Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Laboratory Garners Four R&D 100 Awards

Four technologies developed by Livermore researchers and their collaborators received R&D 100 awards from R&D Magazine in its annual competition to honor top scientific and engineering technologies with commercial potential. This year’s award winners are as follows:
• A miniaturized, field-portable thin-layer chromatography (TLC) kit called microTLC™ detects and identifies explosives compounds, illicit drugs, and other hazardous materials.
• The superconducting tunnel junction x-ray spectrometer offers an energy resolution 10 times greater than that from x-ray spectrometers based on silicon or germanium semiconductors.
• The extreme-power, ultralow-loss, dispersive element (EXUDE) spectrally combines beams from many small lasers into a single high-power beam with high efficiency and beam quality.
• Convergent polishing is a fast, inexpensive process for finishing the flat and spherical glass optics used in high-energy lasers, imaging systems, and lithography and for manufacturing optical components.

Since 1978, the Laboratory has captured 152 R&D 100 awards. The October/November issue of S&TR will highlight these award-winning inventions and the researchers who developed them.
Contact: Richard A. Rankin (925) 423-9353 (

Absorption Limits Defined for Petawatt Lasers

Scientists from Lawrence Livermore and Rice University have, for the first time, defined a set of theoretical boundaries for the absorption of petawatt (1015‑watt) laser light. According to Matthew Levy, a Lawrence Scholar from Rice University, the team’s analysis reveals the fundamental limits of how these powerful light sources interact with dense matter and convert laser energy to particle energy. “Because the interaction is so nonlinear, a key outstanding problem has been predicting the amount of light absorbed,” says Levy, who works in the Laboratory’s Physical and Life Sciences Directorate. Defining these boundaries will help researchers better understand the physics involved in experiments on solid targets.

“Petawatt lasers are the most powerful light sources ever created,” says Levy, who led the research team. Irradiating solids with a petawatt laser (above) creates temperatures greater than 10 million degrees and pressures above 1014 pascals (1 billion atmospheres). These high-energy-density conditions are driven by violent absorption processes, which can accelerate electrons from rest to 99.9 percent of the speed of light over just a few micrometers. Suitably harnessed, these conditions can be applied to advanced technologies such as compact radiation sources, laser fusion, laboratory-scale astrophysics research, and ultrafast imaging systems.

In addition to Levy, the research team included Livermore physicists Scott Wilks, Max Tabak, and Steve Libby as well as Matthew Baring from Rice University. The team’s advanced theoretical model appeared in the June 18, 2014, edition of Nature Communications.
Contact: Matthew Levy (925) 422-4524 (

Improved Pathogen Detection in Combat Wounds

A collaboration led by Laboratory researchers has used a new technology that detects more biological pathogens in wounds than traditional methods. The team found that the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA) identified microorganisms in at least one-third of U.S. soldiers whose wounds had been declared free of microbes. The study results appeared in the July 2014 issue of Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Established pathogen-detection systems require time to cultivate microbes before determining whether infectious organisms are present. LLMDA uses 180,000 probes to determine within 24 hours whether any of the 3,855 sequenced bacteria or 3,856 sequenced viruses contaminate a wound. The collaboration—which included investigators from Naval Medical Research Center, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and University of California at Davis—analyzed 124 wound samples from 44 U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. LLMDA was sensitive enough to detect bacteria such as Pseudomonas species and Acinetobacter baumannii in many of the wounds that had failed to heal correctly. According to Livermore scientist Nicholas Be, who led the research, certain pathogens that are important to wound healing are difficult to grow in a laboratory and thus may not be identified by the standard culture-based detection methods.

Be notes that, although the study analyzed samples from soldiers, the results could benefit treatments for burn trauma and diabetic ulcers. Since wound infections delay rehabilitation and increase hospital stays, LLMDA’s success in identifying bacterial pathogens would help medical professionals personalize treatment and accelerate patient recovery.
Contact: Nicholas Be (925) 423-1612 (