ORNL has the nation’s most comprehensive materials research program and is a world leader in research that supports the development of advanced materials for energy generation, storage, and use. We have core strengths in three main areas: materials synthesis, characterization, and theory. In other words, we discover and make new materials, we study their structure, dynamics and functionality, and we use computation to understand and predict how they will behave in various applications.
From its beginnings in World War II’s Manhattan Project, ORNL has had a distinctive materials science program. Today, materials science research benefits from ORNL’s integration of basic and applied research programs and strong ties among computational science, chemical science, nuclear science and technology, neutron science, engineering, and national security. This broad approach to research is allowing ORNL to develop a variety of new materials for energy applications and transfer these new materials to industry. For example, an understanding of how defects form at the atomic level allows creation of improved materials that approach their theoretical strength, such as radiation-resistant steels for next-generation nuclear reactors and lightweight materials for energy-efficient transportation. In electrical energy storage, we are studying how chemical processes occur at the interface of electrodes and electrolytes and using supercomputers to predict how battery systems will perform. We develop “soft” materials, including polymers and carbon-based materials, used as membranes for batteries, fuel cells, and carbon capture, solar cells, and as precursors for the carbon fiber used in lighter cars and planes. We’ve also discovered ways to improve materials processing, using photon, microwave and magnetic field-assisted processing to increase the performance of new materials while reducing processing costs. These advances have resulted in a broad portfolio of ORNL materials and technologies in the nuclear, automotive, and structural materials industry.
ORNL researchers are improving analytical tools used to characterize the structure and function of advanced materials, including electron microscopy, scanning probes, chemical imaging, and a variety of neutron scattering capabilities. Many of these capabilities are available through DOE user programs at ORNL, including the two neutron user facilities (the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor), the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, and our microscopy user facility (the Shared Research Equipment User Facility—which will be incorporated in the CNMS later this year). Complementing our experimental research is one of the nation’s largest collections of materials theorists who take full advantage of ORNL’s leadership computational facility to understand and design new materials, as well as processes that occur at materials interfaces. Together, these research capabilities in materials synthesis, characterization, and theory contribute to our leadership in basic and applied materials science that ultimately will lead to new technologies for meeting tomorrow’s energy needs.
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ORNL superconducting wire yields unprecedented performance
August 15, 2013 — OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 15, 2013 — The ability to control nanoscale imperfections in superconducting wires results in materials with unparalleled and customized performance, according to a new study from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
ORNL finding goes beyond surface of oxide films
August 13, 2013 — OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 13, 2013 — Better batteries, catalysts, electronic information storage and processing devices are among potential benefits of an unexpected discovery made by Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists using samples isolated from the atmosphere.
Buchanan elected fellow of American Chemical Society
August 07, 2013 — OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 7, 2013 — Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher A. C. Buchanan III has been elected a fellow of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Recent Research Highlights
Mapping solute excesses and curvature of grain boundaries
November 21, 2013 — A novel characterization method has been developed that enables complete characterizations of grain boundaries by atom probe tomography (APT) in terms of the orientation relationship of the adjacent grains, local variations of the habit plane, surface curvature, and the solute excesses over the surface of a grain boundary.
Orienting oxygen defects for enhanced oxygen reduction kinetics
November 20, 2013 — Functional oxygen defects are shown to result in a two orders of magnitude improvement of the catalytic oxygen reduction kinetics in epitaxial SrCoO2.5 films. This discovery will impact our understanding of the fundamental properties in multivalent transition metal oxides and provides technological insights into developing new strategies for advanced energy materials and systems.
Local structures ‒ key to improved gas adsorption in carbon materials
September 23, 2013 — Combined results from electron microscopy, neutron scattering, and theory, illustrate the link between local structures and adsorption properties in carbon materials.