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Lab News -- June 17, 2011

June 17, 2011

LabNews - June 17, 2011PDF (1.1 Mb)

Dragonflies and microvalves make mark at annual MEMS design contest

By Neal Singer

A dragonfly as small as a piece of dust, its four tiny wings beating like it had settled momentarily on a lily pad, and an unusually sensitive microvalve were the big winners in this year’s design contest for extraordinarily tiny devices held annually at Sandia.


The Carnegie Mellon student design (top image) for a MEMS-based, electrostatically operated microvalve won in the educational category. (Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University)

Texas Tech students won in the novel design category for their MEMS-based dragonfly design (lower image). (Image courtesy of Texas Tech University) To open a larger file, click the image.


The winners — Texas Tech University for the novel insect and Carnegie Mellon University for the educational valve — were announced in late May at Sandia at an awards ceremony. There, student researchers presented their microelectromechanical system (MEMS) designs to the scrutiny of Sandia engineers.

Sandia will fabricate all students’ design submissions using its advanced SUMMiT V™ fabrication process, which makes MEMS devices with five levels of polysilicon (the most of any standard process), and is especially well-suited for making the complex mechanisms thought up by student contestants. Other institutions competing this year included the universities of Oklahoma and Utah, and the Air Force Institute of Technology. Students representing each submission presented their designs at the awards ceremony.

New design possibilities

The dragonfly opens new possibilities in the design of aerial surveillance devices. These currently have many uses, from quantifying the radiation leaking from damaged Japanese nuclear reactors to delineating enemy positions. Current state -of-the-art micro air machines have components in the centimeter range (from 15 cm to slightly less than 1 cm). The insect-inspired device is smaller, with biologically mimetic wings approximately 0.5 millimeters long and 0.1 mm wide. It is intended to generate aerodynamic lift and thrust by flapping its wings rather than by a motor-driven propeller or jet thrust. Flapping is achieved when small intermittent electric currents cause thermal expansion and contraction in the wings. Clever engineering uses this material’s response to make the wing strokes more aerodynamic and hence more efficient.

“Among the countless insect species able to fly, we chose the dragonfly because it flaps its wings in the vertical direction, rather than back-and-forth or in a rotary motion,” said Texas Tech student Sahil Oak. “The vertical motion of the large wings in our design not only provide greater surface area for lift than most flying insects but cool faster, enabling faster flapping.”

The work was supervised by TTU faculty advisor Tim Dallas.

Valves are the largely underappreciated method by which advanced technical societies control the flow of fluids. Commonly, their motions are screw-based like a shower stall, water sink, or garden hose bib, or they are switch-based, using ball-and-flapper valves like most toilets, heart valve prostheses, and inkjet printers. The winning project from Carnegie Mellon involved a micro switch-based valve that makes possible very fine control over tiny amounts of liquid flow. This valve requires only picoJoules of energy to switch its state. The test module the students designed will help determine characteristics that would create the most efficient and lowest leakage microvalves, and ultimately may help facilitate tiny flow-through experiments. These are increasingly common in biological research laboratories and in medical facilities attempting rapid analysis of a patient’s medical state from tiny fluid samples.

“One of the most common types of microvalves is electrostatically operated, which is the model for our design,” says Carnegie Mellon student research lead Vitali Brand. “The best microvalves are useful in certain fuel cell designs and in microengines because they can close or open in less than one-thousandth of a second and function against heavy pressures without leaking.”

CMU professorial oversight was provided by Maarten de Boer.

The student contest, open to institutional members of the Sandia-led MEMS University Alliance program, provides an arena for the nation’s student engineers to hone their skills in designing and using microdevices. Such devices are used to probe biological cells, arrange and operate components of telecommunications and high-tech machinery, operate many home devices, and strengthen national security.

Process takes months

The MEMS University Alliance is part of Sandia’s outreach to universities to improve engineering education. It is open to any US institution of higher learning, and most recently has extended an invitation to select Mexican universities to help that country develop its technological base.

The alliance provides classroom teaching materials and licenses for Sandia’s special SUMMiT V design tools at a reasonable cost. This makes it possible for a university without its own fabrication facilities to develop a curriculum in MEMS. The design competition is an increasing activity within the University Alliance, which now has more than 20 members.

The entire contest process takes almost nine months. It starts with students developing ideas for a device, followed by creation of an accurate computer model of a design that might work, analysis of the design and, finally, design submission. Sandia’s MEMS experts and university professors review the design and determine the winners.

Sandia’s state-of-the-art MESA fabrication facility then creates parts for each of the entrants. The design competition capitalizes on Sandia’s confidence in achieving first-pass fabrication success, which restricts the entire process to a reasonable student timeframe.

Fabricated parts are shipped back to the university students for lengthy tests to determine whether the final product matches the purpose of the original computer simulation.

The University Alliance coordinates with the Sandia-led National Institute for Nano Engineering (NINE), providing additional opportunities for students to self-direct their engineering education, and the Sandia/Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT), a DOE Office of Science center with the most up-to-date nanotechnology tools.

Travel by 26 students and five professors to the awards ceremony was made possible by grants from SPIE.

The Sandia student presentations were hosted by Tom Zipperian (1740), group manager of MESA microfabrication, and Keith Ortiz, manager of MEMS Technologies (1749).

For more information regarding the University Alliance and the design competition, contact Stephanie Johnson at srjohns@sandia.gov. Images and white papers describing the winning designs can be found on the web at http://mems.sandia.govua/contest.html. - Neal Singer

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New thermal battery manufacturing method to be developed under Sandia, ATB research agreement

By Patti Koning

Over the past two decades, the Sandia Women’s Connection (SWC) has recognized 400 young women for academic excellence through its annual Math & Science Awards. In May, the event was held for the first time at Sandia in the Combustion Research Computation and Visualization (CRCV) building, part of the site’s new General Access Area (GAA).


Sandia researcher Frank Delnick (2546) invented a thin-film coating process that changes the way certain thermal batteries have been made since the 1950s. Sandia and its industrial partner, ATB Inc., think the invention will reduce the size of certain thermal batteries and lower the manufacturing costs. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Each year, teachers from 10 high schools in Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton, Tracy, and Manteca nominate two students, one for outstanding achievement in math and one for outstanding achievement in science.

The award is given to young women in their junior year of high school so they can include it on their college and scholarship applications.

“Even though women have made big strides, particularly in the biological sciences, when we look at chemical and mechanical engineering, mathematics, physics, and computer science, there is a big gap in the number of women in these fields versus men, particularly in high-level positions,” says Cathy Branda (8623), the event’s chair. “These awards are one way we are trying to address that gap.”

‘A tremendous number of doors open’

The event honors the young women for their academic achievements, but it’s also about introducing them to successful women scientists and the many career paths available in math and science. “We hope you recognize that when you excel in math and science, a tremendous number of doors open for you,” said Cathy in presenting the awards

Before the awards presentation, the awardees met their Sandia hosts, women with careers in math and science. Donna Djordjevich (8116) explained her Ground Truth program, an interactive gaming platform used to simulate critical homeland security activities. Victoria VanderNoot (8125) shared her work on the RapTOR (Rapid Threat Organism Recognition) Grand Challenge, a project to develop a tool for rapid characterization of biological organisms.

The awardees also learned about internship opportunities at Sandia.

“While this event has always been about fostering mentoring relationships between career scientists and students, in recent years it has become a pipeline for interns,” says Cathy. “Over the past few years, we’ve had several awardees return as summer interns. It would be wonderful to see some of these talented young women return to Sandia as staff members when they have completed their education.”

The speakers were Tammy Kolda (8966) and Rene Bierbaum (8245), who shared their personal stories. Both women said they had accomplished far more than they ever expected to, and that they were driven by passion for math and science.

‘Something switched on’ in college

Tammy discovered her love of math in college and ultimately graduated first in her class.

“In college, something switched on, and I started studying more and getting straight A’s. Although I’d gotten a lot of A’s before, I never got them all in the same semester,” she said in her remarks. “I’d always liked math, but had no idea what you could do with it. Suddenly I realized I was taking lots of math classes so, almost by default, math became my major.” She described her research as analogous to suggesting “friends” on Facebook. “We are looking at the structure of networks, the underlying process that drives them — can I describe them in an equation? Can I describe your social life in an equation? If that sounds hard, it is,” she said. “I can’t look in the back of the book for an answer, but that’s a good thing. It’s fun to figure out the answer on your own.”

Rene characterized her career path as a series of “microforks” in the road. “These little microforks didn’t seem significant at the time, but when I look back I see how important they were in my life,” she said. Rene said she was interested in engineering before she even knew what it was. At Halloween, when other kids were thinking about their costumes, she collected and analyzed data on the number of trick-or-treaters that came to her house, their candy choices, and anything else she could record numerically.

She described going through a series of majors in college — chemical engineering, computer science, math, and philosophy — before settling on electrical engineering. “It was really a magical moment when I found my passion,” Rene said. An important microfork, maybe even a millifork, occurred after she was promoted to manager. “After six years, I decided to leave management and return to my data,” said Rene. “This was a hard decision, but it paid off for me in terms of personal happiness. I think it’s really important to listen to those messages about what you love.”

Award came as a surprise

The awardees and their families enjoyed meeting the scientists and learning about their careers.

“I really liked seeing all the displays and learning about so many different fields,” says Nicole England, the math awardee from Manteca’s Sierra High School. Angela Evans, the math winner from Livermore High School, described the program as wonderful, especially the speakers.

“I wish I could have gone to something like this before I went to college,” says her father, Louis.

The winner of the math award from Pleasanton’s Amador Valley High School might be familiar to people at Sandia — Madeline Quinn, daughter of Margaret Quinn (8522). The award came as a surprise to Margaret; she first learned her daughter had won when she was reviewing the spreadsheet of winners at work.

“Maddie was honored to receive this award, and really enjoyed the event. It was a great chance for the girls to get an ‘inside look’ at some of the work done at a national laboratory and meet some very impressive role models,” says Margaret. “Both Mike [Maddie’s father] and I are really proud of her accomplishments. At this point, she talks about wanting to pursue her interests in math and science when she goes to college — and we enthusiastically support her!” -- Patti Koning

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Sandia wins three 2011 EStar Awards

Sandia has won three 2011 Environmental Sustainability (EStar) awards from DOE for notable accomplishments in pollution prevention and sustainable environmental stewardship. The Sandia initiatives honored with EStar awards are:

“You can be justifiably proud of this accomplishment. Only 15 EStar awards and three EStar honorable mentions were granted from 186 nominations,” wrote Beverly Whitehead of DOE’s Office of Sustainability Support in a congratulatory email to Sandia about the awards.

As EStar award winners, the Sandia sustainability programs will be submitted for consideration for the prestigious White House Closing the Circle award.

More about the winners

Sandia’s Integrated Sustainable Planning and Design initiative aims to advance high-performance sustainable building (HPSB) guiding principles and associated building-related energy and water reductions. Based on data from comprehensive building audits, Sandia staff are implementing a variety of cost-effective initiatives to meet sustainability goals. The initiative aims to meet the guiding principles in 15 percent of Sandia buildings by 2015; prioritize the top 75 percent of energy-consuming buildings for auditing over four years; and prioritize and fund energy- and water-saving opportunities.

 Notable accomplishments in the HPSB arena to date include:

Major strides in energy conservation include:

Point of contact for this award is Chris Evans, Facilities Management and Operations Center (FMOC) Dept. 4853 Resource Conservation lead.

* * *

The Water Consumption Reduction award highlights Sandia’s continuing success in water conservation, including, notably, a 30 percent reduction in use since 2007, with the biggest savings coming from the biggest users, cooling and ultra-pure water. Based on these results, three successful systems have been installed: a high-efficiency reverse osmosis (HERO) system; a deionized water recycling system; and a system that reclaims water for cooling towers.

Additional water-conservation projects include deployment of the “Green Machine” for nonchemical water treatment; computer-controlled irrigation; flow meters on irrigation lines; meters on the Dolphin water-treatment unit; cisterns and rainwater harvesting; retrofits of restroom fixtures; and more.

Point of contact for this award is Dept. 4821 Manager Israel Martinez.

* * *

The High-Performance Computing Water Reduction and Energy-Efficient Cooling award represents the successful collaboration between the Facilities Management Operations Center and a line organization.

Center 9300 built the Red Sky supercomputer in response to the nation’s critical need for high-performance computing (HPC). Beyond raw horsepower, a goal was set for Red Sky to maximize its eco-efficiency by using cutting-edge technological innovations. The system uses a newly designed power-distributing system that significantly reduces power leakage and a unique cooling system that is more than 95 percent efficient in cooling the system’s numerous computer racks.

The Red Sky project was a unique collaboration between the Computer System Design and Implementation team and the Corporate Computing Facilities Infrastructure team, the latter being instrumental in the vendor-selection process and teaming with Oracle/Sun. Project results have set a precedent for other HPC efforts by achieving notable results:

Point of contact for the award is Facilities technologist David Martinez (9324).

* * *

The EStar award ceremony will be held in conjunction with the Federal Energy and Water Management awards ceremony on October 12 at the Forrestal Main Auditorium with a reception at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

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