Energy Secretary Granholm visits ORNL on virtual tour of world-class science facilities

Newswise – On September 28, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm joined management and top scientists and engineers online at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a two-hour whirlwind tour. At 14 stops, researchers highlighted the lab’s world-class facilities and projects that enable cutting-edge scientific discoveries and innovations that address some of the country’s most significant scientific and technical challenges.

On behalf of the 5,700 lab employees, ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia welcomed the Secretary of Energy, who logged in from his office in Washington, DC, and kicked off the visit by a bare-handed meeting during which she answered questions from ORNL staff.

“Meeting the brightest scientific minds in our country has certainly been one of the highlights of this work,” said Granholm, who was sworn in on February 25.

She expressed support for basic science and recognized the importance of emerging technologies such as quantum materials which have the potential to transform technology, security and industry.

“The essential role of basic research (will) keep the country ahead throughout the century and ahead of our economic and geopolitical competitors,” said Granholm. “We know that the work our labs are doing on this topic today provides the foundational knowledge we need to solve the big problems of tomorrow. “

Zacharia introduced ORNL in a short video, describing the DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory as “a truly unrivaled research institution.” He shared the lab’s vision to modernize ORNL into a net-zero campus by 2030: “A huge challenge, but we believe you have to do it to lead by example and lead the way. “

He spoke of ORNL’s efforts to leverage strong relationships with the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority and other interested partners to create “a city of innovation that will once again attract talent and talent. ‘energy to solve the biggest problems’. He cited the recent launch of Techstars, a business accelerator to create 30 new start-ups in the region over the next three years.

Granholm’s virtual reunion at ORNL is his 11th stop on his grand tour to visit the 17 DOE National Laboratories this fall. She is only the second woman to lead the DOE and has already served two terms as governor of Michigan, promoting manufacturing and clean energy. She is an international voice for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, building a fair energy future, and keeping the United States at the forefront of scientific discovery and job creation.

“Everything we do is helping us move closer to 100% clean electricity by 2030, a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and (be) 100% decarbonization by 2050. These are the goals, ”she said.

After the bare-handed meeting, ORNL walked the Secretary of Energy through a series of live stops where she met researchers representing the scope of the lab’s efforts in neutron science, information science quantum, fission and fusion energy, isotope production, high-performance computing, climate modeling and simulation, large-scale ecosystem experiments, vehicle and building technologies, advanced manufacturing, COVID-19 research and bioenergy.

ORNL scientists showcased projects designed to advance solutions to problems caused by climate change, shared innovations towards decarbonization, and illustrated how basic science efforts lead to job creation and benefit society. company.

For example, neutrons produced by the second target station, one of the country’s largest science projects, will provide essential information on materials used in medicine, energy technologies and manufacturing. When operational, ORNL expects 1,000 scientists from around the world to visit and use STS each year.

Zacharia highlighted the lab’s progress towards Frontier, ORNL’s next supercomputer, which is expected to be the first exascal machine in the country and possibly the world when fully assembled this fall.

Several scientists shared their research efforts coupling computer simulation and data from large-scale field experiments, such as Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments, or NGEE Arctic, and Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments, or SPRUCE, to create and strengthen models and provide predictive data. critical analysis to meet the major challenges of climate change.

They also talked about unlocking the potential of bioenergy by looking for ways to turn biomass into biofuels to offset existing fossil fuels, especially in aviation.

At ORNL’s Hardin Valley campus, scientists focused on local innovation in manufacturing, transportation and decarbonization. They demonstrated the Connected and Automated Vehicle Environment Lab, or CAVE Lab, which is North America’s first virtual physical proving ground for connected and autonomous vehicle testing, and they shared a device for testing. direct carbon capture in the air for existing buildings under development, as well as dynamic wireless charging technologies for electric vehicles.

“It would be a beautiful thing,” said Granholm, referring to the prospect of driving his electric vehicle across the country without having to stop and recharge.

MDF scientists described “moon-shot” projects in partnership with industry and academia to boost America’s global competitiveness in advanced manufacturing. They briefly described ORNL’s work with Caterpillar’s spin-off company, Solar Turbines, to develop 3D printed turbine blades for gas turbine engines, an interest of Granholm. “Love. I love him,” she said.

During the virtual tour, ORNL staff shared the lab’s efforts to develop its diverse talent pool through a variety of programs such as the New Oak Ridge Institute of Innovation at the University of Tennessee , which has 150 graduate students and 136 joint professors. UT-ORII will develop scientists and engineers who are experts in their fields and capable of interdisciplinary innovation.

ORNL has shared ties with historically black colleges and universities and institutions serving minorities; research fellowships, postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate positions; and STEM programs for K-12 students and educators. Zacharia was recognized by the National GEM Consortium with its Corporate Leadership Award and ORNL welcomed 31 GEM interns this summer.

The virtual tour ended at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge to highlight an example of K-12 STEM awareness. The students shared their experience working on the RamSat project with ORNL mentors and STEM teachers as they designed, built and deployed a small satellite. Years in the making, this satellite is now collecting photographic data on forest regrowth following the catastrophic 2016 wildfires around Gatlinburg.

Granholm congratulated the students for their courage. “Thank you very much for sharing and for your attachment to this project and for your example. It’s really too cool, “she said.” You hung on to it. Great leadership, great brains, great results.

In closing, executives including Stacey Patterson, vice president for research, outreach and economic development at the University of Tennessee; Mark Peters, executive vice president of laboratory operations at Battelle; and Johnny Moore, director of the DOE ORNL site office, thanked the secretary for her time and attention.

“As a site manager working for you and the Office of Science, the research and development and field deployment topics we have discussed are exciting,” said Moore. “(This is) made possible through your leadership and the support of departmental programs, including (the) Science Office. “

Granholm reiterated his promise of a future visit. “It was a total delight, and I’m coming back, in person,” she said.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Office of Science of the Department of Energy, the largest support for basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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