Contact: Diane Greenberg, or Mona S. Rowe
NOTE TO EDITORS: "BNL Spotlights" is issued periodically to bring you up to date on some of the latest newsworthy developments at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. For more information on any of these items, call Diane Greenberg or Mona S. Rowe at BNL's Public Affairs Office at (516)344-2345.
The bombing of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City recently made Americans aware of their vulnerability to terrorist attacks. To deal effectively with these crimes, emergency responders must be prepared to quickly, safely and accurately identify explosives and other chemicals at the crime scene. A new Brookhaven technology should make this job easier.
Brookhaven researchers have developed a small, portable sensor system that can identify the chemical composition of an object at distances ranging from a few feet to tens of feet. The device directs laser light toward the object, and the light scatters off the molecules in it. This phenomenon, known as Raman scattering, allows the researchers to analyze the scattered light in an instrument called a spectrometer. The resulting spectral patterns provide the distinctive "fingerprints" of the chemicals in the object.
This mini-sensor is an offshoot of a large, chemical sensor system developed at Brookhaven - a 33-foot-long mobile detection van that can identify chemicals in the atmosphere from several miles away. In recent tests, the system was able to detect sulfur dioxide, a common industrial chemical, from a distance of about two miles. While the larger sensor system is best used for atmospheric testing, the mini-sensor is most efficient in determining the composition of surfaces. Both Raman sensor systems have numerous potential uses, which include identifying chemical weapons, monitoring industrial emissions, gaining evidence related to environmental crimes and assessing the effectiveness of environmental cleanups.
Brookhaven's newest accelerator now under construction, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), will require 25,000 feet of cable to supply thousands of amperes of electrical current for 960 superconducting magnets, which are the largest of 1,740 magnets in the collider. To supply this huge amount of power efficiently, Brookhaven and New England Electric Wire Corporation in Lisbon, New Hampshire, designed a special superconducting cable that costs $50 per foot - significantly cheaper than the $250-per-foot cost of conventional copper cable. The new, flexible cable, consisting of many individually insulated cables enclosed in radiation-resistant materials manufactured by DuPont, will cut power consumption by 6,000 megawatt-hours annually, saving the Laboratory about $600,000 per year in operating costs. When RHIC begins operating in 1999, it will collide subatomic particles at nearly the speed of light to create a form of hot, dense matter that has not existed since moments after the Big Bang.
Polymers are large, chain-like molecules formed by chemical binding of smaller molecules. Natural polymers include cotton and rubber, while synthetic polymers include nylon and polyethylene. Polymers are used to make a wide variety of materials, from clothing to electronics. A new beam line that uses high-intensity x-rays for studying the structure of polymers at the molecular level has recently opened at Brookhaven's National Synchrotron Light Source, a facility that generates x-rays, ultraviolet radiation and infrared radiation to probe materials. The new beam line allows researchers to visualize how the molecular structure of polymers changes during various industrial processes. This research can help industry to optimize the properties of polymers, increase efficiency in manufacturing them, and reduce waste. Seven institutions funded the construction of the beam line - Brookhaven Lab, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Allied-Signal, General Electric, Hoechst Celanese and Montell USA.
Using specialized lasers developed to pulse extremely intense light up to 1,000 times per second, Brookhaven researchers are conducting basic research that may lead to unprecedented control over chemical and physical processes. Very intense light can produce significant changes in the energy-structure of atoms and molecules. In addition, the new laser systems afford a greater control of all aspects of light. These two factors translate into a greater ability to fine-tune the interaction of light with matter. Control of that interaction may be used to steer photochemical reactions toward desired outcomes and may ultimately lead to an ability to "engineer" materials at the molecular level.