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Photo of Erik J. Stenehjem
Erik J. Stenehjem
Director of Industrial Partnerships Office

Innovation Is Key to Prosperity and Security

THIS year’s R&D 100 Award winners exemplify the Laboratory’s pursuit of excellence at the nexus of innovation and economic and national security. The three winners are highlighted in this issue—an autonomous alignment process for laser fusion systems, the dynamic transmission electron microscope, and a detector for protecting shipping containers from unauthorized access. With these three awards, Lawrence Livermore and its collaborators have received 121 of R&D Magazine’s “Oscars of Invention” since 1978.

In what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls a “flat world,” powerful companies can instantaneously move capital around the globe to access resources, means of production, and sources of innovation. In this increasingly global economy, where capital flows in ever greater quantities to countries of the developing world to manufacture and provide services, economic competitiveness depends more and more on the strength of U.S. innovation.

The congressionally mandated report, Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (National Academies Press, 2007), proposes four ways in which the U.S. can maintain its economic competitiveness. Three of these recommendations relate to classroom education; commitment to basic research; and recruitment and retention of top students, scientists, and engineers. The fourth recommendation is to “ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world for innovation.”

Innovation is also important to our national security. The Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security concluded that a failure to maintain our ascendancy in innovation poses a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next 25 years than any potential conventional war we might imagine. As the world flattens (and warms up), economic welfare and national security will depend increasingly on our ability as a nation to innovate.

The Laboratory specializes in scientific and technological research that is critical to the nation’s continuing prosperity and security in a flat world. For example, the quest for virtually limitless energy from nuclear fusion at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) is vital for future economic security. In 2010, experiments will begin at NIF with the goal of achieving fusion ignition and burn in a laboratory setting. Meanwhile, the novel sensors, detectors, and low-error modes of gathering intelligence developed at the Laboratory are important for protecting our borders.

In 2008, Deborah Wince-Smith, the president of the Council on Competitiveness, spoke at the Laboratory as part of the Director’s Distinguished Lecture Series. In her presentation, she noted that Lawrence Livermore is an “innovation hot spot” of the type needed to lead the next scientific revolution. Our success in R&D Magazine’s annual competition strongly supports her statement.

One award winner is the dynamic transmission electron microscope (DTEM) developed in collaboration with JEOL USA, Inc., a leading supplier of high-resolution instruments such as scanning and transmission electron microscopes. A new tool for basic research, DTEM is the first device that can capture nanometer-scale images in increments as short as 15 nanoseconds. With DTEM, scientists can “watch” changes occurring in materials under stress or observe a biological function in action.

Our second R&D 100 Award went to the autonomous alignment process for laser fusion systems (AAPLF, pronounced apple-f), a key operating system at NIF. AAPLF operates 35,000 separate optical devices to precisely align NIF’s 192 beams to within a tolerance of 10 micrometers.

The third award winner, SecureBox, is designed to protect ships, ports, and people from the possible use of a cargo container to transport a weapon of mass destruction. The device, about the size of a 12-ounce soda can, uses ultrawideband radar and communication technology to detect intrusions along any of the six sides of a sealed cargo container. If an intrusion is detected, SecureBox transmits an alarm to authorized individuals. The device was tested during transatlantic voyages and has been commercialized by Secure Box Corporation.

With these three awards, Lawrence Livermore has again demonstrated its ability and commitment to developing innovative solutions to address important national needs. It is this spirit that will continue to help the U.S. remain strong and secure.

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