost absolute zero by capturing them with magnetic fields and exposing them to laser forces.

In fact, laser cooling worked much better than theorized; initially researchers doubted what they were seeing. “It was a clear violation of Murphy’s Law,” Phillips said.

Laser cooling and trapping’s uses will go far beyond atomic clocks, Phillips said. Other uses include biomedical tools, gyroscopes, interferometers and even quantum computing.

His talk included a lot of splashing around of liquid nitrogen, a cool tabletop demonstration of magnetic levitation and extremely intuitive handwritten overhead transparencies. His talk at ORNL came about through the Superconductivity Pilot Center’s Bob Hawsey, whose brother knows Phillips through their contacts at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, which Phillips attended. The talk, in fact, was broadcast to Juniata, a first for an ORNL distinguished lecture.

Reported by Bill Cabage