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2015 Spotlights

Solar electric panels glisten in the morning sunlight at the Octillo experimental power generating station in Tempe AZ. 2007-06-16.Ostrowski’s team is investigating methods for improving this reliability by providing a framework for determining an individual grid’s specific requirements, beginning with optimizing thermal control. Thermal load can account for as much as 60% of a building’s consumption of electricity.

Ostrowski’s team is working on creating a scalable system for determining a thermal schedule that maximizes the reliability of the critical systems while maintaining an optimal outcome. The task becomes far more complex in real-time, when adjustments must be made instantaneously based on ever changing circumstances. Ostrowski’s goal is to create a “warm-starting” technique which can serve as the jumping off point for real-time problem solving.

“Our goal is to provide a framework for deciding the specific requirements of a given system,” said Ostrowski. “Rather than continually solving a new optimization problem from scratch, a ‘warm-starting’ technique must be developed so that the updated problem can be solved in real time. The research question, then, is how does one modify an existing solution to account for evolving data.”

Final 2Micro-grids have potential future applications in a variety of areas, including military posts, refugee camps and aid facilities in the third world. The partnering LDRD project intends to take the Flexible Research Platform building at ORNL off-grid for up to a week at a time, a task Ostrowski’s research will be integral to accomplishing.



mshowers ir cameraDr. David Donovan’s JDRD project continues this advancement by supporting a graduate student, Melissa Showers, in working with ORNL’s existing equipment to study plasma-material interactions relevant to fusion energy experimental reactors. In keeping with the Science Alliance’s goal of student mentoring, Showers is gaining a valuable skill set by utilizing an infrared camera to observe the Proto-MPEX device as it exposes sample materials to intense ion damage, experiments which could help predict how damage will occur in fusion reactors.

Showers began the project with very little previous hands on experience with heat flux characterization diagnostics. However, since starting her work, she has learned to perform sophisticated calibrations and has taken data from these experiments for presentation at group meetings.

“This work will continue through the summer and fall, and we are planning to expand the scope of the project to include several other types of heat flux diagnostics in order to create an integrated suite of tools that will provide higher accuracy and confidence in our measurements,” wrote Donovan.

Final 2The work performed by Showers has proven beneficial to ORNL as the facility lacked the staff to conduct these experiments. Additionally, she will have the opportunity to present her findings at the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics Conference, the largest plasma physics conference in the U.S.

“The APS DPP meeting is the largest conference in the plasma community,” wrote Donovan. “It’s an excellent opportunity for her to discuss the work taking place on the project, and for her to learn more about other research taking place in the field.”


Proposal DiagramPoint defects are irregularities found within a lattice structure. These defects don’t carry the weight of a negative connotation, but rather they present an opportunity for study. According to Xu, the presence of point defects significantly affects the unusual properties displayed by the oxides, and lacking a fundamental understanding of the effect of point defect dynamics limits the ability to generate particular properties within the interfaces.

The applications for the materials discovered during the course of this necessary foundational research is applicable to a variety of areas, including battery performance, ballistic protection, and new forms of electronics.

Currently in its second year, Xu’s project has already yielded one significant publication with several more in progress. Ultimately, Xu hopes his work positions UT for many future research endeavors with the Materials Genome Initiative and other sponsored programs.

Research JDRD funded 1/1/2014-12/31/2015

Johnston solo web edit“Iron pnictide superconductors have this really weird dichotomy in a sense,” said Dr. Steven Johnston. “They move around easily but they can be mobile and immobile. They have sort of a pneumatic dynamic nature.”

Johnston’s JDRD project seeks to explore the underlying physics of these superconductors, with the guiding notion that the selective mobility of electrons is tied to the multi-orbital nature of the pnictides. His team will utilize extensive one-dimensional models in order to study large system sizes and investigate how the mobility of electrons is affected by factors such as the number of orbitals or the presence of defects in the material. Previous techniques used to study this problem in three-dimensional models have largely been restricted to only a handful of atomic sites, where they are unable to address these questions.

The project is currently on track, generating preliminary results needed to move forward and positioning Johnston’s JDRD team, and UT, to make new and leading contributions to research on materials with orbital degrees of freedom, including but not limited to iron pnictide superconductors.

JDRD funded research 1/1/2015-12/31/2015

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.