September 2000


Two protons at a time
Researchers at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility recently chalked up a physics “first”: the simultaneous emission of two protons from an atom’s decaying nucleus. The finding, based on preliminary experiments with the Holifield Facility’s unique fluorine-17 beam, also represents a new type of radioactivity.

The discovery could help physicists better understand the strong nuclear forces that hold protons and neutrons together—a force that overcomes the Coulomb force, which drives the like-charged protons apart, similar to the like poles on two magnets.

“The nucleus is sending us a message about how it is put together,” says Holifield Facility Director Jim Beene.

An ORNL group led by Jorge Gomez del Campo bombarded a polypropylene target rich in hydrogen atoms with fluorine-17 beams, which mostly scattered protons. Once in a billion encounters, however, a fluorine ion captured a proton to form neon-18. One in 3,000 of the very unstable neon-18s emitted two protons simultaneously to form oxygen-16+2p. The rest formed flourine-17 by emitting only one proton.

Researchers are trying to determine if the protons leave the nucleus bound together or if the they exit simultaneously but separately. Knowing which is true could also shed new light on the forces that bind atoms together.

Whiter whites, shrunken utility bills
ORNL is currently in the process of its second washing machine field test with the Maytag folks, this time in the Boston, Mass., suburb of Reading. Similar to the Bern, Kansas, field test in 1997, residents of a Reading apartment complex are replacing their conventional washers and dryers, which have been monitored for energy use since June, with new high-efficiency Maytag Neptunes.

Energy Division’s John Tomlinson is heading up ORNL’s part in the effort, which is to crunch the data the residents provide.

“Boston is just one of the cities nationwide experiencing growth,” John told PR Newswire. “Continuous economic growth and, in turn, depletion of our natural resources, could make our current energy and water problems even worse in the near future. That’s why teaching people how to conserve simply and early could significantly help us today and tomorrow.”

Reading is one of those booming areas. Bern, in contrast, was a small town in an arid locale. The Bern residents’ results showed that Maytag’s front-loading models (shown) use up to 60 percent less energy and saved nearly 2 million gallons of water. For their troubles, the Bern and Reading participants get to keep their new models and enjoy the savings on their energy and water bills.

And, just as important, the Neptune’s state of the art washing system “eliminates tough stains,” according Maytag’s Website.

Teamwork beats the backhoe blues
Remember when the main antenna on the Galileo spacecraft failed and the Jupiter-orbiting satellite had to trickle its amazing pictures back to Earth through a very small backup antenna? That’s what August 18 was like, in a way, for communications technicians when a backhoe severed a main fiber-optic line between ORNL and Y-12. Things went slower, but most messages were received.

Road construction workers cut the line, which has 144 fibers for data networks and 12 fibers for phones, early that day. Employees of the Computing, Information and Networking and Instrumentation and Controls divisions, along with workers with Qwest, the service provider, and ETTP and Y-12 scrambled to reroute information for crucial systems.

CIND’s Mike Turpin explains that communications lines serving the three plants form a triangle, with the largest—the one that was cut—between ORNL and Y-12. Workers managed to reroute info around the two thinner sides of the triangle. Except for a few systems, most services stayed up, with users just noticing that things were a little slow.

“This was a case where you had Qwest doing their work and bargaining unit people and CIND staff pulling together to restore service,” Turpin says.

Because many of the ETTP links have been disconnected to hook up service for the new ED-1 industrial park, technicians only had a few available lines to work with. Turpin says if the cut had occurred a few hours later, they may have had no lines to work with.

“When I finally got home my wife asked if I had a frustrating day,” says Turpin. “Actually, it was fun. Everything we tried worked and everybody pulled in same direction.”

Cool, clear water
If you’ve ever wondered about the water coming from the faucets at the Lab, take heart that a lot of folks look after the quality of that water, all the time.

When it was alleged at a recent public meeting that process water backflow may have contaminated drinking water at the East Tennessee Technological Park, ORNL mounted a management review of its own water system, including samples and a document check for past instances.

Results of water samples mirror a similar check of a number of distributed sampling points in 1995: ORNL’s drinking-water supply, which comes from the city of Oak Ridge system, falls far below set limits for radioactive contamination. For instance, where regulatory limits are set at 15 picocuries per liter, ORNL readings rarely exceed 2 picocuries per liter.
The new ORNL Visitor Services Center opened last month. Staffing the desk are Debbie Moore, Jean Bray, and Barabara Swails. Drop by for a visit.

Radiation Protection’s Steve Sims says ORNL has historically watched the water and has a continuously maintained triple-safe system of backflow preventers installed throughout the system. None has ever failed to prevent a backflow.

“Water systems are designed to leak out of the system; never in. They are under pressure,” Sims says, noting that even samples from sites within contaminated groundwater plumes are indistinguishable from background contamination.

“ORNL has recognized the importance of assuring the potable water at the site since the 1940s and has maintained a policy of separate potable and process water systems since the 1950s,” he says.

Reported by Bill Cabage and Carolyn Krause