2019’s highlights for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a bit like
choosing just one family photo for the holiday card among the dozens of important
events and exciting adventures of the year.
eight exemplify how researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy lab are
advancing scientific discovery and finding solutions to the nation’s toughest
problems in energy resiliency and national security.
the area of scientific discovery, PNNL scientists worked to enhance knowledge
and expand understanding of the environment, materials and human health.
Modeling ecological health
used a new ocean modeling tool to shed light on how the ecology of the
Northwest’s Salish Sea might respond to increasing temperatures, rising sea
levels and growing nutrient loads.
successfully predicting the biogeochemical cycles of the Salish Sea,
researchers applied the model to answer questions about how this body of water
will change as the climate changes.
Developing designer proteins
by the way proteins can mimic the molecular pattern of ice, PNNL researchers
and collaborators engineered new proteins and controlled the way they interact
with the surface of mica, assembling designer filaments and honeycomb lattices
that may lead to new materials for solar cells and electronic circuits.
Understanding the human brain
different studies took a closer look at the brain and diseases such as Alzheimer’s,
Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
first revealed the structure of a fundamental electrical switch in the brain
and showed how it fails in diseased brains.
second used sensitive mass spectrometers to examine a specific protein that may
play a role in Alzheimer’s and similar diseases.
efforts to enhance the nation’s energy resiliency are focused on providing the
nation with secure and affordable energy.
Informing infrastructure restoration
at PNNL developed analytical tools that use satellite-based imagery to quickly
assess damage to energy infrastructure.
tools have been used in more than a dozen natural disasters in the United
States in the past two years, including five hurricanes, an earthquake and this
spring’s upper Midwest flooding.
Shaping the grid of the future
with industry partner National Grid, PNNL developed a sophisticated model of
the electricity distribution system on Nantucket Island to guide investments in
study will be used to build a more reliable and flexible electricity system for
the island and its population, which swells five-fold during the summer season.
Building better batteries
scientists concocted a chemical cocktail that yielded an improved electrolyte
for use in lithium-ion batteries.
better batteries will enable electric cars, cell phones and other devices to
keep a charge and operate efficiently in extreme temperatures, from minus-40
degrees to greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
national security team delivered technologies to detect threats and keep
information and people safe.
cyber sleuths have borrowed a page from biology to develop a tool that can
identify inherited malware in software.
tool converts software code into DNA-like structures and then examines it for
suspicious similarities to known malware, allowing them to pinpoint evolving
Sensing harmful substances
scientists and engineers invented technologies that “sniff” out vapors from
illicit drugs, explosives and chemicals associated with the proliferation of
nuclear and chemical weapons.
can detect and identify trace amounts in the air without swiping a physical
sample, which is useful in several settings. One invention was licensed to a
company to rapidly detect toxic industrial chemicals in the field.
any year-end wrap-up, this list is incomplete.
I hope it gives you a sense of what some of your friends and neighbors at PNNL
worked on in the last year and the great things you can expect of us in 2020
Steven Ashby is the director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
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