Innovative Solutions Reap Rewards
LAWRENCE Livermore’s continuing excellence in science
and technology has its roots in a history of innovation. Our scientists, engineers, and technicians search for out-of-the-box solutions to achieve challenging mission goals and strengthen national security in an ever-changing world.
R&D Magazine honored the Laboratory with seven R&D 100 awards, the most of any organization this year, all for innovative solutions discovered in the process of achieving mission-related goals. This issue of Science & Technology Review highlights these seven technologies. R&D 100 awards demonstrate that pursuing the goals of our mission leads to the development of technologically significant products and processes that can advance U.S. economic competitiveness. Livermore has won 113 R&D 100 awards to date, making us one of the top institutions overall.
This year’s award-winning innovations are diverse, reflecting the Laboratory’s breadth of expertise. Three awards are related to homeland security, two to high-performance computing, one to astrophysics, and one to laser science. Solutions are always tailored to the needs of the user. Some of these technologies are ingenious but simple. Although others are more costly and complex, they remain the optimal solution to the challenge at hand.
An easy-to-use explosives detector called E.L.I.T.E.TM is the size of a credit card and can be tucked in an airport screener’s pocket until needed. The detector, which is licensed to a private firm, is sensitive to more than 30 explosives, making it one of the most effective explosives detection systems available. Another new homeland-security device is a high-precision gamma and neutron radiation detector called UltraSpec, which can distinguish threat sources of nuclear materials from legitimate sources, such as medical isotopes, and naturally occurring background radiation. UltraSpec helps government agencies ensure the safety of stored nuclear material at nuclear power plants, weapons stockpiles, and waste facilities. A third homeland-security application, called the Sonoma Persistent Surveillance System, offers the first integrated, broad-area motion imagery system for real-time surveillance at high resolution. Mounted on an airplane or other airborne platform, Sonoma’s sensors and software can track up to 8,000 moving objects in an area the size of a small city.
High-performance computing generates large, complex, multidimensional data sets that can be challenging to explore. A technology dubbed Sapphire applies ideas from data mining, video processing, statistics, and pattern recognition to help researchers better extract useful information. Sapphire was developed to solve a specific research problem and proved to be useful far beyond its original purpose. The second award in the computations field is for Babel, a program that allows software pieces written in different programming languages to seamlessly pass scientific data to each other. With Babel, scientists can inexpensively integrate almost any library or third-party tool into their scientific application.
With the externally dispersed interferometry (EDI) technique, astrophysicists can make precise measurements of the Doppler velocities of stars or sunlit targets. EDI has already been used to detect the planet around the star 51 Pegasi and to discover a new planet in the constellation Virgo. This latter planet is the farthest discovered with the Doppler effect using a telescope smaller than 1 meter in diameter.
Finally, Livermore laser scientists, together with a private company in Florida, developed an yttrium–calcium–oxyborate (YCOB) crystal to convert high-average-power laser light into light with half the incident wavelength. The YCOB converter crystal, developed for Livermore’s Mercury laser, may also increase the efficiency of lasers used in manufacturing, basic physics research, and defense applications.
In 1997, when the Laboratory last won seven R&D 100 awards, homeland security was not yet part of the national consciousness or our mission. Four of the winners that year were for laser technologies that helped build the National Ignition Facility. One was our first R&D 100 Award for an advance made through the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, the program that brought today’s record-breaking supercomputers to Livermore. As this history demonstrates, the Laboratory’s mission goals and challenges change, but the innovation never stops.