Rabin Paudel ’10 – I have been doing research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee since August. It is an off-campus study program designed as a science semester which gives the opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in on-going research at ORNL.

ORNL is the US Department of Energy’s largest lab. The main areas of research work that go on here include neutron science, nuclear fusion, “green” chemistry, genetics, alternative energy and national security. About 3000 scientists work here every year as guest scientists or permanent employees.

I first learned about Oak Ridge when I read “Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman. Feynman describes his frequent visits to Oak Ridge while he was working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. The city of Oak Ridge has a rich history associated with it. The lab played an important role in ending World War II. It is one of the three labs built to make nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project (the other two are in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Hanford, Washington). That’s where Oak Ridge got its nicknames The Secret City and The Atomic City. I heard that Oak Ridge was not included on the official map until the 1960s.

During my stay here, I am working on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) experiments. NMR is the same technology that is used in MRI, an imaging technology used in medicine. As part of my research, I am making micro-coils and LC circuits to do NMR spectroscopy in solid-state molecules. My second project is in the field of “green” chemistry. One of the groups at ORNL is working on developing more efficient batteries. I am assigned to measure the diffusion properties of the ionic-liquids used in such batteries.

Other than the research work, as a part of the science semester, I am required to attend weekly seminars and tours which overview different research-work going on at ORNL. The seminars are very helpful in getting the latest updates in science. Last month, we visited a supercomputing center, home to the second fastest supercomputer in the world. It was amazing. And last week, I got an opportunity to visit the remote system department and learn about robotics. Their work in making robots to work on the high radiation zones sounds groundbreaking.

Other than that, I have found East Tennessee very different from the Midwest. We are having nice fall weather, warmer than that in Indiana. The leaves in the Smokey Mountains look gorgeous. East Tennessee is full of outdoor activities ranging from rafting to rock climbing. It feels great to go outside and enjoy the fall weather.

This has been a great opportunity for me to come to a national lab to get research experience. I would like to thank the physics department and the off-campus studies office at Wabash for providing me this opportunity.

I will be writing more about my off-campus study experience. Until next time, so long!