Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Utility Navigation Skip to Top Navigation
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

2003 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.
BASIS: High-Confidence Biothreat Detection and Characterization R&D Winner

BASISThe Biological Aerosol Security and Information System (BASIS) is a technology for protecting civilian populations against terrorist aerosol releases of microorganisms capable of inducing lethal infection. It enables the detailed identification, localization and time-of-release pinpointing of select aerosol-released organisms. In turn, this precise detection facilitates the expeditious treatment of exposed individuals before symptomatic onset, a medical response capable of saving lives. By reducing the rate of false positives to nearly zero, BASIS prevents the potential disruption of civilian life that such false alarms would likely provoke. It protects civilian populations by expeditiously mobilizing medical responses and providing detailed forensic evidence about organisms used in bioterrorism, thereby engendering a broader umbrella of readiness and facilitating criminal investigations. BASIS can be deployed in a broad spectrum of locations where population clusters could be targeted by bioterrorists.


  • Population centers (e.g., transportation terminals/portals)
  • Border checkpoints
  • Seats of government
  • Critical infrastructure nodes (e.g., power plants)
  • Tunnels and bridges
  • Sports and entertainment venues
CARISS: Integrated Elemental and Compositional AnalysisR&D Winner

CARISS CARISS (Compositional Analysis by Raman-Integrated Spark Spectroscopy) is the only field-deployable instrument that provides a complete chemical analysis (elemental and compositional) of a material at close, stand-off, and remote distances. CARISS uses two laser beams to conduct such analyses. The rugged instrumentation, highly adaptable to real-world analysis situations, provides rapid—less than two minutes per sample—“hands-off,” measurement, reducing analysis time and cost by at least a factor of 100. Designed for analysis in the field, CARISS can fit into a briefcase or a lunchbox, depending on the application. The versatility and portability of the instrument will allow it to sample Martian surface materials from a Mars rover, verify the composition of bobsled runners at the Olympic Games to enforce international rules and regulations and detect carbon in soil for use in terrestrial carbon sequestration programs aimed at reducing global warming.


  • Carbon detection (organic and inorganic) in soil
  • Soil monitoring for the presence of toxic metals and harmful organic compounds
  • Chemical agent detection for homeland defense and customs surveillance efforts
  • Identification of materials used in weapons of mass destruction
  • Industrial process control and mining operations
FIRETEC: Physics-Based Wildfire ModelR&D Winner

FIRETECFIRETEC is the first physics-based, three-dimensional (3-D) computer code designed to simulate the constantly changing, interactive relationship between fire and its environment. It does so by representing the coupled interaction among fire, fuels, atmosphere, and topography on a landscape scale (hundreds or thousands of meters). FIRETEC combines physics models that represent combustion, heat transfer, aerodynamic drag and turbulence with a computational fluid-dynamics model that represents airflow and its adjustments to terrain, different types of fuel (vegetation) and the fire itself. Unlike the empirically based models currently used in the field, FIRETEC simulates the dynamic processes that occur within a fire and the way those processes feed off and alter each other. FIRETEC provides a sophisticated analytical tool for fire, fuel and land managers and has significant potential to help prevent loss of life, property and natural resources.


  • Predicting wildfire behavior in rugged terrain under various atmospheric conditions
  • Optimizing fuel-management strategies
  • Investigating how fire interacts with various fuels
  • Determining causes of dangerous changes in a wildfire's behavior
  • Providing realistic simulations for training inexperienced fire fighters
FlashCT™R&D Winner

FlashCTFlashCT™ is a high-speed, industrial computed tomography (CT) scanning system for producing high-resolution, three-dimensional (3-D) images of the external and internal geometries of objects. Once appropriate only for laboratory use, its vastly improved software and off-the-shelf components now make it feasible for high-throughput, in-line manufacturing applications. As a result, FlashCT is being used in unforeseen ways, notably in the mass production of customized parts. New uses of FlashCT are beginning to make significant changes in the way manufacturing is done. FlashCT applies to any process that requires the nondestructive scanning of an object. Its use in prototyping mass-produced custom devices (mass customization) streamlines the manufacturing process, increases throughput, reduces overall manufacturing costs, is clean, and eliminates environmentally harmful by-products used in other processes.


  • Prototyping mass-produced, customized, orthodontic devices
  • Inspecting parts or components for quality-assurance purposes
  • Comparing “as-built” hardware to design intent
  • Recreating parts when design drawings are no longer available
  • Evaluating manufacturing errors
  • Inspecting archaeological, geological and paleontological samples
Flexible Superconducting Tape R&D Winner

Flexible Superconducting Tape The world’s need for electricity has led to rising power costs; dependence on oil and coal, both of which are becoming scarce; and rising pollution levels. An ideal solution to this problem would be a technology that can transmit electricity with no resistive losses. The Laboratory has developed a superconducting tape that carries high currents in high magnetic fields at liquid-nitrogen temperatures. At such temperatures, the tape carries current with no resistance and is flexible enough to be wrapped into a tight coil with no loss of superconductivity. The innovative tape design can carry 200 times the electrical current of copper wire. Widespread use of this tape will reduce costs associated with electrical power transmission and generation and reduce the electrical requirements of the planet, thus conserving resources and reducing global pollution.


  • Instruments that require large amounts of power, such as power transmission lines, motors, generators and transformers
  • Magnetic resonance imaging for medical diagnostics
  • Superconducting magnets that can play a role in magnetically levitated trains and research accelerators and colliders
  • Fault current limiters and current leads
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance instruments used in the chemical industry
Green DestinyR&D Winner

Green DestinyGreen Destiny is the world’s most efficient supercomputer. For nearly a year, Green Destiny has run without any downtime in a dusty 85º F warehouse that has no facilities for cooling, humidification control or air filtration while occupying less than 6 square feet and drawing at most 5.2 kilowatts of power for the 240-processor system. Conventional supercomputers require customized, expensive infrastructure, e.g., cooling, or even a new building. Green Destiny redefines “performance” as much more than speed at any cost, the current ranking criteria for supercomputers. And, because many projects and institutions do not have the money to invest in or sustain the total cost of ownership of conventional supercomputers, the supercomputing capacity and efficiency provided by Green Destiny is recognized worldwide as an affordable and environmentally sustainable alternative. Green Destiny is a platform for high-performance computing tasks.


  • Traditional Web hosting and Web-server farms
  • E-commerce
  • Financial services
  • Space and satellite communications
  • Scientific applications
  • Desktop supercomputing
  • Smart house
PowerFactoRE: Suite of Reliability Engineering Tools for Optimizing the Manufacturing ProcessR&D Winner

PowerFactoREPowerFactoRE is a comprehensive methodology and an integrated suite (toolkit) of reliability engineering tools that introduces a new way of thinking about the manufacturing process. The result of an effective collaboration between the Laboratory and Procter & Gamble, it comprises a unique set of proven methods, statistical and analytical tools, simulation software, procedures and training that enable manufacturing line managers to understand reliability losses and to correct seemingly isolated defects in the manufacturing process. PowerFactoRE gathers and analyzes production data, fits the data with accurate statistical distributions to build a simulation of the system and validates the system model. It allows a manufacturer to improve the current system or to evaluate a completely new configuration. It can be applied across a wide range of businesses to increase productivity, guide capital investments, and increase production. It is currently being used in more than 200 plants worldwide.


  • Predicting, reducing and preventing manufacturing equipment failures
  • Improving product quality and increasing throughput
  • Improving bottom-line results through higher reliability
  • Reducing operating and capital expenses
Super-Thermite Electric MatchesR&D Winner

Super-Thermite Electric MatchesHave you ever attended an elaborate fireworks display choreographed to music and other special effects? To achieve such awe-inspiring shows, experts in pyrotechnics use electric matches, which consist of small ignition elements specifically designed to ignite fireworks remotely and with precise timing. Unfortunately, conventional electric matches use lead-containing compounds that are extremely sensitive to impact, friction, static and heat stimuli, thereby making them dangerous to handle. In addition, these compounds produce toxic smoke. The Super-Thermite electric matches produce no toxic lead smoke and are safer to use because they resist friction, impact, heat and static discharge through the composition, thereby minimizing accidental ignition. They can be designed to create various thermal-initiating outputs—simple sparks, hot slag, droplets or flames—depending on the needs of different applications.


The principal application is in the entertainment industry, which uses fireworks displays for a variety of venues, such as sporting events, holiday celebrations and musical and theatrical gatherings. Secondary applications include

  • triggering explosives for the mining, demolition and defense industries
  • setting off vehicle air bags
  • igniting rocket motors
Advanced, Single-Rotor Turbine (ASRT) Engine

Advanced, Single-Rotor Turbine (ASRT) EngineThe Advanced, Single-Rotor Turbine (ASRT) Engine is a revolutionary centrifugal-turbine design featuring the compressor and turbine sections cast as a single piece. The design channels fresh outside air through the hollow turbine blades as the air travels to the combustion chamber, cooling the blades without mixing unheated air with the combustion products. This design also increases efficiency by preheating the air destined for the combustion chambers. The ASRT engine design can be used in any application that currently uses the centrifugal gas turbine. Because the ASRT engine design cools the critical turbine section, it allows the engine to operate either at higher temperatures, using its fuel much more efficiently, or conventional temperatures but be constructed from cheaper, lower-temperature alloys. Additionally, the one-piece compressor/turbine reduces engine complexity and weight, reducing manufacturing, operating and maintenance costs, and increasing the engine’s standard operating lifetime.


  • Jet engines for small aircraft
  • Turboshaft engines for turboprop aircraft, helicopters, tanks and other vehicles
  • Distributed-power generators at industrial and commercial sites and aboard ships
  • Residential distributed power units
  • Portable personal power units
DSN-CC: Distributed Sensor Network with Collective Computation

Advanced, Single-Rotor Turbine (ASRT) EngineDSN-CC, a distributed sensor network with collective computation, is an economical, portable and potentially concealable detection system. It consists of a set of smart sensor nodes that communicate with neighboring sensors to cooperatively solve a sensing problem. It can detect and locate events such as a gunshot or a vehicle passing through a tunnel delivering detection to the source. Sensors near the event collect the raw data, “compare notes,” negotiate a conclusion as to what the signal is and where it originated, and propagate the conclusion across the network, eliminating the need for a central processing station. Users obtain DSN-CC conclusions by listening in to any part of the network. Because the information and subsequent conclusions ultimately exist everywhere on the network, only short transmissions are required. The sensors can be small enough to be disguised as a rock.


  • Signal detection by military, federal government, commercial businesses and the general public
  • Ground-based surveillance, weapons proliferation detection, home-intruder detection and critical-facilities protection
  • Medical diagnostics once miniaturization with nanotechnology becomes feasible
Electrotint: Reversible Tinted Windows

ElectrotintKeeping office buildings with thousands of windows comfortably cool, particularly during the spring and summer months, can be a daunting task. Electrotint windows, developed in collaboration with ElectroChromiX, Inc., can quickly go from a colorless to a deeply colored—or mirrored—state and back again. The windows have been designed to let in 75% of visible light during fall and winter and block 90% of light during spring and summer. The proprietary dyes and chemical formulations used in Electrotint windows and mirrors do not rely on hazardous chemicals and will not degrade, swell, break down seals or evaporate, problems that are common to conventional electrochromic windows. Electrotint formulations integrate easily into modern architectural and vehicular designs and manufacturing processes and are cost-effective, reducing the price per square foot (base window excluding control systems) by 80–95% compared with solid-state electro-chromic windows.


  • Energy-efficient building windows—optimizing heat gains and losses through windows and enhancing the use of daylight can save the U.S. approximately 5% in energy consumption each year
  • Rear- and side-view vehicle mirrors—elimination of headlight glare, can reduce automotive accidents
Gravity Brake

Gravity BrakeThe gravity brake is a simple, reliable mechanical brake for protecting and positioning hoisted loads, such as diagnostic tools that are being lowered or raised within a vertical shaft. The hoisting cable connects to the top of the gravity brake and the load attaches underneath the gravity brake. As the load is lowered (or raised), the gravity brake is subject to the lifting force of the hoist and the downward (gravitational) force of the load. A sudden loss of the lifting force causes the gravity brake to swing its brake pads outward until they contact the shaft walls. The brake uses the load’s weight to generate the requisite braking force. If the sudden loss is accidental, the gravity brake prevents the load from free-falling down the shaft. If the loss is intentional, the brake precisely positions and suspends the load within the shaft. The gravity brake can be configured to work in varying shaft geometries and sizes and to support varying load weights. It is an inexpensive, reliable mechanical braking system that can provide fail-safe mechanical backup to electronic braking systems.


  • Preventing hoisted loads from free-falling within a vertical shaft or tunnel
  • Positioning loads, such as testing or diagnostic equipment, precisely within vertical shafts
LANS-alpha Turbo-Simulator: New Approach to Simulating Turbulence

LANS-alpha Turbo-SimulatorThe LANS-alpha Turbo-Simulator is a fast, accurate and very cost-effective modeling tool used for numerically simulating the effects of turbulence at a user-prescribed length scale (alpha). Its predictions agree accurately with classic turbulence experiments. Because it uses a novel mathematical approach, its capabilities are unique among existing turbulence simulators for preserving the essential properties of convection and circulation in numerical calculations of turbulent flow. In many comparison tests, its performance in speed and accuracy considerably exceeds that of other turbulence simulation methods. Scientifically, it is derived from basic principles that readily incorporate additional physical processes, so it is flexible and easy to learn and use. For numerically predicting turbulence effects, the LANS-alpha Turbo-Simulator provides benefits that are unavailable with any other turbulence simulation method.


  • Estimating the effects of turbulence at limited spatial and temporal resolution
  • Extending the computational capability of existing numerical codes
  • Modeling turbulence in areas such as global climate modeling; industrial design of wings, propellers, and jet engines; control of production processes that use turbulent fluid flows
Molecular Tagging: The Key to Effective Disease Diagnostics and Therapeutic Intervention

Molecular TaggingHave you ever put a wrong word in a crossword puzzle? When this happens, it tends to throw off the entire puzzle, principally because one word can affect others. The same thing can happen when trying to unravel something infinitely more complex, such as the human genome, in which an unsigned base may hold the key to unraveling a disease-related gene. This unique molecular-tagging technique uses site-specific stable-isotope markers to enhance the specificity, accuracy, sensitivity and throughput of conventional mass spectrometry, a technique that could help “interpret” the human genome and functional proteome. Using such data, scientists can better understand how cells work and how diseases operate at a molecular level. Such knowledge will help doctors develop new pharmaceuticals and treatment options for a variety of genetic diseases.


  • Large-scale DNA and protein analyses performed quickly, easily and cost-effectively
  • Screening for genetic variants—may help scientists unravel the nature of many genetic diseases
  • Identification and quantification of cellular proteins (particularly those whose expression levels are affected by disease), as well as any post-translational modifications (the sensitive markers for diseases)
RESOLVE: Automated Software for Protein Research

RESOLVEHave you ever watched a television show with poor reception? The fuzzy picture on the screen often makes it difficult to discern the characters and the action, making for a frustrating evening at home. In the world of proteomics, the new RESOLVE software helps researchers get clear pictures of protein structures, allowing the researchers to develop new pharmaceuticals and to understand how proteins work. A fully automated software package, RESOLVE improves the accuracy and detail of protein images obtained from x-ray crystallography. RESOLVE then interprets these images and builds accurate atomic models of the proteins. Used across the globe by more than 20 pharmaceutical companies and more than 300 academic institutions, RESOLVE produces a detailed model of a protein's shape, which defines its biological activity. RESOLVE provides a quick and cost-effective means of generating high-quality models.


  • Helping researchers develop more effective pharmaceuticals and treatments for genetic diseases ranging from epilepsy and hemophilia to asthma and many types of cancer
  • Enhancing scientific understanding of protein functions ranging from defensive and hormonal to transport and enzymatic
ROB: Reagentless Optical Biosensor

ROB: Reagentless Optical BiosensorThe Reagentless Optical Biosensor (ROB) quickly identifies and quantifies pathogenic proteins in complex fluid samples such as serum. ROB consists of two main components: a protein-specific assay cartridge and a sensor readout unit. Modeled on host-pathogen interactions, its membrane-based assay provides highly specific and sensitive detection of pathogens. The hand-held biosensor, based on evanescent excitation, minimizes background interference, greatly reducing the chance of false positives. ROB is battery operated, reagent free, simple to use (a single step) and fast (yields results in less than 15 minutes). Because the assay is contained in an inexpensive disposable cartridge, ROB can detect different pathogens with the quick switch of the cartridge. ROB requires little or no training for users and supplies robust sensitivity and specificity at lower costs than competing technologies.


  • Detecting contamination in global water and food supplies
  • Diagnosing infection resulting from biothreat agents or naturally occurring diseases in primary care settings
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of medical treatments
  • Helping to track, in realtime, the onset and spread of epidemics
  • Surveying and identifying production facilities where illicit substances are being made (e.g., bioweapons)
Sonic Separator

Sonic SeparatorThe Sonic Separator is a new apparatus that uses sound waves to separate gas mixtures. A pure (single-frequency) tone sent through a gas mixture in a closed tube causes the mixture to separate, with one component of the mixture enriched at one end of the tube and the other enriched at the other end. The Sonic Separator requires only an off-the-shelf signal generator as well as amplifiers and speakers that can be purchased at any electronics outlet. The Sonic Separator is a simple, reliable and small-scale technology appropriate for high-tech industries that cannot use the traditional separation methods of distillation and diffusion. In addition, the Sonic Separator separates even notoriously difficult isotope and isomer mixtures. It operates at ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure and accomplishes gas separation with no release of toxic gases.


  • Separating tritium from hydrogen for fusion energy, a potential source for a global energy supply
  • Supplying stable isotopes specifically for medical MRIs
  • Expanding the currently limited supply of carbon-13, nitrogen-17 and oxygen-17 required by hospitals and biological and medical research facilities

Take-OffTake-Off™, a metabolic plant stimulant, increases plant photosynthesis rates by coordinating a plant’s uptake of nitrogen from the soil and its use of carbon dioxide for growth. As a synthesized version of a naturally occurring plant metabolite (an amino acid), Take-Off accelerates growth—thereby speeding plants to maturity and harvest—and enhances yield without the use of growth hormones. It can be applied as a spray to a plant’s leaves or added to water and nutrient solutions to be absorbed by the plant’s root system. Both application methods are equally effective. Some of the benefits Take-Off provides, minus the growth hormones that necessitate expensive compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations, include multiple crop cycles per acre in each growing season, reduced water and fertilizer requirements through shortened growing time and a reduction in polluting nitrate runoff from fields through increased nitrogen uptake.


  • Fresh vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Fresh flowers
  • Biomass (plants raised to be burned as fuel or used as quick-growing ground cover in areas damaged by mining or wildfire)

R&D Winner = Winner

Visit Blogger Join Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter See our Flickr Photos Watch Our YouTube Videos Find Us on LinkedIn Find Us on iTunesFind Us on GooglePlayFind Us on Instagram