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Student Projects

Use of Aquaculture Chemicals to Alter of the Photochemical Cycle of Mercury

The highest concentrations of mercury accumulated in fish on the Oak ridge Reservation occur not in mercury-contaminated waters, but rather in deep, clear, water-filled limestone quarries where sunlight can penetrate many meters into the water. Inorganic mercury concentrations in these waters are very low, but methylmercury, the form that accumulates in fish, can be found in the water at concentrations consistent with the high levels of mercury in fish. Inorganic mercury undergoes an active chemical cycle in natural waters that involves the simultaneous reduction of Hg(II) to Hg(0) and oxidation of Hg(0) back to Hg(II). As a result, well illuminated waters always contain a mixture of both species, and probably also a small amount of Hg(I) in equilibrium with Hg(II) and Hg(0). It may be that the rapid cycling of inorganic mercury maintains concentrations of highly reactive Hg(II) and Hg(0) species in the water that can be readily converted to methylmercury by microorganisms.

This project will investigate the effects of adding commonly used aquaculture chemicals, methylene blue and Aquashade™, on the photochemical cycle of mercury in natural water. Methylene blue, used to treat fish for microbial infections, is a potent photosensitizer that should increase the rate of Hg(0) oxidation, while Aquashade is a mixture of chemical dyes used to block sunlight and inhibit the growth of aquatic plants. It would be expected to slow the entire photochemically-driven cycle. Laboratory measurements will be made of the rates of oxidation and reduction of mercury under artificial illumination and direct sunlight in the presence and absence of aquaculture chemicals, and we will measure steady-state concentrations of Hg(II) and Hg(0) in those solutions. The project will also collect fish from waters treated with Aquashade and compare the mercury concentrations in these fish with those from similar untreated natural waters.

ORNL Division: Environmental Sciences

Mentor: Mark Peterson

Facilitator: George Southworth

Determination of Viscosity Average Molecular Weight of Lignin Derivatives

Abstract: Lignin is a sustainable, renewable resource material from woods. It can be used as feedstock for specialty polymer synthesis. Properties of polymer usually depend on its molecular weight. Molecular weight can be estimated from the intrinsic viscosity data of a polymer. The Mark-Houwink equation gives a relation between intrinsic viscosity and molecular weight(M).Usually intrinsic viscosity is measured using very dilute solutions of the polymer in a suitable solvent. ORNL researchers have synthesized functionalized lignin derivatives at various degrees of functionalization. This ARC project will investigate molecular weight of various functionalized lignin derivatives by measuring intrinsic viscosities in 0.5M NaOH solution.

Hosting Division: Materials Science and Technology

Mentor: Amit K Naskar

Assistants: Rebecca H Brown, Fue Xiong

Understanding Molecular Simulation: How Newton's Equation can be Used to do Computational Chemistry Experiments

Daily, we encounter systems comprised of huge number of molecules. For example, 1 gram of water (H2O) contains about 3.3 x 1022molecules. These molecules interact with each other in complex ways, which make life possible. For larger molecules (called macromolecules), interactions are so complex that it is impossible to fully understand the basics of their individual motions or guess at the stability of the materials they can form. Many kinds of macromolecules can self-assemble to form natural materials such as proteins, DNA, cellulose, rubber, etc. Scientists also can mimic nature and produce different kind of materials from macromolecules artificially – the rubber in tires and many kinds of plastics and medicines, for example, are artificial materials which we use routinely in our daily lives. Expensive experimental techniques can be used to design such materials. But such experiments do not always produce desired results, sometimes because of a lack of sufficient fundamental understanding of molecule-to-molecule interactions. Computational methods can be used to predict materials that can be easily produced, using physics-based approaches. For example, we know that all particles follow Newtonian mechanics at a classical level – that is, they obey F=ma, where ‘F’ is the force on a particle, ‘m’ is the particle’s mass and ‘a’ is the particle’s acceleration, which is related to the particle’s position coordinates. Thus, if we know the force acting on a particle at a given time, we can reliably predict, by using basic physics, conditions at a future time. To do this, a computer is fed with a large number of ‘virtual’ macromolecules and instructed to calculate the final product, following Newtonian mechanics. This is how materials can be designed using computers. Our project focuses on learning how molecules interact, using computer simulations. What forces bind them together? Why do some types of molecules self-assemble into a particular form, and others do not? What temperature and density ranges are most suitable for accomplishing material design? The goal in this project is to engage the students in thought processes where they can understand how research can be conducted so that they can contribute to the scientific discovery.

Mentor: Monojoy Goswami

Division: Computer Science and Mathematics (Computational Chemical Sciences Group)

Requirement: High School Physics, Newton’s Equations, Basic Calculus, Basic Computer skill.

Visualizing Radiation Pathways and Interactions in Matter

Abstract: Radiation is energy emitted as unstable atomic nuclei decay into a more stable state. There are many types of radiation, each with unique properties and modes of interaction in matter. Invisible to the unaided eye, scientists normally detect radiation by using specialized detectors and associated electronics. However, an easily constructed device known as a “cloud chamber” allows users to see the emission and pathways of radiation emitted by an extremely low-level radioactive source placed within. Each particle of radiation emitted creates a cloud trail along its traveled path, which is easily viewable with the unaided eye. The length and pattern of the paths varies depending on the type and energy of the radiation emitted from the source. This ARC project will involve three phases: researching the science and phenomena behind a cloud chamber, constructing and using a cloud chamber at ORISE facilities, and recording and explaining observed behaviors.

Hosting Division: ORISE Independent Environmental Assessment and Verification (IEAV)

Mentor: Matt Buchholz

Assistants: Ben Estes, Tonya Bernhardt, Paul Frame

Robotic Systems and Engineering Development

Abstract: Robots are used in industry to do things while protecting humans from hazardous environments, or to protect humans from highly repetitive work that requires high precision. The objectives of this project are to (1) expose students to robotics projects underway at ORNL and (2) provide hands-on experience in designing, constructing and programming a small robot. The project involves two groups of students and will be conducted within the Remote Systems Group of ORNL’s Nuclear Science and Technology Division. The focus of this project is on developing the mechanical and programming skills that are needed to design, build and operate a robot. The student will build a robot that can navigate an obstacle course using various sensors (light, ultrasonic and/or touch). The students will decide which sensors are best suited for which purposes, and what logic is appropriate for controlling the robot’s trajectory. Students will use the Lynxmotion Tri-Track Robot and AL5A Robotic Arm for building and testing.

ORNL Research Division: Nuclear Science and Technology

Research Mentor: Venugopal Varma

Research Facilitators: Carl Mallette and Ken Swayne

Build a Supercomputer

Students will build a supercomputer! Well, almost. Supercomputers typically use thousands of processors running in parallel to solve problems in science, finance, and other areas. Students will build a smaller supercomputer to gain insight and understanding in how supercomputers are organized and then how to program them. Students will build a Beowulf cluster using ordinary computers. Students will then write a parallel program, compile the program, and execute that program on the cluster. Areas that will be covered during this project are:

  • Computing basics
  • Computer networking
  • Linux operating system
  • Computer programming

Project review and summary

Students will be introduced to Extreme Programming concepts, such as pair programming. Upon completing this project, the students will present what they have learned.

ORNL Division: National Center for Computational Sciences

Mentor: Robert Whitten

Assistants: Mitchell Griffith, Rosalie Wolfe, Jerry Sherrod and Sherry Hempfling


  • Brandon Archer
  • Kevin Ball
  • Brandon Coburn
  • John England
  • Andrew Gilbert
  • Darhea Johnson
  • Michael Mineham
  • Cody Napier
  • Keziah Terenfenko
  • Justin West

Teacher Projects

Nanoparticles – Production, Characterization and Uses

This research project will be conducted in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division (CSD) and is designed to allow participants to better understand processes required to conduct a research project on nanoparticles. The teachers will research a nanotechnology project and be trained on processes and safety procedures used for nanoparticles research. They will then work with a research scientist to prepare samples of nanoparticles, evaluate analytical data characterizing the nanoparticles, and draw conclusions from the data they collect. The teachers also will learn potential applications of some of the nanoparticles being produced and investigated at ORNL. During the two-week program, the teachers will meet other researchers within the laboratory community and learn about nanoparticles-related projects currently being researched at ORNL.

ORNL Division: Chemical Sciences Division

Mentor: M. Parans Paranthaman

Facilitator: James R. Davis

Forest Inventory

“There appears to be a clear need for additional and substantive community-related data about lands on the ORR (Baranski, 2008).” Gathering and analyzing this data is a central recommendation in “Natural Areas Analysis and Evaluation: Oak Ridge Reservation” by Michael J. Baranski (2008). Currently there is a forest inventory which is producing some of the data needed to list the plant communities found on the ORR natural areas as recommended by Baranski. The current project will make use of these data; the team of ARC-ORNL Summer Institute teachers will begin producing this community information. The research focuses on one ORR natural area, Rainy Knob Bluff (NA21). Other natural areas may be studied as time allows. The teachers will use the dominant trees recorded at survey points by Bill Johnston to make a preliminary identification of the plant communities. The system of plant communities developed by NatureServe will be used. Data collected on field trips to the natural areas will provide additional data needed to determine the communities that are present and to remove exotic pest plants which threaten native plant communities. The teachers will prepare a report and a PowerPoint presentation summarizing their studies.

A typical day will involve field work, computer work (i.e., data entry and evaluation) and listening to speakers on topics related to this research and biodiversity in general on the ORR. The field work typically will be in the mornings, when it is cooler. The teachers will need to be prepared to deal with slippery slopes, heat, rain, ticks, poison ivy and snakes. Much of the work will be on steep slopes without trails! The computer-centered work will be done in the computer room at the teacher’s hotel.

ORNL Division: Environmental Sciences Division

Mentor: Neil Giffen

Assistant: Bill Johnston

Facilitator: Larry Pounds

Retained Austenite Measurements using Molybdenum X-rays

This project is a continuation of work done by previous teams of ARC-ORNL Summer Institute teacher investigators. Data from this study will be combined with data collected by the earlier teams of teachers to prepare a manuscript which will be submitted for publication in the open literature, with all the participants as co-authors. The project involves the use of NIST standard steel samples having known amounts of retained austenite. The previous teams have used the same samples, using x-rays generated by Cu and Fe targets, which are well known. These analyses have used laboratory x-ray wavelengths. The current team of teachers will collect data using the same samples, but with x-rays generated from a Mo target, which is another commonly used x-ray source. The data will then be analyzed by use of well-known computer software to profile-fit the complete spectrum for each data set. To date, no one has done as complete a study of these materials as this study embodies. Since different laboratories sometimes use different x-ray sources, we sought to check the possible statistical variations and repetitive fractions using various experimental conditions.

ORNL Division: Materials Science and Technology Division

Mentor: Tom Watkins

Facilitator: Burl Cavin