NEW YORK – The U.S. Dept. of Energy has designated the National Transportation Research Center in Oak Ridge, TN, a national user facility. The designation gives scientists conducting research and development for the transportation industry special access to the facility, which has 12 transportation-related laboratories or user centers.

The NTRC in West Knoxville is performing about one-third of the $100 million worth of research projects at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at the University of Tennessee. It has R&D facilities not easily available elsewhere to the industry, if at all.

"Our facility likely offers the most diverse transportation research expertise in the country," says NTRC Director Richard Ziegler, noting the research center is working on five different methods for measuring diesel particulate emissions. "At least two of those don't exist anywhere else," he claims.

In April, the NTRC composites laboratory will receive a new test device – constructed solely for the composites laboratory – that will enable researchers to measure the properties of materials at the equivalent of 2-10 mph (3-16 km/h) for the first time.

Ziegler says that many of the changes in vehicle materials occur at lower speeds. "If we can understand how the materials change, we may be able to take advantage of those changes to help absorb more of the crash energy, thus making vehicles safer."