July 28, 2023


Happy 70th birthday to Knoxville-born Steve Duncan, who played drums for the Desert Rose Band, Stone Canyon Band and many others!

In today's report: Mortality data released this week by the Knox County Regional Forensic Center shows local drug-related deaths hit a new record high in 2022, even if the increase from the year before was small. There was also a one-year spike in suicide rates. Both are most common among middle-aged white men. We look at the report and talk to Chris Thomas, chief administrative officer for the Forensic Center.

The next director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory brings with him experience at the world’s longest linear particle accelerator and at Argonne National Laboratory.

UT-Battelle, which manages ORNL for the U.S. Department of Energy, named Stephen K. Streiffer to head the lab’s operations. He begins work at ORNL in October. (Photo by Marc Lopez/SLAC)

“Stephen is a proven leader with diverse experience and a commitment to mission-driven research and development,” Lou Von Thaer, CEO of Battelle and chair of UT-Battelle, said in a news release. “Throughout his career, Stephen has leveraged existing strengths to create new opportunities and partnerships that strengthen our nation’s ability to innovate and compete.”

Streiffer is interim director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. Originally named the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the lab houses an accelerator two miles long just west of the Stanford University campus.

Streiffer joined SLAC last year as Stanford’s vice president responsible for oversight of the lab. He was named interim director in February 2023. He previously spent 24 years in research and leadership positions at Argonne, in Illinois outside Chicago. He concluded his tenure as the lab’s deputy director for science and technology.

From March 2020 through May 2022, Streiffer also served as co-director of DOE’s National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, a consortium that included ORNL and leveraged the national labs to address myriad challenges encountered during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I look forward to getting to work at Oak Ridge,” Streiffer said. “Through my roles with Office of Science programs and user facilities, I’ve collaborated with ORNL and its extremely talented staff for many years. It’s a great honor to be selected as lab director and to join the team, and I’m committed to continuing the transformative role Oak Ridge has played in our nation’s scientific enterprise for almost 80 years.”

Streiffer succeeds Thomas Zacharia, who retired at the end of 2022 after 35 years at ORNL. Jeff Smith has been serving as interim director.

Streiffer earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Stanford and a bachelor’s in materials science from Rice University. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the Materials Research Society and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

“Our national laboratories provide scientists with access to some of the most powerful research facilities in the world, and Stephen has been a key leader in the development of these capabilities,” said Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, director of DOE’s Office of Science. “At Oak Ridge, Stephen’s experience will help to ensure continued impact that benefits the nation and world.”

Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee and vice chair of the UT-Battelle Board of Governors, praised Streiffer’s appointment.

“UT is proud to partner with Battelle to manage what we believe is the best science laboratory in the country, if not the world,” he said. “One of our most important responsibilities is to select and hire the best leadership possible to lead the thousands of brilliant people that make the lab so successful. We believe we have done that in hiring Stephen Streiffer. He has the experience, the energy and the vision to lead the lab to even greater heights.”


U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett followed up on his star turn as a member of Wednesday’s House Oversight subcommittee hearing on UFOs with a virtually non-stop media tour that lasted into Thursday.

One of his appearances was on C-Span’s Washington Journal, where he told host Greta Brawner he was working on two hours’ sleep as he hit the same themes he drove home during the previous day’s hearing.

“We’re not alone, basically,” he said in summing up the hearing testimony. Primarily, Burchett demanded more transparency from the Pentagon and the intelligence community about possible encounters with UFOs, also known as “unidentified anomalous phenomena” or unidentified aerial phenomena.” At one point, he called the leadership in the Pentagon “war pimps.”

The Knoxville Republican said that he and the whistleblowers who testified during the hearing would continue the quest for more information about UFOs, and added he and other subcommittee members would ask the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to form a special committee to continue the work.

“These folks are not going away and I’m not going away,” Burchett said. “The members of Congress that were on that committee are not going away, and we’re going to start getting some answers.”

Washington Journal features calls from viewers, and one of them, Sean (or maybe Shaun) from Cleveland, Ohio, recounted an experience from 2017 when he claimed he awoke to find “alien footprints” on the floor. He took video of the scene and sent it to one of the whistleblowers Burchett has been interviewing.

At the end of the half-hour program, Burchett told Brawner, “I just want some transparency, ma’am.”

An appearance on CNN wasn’t so cordial when the discussion descended from questions of alien life in the universe to the Hunter Biden saga, though Burchett also referred to host Sara Sidner as “ma’am.” Sidner pressed him on the lack of evidence to substantiate Republican allegations of bribery against Biden, and the GOP congressman accused the journalist of bias.

“We can sit here and argue about it — you’ve got your base, I’ve got mine,” he said.

“I don’t have a base,” Sidner interjected. “I’m a journalist. I don’t have a base, Democratic or Republican.”

Burchett responded, “I understand, ma’am, but let’s be honest. You work for Fox, you’d be right wing, and you all are the left wing. And I get it, that’s politics.”

“You don’t know my politics, sir. You really don’t know my politics,” she replied.

“I don’t believe that, ma’am,” Burchett said. “You can say that and have your fingers crossed under the table.”

Speaking of the Regional Forensic Center: During our interview with Chief Administrative Officer Chris Thomas, he said that the county is once again seeking a site for a new, expanded center.

The state has budgeted $20 million for the new center, to be matched by $10 million from the county. Thomas said it will provide more space and adequate parking to the center, which has outgrown its current location in near West Knoxville. But an initial plan to locate on the campus of the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm has been scrapped, he said, because there is no longer available space there.

"We are in the process of trying to find a new location," Thomas said. He added, "I believe we're very close to closing a deal on it."

You can hear our whole interview with Thomas on this week's Compass Points podcast, which will post online at 10 a.m. Sunday.


Former University of Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt would face nearly impossible odds to get back onto a college sideline, but yesterday his dad hired him to be a high-school assistant.

Plainview High School football coach Dale Pruitt hired his 49-year-old son six weeks after the NCAA slapped Jeremy Pruitt with a six-year show-cause penalty that includes a mandatory one-year suspension if he gets a college coaching job.

Pruitt is returning to his hometown of Rainsville, Ala., where he was a Plainview High star and later an assistant coach early in his career. He will also teach physical education and coach junior-high basketball. The DeKalb County Board of Education, which hired Pruitt’s wife last month as a reading/math intervention teacher, approved the appointment yesterday morning, according to al.com.

“He’s a hometown hero,” Plainview principal Chris Clark said. “His kids have gone to school here. He’s a great teacher, he’s a great coach. He was the most-qualified person for the job. We’re lucky to have him.” 

Pruitt is far from a hero in Knoxville, where his UT teams went 16-19 in three seasons, though the NCAA vacated the 11 victories from 2019 and 2020 as a result of the recruiting violations that had led UT Chancellor Donde Plowman to fire him in January 2021.

The NCAA also placed UT on a five-year probation, slashed scholarships, limited recruiting, and fined the Athletic Department $8 million — roughly the amount the school would have received from two bowl games. Six other coaches and football staff members also received show-cause penalties of varying lengths of time, which means the NCAA must clear them before they can work in college athletics again.

Weekend leisure links.

Read: Wonder Stories (April 1931)

Watch: Kukeri (2023)

Listen: "Help Me Make It Through the Night" Kris Kristofferson & Sinead O'Connor (2010)

Look: Casimir B. Mayshark (Pulp Artists)

Laugh: "Werner Herzog Reviews a Hotel on Yelp" Paul F. Tomkins

Young Stephen's first accelerator experiment.