The Dawn of a New "Old" Age
Sixty-five years ago was the dawn of a new age in determining old age -- or, more precisely, determining a reliable means to identify the age of an object. At this time Willard Libby began research that resulted in the discovery that Carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) decays at a predictable rate. This knowledge is critical in determining the age of an object and Libby's dating technique has opened doors for archeologists, anthropologists, geologists, geophysics, and other scientists. For his method to use carbon-14 for age determination, Libby received the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Initial research about Carbon-14 and carbon dating is available in Radiocarbon from Pile Graphite; Chemical Methods for Its Concentrations (1946). A history, retrospect and prospects in contained in Radiocarbon Dating, Memories, and Hopes, which was written by Libby in 1972.
"Where is Everybody?"
DOE R&D Accomplishments celebrates the 110th anniversary of the birth of Enrico Fermi by highlighting his famous question, "Where is Everybody?", also called Fermi's Paradox. Fermi's question arose during a luncheon conversation at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) shortly after the end of World War II. Related to a discussion about flying saucers, it is now central to debates about the prevalence of extraterrestrial civilizations. A first-hand account of the conversation by those at the luncheon is available in "Where is Everybody?" An Account of Fermi's Question.
One, Two, Three -- Branches of Life
Fifteen years ago, a team of DOE-funded researchers reported the first complete genome sequence of Methanococcus jannaschii, a methane-producing microorganism that dwells around "white smokers" on the seafloor. The details of the genome sequence confirm the existence of the Archaea, a third major branch of life on earth. Even though the Archaea was not recognized as distinct from other living organisms until the late 1970's and its DNA was not decoded until 1996, it could possibly be the oldest form of life on Earth. More Information
With a high demand for inexpensive safe drinking water in poorer countries, a breakthrough was celebrated in 1996. UVWaterworks, which disinfects water at the cost of a few cents per ton, won the 'Scientific Innovation Award' from Discover magazine and 'Best of What's New Award' from Popular Science magazine. Ashok Gadgil developed UVWaterworks with the support of the Department of Energy. It disinfects surface- or ground-water of the viruses and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other deadly diarrheal diseases that kill millions of people in poor, developing nations. It is effective on all water-borne bacteria and viruses and can be used universally. More Information
Bringing Order Out of Chaos -- The Eightfold Way
Fifty years ago, Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann introduced the concept of the Eightfold Way -- a new model of the higher symmetry of elementary particles in which the eight known baryons are treated as a supermultiplet. He also found that all the particles are composed of fundamental building blocks that he named 'quarks'. More Information
Getting to Know Ourselves
Twenty-five years ago DOE launched its Human Genome Project in an effort to decode human DNA. This project has decoded in draft form the genetic information on human chromosomes 5, 16, and 19. These three chromosomes contain more than 300 million base pairs, or an estimated 11 percent of the total human genome. DOE's Joint Genome Institute is one of the 20 institutions that constitute the Human Genome Sequencing Consortium. More Information
Going into Space? Don't Forget the Batteries!
Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs), also know as 'space batteries', have been powering space capabilities and exploration since the early 1960's. These batteries were used for many space missions, including Apollo, Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Galileo, and the lunar lander. An RTG is now providing power for the New Horizons spacecraft, launched in January 2006, that is now halfway to Pluto and expected to arrive there in 2015. In addition to supporting space flight, these batteries have also provided power for weather, communications, and navigational satellites. More Information