Nov. 20, 2009
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Researchers win 8 R&D 100s, Editors' Award

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was a gala night of shiny tuxedos and exquisite ballgowns, as seven teams of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers — and one individual Lab scientist — stepped to the stage to receive prestigious R&D 100 awards, often dubbed the "Oscars of invention."

And at the conclusion, it was LLNL and its partners who were awarded a coveted "Editors' Award," signifying the uppermost achievement in developing new technology.

Satinderpall Pannu, team leader of the Lab's artificial retina program, received the plaque on behalf of the four other national laboratories, four universities and one industrial partner working on an implant that may one day restore sight to patients with impaired vision.

The 47th annual awards ceremony, held last week, was sponsored by R&D Magazine . This year's event was held at a hotel adjacent to Florida's SeaWorld amusement park.

Earlier in the day, eight key executives from some of the nation's leading research institutions, including LLNL's Anantha Krishnan, director of R&D and section leader for Meso-Micro-Nano Scale Technology, met for a "CEO Roundtable" session, to discuss issues facing them, including funding and political concerns, benefits or problems related to international collaborations, partnerships between government labs, academia and private industry, approaches to dealing with climate change and the Department of Energy's handling of federal stimulus funds.

According to Krishnan, it's clear that the national labs are focusing on the convergence of national security, energy and climate. But a key concern is sustaining the national labs' funding after the stimulus money stops flowing. "It's been very helpful," he said, "but what's next?"

LLNL's Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, Science and Technology acting principal associate director, said: "Meetings like this are important for us to understand how we fit into the overall research community, and offer our expertise as well, to solve our common problems."

The closed door discussion will be summarized in an upcoming issue of R&D Magazine .

At an afternoon poster session, the award-winning teams displayed exhibits of their work, including Bryan Moran, a senior engineering associate who worked on LLNL's Spectral Sentry entry.

Moran said: "I love being able to see so many technologies outside my area of work. It's amazing what they've been able to accomplish with such things as chemistry, optics, materials and metallurgy. When I attend conferences, they're generally limited to my own field. Here, we are seeing the entire spectrum of technology at its best."

Echoing those thoughts was Paul Armstrong, the principal investigator on the Lab's Spectral Sentry, who said: "It's gratifying that people who have developed some of the world's most innovative ideas are showing interest in our work, and to have our project included with all these scientific advances."

The Lab has never received so many awards in the annual R&D 100 competition. Including this year's results, the Laboratory has now captured a total of 129 R&D 100 awards since 1978.

The eight Lab technologies receiving the awards were developed by seven teams of LLNL scientists and engineers — and one solo LLNL researcher. They worked with six universities, six industrial firms, four national labs, one medical institute, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. LLNL's winning technologies included:

  • GeMini — a portable gamma-ray spectrometer that can be used to help prevent smuggling of nuclear materials and help monitor nuclear fuel cycle facilities. A GeMini unit also was launched on NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft to study the planet Mercury.

  • The Land Mine Locator — an aerial land mine detection system equipped with an array of ultra-wideband radar sensors and sophisticated subsurface tomography algorithms designed to lower the time and cost of demining operations, and vastly improve the safety to personnel and equipment.

  • Artificial Retina — a device to restore at least partial vision to optically impaired patients, using an implant that transforms digital images from a camera into electric signals that the brain uses to create a visual image. LLNL's contribution to a collaboration with other labs, universities and industrial partners, has been the development of the electrical circuitry and retinal implant.

  • FemtoScope — a fiber-optic-based, time microscope that can be attached to the front end of any conventional recording instrument, such as an oscilloscope or streak camera. It offers dramatically improved performance in temporal resolution and dynamic range, and can yield important insights into understanding the process of fusion energy burn.

  • Spectral Sentry — a system to protect critical laser systems, such as LLNL's Mercury laser. The device inspects individual laser pulses and determines if they meet the bandwidth requirements to avoid self-destruction during amplification.

  • ROSE — a compiler infrastructure developed to enable users to build their own tools, including defect detection tools to uncover undetected bugs, code optimization tools to maximize program performance and program transformation tools that allow users to easily develop programs.

  • Precision Robotic Assembly Machine — a machine capable of manipulating millimeter-scale components with 100-nanometer precision in an operating arena the size of a sugar cube. It was developed to manufacture the small and complex laser-driven fusion ignition targets for the National Ignition Facility, but it can be applied to other applications as well.

  • Laser Beam Center and Pointing System — a device that combines two critical laser alignment measurements: centering (beam location) and pointing (beam direction) into a single, compact sensor with no moving parts. By combining two alignment sensors into one, costs and space are saved.

Although winning awards serves to recognize excellence, the next step may be just as important. Erik Stenehjem, director of the LLNL Industrial Partnerships Office said: "These R&D 100 awards are an invaluable aid in spreading the word about LLNL's expertise in advancing our nation's leadership in technology. Looking ahead, we now hope to transfer many of these award-winning projects to industrial partners."