Lab Report

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.

May 8, 2020


3D-printed swabs may replace the traditional swabs used today to test for COVID-19.

fierce electronics

3D printed swabs pass muster

A new industry consortium called, made up of multidisciplinary teams from the 3D printing industry, medical institutions and academia, has launched a wide-scale initiative to supply millions of COVID-19 test swabs.

3D-printed swabs, however, are very different than the flocked swabs currently in use. So, the samples have undergone rigorous testing with several universities, independent medical labs and Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL).

LLNL conducted tensile tests on almost two dozen different swab designs/materials from several different companies to provide guidance on the design and any recommended improvements. The most surprising thing for LLNL engineers was the sheer number of different design/material solutions that were rapidly prototyped by groups across the country to help address this shortage

“Testing was crucial, as the 3D-printed swab designs represent a significant departure from the flocked swabs currently used and are manufactured using a number of different technologies such as MJF, Injection Molding and SLA,” said Angela Tooker, an R&D engineer at LLNL.

second skin

The smart protection mechanism of responsive nanotube membranes against environmental threats. The collapse of actuating polymer chains on the contaminated membrane surface prevents nerve agents like sarin from entering the single-walled carbon nanotube pores. In a safe environment, the responsive polymer chains remain extended and allow rapid transport of water vapor, thus conferring high breathability to the membrane material. Image by Ryan Chen/LLNL.

Second skin, smart protection

Lawrence Livermore scientists have created a breathable second skin material that provides smart protection against chemical and biological agents.

Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of chemical weapons in the Syria conflict have provided a stark reminder of the plethora of chemical and biological threats that soldiers, medical personnel and first responders face during routine and emergency operations.

Personnel safety relies on protective equipment, which, unfortunately, still leaves much to be desired. For example, high breathability (i.e. the transfer of water vapor from the wearer’s body to the outside world) is critical in protective military uniforms to prevent heat-stress and exhaustion when soldiers are engaged in missions in contaminated environments. The same materials (adsorbents or barrier layers) that provide protection in current garments also detrimentally inhibit breathability.

To tackle these challenges, a multi-institutional team of researchers led by Lawrence Livermore scientist Francesco Fornasiero has developed a smart, breathable fabric designed to protect the wearer against biological and chemical warfare agents. Material of this type could be used in clinical and medical settings as well.


From left: mechanical engineer Ken Enstrom and technicians Greg Norton and Aaron Sperry tested and validated simple ventilator prototypes that could be easily assembled from readily available parts. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Hitting a NERVe

A self-assembled “skunk works” team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has worked tirelessly to prototype a simple ventilator design for quick and easy assembly from available parts. The effort is in response to a potential surge in demand for ventilators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dubbed the “Novel Emergency Response Ventilator” (NERVe), the design comes from proven concepts and contains parts that are not being used by commercial ventilator manufacturers to prevent disrupting already thin supply chains.

NERVe is designed to meet the functional requirements of COVID-19 patients in need of mechanical ventilation, including a simple user interface, air flow circuits for inhalation and exhalation and alarms to notify physicians if air pressures get too low. It can operate in a continuous ventilation mode — common for late-stage COVID-19 patients — but can adapt to patients who spontaneously breathe on their own.

The prototype will need to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before it can be used with COVID-19 patients.

space station

An astronaut dons gloves before collecting samples from an International Space Station environmental surface. Photo courtesy of NASA

astrobiology web

Leaving microbial fingerprints

A study conducted by a team of Lawrence Livermore and NASA researchers has found the environment of the International Space Station is affected by the microbial composition of the astronauts themselves.

The five-year research effort represents the first study to compare the space station's environmental microbial profile (or microbiome) to an astronaut's microbiome using metagenomic DNA sequencing techniques.

"It's very important to have continual monitoring of the microbiome on the space station because it will help us identify the potential for any microbes that could harm the astronauts' health," said LLNL biologist Crystal Jaing, the principal investigator for the Microbial Tracking (MT)-2 study.

The scientists characterized one astronaut's microbial profile, taking 88 body swabs of the astronaut's mouth, nose, ear, skin and saliva - and found that the microbiome of space station surfaces resembled the crew member's skin.


Schematic of the DART mission shows the impact on the moonlet of asteroid Didymos. Post-impact observations from Earth-based optical telescopes and planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body. Image courtesy of NASA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

Deflecting an asteroid with a DART

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test will target a pair of asteroids known as Didymos and Didymoon to explore the idea of knocking a dangerous space rock off course. NASA is planning to crash a spacecraft into asteroids at 14,500 mph in a bid to protect Earth.

In July 2021, NASA will launch a spacecraft designed to slam into the surface of an asteroid bound for Earth while it’s still far enough away to be deflected off course.

“This is a remarkable opportunity to test the effectiveness of the kinetic impactor technology on a real asteroid,” said Megan Bruck Syal of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.