Oakridge, Tennessee

United States-Oakridge Science Semester


The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) multi-program laboratory focusing on national and global energy and environmental issues. It is located in Oak Ridge, TN, near Knoxville. Located in the Cumberland Mountains of East Tennessee, the city of Oak Ridge did not exist until 1942. Opened to the public in 1949, Oak Ridge is now known throughout the world for its scientific research and development in energy, nuclear research, materials, and medical and environmental research with a population near 27,310.

The Program

This is a Fall semester only program running from late August until Mid-December. The Oak Ridge Science Semester (ORSS) enables students to join ongoing investigations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in research areas as diverse as astrophysics, cell biology, DNA sequencing, genetic mutagenesis, parallel computing, robotics, toxicology, and much more. Students devote most of their time to research with a scientist from the ORNL staff serving as a mentor. In addition, students are required to participate in an interdisciplinary seminar and may choose an advanced academic course from among a variety of options. The seminar and advanced courses are given during the first 12 weeks of the semester, allowing students to devote their last three weeks exclusively to research and the completion of research papers. Each student is expected to devote at least 35 hours per week to research on a specific project under the guidance of an ORNL staff scientist. This research experience is the core of the program.


Upper-class majors in biology, chemistry, computer science, physics, or the social sciences are eligible. Each year, Allegheny College will nominate one-two students maximum to ORSS and ORSS retains final approval of the applicant. The program is primarily designed for seniors, but juniors who give evidence of the capacities demanded at Oak Ridge may be considered. Applicants must have grade-point averages of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, both overall and in their majors.

Application Process

Allegheny students must first be approved to study off-campus before applying to their chosen program. Applicants for this program must submit a nomination letter from the Chair of their major and the campus faculty representative for this program (TBA) with their application package. Deadlines to submit the approval packet are February 20 for the fall program and September 20 for the spring program. For more information about the application process visit the web at: http://sites.allegheny.edu/offcampus/application/ .

Student Life

Housing is provided in an apartment complex in Oak Ridge. Two students share a one-bedroom apartment and provide their own linens and kitchen utensils. Students are responsible for transportation to and from Oak Ridge and for all local travel to and from the laboratories. Because there is no local bus service, car pools are commonly used in commuting daily to and from ORNL. However, shuttle service from the Knoxville airport and bus service from downtown Knoxville to Oak Ridge are available.


Students are charged Allegheny tuition, fees (including $300 off-campus fee). The housing rent (approximately $2,200/semester) is paid by the ORSS in the form of a housing allowance. Students are responsible for their travel costs to and from ORRS, food costs, books and other personal expenses (estimated at $1,500).