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In late 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration identified an urgent national need for a portable, easy-to-use radiation detector that could accurately screen for dangerous radioisotopes in luggage or shipping containers and report its results on-the-spot.
Just such a detector, called RadScout, had been built and demonstrated at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), but it was not yet available as a commercial product that could be used by security and emergency response workers.
RadScout project managers and business development experts from the Lab's Industrial Partnerships and Commercialization (IPAC) office went to work to find a company that could quickly move LLNL's technology to the marketplace. By the end of 2002, the Lab had completed negotiations with ORTEC Products of Oak Ridge, Tenn., to develop RadScout into a commercial product.
ORTEC, a world leader in manufacturing radiation detectors with prior experience working with LLNL, was "eager to make it happen," said Ray Pierce of the Lab's Defense and Nuclear Technologies Program. With a
product line that includes more than 1,600 products, ORTEC "brought a lot to the table," Pierce said. "They didn't want to just buy (the technology) from us and make the detector - they wanted to add their strengths and make it even better."
The RadScout licensing agreements included several unusual features that helped ORTEC meet an accelerated deadline for commercializing the technology. Instead of providing only basic patent descriptions, the Laboratory supplied ORTEC with engineering drawings and detailed specifications for RadScout, as well as the computer software that allows the detector to distinguish among different types of radioisotopes with much greater accuracy than traditional radiation detectors.
For its part, the company agreed to quality performance specifications that would ensure the detector would meet the government's homeland security requirements. The agreements gave the company flexibility to improve the design if it could.
LLNL physicist Mark Rowland, the RadScout project leader, described the detector's development as a "tour de force of integrating incompatible stuff" to produce a working technology. It was created by what Rowland called a "large mixed bag of diverse skills"- a team of electrical and mechanical engineers, physicists, vacuum specialists, and prototype manufacturers from the Lab's Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Defense and Nuclear Technologies, and Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security divisions. Michael Dunning of B Division was the technical program manager, and Catherine Elizondo, assisted by Alicera Aubel, was the IPAC business development executive who handled the licensing negotiations with ORTEC.
Rowland said a major factor in the success of the RadScout project was funding stability. "It's important that the people doing the work don't have an oscillating budget," he said. "That's where management really added value in creating a productive work environment."
Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.