April 1999


Bacteria tattle on land mines

Bumping around at night in a mine field wouldn’t make many lists of fun things to do, but Bob Burlage, Martin Hunt and Steve Hicks had a very productive evening doing just that. Burlage, of the Environmental Sciences Division, and Hunt and Hicks, of the Instrumentation and Controls Division, were testing whether “bioreporter” bacteria could indeed reveal where land mines are hidden beneath the surface.

The three were participating in a test last fall at the National Explosives Waste Technology and Evaluation Center in Edgefield, S.C.. Defused land mines containing trinitrotoluene (TNT) had been placed on a test site. Earlier that day, a solution containing a strain of the bacteria Pseudomonas, which was genetically engineered to emit a green fluorescent protein visible in ultraviolet light when it digested TNT, was applied to the field.

Later that evening, the researchers pored over the site with ultraviolet lamps and a filtered viewer. Sure enough, wherever the land mines lay underneath the soil, the tell-tale green glow was present. That’s because, Burlage says, the explosive devices leak tiny amounts of explosive, which the bacteria make a meal of and light up.

In a real scenario under the right weather conditions, the bacteria would be applied to a suspected tract of land with a crop duster and then analyzed from a rolling tower or helicopter. “No one yet has told me it can’t be done,” Burlage says.

Library triples E-journals

This month researchers at ORNL can download full-text articles from a selection of more than 600 electronic journals. For the first time in years, the library is adding new journal titles and putting them at the researcher’s desktop.

A half-million dollars worth of journals will be added at no cost to ORNL. Working with a consortium of libraries at DOE laboratories, ORNL took the lead in negotiating a license agreement with Elsevier Publishers, a key publisher of scientific journals. As a result, ORNL staff will be able to access not only the titles to which ORNL currently subscribes but also any Elsevier journal currently subscribed to by the other participating DOE labs. More than 400 of the titles will be selected at the end of the initial pilot.

For ORNL Library Director Randy Hoffman, it’s a leap toward her goal of bringing the library to the researcher. “While there may always be some need to come to a library’s physical setting, we want to offer the information to the researchers where they work,” she says.

Ethics training starts this month

Lockheed Martin’s next round of ethics training is set to begin this month, says ORNL Ethics Officer Steve Stow. The training must be completed by July 16. The timing of the training is to accomodate a new ethics survey by the corporation later this year.

Stow says Lockheed Martin is continuing a training approach similar to the “Dilbert” training of the past few years, although this year’s course will emphasize building trust in the workplace. Why trust?

“Of the six corporate values, trust rated lowest in the 1997 ethics survey; therefore the need to work on building trust,” Stow says.

The game has been field tested about 30 times across the corporation including at Oak Ridge, and it has been well received,” Stow says.

The training might be paying off. Stow says the ethics caseloads at ORNL and Y-12 are down over the last year and a half.

“Perhaps that’s due to the training,” Stow speculates. “Employees may be trying to work issues through management, or possibly through enhanced awareness they are simply behaving better.”

Theragenics good deal for Lab

April 6’s announcement of an agreement between DOE and Theragenics Corporation to build a facility on the ED-1 parcel near ETTP has pronounced ORNL overtones. The Atlanta-based company, whose palladium-103-based product is being successfully used to treat prostate cancer, previously received their Pd-103 from ORNL’s High-Flux Isotope Reactor before switching to accelerators.

With demand for Pd-103 rising, the company wants to expand production.

Under the work-for-others agreement, Theragenics will fund the ED-1 deployment of the Plasma Separation Process, enrichment equipment that ORNL obtained as surplus years ago. According to the Chemical Technology Divison’s Emory Collins, Theragenics will fund the design, safety analysis and installation of the PSP, which was originally meant to complement the ORNL calutrons for production of Pd-102 and other enriched stable isotopes.

But that’s not all. Theragenics will also fund the design, approval and fabrication of two hydraulical tube facilities for installation on the HFIR, which now has only one. The tubes are used to insert and remove targets for medical and research isotopes.

“Theragenics will get first rights to time on the new tubes, but free time can be used for any other users,” Collins says. “This agreement wouldn’t have been possible without ORNL’s expertise and facilities.”

Compiled by Bill Cabage




Rock marks a little bit of history

Bill Alexander
Bill Alexander and the
upright stone
A few months ago Bill Alexander, environmental field engineer and opportunistic Lab historian, was tramping around in the woods on the Spallation Neutron Source site. He happened upon a rock sticking upright very unnaturally in the ground.

Suspecting it might have been put there for a reason, Alexander took coordinates from a geographical position sensor and consulted composite maps of old property boundaries. His work shows the rock is located almost exactly on a corner boundary of two adjoining pre-Manhattan Project properties, one a 256-acre farm owned, when sold to the federal government, by a fellow named James Evans; the other 100-acre tract owned by Hiram Carter. One of the owners or a surveyor had apparently placed the rock in the ground to mark the boundary corner.

More than a half-century later it was still there, undisturbed.

Alexander sees little irony in the fact that the spot where two farmers’ lands joined is on the site for the Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences, a research facility adjacent to the SNS, or that the rock may somehow symbolize how five labs are joining together to make the SNS happen.

But he would like to see the rock preserved in some way. “You see history almost any place you go on the Oak Ridge Reservation,” Alexander says.