Innovation Rooted in Exploratory Research
THE Livermore is honored to have won six R&D 100
awards in 2012. Each year, R&D Magazine presents these “Oscars of Invention” to the top 100 technological advances that contribute to meeting an important national or societal need. This year’s R&D 100 Award winners bring the Laboratory’s total to 143 since Livermore began participating in 1978.
This issue of S&TR features the prize-winning efforts (see the movie at www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2012/Jun/attach/rd100.mov). They are a tribute to Livermore’s multidisciplinary approach to tackling difficult challenges from idea conception and the underpinning scientific discovery to engineering development of prototype systems. Visible and tangible results, such as those honored with R&D 100 awards, often take more than a decade to come to fruition in a problem-solving breakthrough. Early steps include exploratory research and typically a “proof-of-principle” feasibility demonstration to attract sponsor support and transform the idea into a product that meets an important mission need.
In this regard, the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program, authorized by Congress in 1991, is critically important. It is the primary means by which the Laboratory pursues innovative, long-term, high-risk, and potentially high-payoff research in support of its missions. Such groundbreaking work is necessary to meet emerging national needs but usually deemed “too risky” for direct support by sponsors. It is noteworthy that about two-thirds of our R&D 100 Award-winning technologies over the past decade have had their roots in LDRD projects, including three of this year’s awards.
The award-winning development of plastic scintillators for neutron and gamma-ray detection (see A Solid Solution for Neutron and Gamma-Ray Differentiation) is an illustrative example. In 2007, the Laboratory launched a three-year exploratory research project aimed at improving capabilities to effectively detect and identify fissile materials. Better detectors
are needed to counter nuclear smuggling and proliferation.
With LDRD support, systematic surveys were completed of
150 materials, leading to a better understanding of the physics of scintillation and the development of efficient, low-cost materials. This highly successful effort was followed up with programs at the Laboratory funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Office of Nonproliferation Research and Development and the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. The R&D 100 Award is a testimony to the importance of the breakthroughs that were made and the substantial progress that is being made toward enhancing our nation’s security.
Similarly, both the “snowflake” power divertor for nuclear fusion reactors (see A Major Step for Fusion Energy) and multiplexed photonic Doppler velocimetry (MPDV, see Ten Times More Data for Shock-Physics Experiments) have deep roots in LDRD projects at Livermore. The snowflake power divertor, an ingenious method for dissipating exhaust power from hot plasmas in tokamaks, has been tested at institutions that are partner recipients of the award. MPDV technology, first demonstrated in LDRD work at Livermore, has since been used at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Nevada National Security Site to collect key data in hydrodynamic experiments in support of national security work. NNSA’s National Security Technologies, LLC, is our partner in the award.
LDRD is not only key to mission success; it is also vital to the long-term health of our institution. This point was emphasized in the 2012 report of a National Academy of Sciences study examining science and technology at Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia national laboratories. Because LDRD supports exciting innovative projects, the program helps attract and retain top talent in new and emerging fields of science and technology with important national-security applications. At Livermore,
the LDRD Program supports most of the Laboratory’s postdoctoral researchers, many of whom later become full-time employees. LDRD is also behind nearly 50 percent of our patents, more than
25 percent of Livermore copyrights, and about 20 percent of our peer-reviewed publications.
Livermore serves the nation by exploring science and technology that can make a big difference with application to important current and emerging national needs. Our six R&D
100 awards this year are one of many indicators of continuing success in meeting those needs.
Hearty congratulations go to all the contributing Laboratory scientists and engineers and their collaborators from the many partnering research institutions mentioned in the stories.