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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 53, No. 17        August 24, 2001
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Z-beamlet compresses target pellet Sandia, other labs, universities form 'nanoscience alliance' Battery-based energy system finds market niche


Z-Beamlet image shows Z evenly compresses pellet

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By Neal Singer

In its first try as a Sandia diagnostic tool, Sandia's Z-Beamlet -- the third largest laser in the world -- confirmed that Sandia's Z machine -- the most powerful laboratory producer of X-rays in the world -- spherically compressed a simulated fusion pellet during a firing, or "shot," of the giant accelerator.

Uniform 3-D compression is an essential step in creating controlled nuclear fusion. It means that almost none of the X-ray energy delivered to the pellet is squirting uselessly away. Instead, the energy is compressing the pellet and forcing its atoms closer to fusing.

Until now, Z researchers had to be content with electronic images of smoother and smoother Z pinches -- the tool of compression. The pinch -- a vertical magnetic cylinder -- impels ions of tungsten toward its vertical axis at a considerable fraction of the speed of light. But knowing that the tool is good and getting better isn't definite information about the pellet upon which the tool is operating. Only direct data is entirely convincing, or, to put it in a more homely way, seeing is believing.

Z-Beamlet images the pellet in a kind of giant dental X-ray, says project director John Porter (1673). In a burst of energy only a fraction of a billionth of a second long, it takes a snapshot by creating a shadow on a piece of X-ray film placed behind the BB-sized pellet inside the central chamber of the firing Z machine. The shadow, like the picture taken of a tooth, accurately depicts what is going on in the "mouth" of Z. Eventually, an electronic recorder will replace the film.

The comparison with the dental X-ray process is closer than it might appear. The laser's light itself is not used to create the pellet image. Higher frequencies of light are needed to produce better information. So the beam, after traveling 75 yards from a former warehouse adjacent to the Z building, is turned downward 90 degrees into the maw of Z, where it is focused to a small spot about the diameter of a human hair. Because the duration of the pulse is about 300 picoseconds -- about enough time for light, which can travel around the earth seven times in a second, to travel about four inches -- an extremely powerful beam is created because of the short time duration in which its energy is expended. The powerful beam striking the metal plate causes the plate to release X-rays. It is these X-rays, as they emanate from a single point, that have the accuracy and intensity to image the pellet.

While pulsed lasers are not new, they normally produce mere millijoules of energy in university research labs. "DOE wants lots of energy," says Porter, and Z-Beamlet delivers kilojoules of laser energy for its diagnostic work. (Z itself, firing, delivers megajoules.)

Light starts its voyage humbly enough in Z-Beamlet with picojoules (10 to the minus 12 joules) of energy in its initial beam. On a simple metal table -- using an assortment of small mirrors, lenses, beam splitters, and polarizers -- researchers develop as perfect a "seed" beam as possible. Then, like a teenager drafted for a Hollywood makeover, the little beam is amplified and smoothed to clear up any spatial nonuniformity. Then it is passed through a vacuum chamber in which it is focused into a point source from which it opens again. The entire laser system is run and monitored by an elaborate computer control system residing on five desktop computers. (This is one enhancement of many incorporated into Z-Beamlet to modernize the mid-1990s vintage laser.)

After a final smoothing using an adaptive optics system (a flexible mirror that is continuously pushed and pulled by an array of 39 electromechanical actuators), yet more energy is added to the laser pulse by flash lamps that look like fluorescent tubes.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory originally built the Beamlet laser to serve as the scientific prototype of the National Ignition Facility. The California lab decided to remove the laser to make room for those of the NIF (Lab News, Aug. 28, 1998).

The entire project to reassemble the recycled Livermore laser cost $12.875 million, took three years to complete, and required the talent and dedication of scores of individuals from Lawrence Livermore and Sandia, says John.

"Of course we were worried when we first fired the laser up," he says. "There was no reason it shouldn't work, but we didn't know that it would work. The laser didn't come with assembly instructions, and certainly there was no warranty. Frequently, we were putting the laser together only from pictures taken as it was being disassembled at Livermore. There could have been shattered glass all over the place."

Echoes operations coordinator Mike Hurst (1673), "This was cutting-edge technology that fell in our laps, and many people thought we didn't have the laser expertise to succeed. The complexity was so great that it was a shock to us as well as others that we got incredible data right out of the gate."

"Now we're more optimistic than ever," says John. "Now, instead of seeing the outside of Z science -- the instabilities in the compressing magnetic field -- we can now see the inside, the pellet at the center of the million-degree furnace -- the interior of the sun, if you will -- and we can accurately describe what's happening there."

-- Neal Singer

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Nanoscience Alliance agreement signed by LANL, UNM, and Sandia during Aug. 7 ceremony

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By Neal Singer

Though a bright morning sun that shone in the face of about 100 spectators caused considerable seat shifting, few if any left the courtyard of the Technology Ventures Corp. on Aug. 7 before a formal memorandum of understanding was signed to increase cooperation in nanoscale research among Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, and Sandia.

Signing for a "New Mexico Nanoscience Alliance" to strengthen the framework of inter-institutional efforts were the presidents of those institutions -- respectively, John Browne, Bill Gordon, and Paul Robinson. New Mexico's two US senators and a number of representatives of private industry looked on.

While cooperation between the three institutions already exists, the statement of intent specifically suggests that Sandia and Los Alamos will, when appropriate, help UNM secure nanotech funding from DOE and other funding sources; that the two national labs will work with UNM to establish more joint professorships in nanoscience at UNM; and that UNM will work toward establishing a graduate nanomaterials science degree program.

Meeting co-chair Terry Michalske (1140) said in opening remarks, "By definition, nano refers to things that are incredibly small. . . . However, the excitement surrounding nano is enormous: new science, new properties of matter, and the promise of new and revolutionary technologies."

Sen. Pete Domenici helped the intra-state mood by praising "a very bright young man" at Sandia who years ago gave the senator his first explanation of the microworld. Domenici said that the young man was so well-spoken and well-versed in his subject that the senator was sure his explicator was from Cal Tech or MIT. "When I learned he was a graduate of UNM," he said, turning at the podium to look behind him at UNM President Gordon, "I couldn't have been prouder."

(The Sandian was Steve Rodgers, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from UNM in the mid-1980s. "I told Pete I was from UNM and that seemed to make his day," remembers Steve, who recently left Sandia to become one of the founders of MEMX, a Sandia micro-optical start-up in the telecommunications field.)

Sen. Jeff Bingaman mentioned "hoping to capture a substantial amount of funding" for the next-generation lighting initiative, a branch of nanotechnology intended to move the country more quickly into light-emitting diodes and light-conducting plastics at considerable savings in energy and costs.

(The Alliance agreement may be more potent if DOE funds a joint nanotechnology science center between Sandia and Los Alamos. Currently, says Don Parkin, deputy division director of Materials Science and Technology at LANL, there are $4 million of Plant Engineering and Design funds in President Bush's budget to fund conceptual design for three nanotechnology centers. Parkin, along with UNM's Steve Brueck, co-hosted the meeting with Terry Michalske.)

UNM President Gordon mentioned the "strong nanotechnology effort in UNM's medical school," and said UNM's mission in the alliance would be to generate a new generation of scientists and engineers, develop a graduate program in nanoscience, and work toward joint professorships between both national labs and UNM.

Keynote speaker R. Stanley Williams, a Fellow at Hewlett-Packard Labs, described a stunning assortment of nanotechnology possibilities, including biocide molecules attached to nanoparticles unable to pass through the walls of healthy cells but able to pass through cancer cell walls to kill them. He said other interesting nanopossibilities could be found at www.nano.gov. But, as a kind of footnote, he cautioned resistance to "nanotech infatuation" and encouraged continued funding for the wide range of sciences and engineering that form the basis for the field. "Don't starve the other sciences," he said. "I don't know what the 'next thing' will be, but there will be a next thing."

Said Bill Garcia, a spokesperson for Intel Corp., "Computer chips, which have fueled today's scientific advances, need nanoscience research to lead the way" because silicon isn't necessarily the ideal material from which to make chips. "On a nanometer scale, silicon fabrication is as difficult as any other material. New materials need to be researched."

Former Sandian Tom Brennan, CEO of UNM start-up Zia Laser, said his New Mexico-based company had received $6 million in venture capital funding -- which he described as an amazing feat in the current economic climate -- for his lab's work in quantum dot laser diodes 20 nanometers in diameter. He praised work at Sandia and other scientific institutions that made the advance possible.

Jim Prendergast of Motorola described his company's interest in building materials from molecules "inherently nanoscale that will self-assemble into functioning materials, rather than taking out material we don't want in order to create an object."

Browne said better technology would "tremendously impact quantum computing if we can develop materials at the nanoscale." Such materials could also help detect biological threats, and improve work on quantum dots and magnetic resonances.

Paul Robinson, who spoke last, quipped, "Everything's now been said, just not everyone has said it." He praised the National Competitive Technology Transfer Act of 1989 "that changed the way the national labs operate," allowing them to begin or augment outside business and university interactions.

"I'm very happy," Paul said. "Let's sign."

And they did. -- Neal Singer

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Battery-based energy storage system grows into multimillion-dollar industry

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By Chris Burroughs

Garth Corey (6251) feels somewhat like a proud parent. His child -- a battery-based energy storage system he helped develop in the mid-1990s -- has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry.

Today he watches as large semiconductor wafer manufacturing plants, pharmaceutical companies, power utilities, and credit card companies around the world adopt the technology.

The system, originally called PQ2000 Power Quality Supply System and now sold as the PureWave Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) by S&C Electric Co. in East Troy, Wis., is made up of hundreds of ordinary lead acid truck batteries that store energy. It also has a sensing device that monitors a power line for voltage sags, swells, or momentary interruptions.

When the system senses something amiss, it transfers the load in less than four milliseconds to stored battery energy. This acts as a high-power voltage source for a minimum of 30 seconds before returning the equipment to normal power service as the momentary disturbance passes. If the interruption continues, a diesel generator or other backup power source will kick in.

"This technology is of particular interest to industries that can't afford to have power disturbances of any sort," Garth says. "For example, a utility power voltage sag can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of loss in the blink of an eye for semiconductor wafer manufacturers."

Some of the world's leading wafer manufacturers are purchasing PureWave for their fabrication units, including one in Rio Rancho, N.M.; STMicroelectronics, which has fabrication installations in Europe, North America, and Asia; and Tower Semiconductor in Israel. Other industries -- a major pharmaceutical company in Puerto Rico; Discover Card; American Electric Power; and a Sears Teleserve data center in Mobile, Ala. -- are all using the technology.

The PureWave system is a modular design that can be combined for large systems. The system in Rio Rancho is 16 megawatts while one at STMicroelectronics in Phoenix is 10 megawatts.

The system is seen as a way of correcting voltage sags and short outages caused by utility equipment malfunctions, lightning, fallen poles, and tree or animal contact with lines. Power outages and other power quality disturbances cost the US economy more than $119 billion annually, according to a recently released study sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society (CEIDS).

Garth says PQ2000, now PureWave, started out as an idea following an industrial meeting in 1994. He and several others in the energy storage business sat around a coffee table in a hotel lobby and had a vision.

"We came up with the concept of combining a sensing device with battery-based energy storage," Garth recalls. "It had never been done successfully before."

DOE provided $470,000 for initial research. Garth was involved in the early design efforts, working closely with Omnion Power, AC Battery Corp. (East Troy, Wis.), Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.), Oglethorpe Power Corp. (Tucker, Ga.), and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (San Ramon, Calif.). The research efforts earned Garth and the external team an R&D 100 award in 1997.

"We wanted to do the research and development fast so we could quickly have a product," Garth says. "DOE provided the base funding to start the work. Without the startup money, the project probably never would have gotten off the ground and there would never have been a new industry created."

Currently S&C Electric Co. is the only company in the world manufacturing and selling this type of system.

In the short time the battery-based energy storage system has been commercialized, it has survived several corporate restructurings. Omnion Power Engineering, with assistance by Garth, did the original design of the PQ2000. General Motors Delphi Division invested in the product's development because the company's batteries were used in the system. General Motors then bought the product line and formed a new company, AC Battery, to finish the commercialization and take it to market. In 1997 General Motors sold the product line back to Omnion, which launched a marketing and sales program to sell the product directly to utilities and users. Omnion formed a marketing relationship with S&C Electric in 1998. One year later S&C Electric acquired Omnion and formed the S&C Power Electronics Division. -- Chris Burroughs

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Last modified: Aug. 28, 2001


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