When doing a little research on supercomputing not long ago, I visited the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) website and was fascinated by some of the images illustrating the various fields of scientific research carried out there. I was struck by the science-fiction aspect of many of the pieces of equipment and the beauty of some of the visualizations and simulations they produced. (Top500 just listed ORNL’s Jaguar Kray XT5-HE as the fastest supercomputer in the world.)

I created a gallery of some of these images, Courtesy of ORNL, “Cutting-edge science images from Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” to give you an idea of what they are doing there. If, like me, the captions “explaining” the images leave you scratching your head still, you can just appreciate the artistry of the pictures! However, there are plenty of articles and research documents available on their site, if you want to dive a little deeper into the science.

For a seriously geeky summer vacation idea, you also have the option of visiting ORNL itself. It is located in Roane County, Tennessee near Knoxville. There are public tours, and special guided tours (advanced registration only), as well as research visits available. Who doesn’t want to visit a site that includes “A Word about Radiation” in its visitors guide!

The ORNL campus includes several research facilities where radioactive materials are present or radiation generating equipment is used. Additionally, owing to its role in the Manhattan Project and other pioneering activities of the atomic age, ORNL has several historical facilities with legacy radioactive materials that are awaiting or undergoing demolition….

Just as an example of the cool stuff they have there is the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), which is used in neutron science:

The intense neutron flux, constant power density, and constant-length fuel cycles are used by more than 200 researchers each year for neutron scattering research into the fundamental properties of condensed matter.

And what does one do with a beam of neutrons, you might ask? For one thing, scientists at ORNL used the HFIR to analyze hair and fingernail samples from the exhumed body of President Zachary Taylor from a cemetery in Louisville, KY to establish once and for all whether he was a victim of arsenic poisoning in 1850. Verdict? The arsenic levels present did not seem to indicate murder. Below is the very sci-fi-looking HFIR control room.

Check out the full gallery from ORNL.