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Breakthroughs Magazine

At a Glance

Science-driven computing speeds up at PNNL

One of the world's fastest scientific computers will be used by a new directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to enable large-scale scientific discoveries. The Computational and Information Sciences Directorate (CISD) integrates computational and information sciences, statistics and mathematics.

A CISD open house, "Onramp to the Future," attracted industry leaders and professionals from universities and government who learned about its world-class scientific and computational resources and how to access them.

A new high-speed fiber-optic network connection from Richland, Wash., to Seattle also was launched last fall. This connection enables the Laboratory to exchange vast amounts of information electronically with research laboratories and universities worldwide. Researchers can transfer data almost 300 times faster than before—sometimes within minutes instead of days.

CISD scientists will apply the power of high-performance computing to contribute to federal science initiatives such as homeland security, defense, and health. Scientists envision new collaborations with other national laboratories and research institutions.

Smart building controls may solve energy problems

The Bonneville Power Administration can control the electricity load to buildings through a Web site that provides the status of the equipment and feedback on how the commands have been executed.

Can information technology and smart building controls reduce the need for expensive new electricity transmission lines? Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory think they might. PNNL and the Bonneville Power Administration are exploring reducing electrical demand and on-site energy production at several buildings on and near the PNNL campus in Richland, Wash.

At one building, a small, natural gas-powered turbine is started remotely by BPA to produce electricity during peak demand times. This on-site production helps reduce stress on transmission lines by supplying some of the power for the building directly instead of pulling from the regional power grid. The second project eases stress on the grid by allowing BPA to "shed load" or reduce the demand for power by remotely and intermittently turning off air conditioning and HVAC equipment at three buildings.

Unlike radio-controlled methods, which utilities have used elsewhere, this system uses the Internet and computerized equipment to make changes without any physical action at the buildings. For more information, see PNNL's Web site at

Cesium capsules hit cancer harder

A shorter half-life and cesium radiation promise to make cesium-131 capsules harder on cancer and easier on the patient. Developed by IsoRay Medical, Inc., with assistance from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, this new FDA-approved treatment uses tiny capsules or seeds filled with a small dose of the radioactive isotope, cesium-131. The capsules are implanted near or in the cancerous tumor, where x-rays emitted by the cesium damage the genetic material of the cancer cells, making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow and divide. With cesium-based brachytherapy (from the Greek prefix "brachy," meaning "close"), more power or dose is delivered to the tumor over a shorter time.

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