Oct. 5, 2001

Lab technologies take top honors

A revolutionary technique for discovering genes, an advance for marking safety-critical parts and a new process for producing laser glass that is 20 times faster than previous methods netted awards for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers.

The three teams of LLNL researchers, including two with industrial collaborators, captured honors from the trade journal R&D Magazine as three of the top 100 industrial inventions worldwide for 2000.

This year’s R&D 100 awards, nicknamed the "Oscars of invention," were presented last night at a black-tie dinner at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

The Laboratory has now captured 85 R&D 100 awards since 1978. This year, Energy Department/NNSA labs won a total of 23 R&D 100 plaques.

"We are exceedingly pleased by our continued success in the R&D 100 judging for top industrial inventions," said Jeff Wadsworth, the Lab’s deputy director for Science and Technology. "These advanced technologies benefit the nation and reflect the Laboratory’s tradition of multidisciplinary teams working together."

Discovering genes faster
In the process of studying breast cancer, scientists in the Laboratory’s Biology and Biotechnology Research Program hit upon a shortcut for discovering genes in the chromosomes of any plant or animal genome.

The new technology, called Gene Recovery Microdissection, was invented by biomedical scientists Allen Christian, Matthew Coleman and James Tucker.

"Genetic diseases frequently require genetic cures," Christian explained. "Our Gene Recovery Microdissection method will make finding the genetic causes of diseases much easier."
As an example, Christian pointed out that biomedical scientists don’t know the cause of about 95 percent of breast cancer cases, adding the new technique will ease efforts to learn the underlying genetic causes.

"As a mapping tool, this technique lets you know what genes are where and how they’re being used — with many times less sequencing than was previously needed," Christian said.
Derivatives of the technology could also be used to sequence bacteria without growing those organisms in culture. "This advance would be especially important for drug discovery, since more than 95 percent of bacteria can’t be grown in culture and thus can’t be sequenced," Christian noted.

Marking safety-critical parts
LLNL laser scientists, led by Lloyd Hackel, collaborated with a New Jersey firm, Metal Improvement Company Inc., to develop a way to permanently mark safety-critical parts for airplanes, hip replacements or other uses.

Known as the Lasershot Marking System, the advance uses a high-intensity Livermore laser and optics technology to imprint, with a single laser pulse, a machine readable pattern that contains up to 100 times more information than a bar code in the same space.

In effect, the Lasershot Marking System allows manufacturers to mark parts that are important for safety without the danger of fatigue or stress-crack corrosion induced by other marking methods.

For example, a recent study of 10 patients who underwent hip replacements and experienced fatigue fracture of the implant, one as early as within 19 months, found the fractures started through identification characters etched on the joint implant.

"In these cases, the disturbance of the surface caused by the marking method directly led to the failure of the medical implants and the failures would have been prevented by the Lasershot marking method," according to Hackel.

In August, an array of test samples marked with the Lasershot technology was launched into space aboard the Discovery space shuttle. The samples were space walked out and attached to the exterior of the International Space Station to evaluate the effects of exposure to the environment during a year in space.

The laser marking system was developed by Livermore researchers C. Brent Dane, Lloyd Hackel, John Honig, John Halpin and Hao-Lin Chen, as well as Metal Improvement researchers Fritz Harris, Laurie Lane, James Daly and James Harrison.

New laser glass process developed
Working in conjunction with researchers from Schott Glass Technologies and Hoya Corporation USA, LLNL scientists have helped invent a novel continuous melting process for producing high-quality laser glass.

Instead of manufacturing one piece of glass at a time, an assembly-line production method has been developed to make meter-sized plates of laser glass at a rate 20 times faster, five times less expensive and with two to three times better optical quality than previous processes.

The neodymium-doped phosphate laser glass is being produced for two football-stadium-sized laser facilities — the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, at LLNL, and the Mega Joule Laser in France. Each laser system will require 3,000 to 4,000 meter-sized pieces of laser glass.

With the advance in laser glass production, it is now possible to build high-energy, high-peak-power lasers, such as NIF, that would have been impractical with old technologies.
The continuous laser glass melting process uses seven separate operations, carried out in separate vessels that are interconnected, to convert high-purity, powdered raw materials into a continuously moving strip of laser glass.

Livermore researchers who helped develop the technology are: physical chemist Jack Campbell, materials scientist Tayyab Suratwala, chemical engineer Chuck Thorsness and chemists Paul Ehrmann, Rusty Steele and Michael Riley.