Dr. Wendy Kuhne of DOE's Savannah River National Laboratory. Savannah River's Kuhne keeps the radioecology flame alive

Senior scientist Dr. Wendy Kuhne of DOE's Savannah River National Laboratory has a unique professional niche.  A large part of her job involves leadership of an effort to assure that she’s not, literally, the last person left in her field, radioecology.

Kuhne serves as the Director of the SRNL-led National Center for Radioecology, a multi-partner effort that is seeking to maintain and grow the scientific discipline and expertise of radioecology in the United States.  The radioecology field encompasses the relationships between radiation or radioactive substances and the environment, including populations, communities, ecosystems, biomes, and even the biosphere.

Her PhD, obtained from Colorado State University in 2006, is in Radiological Health Sciences with a specialty in radioecology.  Hers, with the specialty radioecology, was the last degree granted in the last remaining American graduate-level program; the CSU degree program has been no longer available after the retirement of Dr. Ward Whicker, Kuhne’s graduate adviser and a pioneer in the field.

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The big moment arrives: The successful first plasma brought cheers to the makeshift command center.Remembering the long day's journey to a first plasma

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the cell
Not a creature was stirring. Just the warning bell.
The diagnostics were hung on the tokamak with care
In hopes that first plasma soon would be there.
                          —From “Santa Claus Comes to Fusion” by Paul Reardon, project manager for the construction of TFTR


Staffers at DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory had more than the holidays to celebrate this past Christmas Eve. The date marked the 30th anniversary of a scientific milestone that saw the Laboratory’s Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) produce its first plasma—the superhot, electrically charged gas that fuels fusion reactions as a potential source of clean and abundant energy. The dramatic 1982 event climaxed months of furious preparation to meet a year-end deadline and ushered in more than a decade of record-setting experiments on the big PPPL machine.

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See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 380  |
  • January 21, 2013
  • Jefferson Lab engineers help space chamber reach cold target at unprecedented efficiency

    A compressor being installed for the new 20 Kelvin helium refrigerator at NASA Johnson Space Center's Space Environment Simulation Lab Chamber A. The new system will allow testing of components of the James Webb Space Telescope. As the U.S. sweated through its warmest year on record outside, a testing chamber at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston reached its coldest temperatures yet on the inside, cooled by one of the world's most efficient cryogenic refrigeration systems. 

    Designed by members of the Cryogenics group at the Department of Energy's Jefferson Lab, the system reached its target temperature of 20 Kelvin, about -424 degrees F, for the first time in May 2012 and again during commissioning tests in late August. It reached its target temperature in just over a day and maintains a steady temperature with less than a tenth of a degree in variation over a load temperature range of 16 to 330 Kelvin, all with no loss of helium and using half the liquid nitrogen than comparable systems. But what is even more remarkable is its ability to maintain design efficiency down to a third of its maximum load.

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  • An unexpected pairing of frustrated molecules

    PNNL researchers built simulations showing how two molecules combine to activate hydrogen, shedding new light on a reaction that could, one day, support hydrogenation for biofuels. While their shapes frustrate traditional bonding, two unreactive molecules come together and surround themselves within a solvent cage to create a reactive environment and split hydrogen. Researchers at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are revealing the role of the solvent in this process. Splitting a hydrogen molecule into a proton and a hydride ion (H-), known as activating the hydrogen, is vital for sustainable energy production and storage. The pair of molecules is called a frustrated Lewis pair.

    "Conventional wisdom says that frustrated Lewis pairs should not be able to activate hydrogen—but they do. We wanted to know why," said Dr. Greg Schenter, a theoretical chemist on this project.

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  • Disruption mitigation researchers investigate design options

    Thermal quench (TQ) and current quench (CQ) studies are part of the research underway on disruption mitigation and runaway electron suppression. Photo: General Atomics.

    ITER, the world’s first reactor-scale fusion machine, will have a plasma volume more than 10 times that of the next largest tokamak, JET. Plasma disruptions that can occur in a tokamak when the plasma becomes unstable can potentially damage plasma-facing surfaces of the machine. To lessen the impact of high energy plasma disruptions, US ITER is engaged in a global research effort to develop disruption mitigation strategies.

    US ITER, managed by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will continue working closely with global partners on the ITER disruption mitigation system, as the 2016 deadline for design of the system rapidly approaches. To continue moving R&D forward, an early conceptual design review was supported by US ITER in November.

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  • Breakthrough iron-based superconductors set new performance records

    Brookhaven physicists Weidong Si (left) and Qiang Li.

    The road to a sustainably powered future may be paved with super-cold superconductors—remarkable materials that are singularly capable of conducting electric current with zero loss. But strict limits on operating temperature, high costs, and the dampening effects of magnetic fields currently impede widespread adoption. Now, a collaboration led by scientists at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a high performance iron-based superconducting wire that opens new pathways for some of the most essential and energy-intensive technologies in the world.

    These custom-grown materials carry tremendous current under exceptionally high magnetic fields—an order of magnitude higher than those found in wind turbines, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, and even particle accelerators. The results—published online January 8 in the journal Nature Communications—demonstrate a unique layered structure that outperforms competing low-temperature superconducting wires while avoiding the high manufacturing costs associated with high-temperature superconductor (HTS) alternatives.

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  • Sandia airborne pods seek to trace nuclear bomb's origins

    Sandia National Laboratories researchers prepare pods that, airborne, will track radiation to its source and analyze particulates and gases to identify a nuclear bomb's origins. (Photo by Randy Montoya).

    If a nuclear device were to unexpectedly detonate anywhere on Earth, the ensuing effort to find out who made the weapon probably would be led by aircraft rapidly collecting airborne radioactive particles for analysis.

    Relatively inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — equipped with radiation sensors and specialized debris-samplers — could fly right down the throat of telltale radiation over a broad range of altitudes without exposing a human crew to hazards.

    An airborne particulate-collection system developed by DOE's  Sandia National Laboratories demonstrated those kinds of capabilities in the blue skies above Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, N.D., in late September. Dubbed “Harvester” for obvious reasons, the system “tasted” the atmosphere with two particulate sampling pods. A third pod would provide directional guidance for a real event by following the trail of gamma radiation.

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