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nd now, for something completely different… Take a drive with Direct Current as we mash up three slightly off-kilter energy stories. It might get weird, but it won’t be boring. It’s Hyper Drive Time!
Video courtesy of the Department of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy




PAUL LESTER: (RADIO DJ VOICE) Hey everybody, you’re listening to WNRG from our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. We’re broadcasting from the U.S. Department of Energy. I’m DJ Paul Lester, it’s Hyper Drive Time. We’re keeping you energized on your morning commute with some wild and wacky energy stories that you don’t want to miss. We’ll take a quick pause for station identification and then get right into it!



LESTER: And we’re back! Hey listeners, did you know the Energy Department oversees a network of 17 National Laboratories? These Labs are where some of the world’s most important science and technological breakthroughs happen. Up next, our rock star trio of Allison, Matt and Dan try an old-fashioned technique to remember the names of all 17. Take it away!


DAN WOOD: Hey guys.

ALLISON LANTERO: What’ve you got for us?

WOOD: I’ve been in the lab thinking of important ways to help the American people remember what we do, and I came up with something I think might be helpful. We have 17 National Laboratories -- they’re very important, but it’s very difficult to remember 17 things. Am I right?

DOZIER: Right.

WOOD: Like, for instance, let’s say you’re going to the store, right? You have to write down a grocery list because you can’t remember all 17 things you need. You might need, like, eggs, milk, bread, cereal, onions, peas, trees, tomatoes, potatoes, lambs, rams, hogs, dogs, you name it. You need it all.

LANTERO: (LAUGHING) Isn’t that a song?

WOOD: It might be a meme, but the point is, how could you remember those unless you either wrote them down, or what if you didn’t want to write it down? Maybe you could create some sort of mental device to remember it.

LANTERO: Oh, like a mnemonic?

WOOD: Yeah, do you remember those from middle school? “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” for the table of operations in math.

LANTERO: “Every Good Boy Does Fine” for piano.

DOZIER: Right, like when Pluto was still a planet, the solar system went something like “My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets.”

LANTERO: Or “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.”

DOZIER: Oh, that’s better. You know, it would be super helpful if we had one of those for the National Labs.

LANTERO:  Yes! I know you guys know this, but for our listeners, the Department of Energy’s 17 National Labs are powerhouses of science and technology. They’re home to some of the world’s most powerful lasers, super-fast supercomputers and really bright minds, but no one knows all their names.

WOOD: So, let's list all 17 labs so you know what they are, and we're going to list them in order of their creation date.

WOMAN #1: National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL.

MAN #1: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab.

LANTERO: Los Alamos National Laboratory.

LESTER: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

WOMAN #2: Argonne National Laboratory.

MAN #2: Ames National Laboratory.

WOMAN #3: Brookhaven National Laboratory.

MAN #3: Sandia National Laboratories.

WOMAN #4: Idaho National Laboratory.

MAN #4: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, or PPPL.

LANTERO: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, or Livermore Lab.

WOMAN #5: Savannah River National Laboratory.

MAN #1: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, or simply “SLAC.”

WOMAN #2: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, or PNNL.

LESTER: Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab.

WOMAN #6: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL.

WOMAN #7: Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab.

WOOD: So those initials are N B L O A A B S I P L S S P F N J. Are you still with me?



WOOD: Yeah. Easy, right? I had people in the office create a mnemonic device using those initials I just spoke out, and create sentences or collections of sentences that maybe would help you remember. So let’s try one out, you guys ready?

DOZIER: Ready.

LANTERO: I think we're ready.

WOOD: Matt and Allison have never heard these. I just want to be clear about that because I feel like we should say that. Let's start with a bicycle-race-themed mnemonic device.

LANTERO: Matt is a big bike rider.

DOZIER: Yeah, can't wait.

WOOD: Nine Bikes Lap Over And A Brooks Saddle Initiates Petty Leg Slaps. Sid’s Penny Farthing Never Jostles.


DOZIER: Oh. Beautiful.

WOOD: You know, like, a penny farthing is that big bike with the big wheel.

LANTERO: I didn't know that, actually, no.

WOOD: OK, this next one is one I'm pretty proud of. It's about animal hair.

LANTERO: Alright.

DOZIER: I'm nervous.

WOOD: Never Buy Legions Of Alopecia Alpacas. Buy Shaggy Indian Pronghorns. Long, Shimmering, Shaveable Pigtails Forever Netted [in] Jersey.


DOZIER: That's really something.

WOOD: That one's a maybe. We'll call that a maybe, I'm marking that down. OK, this one's from Paul and it's Harry Potter-themed. Shoutout to Paul Lester.

WOOD: Nothing But Love Of Absolutely Awesome Butterbeer. Sometimes I Prefer Luna's Strawberry Shake, Particularly For New Jinxes.


DOZIER: That's a deep cut.

WOOD: Yeah. And this one is "Lord of the Rings"-themed, so we're just staying literary for a second here.

WOOD: Now Before Legolas Offered Aragorn Another Basic Sword, Isildur's Phantom Landed. Saruman Saw, Punching Frodo's Neck, Jaw.


WOOD: The comma is in brackets.

LANTERO: I was going to say, you can kind of tell Paul was in a newsroom at some point. That sounds very much like a headline.


WOOD: OK, this comes from Cort and it's a Manhattan Project-themed one.

WOOD: Niels Bohr Looks Over At [the] Atomic Bomb, Says, “I Particle-urlay Like [your] Stable Stream!” Please Forget [that] Nuclear Joke.


DOZIER: Wow. That's really good!

LANTERO: Well done, Cort!

WOOD: Yeah, it's a good one.

LANTERO: That might be my favorite. I like that one.

DOZIER: Really nailed it there.

WOOD: Yeah. This one is baseball themed, from Simon. Shoutout to Simon, he's standing next to me.

DOZIER: What up.

WOOD: What up, Simon!

WOOD: No! Boys Lose On An Aggressive Baseball Strategy. Instead, Play Lefties Side So Pitchers Find New Joy.


DOZIER: OK, so if you're a sports fan, that's going to be extra helpful.

LANTERO: Yeah, that's the one for our ESPN base.

WOOD: We'll put that one in the maybe category. Solid maybe. This one comes from Dan, which is me. It's "Garfield"-themed. Not sure if you guys watched Garfield growing up. Not just read the cartoon, but there's also the show.

DOZIER & LANTERO: You mean "Garfield and Friends."

WOOD: (SINGING) Garfield and Friends!

LANTERO: Exactly.

DOZIER: It's time to party.

WOOD: Very deep cut here.

LANTERO: Oh goody. Hope there's lasagna.

WOOD: No lasagna, unfortunately.


WOOD: Whatever.

WOOD: Nermal Balanced… Leaping Off [the] Armoire. “Arbuckle!” Bawled [the] Shorthair, Irate. Purring Loudly, Scratching Sounds Pathetically Floundered Nearby John.

DOZIER: Oh, wow!


LANTERO: It's good!

DOZIER: I didn't expect Nermal to be the star of the show.

WOOD: Right? Exactly!

DOZIER: All these demonstrate a real in-depth knowledge of the subject.


DOZIER: It's really impressive.

WOOD: OK, here's one from Ernie.

WOOD: Naturally Bald Lawyers Offer Apples Always, But Sometimes Intelligent People Like Super Sweet Peach Fruit (and) Nut Jam.

LANTERO: Nut jam!

DOZIER: Delicious.

WOOD: OK, so guys. You've heard all of them. Did you have any favorites?

DOZIER: I think the alopecia alpacas really spoke to me. Never Buy Legions Of Alopecia Alpacas. Buy Shaggy Indian Pronghorns. Long, Shimmering, Shaveable Pigtails Forever Netted [in] Jersey.

WOOD: Yeah.

DOZIER: OK, so what is it? Never Buy -- NETL, Brookhaven; Legions Of Alopecia Alpacas -- Livermore, Argonne, Ames; Buy Shaggy Indian Pronghorns-

WOOD: Well, you missed "Of," which is actually part of it, yeah. That's Oak Ridge.

DOZIER: Oh dear. We should probably capitalize the "O."

WOOD: Yeah, well, you can't say capitalization on the radio.


DOZIER: Oh, where did I leave off. OK, Alopecia Alpacas -- Ames, Argonne. Buy Shaggy Indian Pronghorns -- what's the other "B" now? That's the...


DOZIER: Oh, Berkeley. Yeah, OK. Sandia, Idaho, uh, let's go Princeton for that "P." Long, Shimmering, Shaveable Pigtails -- oh, Los Alamos.

WOOD: Well once you memorize...

DOZIER: Savannah River, SLAC


DOZIER: Pacific Northwest.

WOOD: Yeah.

DOZIER: Forever Netted in Jersey. Fermilab, NREL, and JLab.


LANTERO: Well done! I want to see if I can remember one of the mnemonics by heart.

WOOD: OK, let's see what you've got, Allison.

LANTERO: Niels Bohr Looked Over At Atomic Bomb, Saying, "I Particle-ularly Like Your Solid Stream?"

WOOD: (WHISPERING) Stable Stream.

DOZIER: Good enough.

LANTERO: Please Forget This Nuclear Joke.

WOOD: Yeah!


DOZIER: Bravo. Those were fantastic.

LANTERO: Yeah, good job, team.

DOZIER: But I think our listeners can probably come up with some even better ones. So if you have an idea, send it to us.

WOOD: All right.

LESTER:  Wow, that was... interesting! Up next on Hyper Drive Time, we’re gonna switch gears for something a bit quieter. It's a cool new energy technology that will rock your world. Check it out!


CORT KREER: (USING A BRITISH ACCENT) Hey Simon, can I tell you something?

EDELMAN: I didn’t even start the story yet.

KREER: I know, I know. I’m excited about it. But I have to whisper it though.

EDELMAN: You’re excited but you have to whisper? Why?

KREER: Because I’ve been practicing my ASMR technique.

EDELMAN: What’s that?

KREER: ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s kind of hard to explain to people that don’t experience it, but it’s often described as a relaxing tingling in the scalp and the back of the neck and can extend into the rest of the body. It’s caused by certain sounds, like whispering, tapping -- that sort of thing. Anyway, there are lots of really popular YouTube videos and podcasts these days that cater to people who experience this sensation. So we thought we’d give it a shot. But we wanted it to be educational.

EDELMAN: What’s something really relaxing we can tell people about?

KREER: How about SMRs?

EDELMAN: Small modular reactors? Wait. Are you saying we should do… (TOGETHER): an ASMR SMR seminar?

KREER: That’s exactly what I’m saying. Listen carefully. I recommend headphones if you’re not already listening with them.

EDELMAN: Hold on a second. Before you do your thing, let me just explain what a small modular reactor is. A Small Modular Reactor, also known as an SMRs will be a nuclear power plant that’s smaller in size than current-generation nuclear plants. These smaller, compact designs will be factory-fabricated reactors that can be transported by truck or rail to a nuclear power site. Now that we have that, take it away.

KREER: (WHISPERING) The “modular” in small modular reactor means major components of the SMR can be produced in a factory and shipped to where they’re needed. That makes them quicker to build than traditional designs, which require a lot more work on site to assemble components into a working power plant. Plus, additional modules can be added to an SMR as demand for energy increases.  

EDELMAN: (WHISPERING) Sorry, that was my chair in the background, which leads me to ask the question, can I make noises? And is this whole thing going to be whispering?



KREER: (WHISPERING) SMRs will be able to provide power in places where you don’t need a big power plant, or there isn’t sufficient infrastructure to support one.


KREER: (WHISPERING) We’re talking about smaller electrical markets, isolated areas, smaller grids, sites with limited water and space, or industrial applications.

EDELMAN: (WHISPERING) I have to turn my paper, hold on.


EDELMAN: (WHISPERING) Sorry about that, go ahead.

KREER: (WHISPERING) Then there’s the safety aspect. Small modular reactors are being designed with security in mind, with enhancements to protect against sabotage and natural hazards alike. Some SMR designs are sealed, so there’s less need for transporting and handling nuclear material, which is safer for everyone. On top of all this, SMRs will be cheaper than their much larger counterparts.


EDELMAN (WHISPERING): Sorry, I should probably cut my nails.

KREER: (WHISPERING) The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy supports research and development of next-generation nuclear reactors. SMRs will play an important role in addressing the energy security, economic and climate goals of the U.S. if they can be commercially deployed within the next decade. Fin.

EDELMAN: Well you had your headphones turned up, now it's time to turn them back down.


LESTER: (RADIO DJ VOICE) Our final stop on Hyper Drive Time Takes us to everyone’s favorite segment: Cort’s Quarks Corner!


LESTER: (RADIO DJ VOICE) OK kids, who’s ready to learn about some particle physics?


KREER: (GRUFFLY) Ok, that’s enough. Welcome to Cort’s Quarks Corner, I’m Cort.

KREER: What is the world made of? What does it really... matter?


KREER: So the world is made of quarks. Most of it, anyway. Including this corner. Quarks are what we call some elementary particles, which is physics-speak for really, really small. They combine to form bigger particles called hadrons, which are things you’ve actually heard about like protons and neutrons. You have heard of them, right? They make up the nucleus of an atom?


KREER: Never mind.


KREER: Anyway, each proton and neutron is made up of three quarks. I guess I should point out that we never see one quark by itself. They’re the popular kids with the good hair, they’re always found in pairs or hanging out with other quarks. (BITTERLY) Which sounds pretty terrible, if you ask me.

KREER: There’s six types of quarks, which are called flavors because this is the wackiest part of the wacky world of particle physics. The flavors are named Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Top, and Bottom. It’s just what they’re called.

KREER: Up and down have the lowest mass and are the most stable and common. Strange, Charm, Bottom, and Top are only produced through high-energy collisions, like with cosmic rays and particle accelerators.

KREER: Here’s the fun part, so get ready for the fun part.


KREER: For every flavor of quark there’s an evil version called an antiquark.


KREER: I’m saying it’s evil because it’s a fun and lighthearted way to think about it, but the actual moral alignment of the quark is undetermined at this time. They wear mustaches so you know they are antiquarks. They don’t do that either, that was another joke.


KREER: All you math wizzes out there, that was two jokes. Besides the mustache, antiquarks are basically identical except some of the properties have an equal magnitude but opposite sign.


KREER: Now, because of science, quarks have to be mapped. Like the periodic table of elements, particle physics has its own fancy map called the Standard Model. You can go look it up if you want, it looks like a knockoff pokeball -- you kids even play pokeball anymore?


KREER: There are a bunch of other particles on there in addition to quarks, which I’m not going to get into right now except to say that the most elusive particle -- the Higgs Boson -- was discovered in 2012 after about 40 years of looking for it. You might have heard about that, too. It happened at the Large Hadron Collider, the huge underground experimental facility below the French-Swiss border?


KREER: Anyone? Joke number three. Get ready to laugh. Higgs boson walks into a church, and the priest says, "I'm sorry, we don't allow Higgs bosons to come into churches." And the Higgs says, "But without me, you can't have mass."


KREER: That’s from Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Thanks Neil. Cute. Well, finding the Higgs particle was finding the missing piece of the Standard Model puzzle. So special they put it right in the middle.


KREER: So, that’s it. We’re all done right? No more mysteries anymore. Great.

EDELMAN: Um, Cort, you're not actually done yet.

KREER: (SIGHS) The Standard Model, very powerful, doesn’t explain everything. Like, it doesn’t explain why the universe is composed of matter and not anti-matter. Doesn't explain why gravity is so weak compared to the other forces.


KREE: There’s even a batch of questions that the current Standard Model can’t answer, such as, What is dark matter? and Why is the universe accelerating? How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal? There are so many unknowns to go around for everyone.


KREER: Oh, and you know those 17 National Labs everyone was trying to remember earlier, and failing at it? That's not a mystery at all. A bunch of them do really important particle physics research, too. I’m not going to tell you which ones, though. You should go on and find out for yourself.

KREER: Now I am done talking about quarks. Tune in next time when we find out why quarks are strange and charming…. Like me.




LESTER: (RADIO DJ VOICE) And that it for Direct Current’s Hyper Drive Time! But first, we want to hear from you, loyal listeners. The digital lines are open. To all you word wizards out there, send your labs mnemonic to or tweet @ENERGY.

LESTER: Thank you to Seth Larson in the Nuclear Energy Office, Shannon Brescher Shea from the Office of Science, and a fond farewell and heartfelt thank you to our resident shock jock Dan Wood. And thank you Taylor Gray at Transition Music. And these fine folks with the Energy Public Affairs Team.

BOB HAUS: This is Bob Haus.

DEBRA ATKINSON-HYMAN: Debra Atkinson-Hyman.

JESS SZYMANSKI: Jess Szymanski.

LINDSEY GEISLER: Lindsey Geisler.

KAYLA HENSLEY: Kayla Hensley.

VERNON HERRON: Vernon Herron.

ALEXANDRA BASS: Alexandra Bass.

CORTNEY KREER: Cortney Kreer.

ERNIE AMBROSE: Ernie Ambrose.

SARA MARIE KINNEY: Sara Marie Kinney.

BIANCA KTENAS: Bianca Ktenas.

SHAYLYN HYNES: Shaylyn Hynes.

LESTER: Direct Current is produced by Matt Dozier, Simon Edelman and Allison Lantero. Art and design by Cort Kreer. With support from Ernie Ambrose and Atiq Warraich.

LESTER: Direct Current is comin’ atcha from our nation’s capital, we’re broadcasting from the U.S. Department of Energy here in beautiful Washington, D.C.! This is Paul Lester from WNRG signing off for Direct Current. Goodbye, everybody! Until next time!  



Welcome to Hyper Drive Time! Ride along with Direct Current as we cruise through stories about the Energy Department's important research, advanced technologies, and world-class National Laboratories. But buckle your seatbelt, because this episode has some twists and turns...


And you thought our last episode was a mouthful! This time around, we're working on ways to help you remember all 17 of the National Labs... with mixed success. Think you can do better? Send us your mnemonic idea at or tweet @ENERGY!

As a reminder, here's the initials: N B L O A A B S I P L S S P F N J

Learn more about all 17 of our amazing National Laboratories!


If you're not quite sure what you just heard, do a quick search for ASMR -- you'll learn everything you need to know!

Whispering aside, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are a technology with real potential to provide nuclear power with enhanced flexibility, safety, and efficiency -- all at a lower cost than traditional larger nuclear reactors. Learn more at our Office of Nuclear Energy.


There's still so much we don't know about the structure of the universe around us, down to the fundamental building blocks of matter (like quarks!).

The Office of Nuclear Physics in the Department of Energy's Office of Science supports the experimental and theoretical research needed to create a roadmap of matter that will help unlock the secrets of how the universe is put together. Learn more about this quest and the groundbreaking scientific work to advance our understanding happening across our National Laboratories.