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2012 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 Winner MPDV: Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter

MPDV: Multiplexed Photonic Doppler VelocimeterAs recently as 1 year ago, scientists measuring shock wave surface velocities typically collected 4 channels of velocimetry data, and used extrapolation, assumptions and models to determine what was occurring in regions of the experiment that were not observed directly. Thanks to advances in probes, digitizers, and the technology available in the telecommunications industry, those scientists were recently able to record 96 channels of data for a fraction of the original cost using a newly constructed multi-channel PDV (Photonic Doppler Velocimetry) system. This is a paradigm shift of tremendous magnitude for these researchers, and the country!

Alternative systems used by experimental scientists typically collected 4-16 channels of data.  These were limited by the cost and complexity of setting up and operating either the Fabry-Pérot or VISAR (Velocity Interferometer System for Any Reflector) systems. The Fabry-Pérot at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is a 2000 square foot facility which cost multiple millions of dollars, and took years to build. Experiments can be run adjacent to the facility, with 2 physicists, 2 engineers, and several technicians setting up and operating the very sensitive and complex equipment. Multiple channel VISAR systems can be transported via semi truck trailer, with fewer staff. A portable four channel PDV system can be set up over one to two days at the experiment site using a Class IV laser. The portable MPDV can also be set up in a matter of days, with no special laser safety requirements, and returns at least 32 channels of data. On March 7, 2012, a record of 96 channels was achieved using 3 MPDV units. In that record event, the staff was being cross trained, so there were a total of 6 specialized employees present. In future events, the equipment will be set up and operated by one staff person per 32 channel system.

In the words of customers Dr. D. Holtkamp and Dr. M. Furlanetto, “…the use of your systems has saved Los Alamos National Laboratory (and the taxpayers) many millions of dollars.” They further state, “This capability has truly ushered in a new era in experimental dynamic testing and will result in far more comprehensive understanding of these experimental systems now and in the future.”

Applications

Interferometric optical velocimetry is one of the primary diagnostic methods for shock physics, pulsed power, and hypervelocity experiments as well as commercial applications in vibrometry. The purpose of velocimetry is to measure a velocity time history for a surface of interest during the course of an experiment or measurement. Surfaces may be driven to km/s velocities and may also exhibit multiple discrete velocities and/or dispersive effects due to ejecta production in explosively driven experiments.  Velocity is determined by measuring the Doppler shift of optical illumination reflected from a moving surface.

Such wave profiles are used to determine fundamental shock physics quantities, diagnose component and system performance in vibrometry and for complex experiments to provide data to compare with model predictions.

Other applications:

  • Acoustic vibrometry
  • Architectural: micron displacements (motion) when used as a displacement interferometer
  • Micron displacement studies for materials
  • Aerosol particle plumes
R&D Winner Sequedex

SequedexSequedex is a revolutionary software package that can chew through one human genome’s worth of DNA analysis in 30 minutes on a single core of a laptop while you are using the other cores to read R&D Magazine. Sequedex gets its performance boost by combining keyword recognition technology from web search engines with evolutionary theory, placing short “reads” of DNA from any organism on the Tree of Life. Sequedex makes it possible for a scientist to explore a community of microorganisms by analyzing the DNA from a spoonful of dirt, during the course of an afternoon, using equipment that could be carried on the back of a mule.

Applications

  • Medicine: infectious diseases, tracking drug resistance and cancer genomics.
  • Ecology: monitoring and management by profiling microbial communities.
  • Chemical manufacturing: discover industrially useful enzymes, develop sequence-based controls for fermentation processes.
  • Consumer products: measure effects of consumer products on microbial communities in oral care, feminine care, skin care and gardening.

Benefits

  • Works for any organism, even microbes and viruses never seen before, because of its basis in evolutionary theory.
  • Works for short reads (as short as 30 bases, where a base is one “letter” of DNA) where other approaches fail.
  • 250,000 times faster than the most commonly used approach—the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST)—in typical application, and more than 50 times faster than the fastest commercial product.
R&D Winner U-TURN: Turning Uranium Around

U-TURN: Turning Uranium AroundWe have developed U-TURN (Turning Uranium Around), a costeffective, safe and environmentally green process that produces two innovative uranium iodide reagents, UI3(1,4-dioxane)1.5 and UI4(1,4- dioxane)2. U-TURN requires no retooling or specialized equipment, gives reproducible and high-yielding product, can be applied at an industrial scale and is easy to use. U-TURN stands to revolutionize uranium chemistry, catalysis, materials science and energy.

Applications

  • Future sustainable energy. One hurdle to developing safer, advanced nuclear fuels is the difficulty in producing the uranium starting materials needed for research. U-TURN overcomes this hurdle and could “change the game” for nuclear energy/waste as well as create a new industry for using depleted uranium.
  • Waste cleanup. U-TURN provides a nondestructive path forward for more than 5,300 metric tons of depleted uranium metal waste as well as waiting for disposition at sites across the United States.
  • Nitrogen fixation and fertilizer/crop production. U-TURN could one day help lower the cost of crop production throughout the world: catalysts developed using U-TURN reagents could dramatically improve the Haber-Bosch process that converts nitrogen and hydrogen to ammonia. Ammonia is used as a feedstock to produce nitrogen-based fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate and urea.

Benefits

  • Cost effective. The U-TURN process costs 100–140 times less to produce its reagents than it does for competitive processes to produce their reagents.
  • Safe and easy to make. The U-TURN process is so straightforward that a novice chemist could synthesize our products—simply mix the starting materials and walk away. The process is performed at temperatures as low as 25°C (room temperature) using conventional glassware in a traditional laboratory setting.
  • Environmentally green. U-TURN does not use toxic chlorine-containing compounds along with high temperatures or mercury iodide along with low temperatures, as do current methods.
R&D Winner Valveless Laser Processing

Valveless Laser ProcessingHermetically sealed containers commonly used in electronics, aerospace, and medical applications are initially leak tested and periodically analyzed to sample their contents. Valves, which can be unreliable, are costly and impractical to use because of their weight and volume limitations. By omitting valves, organizations sacrifice test effectiveness and periodic maintenance and have little choice but to perform surveillance activities by destructive means. We have developed a novel, nondestructive process that uses a single laser to remotely penetrate, sample and reseal hermetically sealed containers. Our access and resealing process includes a unique laseralloying technique that prevents cracks on crack-prone materials, permits the final seal to be recertified, and allows the sealed container to be resampled and reused repeatedly. Our process also enables modern leak detection methods. In medical devices, such as pacemakers, the inability to detect leaks has resulted in loss of life.

Applications

  • Environmental remediation: Remotely accesses and reseals containers with known or unknown contents, such as rocket fuels, chemical weapons or other high-hazard materials
  • Nondestructive analysis: Allows sampling, recertification and reuse of containers typically analyzed by destructive means
  • Leak testing: Allows for modern leak detection on pacemakers and other implantable medical devices

Benefits

  • Eliminates need for valves and their associated weight, volume and material costs
  • Operates safely and remotely without exposing personnel to hazardous materials
  • Lowers process cost and duration: able to access, evacuate, backfill, seal and leak test in one setup
  • Allows resealed container to be certified to the highest standards
Backpack LIBS: Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy

Backpack LIBS: Laser-Induced Breakdown SpectroscopyFor the first time ever, we have miniaturized the equipment to conduct atomic emission analysis so that it can be carried on an operator’s back. Our technology, Backpack LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy), uses multiple pulses of a high-intensity laser beam to break down basic elements of a sample into unique wave spectrums to determine what the sample is made of. Backpack LIBS weighs only 25 pounds, is ergonomically designed, and is easy to use. Moreover, the safety features of Backpack LIBS ensure that an operator is safe from laser beam exposure and does not even need to wear safety glasses. As a result of its portability, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness, Backpack LIBS inexpensively takes atomic emission analysis from a traditional laboratory setting into the field.

Applications

  • Detecting nuclear and other hazardous materials. Organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tasked with verifying foreign states’ adherence to nuclear nonproliferation treaties can use our Backpack LIBS to conduct international inspections related to the use of nuclear materials. First responders can also use Backpack LIBS at accident sites where chemicals or other hazardous materials are present.
  • Verifying construction materials. Operators can use Backpack LIBS to confirm the authenticity (purity of content) of structural components such as bolts and steel beams.
  • Studying cave environments. Backpack LIBS can provide elemental analysis of cave environments, which will enable scientists to draw conclusions about caves found on other planets.

Benefits

  • Safe. Backpack LIBS employs both hardware and software safeguards that significantly reduce the risk of injury to the operator and others in the work area—it is so safe that laser safety glasses are not required.
  • Portable. Weighing only 25 pounds, Backpack LIBS is self-contained and designed to be controlled from a small computer screen located right next to the operator’s hand.
  • Accurate. Uses a high number of channels (6,144) to analyze and identify any element in the periodic table. Diminishes the potential for spectral overlap that causes false positives. Backpack LIBS achieves a 92 percent rate of accuracy in identifying samples that include aluminum and steel alloys, magnets, graphite and uranium in glass and ore samples.
Creating Inexpensive and Fabrication-Free Nanocomposites

Creating Inexpensive and Fabrication-Free NanocompositesEngineered nanomaterial composites (nanocomposites) promise new levels of performance for just about any material manufactured today. Now, imagine being able to create custom polymer nanocomposites in a matter of seconds, with no restrictions on composition, shape or size. Imagine that these innovative polymer nanocomposites can be made electrically conductive, catalytically active and spectroscopically sensitive, all for less than $1 per square centimeter. Well, imagine no longer, as we have developed a process that can quickly create nanocomposites consisting of tailored metal nanoparticles grown on conducting polymer thin films. These materials are realized by processing a conducting polymer solution into a thin film or membrane. This polymer then acts as a substrate on which we can spontaneously grow metal nanoparticles by simply immersing the film in a solution of aqueous metal salt precursors, such as silver nitrate or platinum(II) chloride.

Applications

  • As a substrate for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. We can use our nanocomposites to enhance the Raman signal generated from a surface-adsorbed chemical or biological molecule. This enhanced sensitivity makes our nanocomposites ideal for detecting and identifying trace toxic industrial chemicals, toxic industrial materials, and even chemical warfare agents.
  • As a catalyst in organic synthesis. We can use our nanocomposites as efficient catalysts for organic synthesis (constructing organic compounds via organic reactions).

Benefits

  • Exhibit enhanced sensitivity over competing materials.
  • Can be produced at unmatched cost levels—less than $1 per square centimeter.
  • Can be processed into almost limitless shapes, sizes and form factors, some of which are not possible with conventional lithographically defined nanomaterials.
Genetically Engineered Magnetic Algae

Genetically Engineered Magnetic AlgaeImagine being able to extract algae from vast ponds by simply using a permanent magnet. By genetically engineering a gene from soil bacteria into three types of algae, we have done exactly that. Some soil bacteria are known as magnetotactic, which means that they follow the Earth’s magnetic field to avoid exposure to atmospheric oxygen concentrations. By genetically modifying algae so that they are also “magnetic,” it is possible to use a permanent magnet to separate the algae from solution.

Applications

  • Harvesting algae for biofuel production. Because the source of gasoline and diesel has a finite reserve, the world turns more and more to alternative fuels, such as biofuels. Our magnetic algae make the process of algae harvesting easy and cost effective, thus taking a leap toward becoming a viable product for manufacturing biofuels for the world market.
  • Producing magnetic particles. Our technology can also be used to produce magnetic particles. Applications for such particles range from medical (detecting various forms of cancer) to electronic (developing high-density information storage).

Benefits

  • Startlingly cost effective. Harvesting algae accounts for approximately 15–20 percent of the total cost of biofuel production. Using our magnetic algae can reduce such costs by more than 90 percent.
  • Easily scalable. Magnetic algae allow the use of permanent magnets for algae harvesting, which is easily scaled to industrial levels. Rare-earth magnets are already used at industrial scales (tons/day) in the mineral industry.
  • Eco-friendly. Unlike conventional approaches, production of magnetic nanoparticles does not use toxic precursors and surfactants as the starting materials.
  • Enabling. It is now possible to select genetically transformed cells by simple magnetic separation.
Hollow Fiber Structured Packings for Distillation

Hollow Fiber Structured Packings for DistillationOur Hollow Fiber Structured Packings for Distillation is a novel packing system for use in petrochemical distillation towers–it eliminates the need for conventional packing materials and can attain significantly higher separation efficiencies (>20 percent) and column capacity (>25 times). Refineries currently use trays or other structured packings for distillation–issues include interruptions in production due to flooding risks, poor separation efficiency, low productivity, high energy consumption, significant CO2 emissions and large size. Our Hollow Fiber Structured Packings for Distillation address and minimize these issues.

Applications

Our Hollow Fiber Technology can be used to replace the conventional packing materials used in current industrial processes such as:

  • Petrochemical industry separations: olefins, paraffins, gasoline
    • Mixtures of olefins and paraffins are products of petroleum crude oil “cracking” and must be distilled to separate out the more valuable chemical commodities, such as pure olefins and paraffins (ethylene/ethane, propylene/propane, n-butane/iso-butane, etc., with carbon number C2–C6), gasoline and other products.
  • Cold-temperature (cryogenic) distillation to separate:
    • Atmospheric air into its primary components (nitrogen, oxygen, argon)
    • Light hydrocarbon mixtures (ethane/ethylene and propane/propylene)
  • Vacuum distillation for heavy hydrocarbon mixtures (xylene mixtures)

Benefits

  • Higher efficiency petrochemical distillations
  • Reduction in current distillation risk factors such as flooding, giving a wider operating window 3
  • Increased refinery throughput
  • Potential to completely change the appearance of today’s refineries, producing a much smaller plant in both area and height
    • Smallest plant footprint, smaller towers in both height and diameter
    • Readily used as retrofit for existing refinery plants
  • Reduced energy usage as higher productivity and less heat is used to drive the process
  • Reduced CO2 emissions with reduced fossil fuel needed for the distillation process
Indago

IndagoIndago’s unique approach to deep-context data searches meets today’s demands for the rapid and accurate analysis of content. Indago provides in-line analysis of large volumes of electronically transmitted or stored textual content; it rapidly and accurately searches, identifies and categorizes the content in documents, or the specific content contained in large data streams or data repositories (i.e., any kind of digital content that contains text) and returns meaningful responses with low false-positive and false-negative rates. Indago performs automated annotation, hyperlinking, categorization and scoring of documents, and its ability to apply advanced rule-syntax concept-matching language enables it, among other things, to identify and protect sensitive information in context.

Applications

Indago’s capabilities meet the needs of many applications, including

  • Corporate
  • Litigation
  • Product marketing
  • Scientific research
  • Regulatory
  • Patent research
  • Law enforcement
  • Military/defense
  • Foreign policy

Benefits

  • Rapid search, identification, annotation
  • Accurate results for user-specified targets
  • User-specified targets
  • Context-sensitive
  • Energy-efficient and affordable
Universal PAD

Universal PADVersatile, eco-friendly and inexpensive, Polymer-Assisted Deposition (PAD) synthesizes materials and forms thin films and coatings with properties tailored to the requirements of a specific product, component, or application. PAD is one of several solution-based deposition methods that begin with direct application of a chemical solution to a surface. PAD differs in its use of special organic polymers in the solution that prevent the metal from unwanted chemical reactions; keep the solution stable; and ensure that coatings are even and uniform with excellent control of physical properties. Heating the coated chemical precursor in the presence of a desired gas forms the intended substance.

Applications

  • Energy conservation—solid-state lighting, photovoltaics, superconductors
  • Electronics—flat-panel displays, memory devices, microwave components, sensors, capacitors
  • Structural materials—hard coatings, as on cutting tools
  • Chemistry—catalysts
  • Materials science—nanostructured materials
  • Nuclear science—neutron beam targets

Benefits

  • Broad, expanding range of materials synthesized, including complex and composite substances, as well as nanoparticles and foams
  • Objects of almost any size and shape coated, including large, uneven, 3D and complex surfaces
  • Simple, consistent process, making switching from one substance to another fast and easy
  • Environmentally benign technique—using nontoxic chemicals that can be recovered and reused
  • Much lower costs—reducing them by a factor of 10 or more compared to vapor deposition

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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