May 2000


That first impression is important
Two of the themes stressed by the UT-Battelle management team during the transition period were upgrading ORNL’s facilities and community outreach. UT-Battelle’s first public announcement, made April 3, the first work day on the job, represented a double-play in that respect. ORNL Director Bill Madia announced that the Lab’s first facility to be upgraded will be its visitors center.

Local officials and media gathered under Building 5000’s awning for the announcement, which occurred during a lull between April gullywashers.

Artist's sketch of the new visitor center.
“We want this change to be something more than just changing signs at the entrance,” Madia said.

“Each year the current visitors center is the first impression of ORNL for more than 14,000 scientists, students and other guests from all over the world. We want that first impression to be one worthy of the world-class research that takes place every day at ORNL.”

The new center actually will be located next door to the current one, in the relatively new Building 5002. A large area on the ground floor will be refurbished and decorated with new exhibits designed to give visitors a correct impression of ORNL—that it is a place alive with science.

The new visitors’ center, which will cost a modest $100,000, is just a start on a much more ambitious and comprehensive upgrade campaign. Madia estimated that the Lab is due for improvements that could cost up to $300 million.

Wamp: Human factor is important
Better facilities for ORNL research was also the topic of the day when 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp made his first Lab visit with the new UT-Battelle team on April 19. His itinerary included a coach tour around some of the older facilities, including the Mouse House, and a stopover at the Robotics and Process Systems facility to see the Spallation Neutron Source’s mercury target simulator.

Wamp said that the SNS program’s congressional critics have been satisfied with recent progress in the program. “Their reasons for apprehension are largely gone, thanks to David Moncton,” he said.

Rep. Zach Wamp (left) and bill Madia take a tour of ORNL.
The congressman made a stop at the new Environmental and Life Sciences Laboratory under construction on the west end of the Lab, which is also the site for the proposed Laboratory for Functional Genomics, or new Mouse House. “Congress ramps up funding in areas of research that improve people’s lives,” Wamp stressed. “Human life is important—a fertile field.”

Lab researchers have long noted that neutron science and genomics both result in technologies that improve people’s lives.

The trip climaxed with an unplanned trek up to Building 2001, the Quonset hut-styled relic that housed the UT-Battelle transition team. Wamp noted the rust and cracked paint of the former “Winter Palace,” much like the Mouse House, and affirmed the need for quality facilities for quality research. Earlier in the trip, he characterized prospects for funding for the new Mouse House as “do-able.”

Aviator’s goal: Make sustainability fly
Paul MacCready’s claim to fame, of which he’s earned quite a bit, is making things go on as little energy as possible. In fact, he has designed aircraft that fly on power supplied only by human muscle.

His human powered craft fooled the experts in the 1970s by actually flying and even crossing the English Channel. Although those aircraft were too fragile to be practical in themselves, they prove important points about energy efficiency and R&D.

“When you’re unfettered, you can go way out and achieve your goals,” he told the Wigner Auditorium crowd on April 12. “Impractical ideas result in very practical devices.”

In fact, the “father of human-powered flight” earned his mantle in the face of predictions by Europe’s top aeronautical design schools that the Kremer prize for achieving human-powered flight would never be awarded because the feat was impossible. MacCready’s success was driven by two things, he said: A bad-loan debt that the prize would wipe off and an approach that was totally outside design-school conventions.

“They knew too much,” he said of the doubters. “They couldn’t see the easy ways; they had on mental blinders.”

Although the skies probably won’t ever be dotted with pedaling aviators, MacCready has designed solar-powered unmanned craft that can stay aloft at high altitudes for months to perform surveillance or scientific missions. And his solar-powered vehicles, which blew away the competition in cross-country races, have evolved into autos that are currently on the market.

MacCready emphasized that energy-efficient designs like his are more than novelties. They represent a critical approach to how scientists now and in the future can help maintain a stressed Earth.

“We control the future; we wield the paintbrush,” he said. “Humans are no longer subject to Earth’s checks and balances, but the Earth isn’t getting any bigger. The young ones now are the ones who’ll determine whether we achieve a sustainable world.”

MacCready’s talk was arranged by Robotics and Process Systems Division researcher François Pin, a colleague and fellow sail plane enthusiast.

The interest is there
Open your doors, and they will come: The Spallation Neutron Source project leaders held an open house on April 25 at their 701 Scarboro offices. The business forum drew 182 registrants; the open house’s estimated 500 attendees crammed the lobby.

Reported by Bill Cabage