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1998 R&D 100 Award Submissions

Discoveries, developments, advancements and inventions pouring from Los Alamos make America—and the world—a better and safer place and bolster national security.
R&D WinnerCyrax™: Portable, 3-D Laser-Mapping and Imaging System

Features

Cyrax™ is an integrated hardware and software solution to three-dimensional (3-D) data capture. The laser radar rapidly scans physical structures to acquire accurate geometric descriptions of real scenes, and the software supports visualization, modeling and export to common 2-D and 3-D computer-aided design programs. Cyrax produces digital images, like those created by a digital camera, but with true and accurate 3-D information so that each data point has precisely known coordinates.

Applications

Cyrax is targeted at several different markets for which the digital capture of the physical world has been difficult, impossible or cost prohibitive. Among them are the following:

  • Architecture/engineering/construction (AEC)
    – document as-built condition of facilities for revamp work
    – site surveying and terrain mapping
    – field positioning and layout
  • Manufacturing and mechanical
    – automotive
    – rapid prototyping
    – reverse engineering
    – robotic vision
    – equipment fit-up check for AEC applications
    – 3-D digital cataloging of parts
  • General
    – motion picture special effects
    – historical archiving of important structures and artifacts

Benefits

  • Performs reality capture even for inaccessible objects that were previously impossible or prohibitively expensive to capture
  • Saves time and cost by an order of magnitude over existing methods
  • Reduces construction time which, in turn, makes manufacturers more competitive
  • Allows geometrical description of historic objects to be captured and shared with scholars and others interested in visualizing or reproducing the objects
  • Allows 3-D information acquired at a site to be sent electronically to engineering and design offices, and allows information to be shared instantly by many experts at diverse locations
Low-Smoke PyrotechnicsR&D Winner

Features

Combining an energetic, nitrogen-rich fuel with nonmetallic oxidizers and unprecedentedly low levels of metal coloring agents, our new pyrotechnic mixtures produce clean flames that generate virtually no smoke or ash. Our mixtures enhance the deep, bright colors typical of traditional pyrotechnics and offer a reliable alternative to black-powder-based propellants at a reasonable price. A thousand years after the invention of black powder, our mixtures make it possible for the first time to produce spectacular fireworks of any size that are safe and effective in either indoor or outdoor settings.

Applications

Our low-smoke pyrotechnic mixtures are currently designed for

  • indoor fireworks—stage fireworks used for entertainment in theatrical productions, films and rock-and-roll concerts; stage or aerial fireworks used for celebration at political rallies and sporting events; and table-top fireworks used for education in chemistry demonstrations
  • outdoor fireworks at annual celebrations or at nightly theme-park displays

Potential future applications for our mixtures include

  • low-smoke propellants in military rockets
  • safe, noncorrosive propellants for deploying automobile air bags

Benefits

Our new, low-smoke pyrotechnic mixtures have a number of advantages over traditional pyrotechnic formulations. Our mixtures

  • generate environmentally friendly, gaseous products: nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water
  • minimize the risk of respiratory illnesses because virtually no smoke or ash is produced
  • greatly reduce the amount of metal salts needed to color the flame and thereby prevent dangerous levels of toxic metals from accumulating in the soil and groundwater
  • increase safety during shipping because the fuel and oxidizer can be transported separately and mixed at the destination
  • produce more intense colors in a wider variety of hues
  • create comparable pyrotechnic effects with half of the material weight that has traditionally been used
SOLVE: Creating Three-Dimensional Pictures of Protein Molecules from X-Ray Diffraction SpotsR&D Winner

Features

Because three-dimensional (3-D) pictures of proteins provide important information about the way in which proteins operate, they are indispensable to applications in biotechnology and health care. SOLVE is the first expert system that produces 3-D pictures of protein structure by automatically solving for the missing information in x-ray crystallography. Its speed—it is faster than any other available method—and ease of operation make it suitable for the rapid analysis of the shapes of protein molecules.

Applications

Currently used in government, academic and commercial laboratories, our technology can be applied to

  • rational drug discovery and thus to the design of new, improved drugs
  • the engineering of enzymes with new catalytic properties useful in the rapid breakdown of toxic waste and in rapid chemical synthesis
  • the engineering of robust, heat-tolerant enzymes useful in chemical manufacture

Benefits

  • Creates accurate pictures of proteins from x-ray diffraction data
  • Constructs pictures fast (typically 6 minutes to 5 hours versus 1 to 2 days)
  • Is automated (even the analysis and evaluation of starting solutions, that is, educated guesses about the arrangement of the heavy atoms in a protein)
  • Evaluates numerous solutions (500 to 1,000 versus 1 to 10)
  • Is easy to operate (a novice technician can operate the system, whereas an expert in crystallography is required for other related software applications)
Underground RadioR&D Winner

Features

Underground Radio is the first portable radio receiver able to support two-way voice communication through hundreds of meters of solid rock. It achieves high sensitivity and low noise by using a detector made of high-temperature superconductor material, which loses all electrical resistance at liquid-nitrogen temperatures or below. Underground Radio’s signals are indicated by a flashing light, or messages can appear on a pager-like alphanumeric display. With a bandwidth of several kilohertz—more than 1 order of magnitude larger than that of other through-the-earth radio systems—Underground Radio can also be used for voice communication.

Applications

  • Alerts miners to underground conditions during fires or rockfalls
  • Locates miners trapped underground
  • Provides convenient, portable underground communication
  • Provides control and data links for robotic mining machines
  • Accurately determines the positions of underground machines
  • Provides portable underwater radio communication
  • Makes downhole magnetic-field measurements for mineral exploration

Benefits

  • Saves lives during mining emergencies
  • Assists rescue efforts following cave-ins
  • Gives miners “roam” capability
  • Improves the mobility of robotic mining vehicles and machines
  • Guides mining machines to important mineral resources
  • Allows divers and people in small submersible craft to communicate underwater
  • Locates mineral resources more accurately than existing techniques
GeneFinder: Ultrasensitive Gene-Detection System

Features

GeneFinder is a rapid, highly sensitive system that directly detects and quantifies specific nucleic-acid sequences in complex genomic samples. The system couples a two-probe hybridization protocol with two-color fluorescence detection of single molecules to create an invaluable tool for finding sequences characteristic of a specific taxonomic group, physiological function or genetic trait. GeneFinder is poised to revolutionize medical diagnostics and numerous other applications that rely upon accurate detection of short DNA or RNA sequences.

Applications

  • Medical diagnosis for detecting genetic disorders, early-stage bacterial or viral infections and early-stage tumor development
  • Environmental analysis for monitoring the presence of minute quantities of biological-warfare agents and for determining levels of pathogens in public waters
  • Quality control of food products, including screening for pathogenic bacterial and viral strains such as E. coli and Salmonella
  • Forensic analysis of minuscule crime-scene samples

Benefits

  • Analyzes samples as dilute as 40 attomolar (40 • 10–18 molar) in 5–10 minutes
  • Detects single molecules and thereby eliminates the need for enzymatic amplification by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Identifies DNA or RNA sequences as short as 24 nucleotides in a genome of 3 billion nucleotides
  • Determines the absolute number of molecules containing a target sequence
  • Reduces the cost per assay by over an order of magnitude
  • Eliminates the risks of sample contamination associated with PCR
  • Provides a continuous, automated analytical technique that saves time and minimizes manual labor
Optical Tool Locator

Features

The Optical Tool Locator (OTL) is an optical system designed for use on a precision lathe to position the cutting tool edge on the ideal path to make a precision contoured part. The OTL is especially useful for tight-tolerance and delicate machining operations. Machinists use it to (1) set tools accurately in three planes without touching the tool or the part, (2) detect and accurately replace damaged or worn-out tools and (3) measure tool radius at the machine. This unique three-in-one system makes it possible to easily meet a level of precision that has been difficult to reach in the past. With this new level of precision, machinists avoid costly, time-consuming and frustrating rework on parts that do not pass a final inspection. A tool-setting system with the accuracy and three-in-one capability of the OTL is not commercially available.

Applications

Although the OTL was designed for defense applications, it could be widely used in the machine tool industry. According to the Association for Manufacturing Technology, the United States machine tool industry was an $8.6 billion business in 1997. The OTL can play a useful role in the high-precision end of the business, which we estimate is at least $1 billion per year. Precision machine tool companies make high-precision delicate parts, which require accurate tool setup, for industries like automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, medical and oil and gas.

Benefits

  • Accurately locates tools without touching the tool, the part or the fixture that holds the part
  • Increases the accuracy of machine tool setups, which reduces costly and time-consuming rework
  • Replaces complex manual procedures now commonly used for setting, measuring and inspecting tools
  • Reduces human error because it is accurate and easy to use
  • Allows the use of inexpensive tool inserts for precision machining, which reduces cost
  • Sets tools with nonconductive coatings, unlike some widely used electronic touch probe systems
  • Can be adapted to many different machine configurations because it is controller independent
NTvision: Breakthrough Camera Technology

Features

NTvision is an intelligent, digital surveillance camera system that not only records an event but also analyzes the images it captures to detect any change to the number, characteristics or position of objects in a scene. From this analysis, it creates a visual key pinpointing every changed object, formats the information in hypertext markup language (HTML), and makes it available to authorized users through an intranet or Internet connection only seconds after an event occurs. NTvision can be programmed to ignore inconsequential changes in a scene (shifting light and shadow) and discard the images of events that produce no lasting effect (a passing car or person).

Applications

NTvision is available to monitor and secure valuable or sensitive inventories at sites such as

  • nuclear materials storage facilities
  • medical and pharmaceutical laboratories
  • corporate office suites and office buildings after hours
  • construction sites
  • warehouses and factories
  • vehicle parking structures, storage yards or depots
  • aircraft maintenance facilities
  • retail and wholesale businesses

Additional applications lack only field testing, after which NTvision will be useful for studying animal behavior, lightning and the growth and behavior of microscopic organisms (a camera can be attached to a microscope). It will also be able to record and analyze mechanical or physical abnormalities in large, rotating industrial machinery.

Benefits

  • Automatic analysis of recorded images
  • Accurate, detailed accounting of physical changes to objects in a scene
  • Immediate data access for authenticated users by intranet or Internet
  • Fully functional local and networked configurations
  • Wide-ranging, programmable features
  • Simple, inexpensive upgrades and extensions
  • Intuitive user interface with standard Web browser (no other user software required)
Passivating CdZnTe Detector Surfaces with Energetic Oxygen Atoms

Features

We use energetic oxygen atoms to form a thick, uniform layer of oxide on the surface of CdZnTe radiation detectors. This passivating layer has high resistivity, is chemically stable and protects the detector. Our process works effectively at low substrate temperatures (~25°C), thus avoiding the detrimental changes in material properties that occur at elevated temperatures. By reducing the noise caused by surface leakage current, our process significantly improves the ability to resolve peaks in gamma-ray spectra. The result is improved performance, an expanded operating range and increased stability for CdZnTe-based gamma- and x-ray spectrometers. A 25% improvement in resolution has been realized for the gamma-ray peak of cesium-137 with a passivated commercial detector.

Applications

Our passivation process will improve the performance and manufacturing yield of CdZnTe detectors, especially large-volume detectors, making gamma- and x-ray spectrometers more efficient and widely available for

  • nuclear materials safeguards, detection of nuclear smuggling, treaty verification and nuclear weapons dismantlement
  • nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging
  • environmental monitoring and restoration
  • planetary sciences, astrophysics and geophysics
  • industrial uses of radiation and radioisotopes

Our process can also be used to passivate other compound semiconductor materials (such as HgCdTe, GaAs, GaP and InP), improving the performance of electronic devices made with them.

Benefits

  • Improves the energy resolution, dynamic range and durability of CdZnTe detectors for quantitative spectroscopic measurements
  • Enables development of more-compact, low-power gamma- and x-ray spectrometers
  • Improves image quality for medical diagnosis while lowering radiation doses to patients
  • Enables wider use of CdZnTe detectors in space exploration and industrial applications
  • Doubles manufacturing yields for large-volume, spectrometer-grade CdZnTe detectors
  • Exploits revolutionary advance in performing low-temperature surface chemistry
RadNet: Protocol for Communicating with Remote Detectors

Features

RadNet is a simple, bandwidth-efficient procedure for relaying measurements over existing local networks and the internet. It can link hundreds—even thousands—of instruments to networked computers, allowing two-way communication between instruments and computers. Since September 1997, the protocol has been adopted as the nuclear industry standard for three groups of radiation detectors—contamination, area and air monitors—and for generic sensors that measure temperature, volume, pressure, flow, vacuum, wind speed and wind direction. The protocol is flexible enough to allow data transmission from any instrument that takes measurements.

Applications

  • Real-time, remote monitoring, control and calibration of radiation detectors, pollution detectors and other sensors
  • Monitoring over the internet—useful for safeguarding nuclear material as required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
  • Monitoring of instruments in control-intensive processes such as manufacturing or power generation

Benefits

  • RadNet allows new and old instruments made by any manufacturer to communicate over existing local networks and the Internet.
  • More than 6,000 instruments of different makes can be connected to a single local network.
  • Thousands of computers on a network can receive instrument data in real time without significantly impacting the network.
  • Monitoring computers do not require reconfiguration if new instruments are added to the network—a RadNet packet from an instrument contains all the information a monitoring computer requires to decode the packet.
  • Once a networked computer is set up to “listen” for the data broadcast by instruments, ancillary services—automatic paging, e-mail alerts and database storage of instrument readings—can be easily employed.
RAFEL: Regenerative-Amplifier Free-Electron Laser

Features

The RAFEL employs a unique optical feedback scheme to produce infrared laser light at the highest peak power achieved to date in a compact free-electron laser (FEL). The result is a rugged source of coherent light with a wavelength that can be adjusted from 3 to 20 micrometers and with a peak laser-beam power of 50 megawatts—at least 10 times higher than that of the nearest FEL competitor.

Applications

The RAFEL can be used to

  • cut, drill or weld single- or multicomponent materials
  • perform laser surgery
  • produce pure starting materials for medical isotope production
  • conduct basic research on materials properties
  • measure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

Benefits

Used as noted above, the RAFEL can achieve the following:

  • Process single- and multicomponent materials at the wavelength best suited to each material. At present only two types of single-component materials can be processed with existing high-power lasers, which have fixed wavelengths
  • Perform laser surgery at a wavelength of 6 micrometers, minimizing damage to collateral tissue. Laser surgery is now performed at 3 micrometers, a wavelength that causes considerable collateral damage
  • Assist in producing medical isotopes for cancer treatment or medical imaging (Only FELs offer high-power, tunable radiation of the proper wavelength.)
  • Provide high-power, tunable infrared radiation to study material properties, such as high-temperature superconductivity
  • Be transported around the world to measure greenhouse gases; other FELs are too big and delicate to be moved
SCORR: Path to Least Photoresistance

Features

SCORR is a two-step photoresist-removal process: (1) a CO2-based supercritical fluid solvent penetrates and softens the photoresist and (2) a pulsed solvent flow completely removes the photoresist from the semiconductor wafer. Because it does not use corrosive or toxic chemicals, SCORR reduces aqueous and nonaqueous wastes and the cost of treatment necessary before waste discharge. The waste generated as concentrated, spent resist is nonregulated and nonpolluting. Finally, SCORR does not affect previously applied thin-film metallizations. It is the only nonhazardous, nontoxic photoresist-removal system fully compatible with existing integrated-circuit manufacturing processes.

Applications

  • Removes hard-baked photoresists from both metallized and nonmetallized semiconductor wafers
  • Effectively cleans most organic contaminants (oils, greases, lubricants, and residual solvents) from inorganic substrates (silicon, glass, metals, and ceramics) without altering the substrate surface (It is, therefore, well suited for precision-cleaning applications.)
  • Is applicable to other manufacturing processes requiring photoresist masking, such as the production of optical waveguides and flat-panel displays

Benefits

  • Uses a nonflammable, nontoxic, biodegradable, virtually inexhaustible solvent
  • Helps the semiconductor industry comply with federal and state environmental regulations by significantly reducing hazardous emissions while producing only nonregulated, nonpolluting wastes
  • Is compatible with both metallized and nonmetallized semiconductor wafers
  • Removes photoresists faster than current technologies (see Comparison Matrix)
  • Uses a solvent whose cost is about 10% that of other photoresist-stripping solvents
  • Replaces water with supercritical CO2 in the final rinse step of the photoresist removal process
Sealed-Container Sampling Tools

Features

The Los Alamos Sealed-Container Sampling Tools allow the user to drill into a closed container, extract a sample of the contents (liquid, gas or flowable powder) and permanently reseal the point of entry without ever exposing the container’s contents. Three models offer different advantages. Model A drills, samples and reseals the container in a single step. It can be reused on different containers. Models B1 and B2, which stay in place in the container wall, allow multiple samples to be taken from the same container without redrilling. B1 and B2 can also serve as attachments for plumbing, valves, or analytical instruments. All three models work with a common, battery-powered hand drill, which eliminates the need for power cords or other outside power sources.

Applications

  • Investigating suspected caches of chemicals, nuclear materials or biological agents destined for weapons of mass destruction
  • Enforcing drug and environmental laws
  • Checking containers at emergency and disaster sites
  • Sampling industrial chemicals for verification and quality control tests
  • Rapidly neutralizing (introducing water into) ammonium nitrate-fuel oil (ANFO) barrels prepared as terrorist bombs
  • Monitoring and venting storage containers
  • Transferring liquids into and out of containers

Benefits

  • Small, hand-held, fully portable
  • Maneuverable in tight spaces
  • Easy to use
  • No release of container contents, before or after sampling
  • Completely safe: no hazards for the user or the environment
  • Usable at any spot on the container: top, sides or bottom
  • Applicable to every size, composition and type of container (not just 55-gallon drums)
  • No need to move or open containers
  • Low purchase and per-use cost
  • No need to access more than a few square inches of the container’s exterior
WAND: Waste Assay for Nonradioactive Disposal

Features

WAND solves a national waste disposal problem by rapidly inspecting paper and other types of low-density waste generated in nuclear-material-handling areas for radioactive contamination. At detection levels and throughputs exceeding those of any commercially available system, it determines whether the radioactivity of waste is low enough to meet government standards for waste disposal in public landfills. It is an automated and cost-effective method for screening potentially contaminated waste. WAND has been approved by the Department of Energy (DOE) for verifying releasable waste from the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Applications

Because it detects a wide range of alpha, beta and gamma emitters, WAND can be used for waste inspection and radiation surveys at a variety of nuclear facilities:

  • American and British nuclear research laboratories
  • nuclear power reactors
  • commercial nuclear facilities
  • nuclear medicine facilities

Benefits

As a nuclear waste screening system, WAND offers the benefits of automation, sensitivity, high-volume throughput and cost-effectiveness. Its use will mean that wastes disposed of in expensive, low-level radioactive landfills are not inflated with wastes that are clean enough to be disposed of in public landfills. WAND will also ensure that wastes from nuclear process streams that are disposed of in public landfills do indeed meet the contamination criteria for such disposal.

R&D Winner = Winner


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