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2001 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 WinnerFree-Space Quantum Cryptography

Features

Secrets—diplomatic, military and, increasingly, business secrets—must be exchanged secretly. To help with this important task, we have developed Free-Space Quantum Cryptography, a new system for distributing the random-number cryptographic "keys" used to encode and decode information. Users generate and share a key by sending and receiving single photons through open air or space over an insecure, high-speed laser communication channel. Each key permits secure exchanges on the same laser communication channel or over an insecure phone line, internet connection or radio link. The laws of quantum physics and information theory ensure that the keys will never succumb to computer attack and that attempts to steal or copy a key can be detected and foiled. For distances under 10 kilometers, key distribution takes less than a second.

Applications

Free-Space Quantum Cryptography provides secure communications

  • in metropolitan areas—between banks, corporate offices or off-site stock-trading centers and central stock exchanges
  • on the battlefield—between ground bases or land-, sea-, air- or spacecraft
  • between any two points on Earth, by using an intermediary satellite

Benefits

  • Enables secure day or night communications between any two users that can see each other or an intermediary station, in nearly any kind of weather
  • Thwarts any computer attack that can be launched now—or in the future—unlike the systems now used for internet transactions
  • Detects eavesdropping and continues secure transmissions despite it, thereby discouraging perpetrators
  • Permits absolutely secure domestic and international electronic fund transfers, now amounting to over $2 trillion per day worldwide
  • Gives remote users secure access to broadband internet nodes
Tandem-Configured Solid-State Optical LimiterR&D Winner

Features

Imagine that you are aboard an aircraft and that the pilot has just been hit with a laser beam. Although the beam lasts for a tiny fraction of a second, its intensity destroys the pilot’s eyesight.

Now imagine a device that looks like a simple colored lens (with an ambient light transmittance at 65%) but can reduce by 400-fold intense beams of light from devices such as lasers. Known as optical limiters, these devices consist of a metallo-phthalocyanine dye embedded onto a polymer matrix. Made from solid materials, optical limiters can be designed in many colors or shapes, from the special windows designed for aircraft, armored personnel carriers and tanks to the night-vision helmets worn by soldiers across the globe.

Applications

Because an optical limiter is a type of film, it can be retrofitted into many existing optical systems, such as

  • laser goggles and night-vision goggles
  • binoculars
  • special sensor protectors
  • video cameras

Benefits

For the limiter to work, it must be placed in a focal plane so that there is sufficient energy density to activate it.

  • Protects the human eye or other sensors from the damage caused by intense light
  • Sustains a maximum energy of 10 millijoules
  • Absorbs light beams as focused as 2 x 10–6 square centimeters
  • Consists of solid materials that are robust and long lasting
SCORR: Supercritical CO2 Resist RemoverR&D Winner

Features

Short for supercritical CO2 resist remover, SCORR is a new technology that could revolutionize photolithography processes in industry. SCORR is based upon the physical properties of supercritical fluids (SCFs). These special properties enable SCFs to remove coatings, residues and particles from very small features in integrated circuits (ICs), which are used in applications that range from cellular phones and electronic equipment to computers and household appliances. SCORR also eliminates rinsing and drying steps presently used in IC manufacture, thereby eliminating the generation of millions of gallons of water per fab per day.

Applications

SCORR applies to any manufacturing process that requires photoresist removal. For example, SCORR

  • removes photoresists, residues and particulates from ICs
  • removes photoresists from flat-panel displays, thus increasing reliability while decreasing pixel size
  • increases information density in optical storage media (e.g., CDs, DVDs and CD-ROMS)
  • eliminates stiction (surface adherence) in MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems)

Benefits

  • Provides a unique cleaning process compatible with the latest low-k materials and smaller (<0.18 µm) dimensions necessary to advance the industry in the future
  • Removes photoresists, post-ash, -etch and -CMP (chemical-mechanical polishing particulates) residues from metallized, nonmetallized and ion-implanted semiconductor wafers
  • Costs much less than existing photoresist-stripping solvent systems
  • Strips resists in roughly half the time required by current technologies by eliminating both rinse and dry steps
  • Reduces or eliminates the use of water as a final rinse step of the removal process
  • Reduces or eliminates the use of inorganic acids, organic photoresist strippers and associated organic solvents presently used to dry wafers
GAMMArrays: Genomic Analysis Using Multiplexed Microsphere Arrays

Features

With the completion of the sequencing of the first human genome, increasing attention is being focused on understanding genetic variation—the differences in the genetic code among individuals. It is estimated that there are several million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), single base differences, in the human genome. These variations hold the key to understanding individual differences in disease susceptibility and response to treatments.

To decipher the effects of genetic variation on human health, we have developed GAMMArrays, a tool that enables the rapid and efficient scoring of SNPs. We use robust DNA sequencing chemistry in conjunction with encoded microsphere arrays measured to simultaneously analyze many SNPs in a single sample. Rapid analysis by flow cytometry can be completed in just a few seconds and universal microsphere arrays encoded with “digital velcro”—mathematically derived nucleic acid tags—provide experimental flexibility.

Applications

Clinical, research and forensic laboratories will use GAMMArrays to

  • diagnose diseases and disease susceptibility
  • determine optimal treatments for disease
  • identify new disease genes and drug targets
  • identify bacterial and viral strains, cultivars and livestock breeds

Benefits

Use robust sequencing chemistries, as well as widely available thermocyclers and flow cytometers

  • Incorporate sample preparation compatible with conventional laboratory automation
  • Conduct parallel analysis of many sites at rates of several samples per minute
  • Universal microsphere arrays provide experimental flexibility
LECIS Protocol Converter Box

Features

The “plug-and-play” ease with which computer users connect and use new pieces of equipment has long eluded laboratory workers because laboratory devices from different manufacturers use different communications protocols (languages). This problem usually ties system integrators to a single vendor for the devices they link and complicates system integration and upgrades. Our LECIS Protocol Converter Box, a hardware/software combination, standardizes communications protocols by making systems compliant with the open-architecture device-control standard—ASTM E1989-98 LECIS—which was formalized by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) in 1998. The box translates any device’s proprietary protocol into the standard. It currently offers four hardware interfaces, allowing connection to any laboratory device and controller: two serial ports (USB and RS-232), an Ethernet port (TCP/IP for inter- and intranet connections) and a parallel port (commonly used for printer connections). For users with simpler needs, a single-circuit box is available with one serial port.

Applications

We developed the converter box to standardize automated systems in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields. The activities for which such systems are used include high-throughput screening, sample preparation, genetic sequencing and analytical chemistry procedures. But the protocol converter box is not limited to controlling laboratory equipment. It can be used in any application that requires deterministic device control. It will find application in the following settings: clinical, environmental, military and industrial (for example, the semiconductor industry, the automotive industry and the petrochemical industry).

Benefits

The converter box provides an inexpensive solution to standardization ($950 vs $35,000–$50,000 with competitors) along with the following additional benefits:

  • Freedom to use any device from any manufacturer
  • Option to integrate standardized systems without replacing devices already on hand
  • Compatibility with any computing platform
  • Support for distributed device control
  • Support for deterministic device control
  • Ease of installation and maintenance
Novel Mass Tagging for Rapid Molecular Analyses

Features

Now that scientists have mapped the human genome, an even greater challenge has come to light: making sense of the vast amount of information contained in a genome. Mass spectrometry (MS) is a promising tool for rapid, rigorous, and sensitive analyses to meet this challenge, but some advances are needed to increase its specificity and accuracy for analyses at the genomic level.

Our novel Mass Tagging technique uses site-specific stable-isotope labels to enhance the specificity, accuracy, sensitivity and throughput of conventional MS for functional genomics and proteomics analyses. With the data gathered from such enhanced analyses, researchers will better understand “how cells work” and how diseases work at a molecular level, which may lead to new treatment approaches or the development of new pharmaceuticals.

Applications

  • Provides fast, easy and cost-effective large-scale DNA and protein analyses using conventional mass spectrometers
  • Screens for genetic variants, which will contribute to unraveling the nature of many genetic diseases
  • Validates DNA sequencing data and resolves sequence ambiguities left open by gel electrophoresis
  • Identifies and quantifies cellular proteins on a large scale to generate protein expression profiles, an important step toward understanding “how cells work”
  • Identifies and quantifies post-translational modifications, which are at the core of intracellular communication, coordination and regulation
  • Analyzes contact interfaces in protein/protein and protein/DNA complexes to help reveal the mechanisms of action for protein machines

Benefits

  • Surpasses the capabilities of MS alone, opening the door to a whole range of new applications in genomics and proteomics
  • Offers a built-in means for double-checking the accuracy of results
  • Requires only tiny amounts of material to conduct analyses—our technique collects more data from less material
  • Makes it possible to analyze membrane-bound and scarce proteins, both of which are difficult if not impossible to analyze with other methods
PRESCILA Neutron Rem Meter

Features

Conventional neutron rem meters use gas detectors with bulky, heavy moderators to monitor exposure to neutron radiation. PRESCILA (Proton Recoil Scintillator Los Alamos) is a new neutron rem meter that replaces gas detectors with a combination of fast- and slow-neutron scintillators for a wide energy response (0.025 eV to 20 MeV). PRESCILA provides excellent sensitivity and accuracy, and because it eliminates heavy moderators, it is in a hand-held, lightweight (4 lb) package that can be maneuvered into tight spaces and lifted repeatedly without straining the user. Already compatible with most current neutron counters, PRESCILA is ready for licensing and commercialization.

Applications

PRESCILA can replace thousands of neutron rem meters currently being used to protect worker health in the following areas:

  • Nuclear power plants in the United States and abroad
  • Particle physics research facilities (high-energy particle accelerators)
  • Plutonium-processing facilities (transuranic materials handled in gloveboxes)
  • Fusion research centers in the United States and abroad
  • Radiotherapy facilities used for cancer treatment
  • Oil-exploration projects (neutron-generating isotopic sources that help identify oil-bearing strata)

Benefits

  • PRESCILA’s wide energy response makes it appropriate for monitoring everything from neutron-generating isotopic sources to high-energy accelerators.
  • Superior sensitivity allows for more-accurate dose measurements and shortens monitoring time, allowing surveyors to limit their own exposure.
  • Superior maneuverability allows PRESCILA to access spaces too small for conventional rem meters.
  • PRESCILA’s negligible weight eliminates user injuries caused by repeatedly lifting conventional meters, which can weigh as much as 30 lb.
  • PRESCILA’s elimination of the conventional expensive-to-produce moderator reduces its purchase price. Its elimination of the gas detector, which must be replaced every 3 years, reduces maintenance costs.
SQUID Array Microscope: Ultrasensitive Tool for Nondestructive Evaluation

Features

Short for SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) Array Microscope, SAMi possesses the unsurpassed sensitivity and millimeter resolution to examine materials nondestructively and noninvasively. SAMi’s linear array of 11 high-temperature SQUIDs detect and characterize the extent and nature of features or flaws in conductive and poorly conductive material several centimeters thick. Its eddy-current induction scheme enables it to probe at many depths in the sample simultaneously—giving the operator a three-dimensional view of any feature or flaw. It is portable and can be used under typical laboratory conditions (i.e., without special magnetic shielding and on room-temperature samples).

Applications

The SAMi has many applications in fields which require nondestructive evaluation (NDE) in difficult regimes (i.e., where the material under inspection is deeply buried, hidden by a nonconductive layer, etc.).

  • Industrial applications include aviation (determining aircraft flightworthiness), manufacturing (conducting quantitative analysis during development and design) and any other industry where parts/components must be routinely inspected for minute flaws or fractures.
  • Defense applications include the NDE of nuclear-weapons components as part of the stockpile stewardship program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
  • Biomedical applications include an existing SAMi spin-off instrument which can measure the magnetic fields generated during brain activity. Studies with this spin-off instrument can help further our understanding of neuronal organization.

Benefits

  • Uses multifrequency eddy-current generation to conduct simultaneous probing of the sample at multiple depths—yielding a three-dimensional view of any feature or flaw
  • Requires no physical contact with the sample
  • Conducts analysis and spectral decomposition in near real-time or off-line at the user’s convenience
  • Produces results in a completely nondestructive (SQUIDs are passive sensors) and essentially noninvasive (the induced eddy-currents produce less than a microwatt of power) fashion
SuperHENC: Mobile, Super-High-Efficiency, Neutron-Coincidence Counting System for Nondestructive Assay of Transuranic Waste

Features

Scientists at Rocky Flats had a dilemma: They had to know how much plutonium was in each waste shipment bound for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) if they were to have any assurance that the load would meet WIPP requirements. But how could they measure the amount of plutonium quickly, safely, and accurately without opening each carefully sealed box—especially when the boxes were very large?

To solve this Pandora problem, we developed SuperHENC, a high-efficiency passive neutron-counting system for the rapid assay of large containers of waste contaminated with transuranic elements. SuperHENC consists of the following components:

  • a standard-size truck trailer containing a loading dock, assay chamber and control room
  • an assay chamber with polyethylene-shielded, high-pressure helium tubes and amplifiers to count neutrons from spontaneous fission of plutonium-240
  • a loading dock to weigh and transfer boxes into the chamber
  • a control room containing data-reduction and analysis systems
  • a BNFL Instruments Inc., Gamma Energy Analysis system for isotopic measurements of uranium and transuranic elements

Applications

SuperHENC was designed to have two key applications:

  • It conducts nondestructive assays of plutonium in transuranic (TRU) waste in 1,900-liter standard waste boxes (SWBs) containing a variety of waste types (debris, metal, mixed materials).
  • It assays standard 55-gallon (208-liter) drums used in TRU waste shipments to WIPP.

Benefits

SuperHENC is the most efficient existing neutron-counting system for waste measurement:

  • It reduces neutron-count time to an average of 30 minutes while meeting both Department of Energy (DOE) safeguards requirements and WIPP criteria for waste acceptance.
  • It reduces the requirement for physical standards for different matrices because its assay is largely independent of waste type.
  • It incorporates new software advances in cosmic-ray background reduction.
  • It enables packaging of large objects in waste containers, reducing time, cost and worker radiologic exposure.

2001 Other Award Submissions

Medium Energy Neutral Atom Imager, MENA

R&D Winner = Winner


Innovations for a secure nation

Novel rocket design flight tested

Novel rocket design flight tested

The new rocket fuel and motor design adds a higher degree of safety by separating the fuel from the oxidizer, both novel formulations that are, by themselves, not able to detonate.

» All Innovations

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