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OSTIblog Posts by Kathy Chambers

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Technical Writer, Information International Associates, Inc.

Harold Urey’s Many Contributions to Science

Published on May 16, 2017

Harold C. Urey

Image credit:

To celebrate 70 years of advancing scientific knowledge, OSTI is featuring some of the leading scientists and works particularly relevant to the formation of DOE, OSTI, and their predecessor organizations and is highlighting Nobel laureates and other important research figures in DOE’s history.  Their accomplishments were key to the evolution of the Department of Energy, and OSTI’s collections include many of their publications. 

The pioneering work of American chemist and physicist Harold C. Urey on isotopes led to his discovery of deuterium in 1931 and earned him the 1934 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  This discovery was one of his many contributions in several fields of science during his long and diverse career. 

By 1929, the theory of isotopes, or the idea that an individual element could consist of atoms with the same number of protons but with different masses, had been developed, and the less-abundant isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen had been discovered.  Urey, who at the time was an associate professor at Columbia University, believed that isotopes of hydrogen could be more important, so he devised an experiment to look for them.


Ernest Orlando Lawrence – The Father of Big Science

Published on Apr 14, 2017

Ernest Orlando Lawrence
Ernest Orlando Lawrence.  Image credit:

To celebrate 70 years of advancing scientific knowledge, OSTI is featuring some of the leading scientists and works particularly relevant to the formation of DOE, OSTI, and their predecessor organizations and is highlighting Nobel Laureates and other important research figures in DOE’s history.  Their accomplishments were key to the evolution of the Department of Energy, and OSTI’s collections include many of their publications. 

Ernest Orlando Lawrence’s love of science began at an early age and continued throughout his life.  His parents and grandparents were educators and encouraged hard work and curiosity.  While working on his Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry at the University of South Dakota and thinking of pursuing a career in medicine, Lawrence became influenced by faculty mentors in the field of physics and decided instead to pursue his graduate degree in physics at the University of Minnesota.  After completing his Master’s degree, he studied for a year at the University of Chicago, where, Lawrence “caught fire as a researcher,” in the words of a later observer.  After Lawrence earned his Ph.D. in physics at Yale University in 1925, he stayed on for another three years as a National Research Fellow and an assistant professor of physics.  In 1928, Lawrence was recruited by the University of California, Berkeley as associate professor of physics.  Two years later, at the age of 27, he became the youngest full professor at Berkeley.


Deep Learning Neural Networks – Mimicking the Human Brain

Published on Mar 14, 2017

Deep Learning Neural Networks - Mimicking the Human Brain
Image Credit:

If you have used your cell phone’s personal assistant to help you find your way or taken advantage of its translation or speech-to-text programs, then you have benefitted from a deep learning neural network architecture.  Inspired by the human brain’s ability to learn, deep learning neural networks are based on a class of machine algorithms that can learn to find patterns and closely represent those patterns at many levels.  As additional information is received, the network refines those patterns, gains experience, and improves its probabilities, essentially learning from its mistakes.  This is called “deep learning” because the networks that are involved have a depth of more than just a few layers. 

Basic deep learning concepts were developed many years ago; with today’s availability of high performance computing environments and massive datasets, there has been a resurgence of deep learning neural network research throughout the science community.  Scalable tools are being developed to train these networks, and brain-inspired computing algorithms are achieving state-of-the-art results on tasks such as visual object classification, speech and image recognition, bioinfomatics, neuroscience, language modeling, and natural language understanding. 


Memristor – An Electrical Device with Memory

Published on Feb 10, 2017

X-ray imaging shows how memristors work at  an atomic scale
X-ray imaging shows how memristors work at
an atomic scale.  Image credit:  SLAC National
Accelerator Laboratory

A tiny device called a memristor holds great promise for a new era of electronics.  Unlike a conventional resistor, its resistance can be reset, and it remembers its resistance.  It functions in a way that is similar to synapses in the human brain, where neurons pass and receive information.  A memristor is a two-terminal device whose resistance depends on the voltages applied to it in the past.  When the voltage is turned off, the resistance remains or remembers where it was previously.  This little device actually learns.  A commercially viable memristor could enable us to move away from flash memory and silicon-based computing to smart energy-efficient computers that operate similarly to the human brain, with the capability to comprehend speech and images, and with highly advanced memory retention.


Migliori’s Mysteries

Published on Jan 12, 2017

Albert Migliori
Image credit: Los Alamos
National Laboratory

Condensed matter physicist Albert Migliori has been solving scientific mysteries for national security throughout his career.  Migliori is a Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) fellow, the Director of the Seaborg Institute for Actinide Science, and a member of the Science Advisory Council at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.  He is best known for leading development of a technique called resonant ultrasound spectroscopy (RUS), a powerful tool that uses acoustic tones to determine important measurements in condensed matter physics, including superconductivity. 

Migliori recently wrote about his love of physics and fascinating career in an “In Their Own Words” column in LANL’s 1663 magazine.  Migliori grew up in the 1950s on the Lower West Side of Manhattan, where he learned to rewire lamps and fix everything as a young child.  He became interested in physics at a science magnet high school in New York City and received his B.S. from Carnegie Mellon University and his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois.  He became hooked on what he calls, “hard-core, hands-dirty experimental physics.” 


Green Energy from the Blue Ocean

Published on Dec 13, 2016

Blue Ocean
Image Credit: DOE Water Power Program

Movements of waves, tides, and currents in the ocean carry kinetic energy that can be harnessed and converted to electricity.  There is vast potential for using this ocean resource to provide clean, renewable energy to communities and cities in coastal areas, and it could impact the nearly half of the U.S. population that lives within 50 miles of the coastlines. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Program supports the design, development, testing, and demonstration of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) technologies that can capture energy from waves, tides, and currents.  This program also funds the creation of instrumentation, modeling, and simulation tools to enable real-condition testing of technologies.  DOE recently announced $20 million in funding for projects that advance and monitor marine and hydrokinetic energy systems and will contribute to the development of a commercially viable MHK industry.

The Water Power Program also sponsored the $2.25 million, 20-month Wave Energy Prize challenge.  This public contest was designed to encourage the development of more efficient wave energy converter (WEC) devices that would double the energy absorption base line captured from ocean waves, making wave energy more competitive with traditional energy solutions. 


Promising Perovskites

Published on Nov 08, 2016

David Mandrus shows a model of the  perovskite crystal structure
David Mandrus shows a model of the
perovskite crystal structure.  Image Credit:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

An exciting race is underway in the field of solar energy to develop a commercially viable material for solar cells to capture the sun’s rays and produce cheap, abundant solar energy for the planet.  A class of materials called perovskites has recently emerged that researchers believe promises to be the winner in this solar energy race.  According to scientists at Ames Laboratory, perovskites are, “optically active, semiconducting compounds that are known to display intriguing electronic, light-emitting and chemical properties,” with lead-halide perovskites now one of the most favorable semiconductors for solar cells because of their, “low cost, easier processability and high power conversion efficiencies.”  Perovskite materials are now considered to be the future of solar cells and are playing a role in next-generation electric batteries, sensors, lasers, fuel cells, memory devices, spintronics, and other applications. 


Tiny but Mighty Quantum Dots

Published on Oct 12, 2016

quantum dots
Image credit: National Energy Research
Scientific Computing Center, Nicholas Brawand

Quantum dots are tiny particles of semiconductor materials that are only a few nanometers in size.  These tiny but mighty particles have immense potential because of their flexibility and highly tunable properties.  Since they are so small, their optical and electronic properties behave quite differently from those of larger particles.  They obey quantum-mechanics laws.  They can be synthesized on-demand with nearly atomic precision.  They emit extremely pure light that differs in color, depending on their size.  They can be suspended in solutions, embedded into materials, and used to seek out cancer cells and deliver treatments.  They can accept photons and convert them into electricity at substantial rates and they are exceptionally energy efficient.  Quantum dots research holds great promise to improve our lives. 

Nanoscientist (and former Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Paul Alivisatos, along with his collaborators, pioneered the synthesis of semiconductor quantum dots and multi-shaped nanostructures.  This discovery paved the way for a new generation of applications in biomedical diagnostics, display technologies, revolutionary photovoltaic cells, and light emitting diode (LED) materials.  A collection of Alivisatos’ patents are available in the DOepatents database. 


Brady Hot Springs – A Geothermal Success Story

Published on Sep 09, 2016

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.


Incredible Laser Interferometers

Published on Aug 12, 2016

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.