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Geek-Up: K East Reactor Demolition, Retrograde Melting and Cloud Pattern Tracking

August 13, 2010 - 6:32pm


The Energy Department's Hanford Site in Washington used Recovery Act funds to safely take down the K East Reactor’s 175-foot-high exhaust stack near the Columbia River. The demolition was a crucial step toward dismantling the external footprint of the reactor and clears the way for additional work to clean up the area.

Watch footage of the blast above or find more information at

Normally, we think of things melting (or changing from a solid to a liquid) because of the heat. Turns out, some materials like to do the opposite – they actually melt when they get cooler – a process called “retrograde melting.” A team of researchers has discovered that silicon – used for everything from solar cells to computer chips – can exhibit this strange behavior when it contains high concentrations of certain metals, making it possible to observe the behavior of the silicon during the melting process. You can find the complete paper (co-authored by researchers from Berkeley and Argonne National Laboratories) here.

Having your head in the clouds can be a good thing: researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have found cycling patterns in open-cell clouds that could help build better models for predicting climate change.

Open-cell clouds are low, flat clouds that cover most of the ocean. They are often called “honeycomb” clouds because they look like connected frames with clear centers: the white exterior being reflective while the clear centers allow energy through to warm the earth. Open-cell clouds turn out to be self-organizing, meaning they remain cohesive structures even while appearing to shift about the sky. According to Atmospheric Scientist Hailong Wang, tracking the cycles are important because “the pattern of the clouds affects how much of the sun's energy gets reflected back into space." Learn how he’s tracking the honeycomb clouds.