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Last month’s issue of Science & Technology Review profiled Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s dynamic approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. By collaborating across the 17 Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories and its external research partners, we deployed our bioengineering, biology, and biocomputational expertise to improve the detection and diagnosis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and help develop the vaccines and antivirals that could mitigate it. Decades of mission-critical work prepared the Laboratory for this response, and from the molecular to the national level, we have been at the vanguard in proposing workable solutions to the challenges posed by this terrible pandemic. But it is not enough to research and develop technological solutions and call it a day. An essential component of the Laboratory’s mission fulfillment is ensuring that our scientific and engineering solutions make their way out into world and where they can serve millions.
In this issue of Science & Technology Review, the feature artricle, Transferring Laboratory Technology to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic, explores the Laboratory’s efforts to do just that during the pandemic. Over the last year and a half, our Innovation and Partnerships Office (IPO) worked to identify and transfer Livermore technology and engineering expertise to the marketplace to tackle COVID-19 and help make a difference. The IPO’s agility, creativity, and know-how are a testament to the importance of “tech transfer” as part of Lawrence Livermore’s mission fulfillment. Extant Livermore technology, built by bioengineers to detect various pathogens and developed and commercialized over the last two decades, provided critical tools to quickly detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This article also examines how a diverse team of Lawrence Livermore engineers and bioscientists joined together within days of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders to develop, from scratch, a medical ventilator using parts outside the medical supply chain to avoid stressing manufacturers already producing medical devices at full capacity. A first for the scientists, engineers, and IPO team who transferred “engineering know-how” rather than technology to private sector partners.
At the Laboratory, “How Can We Help?” was the first question on everyone’s mind in March of 2020. Today, we continue to evaluate lessons learned during this pandemic and are preparing for the next. In doing so, we must keep long-term research in mind. The innovation base at Livermore continues to make translational impact in many other areas. The highlight, 2020 R&D 100 Award Winner: Versatile Cold Spray Harvests Waste Heat, describes Versatile Cold Spray (VCS), an R&D 100 award-winning device that evenly deposits thermoelectric materials onto surfaces that could be used to capture energy and convert it into electricity. With further development, VCS promises to open up new pathways for the private sector to develop more cost efficient and reliable thermoelectric generation that could make energy use more sustainable.
The second highlight, Second Skin Protects against Invisible Threats, describes how a multidisciplinary Livermore team—materials scientists, computational scientists, engineers, biologists, and chemists— came together to create a breathable material constructed from carbon nanotubes and chemical-absorbing polymers to protect warfighters against biological agents and chemical weapons. With successful technology transfer, this incredible fabric could shield healthcare workers in critical care facilities or first responders.
As the home of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s most energetic laser, and other high-energy-density research facilities, Livermore excels in advancing laser technology. We are now developing powerful high-repetition-rate lasers that will be able to explore matter further by executing tens of thousands of laser shot experiments in the time it takes to perform a single NIF laser shot. As described in the third highlight, Lasers without Limits, through the synchronization and integration of machine learning, materials development, and high-performance computer simulations and modeling, the Laboratory will be embarking on a new era of discovery that will totally change how we think about and study photon science—and, in doing so, uncover new engineering capabilities that will meet the challenges facing the nation.
By bringing photon science, additive manufacturing, and high-performance computing together, we aspire to forge new avenues of science and engineering that will not only benefit other laboratories in the United States, but around the world. As we look toward the future, we must remain agile, and we must prepare for the challenges that the nation will face–whatever they may be.