Knoxville, Tennessee

August 2014

After visiting Corvette land I was initially planning on heading to Nashville and spending some time enjoying the land of country music. But that was before I ran into the Snowmads (once again) in Indianapolis. Being the fine folks that they are, Jason and Kristin invited me over to Knoxville to spend some time with them. They were in between RVs having just sold their Airstream and were working some deals to get into a new rig, so they offered up the driveway of their condo for me to call home for a bit. How could I pass up the offer of free rent and wonderful company? So I changed the “ville” I was going to and headed east to the base of the Great Smokey Mountains.

Exploring Knoxville

One of the benefits of visiting a city with friends who have lived there is that you get the insider’s perspective on things, which is exactly what I got during a couple of days of being shown around the suburbs and the heart of Knoxville.

One morning (OK, late morning) we got the dogs together and took off for a hike in the Ijams Nature Center, which has a couple of abandoned quarries. Quite the beautiful setting to take a hike in, oh, say October. August, not so much! I have decided hiking in heat and humidity really isn’t my thing, but I suffered through and enjoyed the sights.

Of course being with the Snowmads we had to check out the beer scene in Knoxville. Several times. Several places. Including some that I have been hearing about from them for months. Enough said. We shall just leave it at that. My mom reads these posts after all.

On my last day in Knoxville I spent a few hours catching up with some friends of mine who I spent a few days with when I moved from North Carolina back to Arizona last year. Elizabeth and Dave are relatives of someone my wife went to school with in Korea (she was a military brat) and are a wonderful couple to spend time with. Since I was back in the area unexpectedly I knew I had to swing by and say hi. They live on a beautiful piece of property on the Tennessee River, which served as a great backdrop for good conversation and food.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Jason’s mother works for Oak Ridge National Laboratory and invited us over for a personal tour. She actually works for the #2 man at the lab so is in a great position to show us around. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to get us in anywhere top secret, but I really enjoyed seeing stuff one would not normally get to see.

We went to see the Spallation Neutron Source, which is a accelerator-based neutron source facility. Yeah, not sure what that means. Waaaaaaay over my head on that one. We weren’t able to see much of the facility except a small portion of the administration building where people with really fancy titles work. I mean job titles that I had never heard of. Things they don’t tell you exist in your guidance counselors office in high school (I wonder if they still have counselors?). We were able to see the mounds of dirt that covered the Spallation Neutron Source and the buildings where the magic happened. Yup, that’s about it.

We also visited the Graphite Reactor which is what Einstein and company used during World War II to help create the first atomic bombs during the Manhattan Project. Just a small piece of history there. In the control room of the reactor is displayed the log book from 4 November 1943 when critical was reached, which means that this was the first self-sustaining fission chain reaction.

As we were walking around the area of the Graphite Reactor (in other words, the very old areas), there were lots of these little yellow signs indicating there is buried radioactive material. Comforting.

Let’s not forget about our little visit to the National Center for Computational Science which houses Oak Ridge’s super computer. As one of the fastest computers in the world, it fills a nicely sized room and is one of those things you look at and say, gee, that’s neat. But it really doesn’t lend itself for a whole lot of spectating.

The last place we visited was the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility where the smart people at Oak Ridge try to figure out better processes to manufacture things. Basically it is a place for big kids to play with very expensive equipment. The current push seems to be with 3D printing, which I personally find fascinating. I am familiar with the small scale 3D printers that can create very small parts out of plastics. What I wasn’t familiar with was the 3D printers that use metal. What? I had no idea! Apparently these metal 3D printers are extremely expensive (go figure) and extremely slow, but they are waaaaay cool. I mean printing parts using metal????

The Manufacturing Demonstration Facility is also home of the largest 3D printer in the country, and maybe the world. They are using this large 3D printer with Local Motors to design a car that can be printed out in one piece. A full sized car. Printed in one piece. Wrap your little mind around that one! We saw the first prototype of this car (I am not allowed to show the pics) which was printed in sections and glued together. We also saw the front end of the next generation car – still with the sections having to be glued together. Apparently this technology is advancing incredibly fast and they plan on unveiling the final product this month. Can’t wait to see where this technology goes!

Knoxville. An interesting city. Home of Oak Ridge (well, actually Oak Ridge is the home of Oak Ridge). Home of the University of Tennessee (as a Texan, errrr, Texas resident, I am supposed to say that this is not the real UT.). Home of the Snowmads until they get back on the road. Thank you Jason and Kristin for being wonderful hosts and showing me your city.

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