Accelerating Science Discovery - Join the Discussion

Published by Kathy Chambers
brady hot springs
Fumaroles at Brady Hot Springs, Nevada.
Image credit: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency 
and Renewable Energy, Photo by Dante Fratta

In the 1800s, the Brady Hot Springs geothermal fields were known as the “Springs of False Hope.”  As pioneer wagon trains traveled across the northern Nevada desert on their way to California, their thirsty animals rushed to the springs only to find scalding 180° water and bare land.  Additionally, the water was loaded with sodium chloride and boric acid. 

These geothermal fields were not a welcoming place, but that changed over time; Brady Hot Springs could now be called the “Springs of Hope.”  In recent years, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) has funded a wide array of geothermal research projects at the Brady Hot Springs site.  One, an Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) project, was the first EGS project to be connected to the grid and resulted in a 38 percent increase in power output from brine at Ormat’s Desert Peak 2 geothermal power plant in the Brady complex, according to Ormat Technologies, a leading geothermal company and one of DOE’s primary collaborators in the project.  GTO’s Brady Hot Springs projects research results are available in the SciTech Connect database.

Published by Kathy Chambers

ligo observatory 
 Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave
  Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, LA.  
  Image credit: LIGO Laboratory

Interferometers are investigative tools used in many fields in science and engineering.  They work by merging two or more sources of light or other waves to create an interference pattern, which can be precisely measured and analyzed.  Interferometers are making possible significant advances in scientific research.  One of these advances is in astronomy, where laser interferometers are opening a new era in the exploration of the universe.

In 1972, a young Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor, Rainer Weiss, drew up a teaching exercise using a basic concept for an interferometer to detect gravitational waves.  This work later became the blueprint for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a national facility for gravitational wave research.  LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation and other public and private institutions.

LIGO currently consists of two of the world’s largest and most sensitive interferometers located 1,865 miles apart on DOE’s Hanford Site at Hanford, Washington, and in Livingston, Louisiana, shown in the image above.  These incredible laser interferometers operate in unison using laser interferometry to measure the minute ripples in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves from space events.  Observed signals from the Hanford and Livingston detectors are then superimposed to verify the gravitational waves and their origin.

Published by Kathy Chambers
solitary wave
Two solitons in the same medium.  
Image credit:  Mathematics and 
Statistics at ScholarWorks @UMass 
Amherst (Open Access)

In 1834, naval engineer John Scott Russell was riding his horse along the Union Canal in the Scottish countryside when he made a mathematical discovery.  As he subsequently described it in his “Report on Waves,” presented at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1844, Russell noticed a boat had stopped abruptly in the canal leaving the water in a state of violent agitation. A large solitary wave emerged from the front of the boat and rolled forward at about eight miles per hour without changing its shape or speed.  He continued on his horse to follow the wave down the canal for nearly two miles until the wave became lost in the winding channel. Russell called this beautiful phenomenon the “wave of translation,” and it has become known as a solitary wave, or soliton.

Published by Kathy Chambers
James Van Allen holding (Loki) instrumented Rockoon

James Van Allen’s space instrumentation innovations and his advocacy for Earth satellite planetary missions ensured his place among the early leaders of space exploration. After World War II, Van Allen begin his atmospheric research at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory. He went on to become the Regent Distinguished Professor and head of the University of Iowa (UI) Department of Physics and Astronomy. Drawing on his many talents, Van Allen made tremendous contributions to the field of planetary science throughout his career.

Van Allen used V-2 and Aerobee rockets to conduct high-altitude experiments, but the lift was limited. He devised a ‘rockoon,’ a rocket lifted by hot air balloons into the upper atmosphere where it was separated from the balloons and ignited to conduct cosmic-ray experiments. The rockoon, shown with Van Allen in the image above, achieved a higher altitude at a lower cost than ground-launched rockets. This research helped determine that energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere are a prime driver of auroras.

Published by Kathy Chambers

Thorium (232Th), the chemical element named after the Norse god of thunder, has a history that is as colorful as its namesake. Although discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius, thorium had no known useful applications until 1885, when it was used in gas mantles to light up the streets across Europe and North America. Then in 1898, physicist Marie Curie and chemist Gerhard Schmidt observed thorium to be radioactive, and subsequent applications for thorium declined due to safety and environmental concerns. The scientific community would later find that the element thorium held promise for the planet to have clean, safe, cheap, and plentiful nuclear power as an alternative fuel to plutonium-based nuclear power plants.