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JDRD Features

Equipment FinalCalhoun’s microscope will yield an unprecedented glimpse into the chemical environment of nanoparticles and will lay the groundwork for future projects with novel and advancing nanomaterials. She intends for the microscope to be made available to scientists from across the world to address a broad range of study in the field of interfacial chemistry.

“Given that one result of this project is a new instrument, our collaboration will continue far beyond the scope of this award to fully exploit the advantages of this new technology for a broad range of applications,” wrote Calhoun.

Abel solo final“I have a long standing interest in membranes,” said Abel. “My group approaches the problem from a computational and theoretical perspective, so teaming up with Dr. Pat Collier and his experimental team at ORNL was a great match.”

Working in conjunction with Dr. Collier’s ORNL team, which is using nanostructured scaffolds to alter lipid bilayers, Abel’s team developed mathematical models of the interactions between these scaffolds and cell membranes to determine how the scaffolding’s presence affects the lipids.

The computational model created by this project has the potential to benefit future experiments by testing the relative importance of various physical properties and probing parameter space for interesting behavior to guide experimental design.

McFarlane 2 FinalNeutron detection is a popular imaging method used at ORNL for a variety of materials, from strands of DNA to chunks of rock. This imaging is currently performed with cameras that use Silicon Photomultiplier (SiPM) chips, which are large and expensive.

McFarlane’s team is working to design a prototype that will use Complimentary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) chips, which will lead to smaller, less costly equipment. McFarlane’s prototype will be used to determine if the new technology will work as precisely and efficiently as the current SiPM chip equipment.

“This technology could have applications across a variety of fields, like geology, materials science and biology,” said McFarlane.

McFarlane 1 FinalThe team sent the first prototype out for fabrication in May to the MOSIS service, a company that aids in keeping the cost of fabrication down by creating multiple designs on one wafer, allowing McFarlane’s team to generate one prototype of their initial design.

They hope to complete testing on this initial chip in time to commission a second, updated prototype before the project reaches completion.

Final 1Kalyanaraman’s team began their JDRD project by attempting to improve the materials used for optical sensor applications. Currently, the most effective element for these sensors is silver, which unfortunately degrades rapidly once exposed to air, sometimes within a matter of hours. To mitigate this issue, much of the existing technology utilizes gold, which does not perform nearly as well.

Kalyanaraman’s JDRD proposal suggests that by combining silver with other metals, including magnetic materials, the integrity as well as performance of the sensor devices could be improved. Indeed, their results have shown that the targeted optical sensor devices made from the combination of materials are much more stable with time as compared to those made from pure silver, and even show better performance.

Final 2In addition, during these investigations the team made a new and unexpected finding that has culminated in the discovery of a new type of material. This material, which is primarily derived from earth abundant compounds, could benefit many applications that require semiconductor materials with large optical transparency and large electrical conductivity while also being cost effective by being processable at room temperature.

“This is why science based research is so important, because it leads to new ideas. This discovery was completely unexpected and could open up entirely new fields of study,” said Kalyanaraman.

Kalyanaraman’s team is applying this new discovery to optical devices that can convert light into energy as well as for sensing and manipulation of the transmission of light. These new materials are likely to become a core technology in next generation threat assessment for national security purposes.

AFinal 3dditionally, his team’s groundbreaking discovery has far reaching implications in a variety of areas from flexible electronics to solar energy harvesting, solar water splitting, and disease detection. According to Kalyanaraman, this JDRD funded discovery has the potential to open up entirely new fields of study within materials science.


KC 2 Final 2Carter’s JDRD team seeks to determine the fate of the chemical constituents in hydraulic fracturing additives. Characterizing these additives prior to experiments aids in clarifying the chemical reactions and byproducts in the subsurface. The team will then conduct experiments to establish the nature of the material leached from shale, data which can then be processed by Carter’s LDRD partner at ORNL.

Currently, Carter’s team is studying four specific components, though their research has determined that approximately 5000 different chemicals have been utilized by companies conducting hydraulic fracturing. In its first year, the project has already discovered that the breaking agent used in fracking, which is intended to prevent water contamination, is ineffective in the small concentrations in which it is currently being applied.

KC 1 Final“This is going to make for an interesting study,” said Carter. “If the breaking agent isn’t working, what is in this water when it comes back to the surface?”

The accompanying LDRD project will address the deficiencies in simulations currently utilized by the gas and oil industry for evaluating hydraulic fracturing stimulation of production wells.

The two projects together should provide greater accuracy to predictive models used for assessing the risk of water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing.