Jan. 18, 2002

Science, technology awards honor Lab's crystal growth, laser glass melting processes

The "outstanding scientific and technical achievements" of two Laboratory research groups were recognized with LLNL’s 2001 Science and Technology Awards at the LLNL Council on Strategic Science and Technology (CSST) meeting last week.

Director Bruce Tarter and Jeff Wadsworth, deputy director for Science and Technology, presented awards to scientists whose research led to a new understanding of biomineralization and crystal growth, and researchers who developed a novel, continuous melting process to manufacture laser glass for National Ignition Facility laser optics.

"The LLNL Science and Technology Awards were established in 2000 and are given annually for notable achievements in science and technology," said Wadsworth, adding that the recognition includes a monetary award and memorabilia presented to individuals selected by senior management and is part of the annual institutional awards program.

The research of the five-member group studying biomineralization and crystal growth has received international recognition from the scientific community and was written up in Science and Nature. Laboratory researchers worked in collaboration with scientists from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the University of Alabama.

"This is the culmination of a sustained effort that has its beginnings in the laser program," said Laboratory team leader Jim de Yoreo, explaining that the project was a spin off of research in crystal growth for NIF.

Team members include De Yoreo, Christine Orme, Mary McBride, Aleksandr Noy and Teresa Land.

The group received Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) funds to continue the biomineralization research with important implications for the biological, geological and materials science communities. "It says a lot about how science is done at the Laboratory," De Yoreo said. "We put together the largest team of solution crystal growth scientists on the globe. That’s something the institution is very proud of."

The group’s research led to a new understanding of the process biological organisms use to modify crystal shape and growth, forming such complex structures as bones, eggshells and seashells. Results of the research have potential application in a variety of uses including laboratory growth of human and animal bones, industrial scale formation in pipes and the manufacture of toothpaste — any situation in which calcium-based crystals grow naturally or are utilized (see Newsline, June 22, 2001) .

Jack Campbell, leader of the Lab team that developed a process for manufacturing laser glass for NIF, lauded the Laboratory’s willingness to fund cutting edge research projects. "Even if what you propose sounds outrageous," Campbell said, "you generally find the Lab willing to sign up to try it."

Members of the laser glass team include Campbell, a physical chemist, Charles Thorsness, chemical engineer, Tayyab Suratwala, materials scientist, and chemists Paul Ehrmann, Michael Riley and William Steele.

The results of the six-year joint research and development program with Schott Glass Technologies and Hoya Corp. was a "revolutionary" process permitting the manufacture of meter-sized plates of laser glass at a rate 20 percent faster, five times cheaper and with better optical quality than previous "one-at-a-time" processes.
NIF, the world’s largest and most energetic laser, will require more than 3,000 pieces of laser glass, each about a meter long, 0.5 meter wide and 4 centimeters thick. The neodymium-doped phosphate laser glass is being produced for two football-stadium size laser facilities — NIF and the Laser Mega Joule near Bordeaux, France.

Campbell explained that the continuous laser glass melting process requires seven different operations, carried out in separate vessels that are interconnected, to convert high-purity, powdered raw materials into a continuously moving strip of laser glass.

In the NIF laser, energy will be stored in the special glass and later extracted as high-power optical pulses.

For more information, check the Web at http://www.llnl.gov/nif/nif.html