A device that can perform remote chemical analysis on another planet, a second that shapes X-ray beams with submicron accuracy, a third that sprays biological molecules onto a mass spectrometer for microchip analysis, and a fourth that generates reactor-quality neutron beams from a compact source – have two things in common. First, all were developed entirely or in part by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Second, all four have won 2012 R&D 100 awards, also known as the "Oscars of Innovation."
Presented by R&D Magazine, the R&D 100 Awards recognize the year's 100 most significant proven technological advances. The four awards in 2012 bring the total of Berkeley Lab's R&D 100 wins to 62, plus two Editors' Choice Awards. In all, DOE's national laboratories and facilities won 36 R&D 100 Awards this year.
In response, Energy Secretary Steven Chu released this statement. "Congratulations to this year's R&D 100 Award winners. The research and development at the Department of Energy's laboratories continues to help the nation meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security and improve our economic competitiveness."
LAMIS, which stands for Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry, is a technology that could loom large in the future of homeland security and planetary space exploration.
LAMIS entails focusing the energy of a high-powered laser beam to a tiny spot on the surface of a sample to create a plasma plume for analysis. Each species of atoms or ions in the plasma will emit light with signature spectral emission peaks that can be measured to identify the specific isotopes of a chemical element within. LAMIS offers a green chemistry alternative to existing mass spectrometry techniques that is faster, less expensive and can be carried out from across vast distances. Requiring only a laser beam and an optical spectrometer to perform real-time isotopic analyses of samples at ambient pressures and temperatures, LAMIS represents what may be the only practical means of determining the geochronology of samples on Mars or other celestial bodies in the Solar System. It also has many important applications here on Earth including nuclear forensics aimed at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism. The LAMIS development team included Rick Russo and Xianglei Mao of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, Osman Sorkhabi, now with the LAM Research Corporation, and Alexander Bol'shakov, now with Applied Spectra, which co-nominated LAMIS with Berkeley Lab.
Solving the crystal structure of a protein is a key to determining its function and X-ray beams are one of the prime tools for accomplishing this. The Compact Variable Collimator (CVC) allows researchers to shape of beam of X-rays to virtually any size or shape within its aperture range. The CVC is installed at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source, a premier source of X-ray beams for research, in the collection of beamlines known as the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology (BCSB). Small, easy to use and readily adapted to any configuration of X-ray beam line at the BCSB, the CVS allows researchers to quickly and accurately adjust X-ray beams for X-ray microscopy, protein crystallography and small angle X-ray scattering to optimize resolution. This optimized resolution allows researchers to extract the highest quality data from less-than-perfect protein crystals rather than discard crystals with defects and spend time and money preparing new ones. The CVC has already been used to make critical discoveries in areas that include Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, Lassa fever, antibiotic resistance and food crop improvements. Development of the CVC was led by Simon Morton and Jeff Dickert of Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division. Co-nominating the CVC with Berkeley Lab were Takeda Pharmaceutical and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation.
The Multinozzle Emitter Array (MEA) has been called a "game changer" in the use of mass spectrometry to analyze biomolecules in microfluidic chips because it enables researchers to perform global analysis of nucleic acids, proteins and metabolites from a single cell. The MEA overcomes the bottlenecks of previous electrospray ionization technology that slowed the pace and increased the cost of biomedical research by sequentially spraying up to 96 nanoscale samples onto a silicon wafer which can then be aligned with the intake port of a mass spectrometer. This provides a threefold boost in sensitivity over the electrospray technology, a huge advantage for systems biology studies in which researchers seek to determine how the functions of a biological system emerge from the complex interactions of its many constituents. The MEA development team included Daojing Wang and Pan Mao of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division, Peidong Yang of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, and Hung-Ta Wang, who is now at the University of Alabama.
Berkeley Lab shared a fourth 2012 R&D 100 Award with Adelphi Technology Inc., for its role in the development of the High Output Neutron Generator. Powered by a magnetron of the type used in microwave ovens and incorporating a unique plasma ion source developed at Berkeley Lab, the High Output Neutron Generator produces its beams off the fusion reaction between deuterium ions rather than the radioactive tritium used in reactors. This makes the High Output Neutron Generator safe and economic to use over long periods of time. Although small enough to be used in a laboratory setting, the High Output Neutron Generator is still able to produce a billion neutrons per second, which is equal to or greater than the yields from radioactive tritium, and 10 to 100 times greater than the yields from other neutron generators that also use the deuterium-deuterium fusion reaction. Applications include neutron activation studies, detection of explosives and nuclear materials, neutron radiography, and chemical analysis. Development of the High Output Neutron Generator was led by Adelphi's Melvin Piestrup. Development of the plasma ion source was led by Qing Ji and Bernhard Ludewigt of Berkeley Lab's Accelerator and Fusion Research Division.
Berkeley Lab's R&D 100 nominations are submitted through its Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Management Department, which is headed by Cheryl Fragiadakis.
"I am so pleased to congratulate our staff and our partners on the recognition conferred by the R&D 100 Awards," Fragiadakis said. "This year's winners from Berkeley Lab embody the high quality research and focus on impactful applications that are the hallmark of our work."
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.
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