July 1999

Web puts science at world’s fingertips

If you are a researcher and you publish journal articles, the Internet has increased the exposure of your work to the world incredibly, says Ellis Rubinstein, editor of Science magazine. Rubinstein was the keynote speaker for last month’s Web Week ’99, the ORNL computing organization’s annual roundup of Web tech status and outlook.

In Science’s first 100 years, up to the 1980s, distribution of its scientific information relied almost solely on the mails, resulting in lag times of weeks to months to the scientifically “dispossessed” in far corners of the world. The Web has changed all that almost overnight, Rubinstein says.

Now Science is able to update its science news daily, and readers all over the world have access to it in real time, thanks to the Web. “The advantage is timely distribution everywhere,” he says. “The disadvantage is an avalanche of information. No has time to read it all, and search engines are lousy.”

Rubinstein espouses establishing “knowledge environments” built upon elegantly designed Web pages that lead the reader, at whatever level, to information he or she wants. He showcased an upcoming Science Web feature designed to allow users to catalog the information to their needs and even access numerous other science journals.

“What’s special isn’t the amount of information; it’s the way it’s designed,” Rubinstein says. “We can cross all kinds of unlikely communities with better designed Web pages.”

Summit/WATTec: ‘Driving tech’

big rig
Dan Tufano (right) gives DOE Under Secretary Ernie Moniz a cockpit orientation in CSMD’s instrumented Dodge Intrepid.
The exhibit hall at last month’s East Tennessee Technology Summit, this year combined with the annual WATTec conference, included Computational Sciences and Mathematics Division’s 1999 Dodge Intrepid, whichhas been instrumented to study information overload on drivers of the future (see last month’s ORNL Reporter).

Cars tend to attract attention at exhibitions, and the Intrepid was no exception. CSMD’s Phil Spelt and Dan Tufano and Ron Harris of the Instrumentation and Controls Division kept busy explaining how the different analytical instruments on the automobile would help track driver reactions to on-board systems.

One of the most interested onlookers was DOE Under Secretary Ernie Moniz, who gave the summit’s keynote address. Moniz took in a detailed orientation by Tufano before actually getting behind the wheel.

HFIR: Cold-source building complete

The High Flux Isotope Reactor’s upgrade program is moving ahead. Although the beryllium reflector’s scheduled changeout won’t begin until next May, the cryogenic refrigeration plant for the HFIR’s cold neutron source is now complete, with most of the equipment in place.

The cold neutron source is one of the most alluring aspects of the upgrade program—chilled neutrons move slowly, making them much more useful for many experiments. A cold source, in fact, was to be a key feature of the canceled Advance Neutron Source.

“We’ve already transformed the landscape behind the HFIR building,” says Colin West, who’s managing the upgrade program. “The refrigeration plant is a big piece of equipment that needed its own building. With it comes a big liquid nitrogen tank that’s on a hilltop to the west. You can see it now from almost everywhere at the HFIR facility.”

West added that work on another building, the neutron sciences support building, has begun and should be completed by this fall. Scientific equipment from the HFIR’s beam room will be stored there during the reflector changeout; then it will be the destination for the cold-source neutron beams.

Cold-source project manager Doug Selby says the project has been a very effective collaboration between his office, Don Garrett of ORNL Engineering, Ken Morgan and Bill Hill of the Research Reactors Division, workers from East Tennessee Mechanical Corporation and ORO’s Ken Boyd.

Deep space requires high tech

National laboratories can make key contributions to solving some of the logistical problems of manned deep space flight. That’s the message astronauts Charles Precourt and Franklin Chang-Diaz gave a Lab audience on June 4, when they visited to hand out awards to ORNL participants in the Cassini mission to explore Saturn.

Sending people to, say, Mars involves challenges normally not encountered on Earth. Among them are the 40-minute communications lag between Mars and Earth, cutting launch weights with micro and nano-scale wireless technology, devising newer and less fuel hungry propulsion systems and developing medical facilities for crew members who will be away from hospitals for up to two years.

Precourt said that being so far from home and, in effect, incommunicado because of the time-distance lag means that technologies that make spacecraft more autonomous are crucial. “If we can’t break free from ground control, we’ll never get out of low earth orbit,” he observed.

The NASA pair stressed that astronauts are much more than pilots. The technical complexity and remoteness of space flight require them to be scientists and engineers who are deeply involved in the design and preparation of the spacecraft, said Chang-Diaz, who is a familiar figure at ORNL.

ORNL has several programs in progress with NASA. The Lab’s main contribution to the Cassini mission was design and production, with Y-12, of clad-vent sets for the reactor thermal generators that power the spacecraft. Precourt noted that for deep space flight, nuclear power continues to be the most feasible alternative.

Reprted by Bill Cabage