No neutrons for dinner, but they promise dessert
With trade agreements sending jobs to countries that tout cheap labor, news out of Oak Ridge, Tenn., offers reassurance that the nation is focusing on cutting-edge technology to fuel an economy that will be better than the old one.
Here in the Tennessee Valley, we fret over conditions at Delphi Corp., where workers who stay on the job probably will see their wages cut in half. But an event that we don't pretend to understand took place at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory on Friday and gives a glimpse of the future.
Scientists fired up a new machine that generated a stream of subatomic particles in a millisecond pulse of neutrons.
It doesn't matter because what is important is how the Spallation Neutron Source's new $1.4 billion research complex promises to affect our future.
The research from a pulsing neutron stream may one day give us lighter and stronger alloys for airplanes. It may give us new vehicles for doing more daring missions in outer space. The automobiles we drive in a decade may be lighter and safer because of these pulsing neutron streams.
And if we think computers give us fantastic storage capacity now, wait until the pulsing neutrons revolutionize the industry.
The facility is for a variety of research projects, including developing therapeutic drugs not available today.
Friday's firing was a test run just to see if the machine works. It does, but it is two years away from getting up to full throttle that will make the pulsing neutron stream 10 times more intense than that of any other research facility in the world.
The U.S. economy is in transition and, as a result, generates doubts and fears about America's ability to continue world dominance.
Friday's success means the promise of research and high-tech industry to replace labor-intensive jobs appears to be on track.