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NNSA Sites, Labs Earn 12 R&D 100 Awards

on June 20, 2012 - 12:51pm


NNSA News:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today congratulated its laboratories and production sites for receiving 12 of R&D Magazine’s 2012 R&D 100 Awards.

"Congratulations to this year's R&D 100 award winners," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. "The research and development at the Department of Energy's laboratories continues to help the nation meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security and improve our economic competitiveness."

Awarded annually by R&D Magazine to the best technological advances at universities, private corporations, and government labs around the world, the R&D 100 Awards are recognized as the “Oscars of Innovation.”

First awarded in 1963 as the I-R 100s, many have become household names, helping shape everyday life for many Americans.

“The men and women working throughout the nuclear security enterprise are at the leading edge of science and technology,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “This year’s R&D 100 award winners are receiving well deserved recognition for their work to implement the president’s nuclear security agenda, enhance our national security and overcome some of our greatest challenges. For that I extend them my most sincere congratulations and thanks.”

The following is a list and summaries of the R&D 100 award recipients at NNSA sites and laboratories this year:

Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • UTurn– Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have developed a method that produces two new uranium iodide reagents: UI4 (1,4-dioxane) 2 and UI3 (1,4-dioxane) 1.5. This cost-effective, environmentally green, and safe method will not only provide a nondestructive path forward for more than 5,300 metric tons of stockpiled nuclear waste but also stands to revolutionize the use of depleted uranium in chemistry, catalysis, materials science, and energy. This award was won by Jaqueline L. Kiplinger, Marisa J. Monreal, Robert K. Thomson, Thibault Cantat, and Nicholas E. Travia.
  • Sequedex– Sequedex is a revolutionary software package that can chew through one human genome’s worth of DNA analysis in 30 minutes on a single core of a laptop while you are using the other cores to read R&D Magazine. Sequedex gets its performance boost by combining keyword recognition technology from web search engines with evolutionary theory, placing short “reads” of DNA from any organism on the Tree of Life.

Sequedex makes it possible for a scientist to explore a community of microorganisms by analyzing the DNA from a spoonful of dirt, during the course of an afternoon, using equipment that could be carried on the back of a mule. This award was won by Joel Berendzen, Nicolas Hengartner, Judith Cohn and Benjamin McMahon.


A winning streak

Since 1978 Los Alamos has won 124 of the prestigious R&D100 awards that celebrate the top 100 proven technological advances of the year as judged by R&D Magazine. These technologies include innovative new materials, chemistry breakthroughs, biomedical products, consumer items, testing equipment, and high-energy physics.

Since 1995, winning innovations have returned more than $45 million in funding to Los Alamos in the form of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, Work for Others, User Facility Agreements and licenses.

More than 80 patent awards have been associated with winners with many more patents pending. More than 25 percent of LANL's commercial licenses and 35 percent of noncommercial licenses can be attributed to R&D 100 winners.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  • High-performance coatings via HVLAD – High Velocity Laser Accelerated Deposition (known as HVLAD) is a new photonic method for producing protective coatings with ultra high-strength, explosively bonded interfaces. These coatings prevent corrosion, wear and other modes of degradation in extreme environments.

HVLAD was developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers Joseph Farmer and Alexander Rubenchik with help from Livermore-based Metal Improvement Company.

HVLAD can be used to clad high-temperature, high-strength structural materials such as ODS steel with special corrosion-resistant coatings to protect them from attack by high-temperature coolants. Such coatings and materials will be crucial to future fusion reactors, while other important uses include bearings and shafts for wind turbines, corrosion-resistant structures of offshore platforms, better pipelines for oil and gas transmission, and ultra-hard corrosion-resistant surfaces for naval ships.

  • LEOPARD – The world’s most energetic lasers greatly benefit from operating at the maximum energy that can be safely extracted from their laser amplifiers. Such is the case at the lab’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), which houses the world’s most energetic laser.

To enhance the operability of these laser facilities, as well as meet the requirements of future laser-driven fusion power plants now under conceptual design, LLNL engineer John Heebner has developed LEOPARD – Laser Energy Optimization by Precision Adjustments to the Radiant Distribution. LEOPARD precisely adjusts a laser beam’s radiant distribution or intensity profile, enabling the beam to extract the maximum amount of energy from the laser amplifiers while preserving a high degree of reliability among the optical components.

The LEOPARD system may also find use in laser-based machining, surgery, lithography and defense applications.

  • Plastic Scintillators for neutron and gamma ray detection – Ensuring the U.S. remains safe from a nuclear or radiological attack has motivated the search for more definitive radiation detection and identification technologies. Detecting neutrons and gamma rays, and distinguishing one from the other, are key to identifying nuclear substances such as uranium and plutonium and differentiating them from benign radioactive sources.

A team of LLNL researchers, led by Natalia Zaitseva and Steve Payne, has developed the first plastic material capable of efficiently distinguishing neutrons from gamma rays, something not thought possible for the past five decades or so.

With this major technology advance, pulse-shape discrimination using plastic scintillators can offer the same or even betterresolution compared to standard commercial liquid scintillators, but without the associated and well-known hazards of liquids. And with the material's low cost, huge plastic sheets could be formed easily into dramatically larger surface areas than other neutron detectors currently used and could aid in the protection of ports, stadiums and other large facilities.

  • Snowflake Power Divertor for nuclear fusion reactors – Moving away from a fossil-fuel based electricity supply is critical to sustain natural resources, reduce carbon emissions and stability. Magnetic fusion energy sources, such as doughnut-shaped tokamaks, could be a replacement.

A key problem for a commercial tokamak is distributing the hot plasma exhaust of hundreds of megawatts over a sufficiently large wall surface area. Existing techniques magnetically divert the heat flux to specially designed plates, yet the projected power density is well beyond the capability of any material.

The Snowflake Power Divertor, developed by LLNL researcher Dmitri Ryutov, uses a previously unknown configuration of the divertor magnetic field whose shape is reminiscent of a snowflake. The resulting magnetic field lines spread the exhaust over a larger wall area and reduce the exhaust heat flux to manageable levels.

The Snowflake Divertor already has demonstrated large heat-flux reduction in tokamaks in Princeton, N.J., and Lausanne, Switzerland, and will be installed in several facilities under design.

Sandia National Laboratories

  • Computer Chip Configuration for Neutron Generators –The ultra-compact neutron generator, dubbed a “neutristor,” is a thousand times smaller than anything on the market today. A three-year Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project led by Sandia researcher Juan Elizondo-Decanini turned away from conventional cylindrical tubes and demonstrated the basic technology necessary for a tiny, mass-produced neutron generator that can be adapted to medical and industrial applications.

“The idea of a computer chip-shaped neutron source — compact, simple and inexpensive to mass-produce — opens the door for a host of applications,” Elizondo-Decanini said. Mounting the package on a computer chip allows varying numbers of layers in a stack, and the layers can be rotated for radial discharge to ramp up output.

Elizondo-Decanini’s vision for the neutron generator of the future is one that uses no tritium and no vacuum and is made in a solid-state package. The technology is ready to be licensed for some commercial applications, but more complex commercial applications could take five to 10 years.

  • The “Sandia Cooler” – also known as the “Air Bearing Heat Exchanger” will significantly reduce the energy needed to cool the processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments, said Sandia researcher Jeff Koplow.

With the Sandia Cooler, heat from a conventional CPU cooler is efficiently transferred across a narrow air gap from a stationary base to a rotating structure. The normally stagnant boundary layer of air enveloping the cooling fins is subjected to a powerful centrifugal pumping effect, causing the boundary layer thickness to be reduced to ten times thinner than normal.

The Sandia Cooler also offers benefits in other applications where thermal management and energy efficiency are important, particularly heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC).

  • Microsystems Enabled Photovoltaics – Sandia’s Microsystems Enabled Photovoltaics (MEPV), also known as “solar glitter,” combines mature technology and tools currently used in microsystem production with groundbreaking advances in photovoltaic cell design.

The cells are created using mature microdesign and microfabrication techniques, said Sandia researcher Vipin Gupta. The cells are then released into a solution similar to printing ink and ‘printed’ onto a low-cost substrate with embedded contacts and microlenses for focusing sunlight onto the cells.

Each cell can be as small as 14 microns thick and 250 microns wide, reducing material costs while enhancing cell performance by improving carrier collection and potentially achieving higher open circuit voltages. The technology has potential applications in buildings, houses, clothing, portable electronics, vehicles, and other contoured structures.

  • Preparation of Nucleic Acid Libraries for Ultra-High-Throughput Sequencing with a Digital Microfluidic Hub– builds from Sandia’s RapTOR (Rapid Threat Organism Recognition) Grand Challenge. RapTOR rapidly identifies and characterizes unknown pathogens. It is a digital microfluidics “Grand Central Station” that manages and routes samples.

“We’re taking advantage of DNA sequencing technology,” said Sandia’s Kamlesh (Ken) Patel. “Reading the genetic code, the original building blocks, allows you to begin characterizing a pathogen at the most basic level.” Patel leads the Automated Molecular Biology (AMB) research to scale down and automate traditional sample preparation methods such as normalization, ligation, digestion and size-based separation — methods that traditionally require a skilled scientist and take days or even weeks.

The hub functions like a train station for samples, shrinking and enlarging samples as necessary and manipulating their speeds. Samples are cargoed within a microliter-scale droplet that is spatially moved across the Teflon-coated surface of the hub when electrostatic forces are appropriately applied. The hub moves samples from one step to the next with the flexibility to skip or repeat steps on the fly. The hub also manages the size of the sample, extracting the right amount for each process.

Joint Lab/Site Awards

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex:

  • Valveless Laser Processing – Valveless Laser Processing (VLP)technology eliminates the use of valves by using a laser to repeatedly access and reseal hermetically sealed containers. Applications of VLP range from advancing the safety of sampling high-hazard waste containers to improving leak-testing of pacemakers before use.

A significant advance in VLP is the unique laser-alloying technique that prevents cracks on materials that are typically prone to cracking. With the alloying technique, it is possible to reseal containers by welding them with the alloy material and then certify these seals to the highest standards, thus allowing nondestructive certification and reuse of sampled containers. This award was won by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and National Security Technologies, LLC:

  • Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter – The Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter (MPDV) is a portable optical velocimetry system that simultaneously measures up to 32 discrete surface velocities onto a single digitizer by multiplexing signals in frequency and time.

As recently as one year ago, scientists measuring shock wave surface velocities typically collected four channels of velocimetry data, and used extrapolation, assumptions and models to determine what was occurring in regions of the experiment that were not observed directly.

Thanks to advances in probes, digitizers and technology in telecommunications, scientists David Esquibel and Howard Bender from National Security Technologies, LLC, with assistance from Livermore researcher Ted Strand, were recently able to record 96 channels of data for a fraction of the original cost, using MPDV.

MPDV has been used at NIF and has allowed scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Nevada National Security Site to gather velocimetry data on key national security work at unprecedented density and comprehensiveness.