ON October 14 in Philadelphia, R&D Magazine will honor Livermore researchers with six of its annual R&D 100 Awards, considered the "Oscars" of applied research. Since 1978, when the Laboratory began to participate in the competition, technologies developed at Livermore have won 61 R&D 100 Awards.
All entries in the competition are judged by a team composed of R&D Magazine editors and other experts who look for the year's most technologically significant products and processes. Past winners have included the fax machine, Polacolor film, and the automated teller machine--products without which we can hardly imagine life today.
Two of this year's Laboratory winners stem from partnerships with American industry. Karena McKinley, acting director of the Laboratory's Industrial Partnerships and Commercialization office, says, "It is always a pleasure to see the industrial community recognize Laboratory work that has sprung from our basic mission activities. This recognition indicates that many of our newly developed technologies will make an impact on the American economy.
"We are proud of our Laser Programs Directorate, which this year produced five winners. We hope that the individual winners and the winning interdisciplinary teams will serve as models for other inventors. Exciting research relevant to industry is taking place all over the Laboratory, even though all six winners this year--including the one from the Physics Directorate involving an optical amplifier--have some connection to laser technology. Many other Livermore-developed technologies have similar potential."
The technologies that were honored have a range from everyday to very specialized uses:
  • The latest micropower impulse radar (MIR) application is an electronic dipstick to sense the level of fluid or other material stored in tanks, vats, and silos. It can also be used in automobiles to read levels of a variety of fluids. The dipstick is impervious to condensation, corrosion, or grime on the sensor element, which is a simple metal strip of wire several inches to dozens of feet long, depending on the application. MIR works like conventional radar by sending out a pulse and measuring its return, but each microwave pulse is a few billionths of a second in duration.
  • A tiny, semiconductor optical amplifier uses a miniature laser to boost data communications signals at ultrahigh (terabit-per-second) rates. It solves many of the problems that have plagued similar amplifiers: it is much smaller and cheaper than fiber amplifiers, which are used today to allow hundreds of thousands of telephone conversations on a single fiber-optic cable, and it is virtually free of crosstalk and noise at high transmission rates, unlike conventional semiconductor optical amplifiers. This amplifier will be useful in cable television distribution systems and other computer interconnections in fiber-to-the-home applications.
  • A small, noncontact optical sensor will improve the manufacturing processes that employ robots by eliminating the time-consuming and expensive process of "teaching" robotic machinery new motions when manufacturing changes are required. This six-degrees-of-freedom (called SixDOF) sensor can sense its position relative to a piece being machined, allowing the robot to autonomously follow a pre-described machining or manufacturing path. As its name implies, the SixDOF sensor senses its position in all six degrees of freedom (the x, y, and z axes as well as the turning motion around those axes). Its nearest competitor can sense just three degrees of freedom.
  • A new optical crystal (Ce:LiSAF) makes an all-solid-state, directly tunable, ultraviolet (UV) laser commercially viable for the first time. Developed jointly with VLOC Inc ( a division of II-VI Inc) of Tarpon Springs, Florida, the crystal consists of lithium-strontium- aluminum-fluoride doped with cerium, a rare-earth metal. The crystal is a component of a compact solid-state laser that is practical, robust, and well suited to such remote sensing applications as detecting ozone and sulfur dioxide in the environment or detecting certain components of biological weapons. It could also be used for laser radar systems or for secure wireless communication links.
  • The advanced magnetic sensor, a critical component in magnetic storage devices such as computer hard-disk drives, has been developed in conjunction with Read-Rite Corporation of Fremont, California. This new sensor offers greater sensitivity and 100 times greater storage densities than current commercial products. In fact, its storage density limit approaches the projected limit of magnetic disk drive technology of 100 gigabit/1 in2 (6.4 cm2). Using thin-film technologies previously developed at Livermore, the sensor is built of alternating layers of thin magnetic and nonmagnetic materials.
  • The development of cost-effective, large-area, laser interference lithography is a way to precisely and uniformly produce regular arrays of extremely small (less than 100 atoms wide) electron-generating field-emission tips. It will significantly advance the effort to fabricate field-emission display (FED) flat panels. FED flat panels are a major improvement over active matrix liquid crystal display technology because they consume less power and can be made thinner, brighter, lighter, and larger, and with a wider field of view. Potential applications range from more efficient portable computers to virtual-reality headsets and wall-hugging TV sets.
    These six Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory R&D 100 Awards and the inventors who made the new technologies possible are featured in the articles that follow.
  • For further information contact Karena McKinley (510) 422-6416 (kdm@llnl.gov).

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