LIVERMORE, Calif. -- A radiation detector the size of a wristwatch with a new kind of crystal and a camera that images and identifies hidden radiation sources, operating at a fraction of its former size, has won Sandia's first "Academy Award of Innovation" from Discover Magazine.
Eight winners in the magazine's eighth annual Awards for Technological Innovation were announced Saturday night at Disney's Epcot Center. The detector was developed at Sandia National Laboratories for applications ranging from detection of smuggled nuclear material to better medical imaging for more precise cancer treatment.
The compact detectors under development at Sandia's Livermore facility sense gamma ray emissions. This radiation can serve as a signature for stored nuclear materials and waste, valuable mineral deposits, or cancerous tumors labeled with a radioactive marker. Until recently, spotting the rays required bulky and expensive cryogenic devices. One solution, being pursued by a research team led by Sandia scientist Ralph James, is to find a way to grow large, flawless crystals of cadmium zinc telluride (CZT). These novel semiconductors emit a tiny electronic signal when hit by gamma rays. CZT detectors are already standing guard over dismantled atomic weapons, and cancer detection applications could be next.
"We are proud to have this recognition for a research and development effort that exemplifies our mission to enhance national security," said Sandia Vice President Tom Hunter, who oversees Sandia's California site. "This work is an example of the way Sandia creates technological solutions for pressing problems such as providing protection for nuclear materials. These innovations also have the potential to address important needs in our society, such as enhanced environmental monitoring and improved medical evaluation and treatment."
The Discover awards acknowledge superior creativity and ingenuity in following categories: Automotive and Transportation; Aviation and Aerospace; Computer Hardware and Electronics; Computer Software; Environment; Sight; and Sound.
To select winners in each category, Discover's editorial staff first scours the scientific literature and other forums for new and interesting products and ideas. Discover also mails nomination packages to virtually every technology-based company and research institution. Many other nominations are sent in by readers and the public at large. The editorial staff then whittles down the hundreds of nominated innovations to a list of five finalists per category.
Information on each of the finalists in the Discover Awards is then sent on to an independent panel of experts assembled for each category, which picks the winner.
Science-enthusiast celebrities presenting the 1997 awards included Ann Druyan, wife of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who is co-producer of an upcoming science-fiction film, Contact; Story Musgrave, the recently retired astronaut who repaired the Hubble Telescope; LeVar Burton, star of Star Trek: The Next Generation; Miss America Tara Holland; Marvin Minsky, the influential scientist known as the "father of artificial intelligence," and Secretary of Energy Frederico Pena.
The July issue of the monthly magazine (on newstands June 13) will feature the winners and finalists of this prestigious program. Discover is the country's leading general-interest science magazine. Each month Discover reaches 7 million readers who want to understand science and technology's ever-broadening impact on all areas of life.
Sandia is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national defense, energy, environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.
Color photos or B-roll are available upon request.
Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
Nancy Garcia Sandia/California Public Affairs, (510) 294-2932, Nancy_Garcia@Sandia.gov, (510) 294-2311
Ralph James (510) 294-2782, (510) 294-2311
Additional news about the awards is posted at http://www.enews.com/magazines/discover.