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(right) Principal developer Wu-chun Feng and Green Destiny


Dateline Los Alamos

Lab Wins Eight R&D 100 Awards

Wu-chun FengIn an achievement unequaled since 1988, Los Alamos National Laboratory had eight winners in this year's R&D 100 Award competition, the most of any Department of Energy laboratory in the 2003 contest. The award is a coveted prize, signifying excellence in research and development. R&D Magazine sponsors the annual international competition to honor the previous year's 100 most-significant technological advances—the ones most likely to benefit humanity.

The Lab has participated in the competition since 1978 and has won eighty-nine R&D 100 Awards over those twenty-five years. Those wins are proof that Lab science produces more than warheads. Los Alamos is proud of pursuing science that serves society, and our eight award-winning technologies this year emphasize the breadth of that service.

Two of this year's winners are representative of the Lab's traditional national security focus. BASIS , the Biological Aerosol Sentry and Information System, is sensor technology that stands guard in public places to detect and quickly identify airborne hazardous biological agents. It has already done duty at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and now is being nationally deployed under the name BioWatch to guard against large-scale urban attacks. CARISS , Compositional Analysis by Raman-Integrated Spark Spectroscopy, integrates both elemental and compositional chemical analysis in a single instrument to detect, even from a distance, hazardous chemical agents or materials used in weapons of mass destruction. Useful for identifying elements and compounds in soil, CARISS will also find a place in space exploration, for analyzing the composition of planetary surfaces. Plans are already being made to include it on the next Mars rover.

Los Alamos is known for high-performance computers that can simulate weapons and model global ocean currents, but another of the Lab's R&D 100 winners is a supercomputer for the masses. Green Destiny is a 240-processor system that occupies less than 6 square feet and draws no more than 5.2 kilowatts of power. In addition to being small, Green Destiny is decidedly less temperamental than traditional supercomputers: it runs reliably in facilities with no cooling, humidification, or air filtration—a supercomputer businesses can afford.

The developers of FIRETEC combined computer skill with physics expertise to produce the first physics-based wildfire model. FIRETEC predicts the complex behavior of wildfire by representing, in three dimensions, a fire's constantly changing interaction with its environment (fuels, atmosphere, and topography). In the hands of fire, fuel, and land managers, this technology has the potential to prevent loss of life, property, and natural resources.

The world has a constantly growing appetite for electrical power. Another winning Lab technology— Flexible Superconducting Tape —holds the promise of highly efficient power transmission. The tape carries 200 times the electrical current of copper wire with no resistance and can be wrapped into a tight coil with no loss of superconductivity. Because the tape loses no electricity to resistance, it can reduce the cost of generating and transmitting electrical power. Its ease of production gives it an attractively low processing cost.

Super-Thermite Electric Matches were designed principally for the entertainment industry. Electric matches are used to ignite fireworks remotely. The Lab's newly designed matches are safer because they resist accidental initiation. In addition, they produce no toxic lead smoke, making them perfect for initiating displays at sporting events, holiday celebrations, and music and theatre productions.

A valuable tool for manufacturers, FlashCT is a high-speed scanning system that produces three-dimensional images of the exterior and interior geometries of objects. FlashCT images can be used for quality assurance and design engineering and are particularly well suited to the rapid manufacturing of customized devices. Also for manufacturers, PowerFactoRE , developed through a collaboration with Proctor & Gamble, is a suite of reliability engineering tools that can be used to enhance the performance of manufacturing systems.

The Lab's R&D 100 Awards demonstrate that national defense work can lead to scientific innovations with wide-reaching benefits. Many R&D 100 winners are already working with outside agencies and companies to move their inventions into the private sector. The partnership with Proctor & Gamble that produced PowerFactoRE was only one such collaboration among this year's winners. BASIS was a huge cooperative enterprise, linking Los Alamos with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a private company—Rupprecht and Patashnick Co., Inc. The developers of the Super-Thermite Electric Matches also collaborated with a private company, PyroLabs, Inc.

CARISS was developed with the University of Hawaii, and FIRETEC developers had important input from the United States Forest Service. FlashCT is the work of both the Laboratory and HYTEC, Inc., a local company that has turned a Lab-developed technology into a successful business. The Flexible Superconducting Tape has already attracted industrial partners committed to commercializing it. All in all, entering the R&D 100 competition is a net gain—offering advanced technology for the marketplace and an opportunity for Laboratory researchers to have a positive impact on society as a whole.

—Eileen Patterson




FIRETEC simulation

Flexible Superconducting Tape

Super-Thermite Electric Matches

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