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 devises recipe to fine-tune diameter of silica rods
December 16, 2013 — OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 16, 2013 – By controlling the temperature of silica rods as they grow, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be setting the stage for advances in anti-reflective solar cells, computer monitors, TV screens, eye glasses and more.
ORNL's Bruce Pint elected 2014 NACE fellow
December 13, 2013 — OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 13, 2013 – Bruce Pint, a research staff member at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been elected a 2014 National Association of Corrosion Engineers fellow.
Chaotic physics in ferroelectrics hints at brain-like computing
November 18, 2013 — OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 18, 2013—Unexpected behavior in ferroelectric materials explored by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory supports a new approach to information storage and processing.
Recent Research Highlights
Using neutrons to probe and understand battery interfaces
February 14, 2014 — Neutron reflectometry at the Spallation Neutron Source has revealed the composition and growth characteristics of the spontaneous chemical reaction layer formed between a silicon battery anode and an organic electrolyte that ultimately limits the capacity of the battery. We determined that a 3.
Anomalous Photodeposition of Ag on Ferroelectric Surfaces with Below Bandgap Excitation
February 14, 2014 — Photochemical deposition of elemental Ag nanoparticles on a ferroelectric substrate with sub bandgap transmitted white light indicates light confinement and non-linear optical phenomena. This innovation opens the pathway to unprecedented fine control and optimization of the growth of functional nanostructures for potential applications ranging from chemical sensing to high speed data transfer.
New imaging-based chemical analysis of atomic layers
February 14, 2014 — A new Z-contrast image analysis method now allows dopant atoms in two-dimensional materials to be located and quantified. With this ability, the distribution of dopants can be verified as the physical and chemical properties are modified. This new capability was used to study doped molybdenum disulfide in which the optical band gap was tuned between 1.85 and 1.