LLNL's Joe Wong

Lawrence Livermore's
Joe Wong

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 Number 199

December 19, 2005 

Sorting out proteins

Shanklin and McCorkle
Brookhaven researchers John Shanklin (L) and Sean McCorkle

With more and more protein sequence data available, scientists are increasingly looking for ways to extract the small subset of information that determines a protein's function. In addition to sorting out what makes related proteins differ, such information can help scientists engineer proteins to do new jobs. Now scientists at DOE's Brookhaven Lab have written a computer program to sort the informational "wheat" from the "chaff." The program identifies positions where two related groups of proteins differ in amino acid identity or in a property such as charge or polarity - positions likely to be biologically important for defining the proteins' specific functions.

[Karen McNulty Walsh, 631/344-8350,]

Pushing the limits of high-temperature sensors inside nuclear reactors

Cross-section (top) of a proposed thermocouple that passed a heating test (200X), and an alternate design, that didn't (100X).

As engineers worldwide develop materials for the next generation of nuclear reactors, DOE's Idaho National Laboratory is preparing to test these components under normal and accident conditions. Tracking high temperatures in a test reactor has always been difficult. Existing sensors, called thermocouples, lose their accuracy either from high temperatures or from radiation that causes sensor components to transform into other elements. Selecting different materials for wires, insulators and sheaths, INL's High Temperature Test Laboratory developed a thermocouple that can withstand temperatures 500 degrees Celsius higher than existing sensors. Preliminary test results were presented in November at the American Nuclear Society's winter meeting.

[Hannah Hickey, 208/526-4595,]

Argonne research helps improve permanent magnets

Permanent magnets are important in a variety of commercial technologies, from car starters to computer hard drives. Researchers at DOE's Argonne National Laboratory have found clues to making those magnets longer-lasting and more powerful. Using the Advanced Photon Source X-rays, the researchers were able to see details of rare-earth ions, a critical component of permanent magnets. Probing their magnetism with unprecedented resolution revealed that the presence of rare-earth ions in more than one atomic environment reduces the magnetic stability of the best-performing permanent magnets to date. This knowledge will enable manufacturers to manipulate the rare-earth ion atomic structure for optimization of future magnets.

[Catherine Foster, 630/252-5580,]

Double jeopardy: CDF searches for doubly-charged Higgs bosons
Higgs group
Joshua Tuttle (left), Christopher Hays (middle) and Ashutosh Kotwal (right) from Duke University worked on the analysis seeking doubly-charged Higgs bosons.

The CDF experiment at DOE's Fermilab is searching for a long-lived, doubly-charged Higgs boson, which deposits four times the "ionization energy" of the typical singly-charged particle. Ionization energy occurs when a charged particle traverses a gas, stripping electrons from atoms and turning them into ions. While no candidate events have yet been found, CDF has set the best limits in the world on the pair-production of long-lived doubly-charged Higgs bosons: 133 GeV and 109 GeV, respectively, on the masses of long-lived doubly-charged Higgs bosons with left-handed (HL) and right-handed (HR) interactions. If HL and HR have the same mass, CDF's lower mass limit increases to 146 GeV. The search continues.

[Siri Steiner, 630/840-6733,


IPCC database aids climate researchers

For the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, model output was processed by the individual modeling groups and sent to a central data repository at Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison at DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The scientific payoff for this effort is that more than 300 users are analyzing model output from 21 different models, and more than 100 (possibly 200) manuscripts have been already written, based, at least in part, on the IPCC database. The database will likely attract continued scientific interest for several years.

[Anne M. Stark, 925/422-9799,


Joe Wong took a long road to Livermore

Joe Wong
Joe Wong

When Joe Wong looks back on his life, he's convinced his children don't know much about the first 27 years of his life.

That was life before he was married, had three children, two grandchildren and long before he started working in the Chemistry and Materials Science Directorate at DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Born in Hong Kong, Wong traveled a round-about way to get to Livermore in 1986. At 17, he left Hong Kong to attend high school in Australia. He spent the next 7 years or so there, earning two bachelors degrees in physical chemistry and pure and applied chemistry from the University of Tasmania.

He went on to work at Electrolytic Zinc of Australia for a year and worked nights as a lecturer in physical chemistry at Royal Hobart College, both in Tasmania. He came to the United States and attended Purdue University to earn his Ph.D. in physical chemistry. While at Purdue, he was recruited by GE Research and Development Center to serve as a staff research chemist in its solid state physics laboratory.

But one-third of the way through his career, Wong decided to change his specialty; he was fascinated by the world of synchrotron radiation. He helped build the first X-ray beam line at Brookhaven National Laboratory. At the same time, Livermore was working with Stanford to construct three beam lines for Lab programs. He soon had a job offer from Lawrence Livermore.

Wong's Livermore career has been very successful. He not only has extensive research and development experience in a range of industrial and basic materials science, but his work in synchrotron radiation has earned him much prestige from collaborators and colleagues, domestic and abroad.

In 2003, Wong's team made a landmark event in the history of the experimental investigation of plutonium by mapping the full phonon dispersions of plutonium using an innovative microbeam-on-single-grain technique, ending the quest of this fundamental data for the past four decades or so.

Wong has come a long way from his studies in Tasmania. And by the time his stint at Livermore is over (he retires Jan. 4), he will have published more than 200 papers, earned seven patents, and garnered more than 12 awards from two R&D 100 Awards to the Alexander von Humboldt Research Award for Senior U.S. Scientists. Most recently, Wong was awarded a 2005 fellow of the American Physical Society.

As for life after retirement, Wong plans to enjoy life, smell the roses in his own garden and elsewhere around the globe, fulfill a scroll of items on his and his wife's dream list, but above all, devote as much time as possible to the grandchildren whose photos are plastered all over his office.

Submitted by DOE's Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory


Check out symmetry—the
particle physics magazine from
Fermilab and SLAC.


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NETL facilities paving the way
toward a hydrogen economy

National Energy Technology Laboratory's (NETL) efforts in fuel cell research and development are bringing into focus DOE's vision of cleaner, more efficient energy production. Recent developments at three NETL facilities are moving this alternative energy technology toward commercialization and leading us into a hydrogen economy.

High-temperature fuel cells being promoted by NETL utilize both hydrogen and carbon monoxide to create electricity by a virtually pollutant-free, electrochemical process. This technology operates on a variety of fuels (pure hydrogen, natural gas, or coal) to efficiently generate electricity on demand and on location, offering appealing power choices for commercial entities. Bringing this alternative technology to the general market is a comprehensive undertaking, and two NETL facilities are taking the lead. The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Experimental Laboratory (SOFCEL) and the new DOE Fuel Cell (DFC) testing facility contribute design research and evaluation results to the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA), whose ultimate goal is to commercialize low-cost, solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.

NETL's SOFCEL investigates SOFC fundamentals and has made advances in understanding the root causes of fuel cell degradation. New tools for fuel cell designers, such as high-temperature strain gauges, are also being developed. These and other SOFCEL research developments will improve the understanding of fuel cell operation and contribute to the optimal design of SECA's fuel cell technology.

As SECA develops SOFC prototypes, independent performance testing and evaluation must occur÷and NETL's DFC fulfills this requirement. DFC researchers are currently using a 5-kilowatt SOFC system supplied by Acumentrics, a SECA industry team, to evaluate and calibrate the testing facility, which can accommodate up to a 10-kilowatt fuel cell system. Plans call for at least one SECA prototype system to be brought to the DFC in 2006 for testing and evaluation. NETL's program managers will utilize testing results to assess the progress of SECA's manufacturing partners toward achieving overall SOFC cost and performance goals.

Of course, NETL is already planning next-generation, large-scale energy solutions÷solutions that build on SECA's SOFC development. Creating a bridge to the hydrogen economy, SECA technology will serve as the building blocks of zero-emission power plants, like FutureGen, when integrated into high-efficiency hybrid systems.

A third NETL facility, the Hybrid Performance Project (HYPER), examines the operability of such fuel cell/gas turbine hybrid systems combining actual turbine hardware and computerized simulations of fuel cell models. HYPER has achieved successful start-up of the system without stalling, which can otherwise cause high-dollar damage to real fuel cell stacks. The facility is also addressing fuel cell response to transient events and evaluating related control strategies to aid in the development of appropriate design and operational parameters for future hybrid systems.

The benefits of fuel cell technology are already recognized, and the challenges facing researchers and designers are being conquered each day. Without question, the transition to a hydrogen economy has begun, and NETL's unique fuel cell facilities provide the support needed for this national—even global—energy transformation.

Submitted by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory

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