ORNL’s “Extreme Science” trailer will show you how researchers explore the biggest and smallest systems in the Universe! As you enter the trailer you can watch a star explode, peer into the depths of a black hole, and learn how the sun works… Then pass through a portal to explore how the elements cooked up inside of stars are studied and manipulated. How are batteries made? What are nanomaterials and how can they change our life? How can we “sniff” out traces of chemicals? How do we use chemistry to make more slippery oil? See the world’s smallest fidget spinners! Look at a ladybug’s wing under an optical microscope! Become a battery! We show you how we combine physics, chemistry, and materials science to learn about the universe and make your life better!


An incredible supernova explosion, where a massive star collapses on itself and gives off enough light for a trillion, trillion, trillion, watt light bulb! Supernovae are so bright they can outshine an entire galaxy of 100 billion stars! This real image was taken by the Hubble, Spitzer, & Chandra Observatories and shows the 100 million, million, kilograms of material thrown out into space from the blast!


Nanoscience is the study of structures and materials at the nanometer scale. A typical human hair is nearly 50,000 nanometers across. When structures are made in this size range, they can have interesting and useful properties. Scientists at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) study these nanostructures atom by atom in their Nanofabrication Research Laboratory. This Lab is a controlled environment where pollutants like dust & skin cells are filtered out in order to provide the cleanest area possible. Workers in the cleanroom wear special protective clothing to protect the cleanroom from them.


Thermoelectrics is the direct conversion of a temperature difference into an electric voltage and vice versa. Thermoelectric modules are being used to recover waste heat from the exhaust of internal combustion engines, which results in improved fuel efficiency. Thermoelectric modules could be used to recover waste heat from many industrial processes. Thermoelectric modules are also being used as refrigerators.

Ionic Liquids

Ionic liquids (ILs) are organic salts in the liquid state when at room temperature. As the name indicates, ionic liquids are composed solely of ions. They possess unique physiochemical properties, such as good electrical and thermal conductivity, ultra-low vapor pressure, nonflammable, and high thermal stability. There organic salts can be used in many energy applications. ORNL is researching their potential uses in areas of engine lubrication, aluminum electroplating, Li-ion battery electrolytes, nanomaterial synthesis, corrosion protection, and catalyst. Recent studies suggests great potential for using ionic liquids as lubricant additives to improve efficiency and durability of cars, wind turbines, and industrial machinery.


With the fast growth of the renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, the demand for high-performance electrochemical energy storage technologies increases rapidly. Energy harvested using solar cells and windmills have to be stored in order to use in times where there is no sun or wind. Batteries are one of the near-term viable options for automobiles, military and grid storage applications. As one of the most important energy storage devices in the past decades, lithium-ion batteries have been widely used in our daily life from powering cell phones, iPad and laptops to other portable electronic devices due to their relative high energy density and long cycle life.

Mass Spectroscopy

ORNL has been involved with mass spectrometry (commonly referred to as mass spec) since the early 1940s, when mass spec was used to separate uranium isotopes. Today, we continue to refine techniques for sorting elements and molecules according to mass and charge. Our research addresses such problems as detection of trace chemicals from explosives and detection of pollutants in water, flue gases, soils and solid wastes. In addition to these mass spec is also a powerful tool to monitor for illicit operations for or illegal transport of nuclear materials. It has expanded from analysis of lightweight, volatile molecules to the probing of bulky biological molecules such as proteins and DNA and mass specs can be found in hospitals today.


Researchers use a variety of microscopes to image many different types of materials. Some of the microscopes researchers use are scanning tunneling and atomic force microscopes. Most people think of a microscope as being the small optical (desktop) microscope used in a classroom. However, at ORNL, one of the microscopes we work with is a Hitachi HF3300 – a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (TEM) with STEM and secondary electron (SE) detectors. Researchers use microscopes like these, and others, to image various materials.

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