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1999 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 WinnerAcoustic Stirling Heat Engine

Features

Our new heat engine efficiently converts heat to intense acoustic power in a simple device that comprises only pipes and conventional heat exchangers and has no moving parts. The acoustic power can be used directly in acoustic refrigerators or pulse-tube refrigerators to provide heat-driven refrigeration with no moving parts, or it can be used to generate electricity via a linear alternator or other electroacoustic power transducer. The engine’s 30% efficiency and high reliability make medium-sized natural-gas liquefaction plants (with a capacity of up to a million gallons per day) and residential cogeneration economically feasible.

Applications

  • Combustion-powered liquefaction of natural gas to recover gas now flared at remote and offshore oil wells
  • Residential cogeneration for more efficient energy use
  • Local combustion-powered air separation and liquefaction to reduce transportation costs for industrial gases
  • Solar- or waste-heat-powered generation of electricity

Benefits

  • More efficient than other no-moving-parts heat engines
  • Made from inexpensive, low-tech hardware
  • Highly reliable
  • Environmentally benign
Atmospheric-Pressure Plasma Jet (APPJ)R&D Winner

Features

The Atmospheric-Pressure Plasma Jet (APPJ) produces a high-flux gas stream of reactive chemical species that can clean, decontaminate, etch, or coat surfaces—at atmospheric pressure and low temperature. Until now such plasma treatments could take place only in vacuum. Spraying surfaces in the open air, somewhat like a fire extinguisher, the plasma jet can convert a vast range of organic residues or toxins into water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other nontoxic gases—in a minute or less. And unlike other atmospheric-pressure plasma sources, whose high temperatures limit their use to indiscriminate “burning” rather than selective chemical reactions, the plasma jet’s gas stream is cool enough to treat paper without scorching it.

Applications

  • Cleans the steel draw rolls used to produce nylon
  • Deposits silicon dioxide films onto plastics and other materials
  • Removes photoresist from silicon wafers
  • Etches polyimide, tungsten, tantalum, silicon and silicon dioxide
  • Makes teflon wettable so it can bond with other materials
  • Removes graffiti
  • Decontaminates surfaces exposed to chemical or biological warfare agents or surfaces containing radioactive materials
  • Has potential for sterilizing food-processing and medical equipment, restoring art and cleaning clothes and carpets

Benefits

  • Cuts time and cost and eliminates solvents in cleaning the steel draw rolls used to produce nylon or in processing semiconductor wafers
  • Could improve the taste and shelf-lives of foods and beverages stored in plastic containers
  • Removes graffiti without damaging underlying surfaces
  • Allows equipment contaminated with chemical or biological warfare agents to be reused or contaminated areas to be reinhabited
  • Concentrates removed radioactive waste into a small filter
CHEMIN: Miniaturized X-Ray Diffraction and X-Ray Fluorescence InstrumentR&D Winner

Features

CHEMIN quickly and unambiguously identifies the elements and the minerals or synthetic crystals in powders and fine-grained samples. An inch-square charge-coupled device (CCD) records both the x-ray fluorescence spectrum and the pattern of diffracted x-rays from a sample held in the path of an x-ray beam—the fluorescence spectrum characterizes the chemistry of the sample, and the x-ray diffraction pattern reveals the crystalline makeup. The first instrument optimized for collecting both kinds of data, CHEMIN condenses the functions of large x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence laboratory instruments into a miniature package, small enough to hold in your hands. CHEMIN gathers high-resolution data from less than a milligram of sample material.

Applications

Some of the applications of CHEMIN include

  • identifying the elements and crystalline constituents of tiny samples—particularly useful when material is costly, rare or difficult to fabricate
  • determining the nature of contaminated material—CHEMIN can fit inside a glove box or shielded container
  • sampling the feedstock in industrial processes for which mineral content is crucial to the integrity of the product, such as steel and cement production
  • analyzing geologic samples for mineral content, especially when minute amounts must be recognized—e.g., when testing for precious minerals or dilute hazardous material
  • assaying powdered rock for mineral content at mining sites

Benefits

  • Thorough, rapid analysis of any powder or fine-grained sample
  • Less than a milligram of material needed for analysis
  • Samples require little preparation
  • Small, lightweight instrument—easily set up anywhere electricity is available
PREDICT: New Approach to Product DevelopmentR&D Winner

Features

PREDICT (Performance and Reliability Evaluation with Diverse Information Combination and Tracking) is a method of estimating the performance or reliability of a product when test data are scarce or unavailable. PREDICT accomplishes this by (1) documenting and exploiting the expert knowledge of a company’s designers, engineers, and scientists; (2) folding uncertainties about the product’s expected performance into its calculations and (3) mathematically combining expert knowledge and uncertainty with a wide variety of existing “hard” data. Hard data includes infomation such as performance results of similar products, test data from components of the product in question, and output from computer models of the product. As a “product” itself, PREDICT consists of customized training, a reference book, and sample tools (worksheets, mathematical formulas, computer codes) that users are taught to adapt to their particular situation.

Applications

PREDICT is designed (1) to estimate the performance of products while they are still concepts, that is, early enough to provide guidance for design changes before the expense of prototyping, and (2) to forecast the future performance of existing systems that cannot be tested but that must be guaranteed to perform as required when they are needed.

Benefits

For analytically predicting performance, PREDICT provides the following benefits:

  • Captures and exploits a company’s greatest asset—the expert knowledge of its employees
  • Prevents costly manufacturing surprises and product recalls
  • Provides guidance for prototype testing, resource allocation, and design and process changes
  • Monitors product/system performance through changes
  • Reveals and clarifies interactions in the system
  • Develops a formal record of knowledge to guide future product development
Real-Time, Puncture-Detecting, Self-Healing MaterialsR&D Winner

Features

Our real-time, puncture-detecting, self-healing materials, called INSTALARM Materials, provide instant electrical detection of punctures in personal protective clothing, storage containers, and related hazardous-materials applications. The materials are compatible with audible, visual, or computer alarm systems, and are flexible enough to be configured for almost any application. A unique layered construction allows INSTALARM Materials gloves or suits to trigger an alarm when two conductive layers, sandwiched within the material, are brought into contact with one another by any piercing object. In addition, the conducting layers are of a “gooey” substance that can reclose over certain breaches, making the material self-healing for many applications.

Applications

INSTALARM Materials can be used for puncture detection in

  • personal protective equipment—gloves, garments, biohazard suits, masks
  • containers—storage containers (for chemicals, biohazards, radionuclides), disposal bags, natural gas lines and oil pipelines
  • environmental containment—geomembranes (hazardous-waste sites/landfills and petroleum-storage areas)
  • many other places where it would be good to know if and when a breach has occurred

Benefits

INSTALARM Materials could save lives by instantaneously warning of material punctures, thereby minimizing workers’ exposure to chemicals, biohazards and radioactive contamination. They will also save time by eliminating the need for time-consuming glove-testing procedures, increase workers’ confidence in their ability to safely perform hazardous tasks within critical time periods and allow immediate implementation of emergency procedures in the event of a breach.

REED-MD: Computer Code for Predicting Dopant Density Profiles in Semiconductor WafersR&D Winner

Features

REED-MD is a computer code that accurately and efficiently predicts dopant density profiles in ion-implanted semiconductor wafers. Optimal semiconductor device performance depends on the careful control of these profiles which, until now, has required lengthy, expensive trial-and-error experiments. By simulating the paths of thousands of ions, REED-MD produces profiles more quickly and cheaply than those obtained from experiments. And the quality of REED-MD’s profiles rivals or exceeds that obtained experimentally. The code also has high accuracy for values of implant parameters that produce profiles difficult or impossible to measure experimentally.

Applications

REED-MD is currently used primarily by Motorola, but IBM and Intel are also emerging as serious users of the code. REED-MD can be used to

  • explore new combinations of implant ions and semiconductor targets
  • study existing ion/target combinations at very low ion implant energies
  • study the effects on implantation of amorphous or oxide-coated surfaces
  • explore new implantation methods
  • validate dopant density profiles obtained experimentally

Benefits

REED-MD’s speed, accuracy, flexibility and cost-effectiveness provide unprecedented power to explore new designs for semiconductor devices. It not only identifies useful ion/target combinations quickly and cost-effectively but also obtains dopant density profiles at the low ion energies for which it is difficult to obtain useful measurements. REED-MD will provide the profile data needed for the semiconductor industry to develop the next generation of faster microelectronic devices.

Sulfur Resistant Oxymitter 4000™R&D Winner

Features

Our product, the Sulfur Resistant Oxymitter 4000™, is the world’s only sulfur-resistant oxygen sensor for automatic combustion control. This sensor comprises a patented ceramic-electrode-based oxygen cell and proprietary brazing and packaging techniques, and it has survived over 12,000 hours of continuous operation in a high-sulfur and high-temperature environment. The unique ceramic–metal oxide-electrode in our sensor decreases the need for frequent replacement or calibration and will save manufacturers and electrical utility companies money and save our nonrenewable fossil fuel resources.

Applications

The Oxymitter 4000 will replace traditional platinum-zirconia oxygen sensors and find applications in

  • coal- and oil-fired industrial boilers
  • sulfur-recovery boilers
  • municipal utility companies burning high-sulfur coal or heavy fuel oil
  • process heaters and furnaces that use waste gases
  • spent-acid furnaces

Thanks to the Sulfur Resistant Oxymitter 4000, automatic combustion control will be affordable and available to more industries around the world. Because it is totally sulfur resistant, the Oxymitter 4000 has been proven to last 40 times longer than a traditional platinum-zirconia sensor in a high-sulfur, high-temperature environment. The Oxymitter 4000 does not have to be recalibrated as often as platinum-zirconia sensors, which means maintenance expenses, downtime and staffing requirements will be reduced. As automatic combustion control becomes more affordable, more industries will be likely to use it. This in turn means there will be less wasted fossil fuel, and the air pollution, acid rain and greenhouse gases associated with power generation and industrial manufacturing will be greatly minimized.

Applications of Stable-Isotope-Assisted Mass Spectrometry

Features

Stable-isotope-assisted mass spectrometry is an elegantly simple technique for verifying sequencing data and detecting genetic variations that combines the ease and efficiency of stable-isotope labeling with the speed of mass spectrometric analysis. Our technique is fast, accurate, inexpensive, easily automated, and bypasses the need for radioactive or fluorescent labels, both of which require careful handling and disposal. In our technique, we first amplify a target DNA sequence using stable-isotope-labeled nucleotides and then compare the masses of labeled and unlabeled fragments. The difference in masses, the mass shift, reflects the nucleotide composition of the fragment.

Applications

Our high-throughput DNA analysis technique will have application in

  • verifying DNA sequencing data
  • detecting sequence variations, including single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)
  • studying DNA-binding proteins

Benefits

Stable-isotope-assisted mass spectrometry is an easy, efficient labeling and analysis technique that saves time and money. Other benefits of our technique are that it

  • rapidly determines the nucleotide composition of a DNA fragment, regardless of its conformation,
  • resolves sequence ambiguities left open by gel electrophoresis,
  • contains built-in means for double-checking results,
  • eliminates the need for resequencing to verify results, and
  • bypasses the need for radioactive or chemical labels.
ARIES: Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System

Features

  • Cuts open and physically separates nuclear weapon components
  • Uses safe and waste-free techniques to destroy the weapon’s classified shape and geometry
  • Converts classified plutonium components into either unclassified plutonium metal or plutonium oxide
  • Packages the final product into two hermetically sealed containers
  • Decontaminates containers so that they are safely and easily removed from the plutonium glovebox environment
  • Uses nondestructive assay techniques to quantify and qualify each container’s contents without altering or opening the sealed containers (Technique enables containers to be readily inspected by international community)

Applications

  • Removes plutonium from the core of surplus nuclear weapons, thereby reducing worldwide nuclear arsenals
  • Converts the plutonium so that it can be either used as nuclear fuel in commercial light-water reactors or stored and inspected by the international community

Benefits

  • Eliminates components attractive to terrorists or black-market profiteers
  • Demonstrates to the world—and particularly to nuclear nations such as Russia—that the United States can follow through on its commitment to reduce the nuclear weapons stockpile
  • Minimizes the generation of additional radioactive and hazardous waste
  • Ensures worker safety by reducing the potential for radioactive contamination and exposure
Bone-Shaped Short-Fiber Composites

Features

Our bone-shaped short-fiber composites incorporate a new fiber design that allows their use in load-bearing applications. The bone-shaped fibers solve a long-standing dilemma that increasing the strength of conventional short-fiber composites simultaneously increases their brittleness. Our new composites can be used to make a wide range of load-bearing composite systems such as steel-fiber-reinforced concrete, polymer-fiber-reinforced polymer-matrix composites and advanced ceramic-fiber-reinforced metal- and polymer-matrix composites.

Applications

Our composites can be used for almost any structural application:

  • Concrete infrastructures such as roads, bridges, airports, buildings and sidewalks
  • Motor vehicle parts such as connecting rods, cylinder blocks, pistons, crowns, stabilizer bars, transmissions and fenders
  • Aircraft flooring, helicopter blades, space booms (which extend payloads from a spacecraft or satellite) and landing gear
  • Composite ballistic armor for police car bodies, tank armor and shipboard armor
  • Numerous other industrial structural applications

Benefits

Bone-shaped short-fiber composites

  • open up the use of short-fiber composites in numerous load-bearing applications such as concrete infrastructures
  • adapt easily and inexpensively to current fiber and composite fabrication techniques
  • reduce labor costs and the time needed to construct concrete infrastructures
  • reduce the cost of maintaining highways and other concrete infrastructures through their longer service life
  • improve the safety of highways and bridges by arresting crack growth in concrete and preventing catastrophic failure
  • meet the need for lighter-weight, durable components in the auto and aerospace industries
Flash 3D Computed Tomography

Features

Flash 3D Computed Tomography (CT) opens new vistas for practical industrial CT. Until now, three-dimensional (3D) data acquisition and reconstruction would take hours or days on special high-end workstations. With Flash 3D CT the same task on one Windows NT workstation is 100 times faster. Combining state-of-the-art, large-area, amorphous-silicon detector arrays with precision control and joining reconstruction and 3D viewing software have produced the most time-efficient and cost-effective way to obtain 3D CT images. Flash 3D CT can use x-ray, neutron and isotopic sources.

Applications

Our CT system can execute the following industrial applications in two or three dimensions:

  • portable and stationary x-ray CT for structural evaluation
  • nuclear waste inspection
  • reverse engineering, with output suitable for rapid prototype machines
  • inspection and verification of component assemblies
  • nondestructive materials evaluation
  • evaluation of process development
  • detection of material defects
  • rapid flaw detection in oil field pipes before insertion

Benefits

The benefits of our technology include

  • speed (up to 100 times faster than other 3D CT imaging)
  • better resolution than other 2D or 3D CT systems
  • high sensitivity (allows lower imaging dose)
  • near-real-time imaging (instant feedback)
  • distortion-free image (no lenses)
  • long lifetime (highly radiation resistant)
  • light weight and compactness relative to existing technology
  • portability, rapid setup and simple calibration
  • flexibility (use with any x-ray source from 70 to 450 kilovolts)
  • lease of use (integrated acquisition, reconstruction and 3D viewing software)
High-Throughput Genotyping for Medical Diagnostics and Gene Discovery

Features

Our analytical technique determines the identity of nucleotide bases at specific sites in DNA using fluorescently labeled microspheres and flow cytometry. Multiplexed analysis, using soluble arrays of microspheres, enables the analysis of dozens or even hundreds of individual sites in a single sample with an analysis time of less than one minute. This new approach offers a combination of analysis throughput and cost-effectiveness that surpasses available methods.

Applications

Our technology will find applications in both clinical and research laboratories for

  • detecting genetic mutations associated with specific diseases or drug responses
  • identifying genes associated with specific diseases or drug responses
  • identifying individual cultivars or variatypes within or among populations
  • DNA fingerprinting of humans or other animals, plant cultivars or microbial variatypes

Benefits

The benefits of our technology over existing analytical techniques include

  • measurement speed (less than one minute per sample)
  • parallel analysis (up to 64 tests per sample)
  • widely available hardware (flow cytometer)
  • experimental flexibility
  • compatibility with laboratory automation
Nonlinear Resonant Ultrasonic Inspection

Features

Nonlinear acoustical techniques of interrogation are the frontier of acoustical nondestructive testing. These techniques offer the most sensitive acoustical measurement of damage in existence today. Nonlinear resonant ultrasonic inspection (NRUI) is the first of several nonlinear methods that will eventually be available. NRUI offers previously unimagined sensitivity, fast application and easy interpretation.

Applications

NRUI can be broadly applied in

  • detecting physical changes in rock cores
  • monitoring damage and aging in concrete and cement
  • detecting flaws in aircraft and spacecraft components
  • inspecting composite materials, bridges and other transportation infrastructure
  • detecting cracks and other damage in assembly-line-manufactured items such as automobile components

Benefits

The benefits of our technology over existing nondestructive analysis methods are in

  • increased sensitivity
  • getting results without a test standard
  • monitoring damage over time
  • future cost savings in assembly-line manufacturing
PCMCIA Microcontroller Card and an Open-Architecture, Miniature Card Crate

Features

The Los Alamos/Boeing PCMCIA Microcontroller (PCM) Card and card crate replace the need to use a laptop or desktop computer to control PC cards. The primary use of the PCM card and crate is for compact, autonomous data acquisition, processing and communication. The crate houses up to five commercial PC cards for expanded functionality, including various data recording speeds and dynamic ranges, global positioning system timing and location, linear flash-card data storage, data encryption/authentication and various data telemetry. The microcontroller and memory on the PCM card ensure interfacing capability similar to that of a personal computer. Data retrieval may be made via flash-card recovery or serial-link transmission. The PCM card and card crate can operate unattended for over 16 days on a single battery.

Applications

The PCMCIA Microcontroller Card and card crate will find applications as

  • an unattended ground sensor integrated with a data logger for unattended acquisition and retrieval of infrasound measurements
  • acoustic, geophone, magnetometer, infrared, chemical-biological, or radionuclide sensors for field monitoring activities
  • a stand-alone card for monitoring environmental exposure and activity

Benefits

The benefits of the PCMCIA Microcontroller Card and card crate will include

  • an open-architecture design that allows for inexpensive use of commercially available PC cards
  • a configuration that allows for multiple-card functionality
  • a low-power design that allows for multiple-week, battery-powered operation
  • compact packaging that provides diverse, unobtrusive data-logging applications
  • a built-in, high-fidelity recorder that allows for rapid interfacing for sensitive measurements
Rapid Assay of Protein Folding

Features

Our rapid assay of protein folding uses the folding of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) to monitor the folding of a test protein. It does this by linking the two proteins in a hybrid molecule with the characteristics of both. When the hybrid is synthesized in a host cell or cell-free extract, the GFP achieves its fluorescent capability only if proper folding has taken place. Because robust folding is an excellent indicator of solubility, our method enables researchers to identify—quickly and easily—the soluble proteins necessary for research into protein structure and function.

Applications

This technology’s primary application is as a high-throughput analytical tool for identifying the soluble proteins needed for medical research, drug discovery and improvement, chemical industrial processes and basic research into the structure and function of proteins. It is equally applicable to directed evolution techniques for improving protein solubility, opening the door for those techniques to be used on all proteins.

Benefits

The rapid assay of protein folding provides the following benefits:

  • Supports high-throughput analyses for examining large numbers of proteins
  • Provides a fluorescent indicator proportional to the amount of soluble protein in a sample
  • Determines protein folding and solubility in single cells, cell colonies and cell-free extracts
  • Works for all proteins, even when function is unknown
  • Exploits techniques, materials, and equipment already familiar to molecular biologists
  • Eliminates the need for external reagents, which are costly and sometimes toxic
SPECTRA: Small, Phased, Eight-Channel Transmit/Receive Analyzer

Features

SPECTRA is a small, low-power, vector network analyzer for probing objects or systems. Direct digital synthesis produces very pure sinusoidal signals on any of its eight transmitting channels. These signals can be swept over a wide set of frequencies in the ultrasonic range with high output levels. The signal frequency and phase are completely computer programmable. SPECTRA can receive numerous response signals from the probed system on any of its eight receiving channels. This information translates to phase and magnitude parameters from which to identify the system’s frequency response. A frequency transformation calculation produces the time domain response.

Applications

Developed initially for use on national security systems, SPECTRA’s ruggedness, portability, low cost and flexibility make it applicable to many industrial uses. Our analyzer

  • inspects operating mechanical devices (valves and solenoids)
  • inspects sealed containers containing hazardous materials
  • measures the frequency response of electrical networks
  • analyzes the transfer function of passive or active devices (filters)
  • inspects open-loop control systems (such as might run the head on a disk drive) while the loop is operating in closed-loop mode
  • measures the phase margin, bandwidth and gain of amplifiers
  • measures frequency-dependent impedances of electromechanical components
  • examines performance of nonlinear electrical components (mixers or frequency-translation devices)

Benefits

SPECTRA combines most features of other analyzers to offer the following benefits:

  • low cost
  • portability (ideal for field applications)
  • flexibility in types and number of signals transmitted, systems probed and characteristics analyzed
  • high performance
Virtual Pinhole Microscope

Features

Confocal microscopes have become an invaluable imaging technology for producing high-resolution, three-dimensional (3-D) images. However, existing confocal imaging systems have significant technical shortcomings and remain expensive. Our Virtual Pinhole Microscope (VPM) is an inexpensive hardware and software system that provides true confocal imaging capabilities to conventional optical microscopes. Exploiting state-of-the-art technologies for scanned illumination, detection, and data acquisition and processing, the VPM is a high-performance imaging system that transcends many performance and application limitations of existing confocal microscopes.

Applications

The VPM has applications in many fields requiring quantitative 3-D microscopic imaging, including

  • physiology, biochemistry, biophysics and cell biology research
  • clinical applications and research, for example, in vitro fertilization, cloning, gene therapy and histological exams without biopsy
  • material science, geology, metallurgy and other fields that study the microstructure of natural and manufactured materials
  • forensic science, including the examination of features of microscopic evidence
  • diagnostic and quality-control applications for microcircuit/micromachine manufacturing

Benefits

Confocal microscopes provide improved image contrast and spatial resolution in three dimensions. The VPM provides

  • a simple yet flexible, reliable, compact and cost-effective way to add confocal capabilities to conventional optical microscopes
  • fast, light-efficient confocal imaging with transmitted light, fluorescence and reflected light
  • simple, flexible solutions for confocal endoscopy, spectral imaging and other advanced applications

R&D Winner = Winner


Innovations for a secure nation

Secure computing for commerce, banking, communications...

Secure computing for commerce, banking, communications...

If implemented on a wide scale, quantum key distribution technology could ensure truly secure commerce, banking, communications and data transfer.

» All Innovations

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