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Research at PNNL

Research Highlights Archive

Research is our business. With an unwavering focus on our missions, scientists and engineers at PNNL deliver science and technology. We conduct basic research that advances the frontiers of science. We translate discoveries into tools and technologies in science, energy, the environment and national security.

For more than four decades, our experts have teamed with government, industry and academia to tackle some of the toughest problems facing our nation. The result: We're delivering the science, technology and leadership our customers need to succeed.

To view previously featured research and scientist's achievements, click on a month.

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  • January

    • How do Microbes do Chemistry?

      PNNL researchers are characterizing chemical and physical interactions of biofilms produced by microbes. This information is used to provide insight on how the tiny microorganisms influence much larger reactions and processes, such as the migration of chemicals and radionuclides underground for environmental research. [ Full Story ]

    • Scientists Put Spotlight on Samples Smaller than a Period

      Scientist studying toxin-eating microbes, cancer cell propagation and other processes involving tiny samples need powerful microscopes that can focus on objects nearly 1,000 times smaller than a period. PNNL researchers recently developed an incredibly small and intense spotlight that can do just that. [ Full Story ]

    • PNNL to Map the Wind

      Using Doppler technology, PNNL researchers are mapping the wind patterns off the Oregon coast. The study is part of the U.S. government's "all of the above" strategy to develop secure domestic energy sources. [ Full Story ]

    • Activity-Based Protein Profiling Suggests How Fungus Becomes Pathogenic

      Two unique chemical probes designed at PNNL are helping scientists determine how a pathogenic organism responsible for a severe lung infection thrives in human serum, a protein found in blood plasma. [ Full Story ]

  • February

    • Technology to Keep Troops Cool, Use Less Fuel

      Researchers at PNNL are adapting an energy-efficient air chiller system for field military bases on the front lines of battle that will use 50 percent less fuel. The system’s decreased fuel consumption also could save lives by reducing attacks on troops who transport fuel in supply convoys. [ Full Story ]

    • New Modeling Method Captures Cotton-Ball Clouds' Shading Effects

      PNNL researchers updated a frequently used computer model that represents the impact of small, fair-weather clouds on the amount of sunshine reaching Earth's surface. The new method includes changes in temperature and humidity near the surface will lead to improved climate forecasts. [ Full Story ]

    • Sunlight Absorbing Black Soot from Human Activities Contributes to Climate Warming

      Soot, or black carbon, has twice the climate-warming strength than previously thought. An international team that included PNNL used a new method to identify the black carbon signature in atmospheric warming. [ Full Story ]

    • New Protein Probes Find Enzymes for Biofuel Production

      New protein probes and proteomics tools at EMSL are helping PNNL researchers find the best biomass-to-biofuel production enzymes that nature has to offer. [ Full Story ]

    • The Point at which Light and Nanomaterial Films Intersect Could Lead to Energy Applications

      PNNL scientists are investigating the interaction of light with nanomaterial films for potential energy applications. This optical microscope image shows an edge region of a nanomaterial film. Multi-colored sections indicate different thicknesses of the film. [ Full Story ]

    • Researchers Study Fabrication Techniques for Advancing Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

      PNNL researchers are developing cost-effective materials, such as coated stainless steel interconnects, and fabrication techniques for components in solid oxide fuel cell stacks. Fuel cells are highly efficient devices for converting chemical energy from fuel into electricity. Their high efficiency conserves natural resources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. [ Full Story ]

  • March

    • Unique Solvent Removes Hydrogen Sulfide from Natural Gas

      Natural gas, an affordable energy source, also harbors hydrogen sulfide—a toxin that must be removed. PNNL discovered a method to remove hydrogen sulfide that is more effective and efficient than current techniques. [ Full Story ]

    • Explosives Vapor Detection Technology: the New "Sniff Test"

      A quick and sensitive "sniffing" process to detect minute traces of explosives on luggage, cargo or passengers was demonstrated by PNNL. The discovery could lead to safer passage through airports. [ Full Story ]

    • BPA Found in Plastics Too Low to Be Harmful

      A controversial component of plastic bottles and canned food linings that have helped make the world's food supply safer has come under attack: bisphenol A. Widely known as BPA, it has the potential to mimic the sex hormone estrogen if blood and tissue levels are high enough. Now, exposure studies show that in the general population, people's exposure may be many times too low for BPA to effectively mimic estrogen in the human body. [ Full Story ]

    • Synthetic Molecule First Electricity-Making Catalyst to Use Iron to Split Hydrogen Gas

      PNNL scientists discovered the first iron-based catalyst that converts hydrogen directly to electricity. The result moves chemists and engineers one step closer to widely affordable fuel cells. [ Full Story ]

  • April

    • Unlocking the Parkinson's Puzzle

      PNNL is part of a team looking to identify components in protein structures that will aid in diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease. [ Full Story ]

    • Water for Power

      Generating electricity using new low-emissions technologies is not likely to increase water demand, PNNL researchers discovered. They used an integrated model of human and earth systems to find how the choice of technologies may impact the global and regional economy, water use and emissions. [ Full Story ]

    • Suspicious Powder Incidents Require Right Tools for Quick Action

      First responders know that suspected biological threats require quick and decisive action. Having the right field-deployable equipment available to determine what the suspicious substance is can be complicated, challenging and expensive. A PNNL-developed report that summarizes these commercially available technologies will help first responders make informed procurement decisions. [ Full Story ]

    • Clouds Pull Rank in the Tropical Atmosphere

      A cloud's class and status matters to the climate, PNNL scientists found when separating tropical clouds into categories. Clouds with low bases are more influential than high clouds, because they have a greater effect on the amount of solar energy that reaches the ground. The discovery helps scientists better understand climate change issues. [ Full Story ]

    • Micromodels Redefine How Bubbles Characterize Carbon Dioxide Gas Flow

      Using EMSL's microfabrication and subsurface flow and transport capabilities, PNNL scientists modeled how mobile bubbles in reservoir storage conditions create a flow barrier from exsolved carbon dioxide that can affect global climate. The research shows promise for the future storage of carbon dioxide emissions into geological formations. [ Full Story ]

  • May

    • Dust Storms Induce Climate Change

      Scientists at China's Lanzhou University and PNNL found that dust lifted from the Taklimakan Desert in northwest China during a dust storm had a significant effect on that region’s climate. The ability to accurately model such storms will help in understanding the climatic impact of dust. [ Full Story ]

    • Canopy: Making Sense of Data

      PNNL researchers developed a visual analytic software suite to help intelligence analysts make sense of massive amounts of data to identify threats and take action. Canopy enables intelligence analysts to quickly explore and comprehend connections within large amounts of data in multiple formats including video, image and text. [ Full Story ]

    • A Solar Booster Shot for Natural Gas Power Plants

      Natural gas power plants can use 20 percent less fuel when the sun is shining by injecting solar energy into natural gas with a new system being developed by PNNL researchers. The system converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich fuel that power plants can burn to make electricity. [ Full Story ]

    • Smashing Glass at the Molecular Level

      Whether gas trapped under a frozen water layer flows through cracks or bursts out depends on the layer's depth and temperature, PNNL scientists discovered. Understanding the basic principles behind how solid water releases gases, or doesn't, could answer questions about how astrophysical ices, a component of comets, and can be used to understand the stability and failure mechanisms in certain glasses, potentially leading to improved properties. [ Full Story ]

    • Fires, Hurricanes and the Climate

      Fires and hurricanes are examples of natural disturbances that drastically affect millions of people worldwide. PNNL scientists now are considering how these events also might limit the negative impacts on our climate. Their study is the first to quantify the effect of future natural disturbances on climate change strategies. [ Full Story ]

  • June

    • New Atmospheric Study to Help Understand Climate Change

      Using tools located in EMSL, PNNL scientists analyzed the molecular composition of atmospheric organic aerosols, or OA. Our understanding of OA composition is limited. Scientist uncovered a new method for investigating OA that may lead to more precise climate models used to understand impacts from weather changes. [ Full Story ]

    • $18 million Study of Deadly Secrets Behind Flu, Ebola, West Nile Viruses

      Viruses such as Ebola, West Nile and Influenza have the potential to kill those infected, as antiviral drugs either don't exist or are losing effectiveness. A new $18 million will lead to a detailed molecular understanding of how humans respond to these viral pathogens. The study's goal is to develop new drugs to thwart infection. [ Full Story ]

    • Gel Technology Offers Promising Approach toward Cancer Treatment

      An injectable radiogel technology developed by PNNL delivers the yttrium-90 medical isotope to a precise location in the body for targeted radiation therapy, while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. Safe, effective and relatively low-cost cancer treatments are needed for solid tumors that can’t be surgically removed. [ Full Story ]

    • Stop Hyperventilating, Say Energy Efficiency Researchers

      A single advanced building control now in development at PNNL could slash 18 percent – tens of thousands of dollars – off the overall annual energy bill of the average large office building, with no loss of comfort. [ Full Story ]

  • July

    • Salmonella Infection: A Battle between Good and Bad Bacteria in the Gut

      A new study that examined food poisoning infection as-it-happens in mice revealed harmful bacteria, such as a common type of Salmonella, take over beneficial bacteria within the gut amid previously unseen changes to the gut environment. The results provide new insights into the course of infection and could lead to better prevention or new treatments. [ Full Story ]

    • Inspectors Use PNNL Technologies to Detect Nuclear Explosions

      Experts from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization rely on PNNL’s research and development advancements to detect radioactive xenon gas released from explosions and other processes. [ Full Story ]

    • Award-winning Instrument Will Lead to Rapid Medical and Environmental Tests

      An instrument developed at PNNL can aid early diagnosis and customized treatment of disease. Identification of small molecules that indicate disease, known as biomarkers, promises to significantly improve human heath through early diagnosis and customized treatment. [ Full Story ]

    • Irrigation's Impact on Clouds and Climate

      The simple act of watering a plant alters the balance of moisture in soil and the climate. Knowing this, PNNL atmospheric scientists included irrigation in a climate model and found that it shifts the balance of water vapor and upward moving air. Their findings show that irrigation may play a role in forming shallow clouds, which alter the local climate. [ Full Story ]

  • August

    • Unlocking Fire Ice

      A PNNL-developed software is being used to study a new way of producing methane hydrates—a massive and largely untapped source of energy. Dubbed “fire ice” because you can burn the methane while it’s in the ice, methane hydrates hold a massive supply of natural gas. [ Full Story ]

    • A Crystal of a Different Color

      While studying a special kind of molecular connection called an agostic bond, chemists unexpectedly made two differently colored crystals—one orange, the other blue—from one chemical in the same flask. The discovery is providing new insights into important industrial chemical reactions such as those that occur while making plastics and fuels. [ Full Story ]

    • Field Test Could Lead to Reducing CO2 Emissions Worldwide

      An injection of carbon dioxide, or CO2, has begun at a site in southeastern Washington to test deep geologic storage. Researchers are injecting CO2 one-half mile underground to see if the greenhouse gas can be stored safely and permanently in ancient basalt flows. [ Full Story ]

    • Novel Integration of Mass Spectrometry Techniques Wins R&D 100 Award

      An instrument that quickly and effectively analyzes complex biological and environmental samples was named one of the past year's 100 most significant scientific and technological products or advances. The instrument potentially will aid in biomedical research, clinical practice, natural product management and environmental studies. [ Full Story ]

    • Detecting the Secrets of the Universe Deep Underground

      Working as part of a team, PNNL is bringing its signature capability in ultra-low-level detection to help search for a rare form of radioactive decay—never before detected—called “neutrinoless double beta decay.” If observed, the discovery could provide insight into the origin of the universe. [ Full Story ]

  • September

    • Lights Out: Testing CORE During a Blackout Simulation

      PNNL hosted power system operators from throughout the Northwest for a blackout restoration simulation. The training took place at PNNL’s Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center and included testing data collection software called Common Operating and Response Environment, or CORE. The software monitors power operators as they communicate via instant text messaging. It was recently adapted for power grid operators under PNNL's Future Power Grid Initiative. [ Full Story ]

    • Technology Aids in Explosives Detection

      Physicists at PNNL developed the Phase Contrast X-ray Imaging technology, which can be used to better identify explosives hidden in mail, luggage or other objects. [ Full Story ]

    • How the Newest Diesel Engines Emit Very Little Greenhouse Gas Nitrous Oxide

      The newest catalytic converters in diesel engines blast away a pollutant from combustion with the help of ammonia. Common in European cars, the engines exhaust harmless nitrogen and water. How they do this hasn't been entirely clear. New research by PNNL scientists shows that the catalyst attacks its target pollutant in an unusual way, providing insight into how to make the best catalytic converters. [ Full Story ]

    • Refrigerated Trucks to Keep Their Cool Thanks to Fuel Cell Technology

      Refrigerated trucks equipped with hydrogen fuel cells are making deliveries in three markets. The trucks whose refrigeration units are powered by fuel cells, a clean technology that makes energy silently and with dramatically reduced emissions that makes energy silently and with dramatically reduced emissions. [ Full Story ]

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