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Lab News -- June 9, 2006

June 9 , 2006

LabNews 06/09/2006PDF (650KB)

Accelerating engineering innovation: Sandia hosts summit of leaders from industry, government, and academia

By Julie Hall

Making math and science exciting for young people, rethinking how engineering is done, and exploring what drives creativity and innovation were among topics discussed by some 50 leaders from industry, universities, government, and national laboratories at Albuquerque’s Hyatt Regency May 31. The gathering, hosted by Sandia, kicked off a daylong summit focused on accelerating innovation in engineering and creating a highly qualified workforce of the future as a linchpin to American industrial competitiveness and national security.

“The security of our nation may depend more on a commitment to research and education than on any other factor, including the strength of our military,” said Sandia Labs

President and Director Tom Hunter in his opening remarks, summarizing conclusions of a National Academies of Science report released last fall. Compiled by a blue-ribbon panel of business leaders, scientists, and educators led by retired Lockheed Martin Chairman Norm Augustine, Rising Above the Gathering Storm made strong recommendations for federal action to enhance US science and technology and maintain competitiveness in the 21st century.

Growing out of the NAS report was President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. In February, Tom participated in a panel discussion led by the president at Intel’s Rio Rancho plant, along with then Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

The National Academies has identified accelerating engineering innovation as a critical element in achieving the goals of the American Competitiveness Initiative. The initiative calls for $5.9 billion in FY2007 to increase investments in R&D, strengthen education, and encourage entrepreneurship and also includes additional funding over a 10-year period for research and R&D tax incentives.

Sandia hosted the summit to bring together potential partners to explore ways to improve engineering education and accelerate engineering innovation, and to discuss how government, industry, universities, and the national labs might work together toward this goal, particularly in the area of nanoengineering, building on Sandia’s capabilities in high-performance computing, MESA, and CINT.

Tom said one of the challenges the group and the nation faces is doing a better job of promoting engineering as an exciting career with good income potential. Recruiting students to engineering fields can be challenging in a society that doesn’t place a strong emphasis in science and engineering, as it did during the time of Sputnik and the US-USSR space race of the late 1950s.

He said a friend who is a professor at a major university jokingly bemoaned the fact that there’s never been a television show called “L.A. Engineering” to help glamorize the profession.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett said the country needs another initiative like the post-Sputnik education push to excite kids about math and science, suggesting that dealing with the energy crisis could be the focus.

“You really need to set a national strategy or priority and show that it can be solved and in fact is important to the government; science and technology is important to us all,” he said. “Then you’d get it out of the backwater that it’s in and get it on the front page.”

Role of education

Of particular importance to Sandia is cultivating a highly qualified workforce to undertake next-generation engineering for its national security missions. This may require rethinking how engineering is done and taught to enable us “to leapfrog ahead” and get to the creative results faster, Tom said. For example, computing needs to be regarded less as a means for calculating and more as a means of learning and idea sharing, he said.

Barrett described concerns about America’s K-16 education system discouraging kids who might be interested in math and science. “We’re not doing a particularly good job of creating smart people with US passports,” he said. One problem is a lack of qualified teachers for science and math.

Another problem is that the US educational system is not setting high enough expectation levels, something you learn right away in running operations for an international company. He talked about the potential of charter schools and competition within the K-12 educational system as potentially a positive force for improving quality.

On the positive side, Barrett said that with both political parties vying for leadership on this topic and an election coming up, the opportunity is ripe.

“We have the best timing in the world to focus on this,” he said.

The schedule for the following day included panel discussions to identify and address key aspects of the engineering innovation dilemma through multi-institutional partnerships, presentations and discussion on Discovery Science and Engineering Institutes, and small group breakout sessions.

Tom Hunter and Div. 1000 VP and Chief Technology Officer Rick Stulen hosted the summit. Sandians led or facilitated various working sessions, presentations, and discussions during the summit.

In addition to the Sandia contingent, attendees included industry executives from Intel, Monsanto, Goodyear, Microsoft, Exxon-Mobil, Lockheed Martin, IBM, HP, and Procter & Gamble. Representing academia were engineering deans or their representatives from Harvard, University of Florida, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, University of Texas, Harvey Mudd College, Yale, MIT, University of New Mexico, UC Davis, and UC Santa Barbara. Attendees also included science and engineering leaders from DOE, NNSA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National Academy of Engineering. -- Julie Hall

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Collaborate to innovate, innovate to succeed

What a perfect match-up of venue and event.

The just-opened Bldg. 858 East, one of the newest components in the growing MESA complex, welcomed its first-ever outside group, invited to Sandia to participate in the Accelerating Engineering Innovation summit.

MESA itself, of course, is Sandia’s half-billion dollar campus whose underlying vision is to provide the tools, the resources, and the infrastructure needed to advance engineering R&D for the 21st century. As Labs Director Tom Hunter has noted, it is intended to be part of Sandia’s initiative to be leaders in transforming how engineering is done.

The summit participants, a blue-chip group of senior science and engineering officials from industry, academia, and the national laboratories, convened at the Labs last Thursday to lay the groundwork for closer collaboration among the three US R&D research communities to address engineering innovation.

The summit was hosted by Sandia as a response to the American Competitiveness Initiative set forth by President Bush; it calls for a multi-billion investment in R&D, education, entrepreneurship, and pro-research tax incentives. New Mexico’s senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman have been strong champions of the initiative in Congress.

The summit began with a kick-off event on May 31, with Tom and Intel Chairman Craig Barrett discussing the current landscape for engineering in the US, problems with science and math education in K-12, and how to make engineering more attractive to young students (see “Summit tackles engineering innovation” on page 1).

The Thursday session, hosted by Div. 1000 VP and Chief Technology Officer Rick Stulen, featured a series of panel discussions by representatives from the three communities. During the presentations, panelists laid out their views on the obstacles that stand in the way of advancing US engineering to the next level.

Perhaps the single dominant theme of the three panels was that the communities need to get better — much better — at collaboration. Senior executives at the meeting said US industry is increasingly turning to foreign universities and institutes for partnerships to develop advanced technology, in part because it takes too long to develop an agreement here in the US.

The industry panel discussed what is missing from today’s engineering graduates. They need employees who can communicate well, understand the competitive market, are strongly grounded in math and science, and are not simply trained but rather have the capacity to think and learn.

There was consensus that effective teaming is vital to innovation. As one panelist put it, “The ‘Eureka moment’ is not the lone nerd in the corner saying ‘Aha!’” but two people — or more — coming to the realization that they can discover and innovate more effectively by working together than by working alone.

Another panelist, responding to a skeptical question about whether innovation is really a group phenomenon, offered the perspective that innovation belongs to the group, while discovery and invention may very well still reside to some extent in the individual.

Rick Stulen, serving as a panelist on the government labs panel, noted that there are pretty decent models for effective partnering between various combinations among any two of the three communities: government and academia, academia and industry, industry and government. The missing model, he said, is a good, sustainable and agile approach to successful partnering among all three communities. Such models exist in Europe and Asia, but because of different funding streams for the universities and different sociopolitical environments, these approaches haven’t been as widely successful in the US. Time is the currency of the future, noted several participants, and in Europe and Asia, partnership agreements can be completed in a matter of days.

Said another participant: “Institutions that learn how to partner effectively are going to win — and nations that learn how to partner are going to win.”

The summit initiated planning for a partnership among industries, universities, and national laboratories to establish a series of national innovation institutes to address issues identified during the summit discussions. The participants strongly endorsed Sandia’s role to help lead the engineering innovation agenda, beginning with the emerging needs in nanoengineering.

Next steps include a report to DOE on the summit outcome, a follow-up conference to hone the specifics of what an effective government/ industry/academia institute might look like, and related follow-up activities required to make the vision of the summit a reality. -- Bill Murphy

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License expands access for researchers to microfluidic fittings

By Nancy Garcia

Necessity was the mother of invention for a recently licensed suite of microfluidic fittings, manifolds, and interconnects that allows researchers and engineers to configure their own analytical devices, as well as to potentially form integrated systems for myriad applications.

“It’s the only time at Sandia I’ve seen anything propagate like this,” said inventor Ron Renzi (8125). “It’s amazing how well-received these technologies were.” Among the team members responsible for the development were Distinguished Technologist Tom Raber (8125) and business development specialist Jim Wilhelm (8529), who handled the licensing agreement.

The suite was originally developed during the initial stages of the Grand Challenge µChemLab Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program, Ron says, when he could not find commercially available components that enabled easily formed fluidic seals in small spaces. µChemLab was designed to enhance traditional wet-bench chemical analysis of such things as trace explosives and biotoxins by rapidly and portably separating samples on-chip under an applied voltage.

Through the help of Jim and Senior Manager Art Pontau of Materials and Energy Sciences Section 8750, the fittings were licensed late last year to LabSmith, a Livermore-based hardware company formed by former Sandians Eric Cummings and Kirsten Pace.

Working on the initial µChemLab project eight years ago with designer Mark Claudnic (8948), the team developed the first component, called CapTite — a one-piece ferruled fitting with thread connections for sealing to thin, flexible capillaries. This solved the problem of getting fluids to microchannels on chips in a way that prevents troublesome leaks or bubbles.

The next year, manifolds and interfaces that provide consistent fluid connections with simple and accurate alignment were developed. Ron said the suite of tools has become much used in the last three or four years, adding, “It really is miniature plumbing made simple.”

The initial grant has spawned work in many Sandia programs, including those sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DoD, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and numerous LDRD programs.

Microthruster development

A specific application example includes LDRD-funded microthruster development, in which designs are being explored for using propellants in nanosatellites for uses such as communications, surveillance, or networking. The fittings allow different configurations to be tested so that mixing an oxidizer to increase thrust can be investigated. The liquid propellants are moved using electrokinetic pumping, in which an electric field causes bulk electroosmotic flow of a liquid in a packed bed within the capillary. The flow reaches the closed end of a capillary and drives a reverse, pressure-driven flow that can be tailored to the application by altering the size of particles in the packed bed.

Several patents have been issued or applied for with the assistance of Scott Ferko (8125), a co-inventor of the patented one-piece ferrule. Patents awarded so far include those associated with compression manifolds, microvalves, and high-pressure fittings. The high-pressure fitting is capable of withstanding up to 40,000 psi and can be used in smaller versions of the standard benchtop analytical tool, high-pressure liquid chromatography systems requiring about 10,000 psi. If scaled down, the technique can potentially be made quicker and more selective, sensitive, and convenient.

The microvalves include a multiport selector valve that has been continuously improved over the last two years, and is now frequently and reliably employed in microflow and nanoflow systems.

“The valves have been tested for more than 250,000 cycles, demonstrating a robustness that enables creation of reliable autonomous systems in the field,” says Microfluidics Dept. 8324 Manager Yolanda Fintschenko.

The fittings are also being used to enable selective concentrators that exploit differences in conductivity between particles and the suspending liquid in the presence of a nonuniform electric field.

Sandia researchers improved upon using this well-known force phenomenon (termed dielectrophoresis) for these devices by placing insulating obstacles within microchannels, and the associated electrodes outside in reservoirs. The insulating posts, arrayed in the middle of the microchannel, constrict the electric field and create a field gradient that gives rise to the dielectrophoretic particle separation. This approach is much easier to fabricate (using injection-molded polymers) than the previous glass-based approach. They say their technology, known as iDEP (for insulator-based dielectrophoresis), could revolutionize biological sample preparation. The iDEP technology is currently the focus of a cooperative research and development agreement with Lockheed Martin.

In New Mexico, these tools are enabling a discovery platform for mechanical testing, optical interrogation, electronic manipulation, and measurement at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies. Generally, there are applications in proteomics, genomics, chromatography, a variety of microassemblies, and in medical, defense, and similar fields.

One medical diagnostic application is a small portable device that within minutes should be able to screen saliva for markers of periodontal disease, and blood for early indicators of heart disease. Funded by the NIH, the R&D effort includes collaborators at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and its School of Engineering, as well as the Cornell University School of Applied and Engineering Physics.

Terry Michalske, director of Biological & Energy Sciences Center 8300, has called the research team’s results “truly world-class,” saying, “They have succeeded in combining cutting-edge science and engineering to achieve something that has the potential to revolutionize medical diagnostics.”

“The initial investment blossomed into a real success story, and a fundamental strong element of that was the engineering,” Ron says. “It’s gone a long way. . . . We have great science here, and we also have great engineering to enable the science.”

More than 20 second-generation µChemLab boxes relying on the aforementioned technologies are currently used in Sandia programs. The components are modular and employ a common breadboard and control architecture.

“Researchers can grab the components, draw a flow schematic, integrate and assemble the parts in hours instead of days, weeks, or months,” Ron says. “We want to take the chemist away from the problem and not be doing wet chemistry out in the field.”

Ron is also lead engineer on a team incorporating the fittings and other enabling technologies into the BioBriefcase project, an environmental monitoring collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The DHS-sponsored project calls for a compact broad-spectrum bioagent detector that autonomously collects, prepares, and analyzes samples using three techniques (DNA amplification using polymerase chain reaction to identify pathogens, immunoassays to detect pathogens and toxins, and fluorescence tagging to identify protein toxins) in a portable unit complete with a system to archive samples for further analysis.

Another DHS-funded project using this suite of microfluidic tools is the Enhanced Bioaerosol Detection project. Besides Sandia, it includes LLNL, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Los Alamos national laboratories, as well as Yale University and the Army Research Laboratory. The prototype, slated for testing in August, is a selective aerosol collector and fluorescence spectrometer under investigation for potential use as a low-false-alarm-rate early warning bioaerosol sensor.

“The technologies have propagated through different programs,” Ron says, “not all of which they were invented for.” This is likely to continue as the field of microfluidics and its applications evolve. -- Nancy Garcia

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Sandia collaborates with KSU in successful flight computer demonstration

By Michael Padilla


Sandia and Kansas State University researchers have teamed up to create a new flight computer for use in rockets and reentry vehicles.

A flight computer is the brains of a rocket or RV. It tells the vehicle where it is, where it’s going, and how to get there.

The new IMPACCT (Integrated Multi-Module PowerPC-based Aerospace COTS Computer Technology) flight computer replaces SANDAC (Sandia Airborne Computer), which has been used for the past 20 years and on more than 100 missions.

The new flight computer recently flew on the Missile Defense Agency’s Critical Measurements and Countermeasures Program flight test. The test was part of MDA’s test program that provides participants with the ability to reduce technical risk by testing against challenging and complex target scenes in a controlled environment.

“The IMPACCT-1 flight computer successfully flew on the MDA test which was executed to gather experimental data,” says Earl Creel, manager of Navigation, Guidance, and Control Dept. 5416. “The idea of the IMPACCT was to create a smaller and more robust flight computer around commercial processor card assemblies.”

An agreement between Sandia and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Kansas State University (EECE/KSU) was formed three years ago to provide two master’s-level graduate students to work on technology developments supporting the IMPACCT computer family.

Kyle McDowell and Jerad Simon were hired by Sandia as summer interns and worked on creating the new flight computer. Both based their theses on the technology, earned their master’s degrees, and are now technical members of Dept. 5416.

Sandia’s Flight Computers Dept. 5339 was instrumental in taking the thesis prototype IMPACCT-2 to production status.

Durable, reliable, economical

Don Tolsch, manager of Dept. 5339, says the successful development and qualification efforts associated with the IMPACCT-2 flight computer have been the result of strong cooperation between Centers 5300 and 5400.

“The IMPACCT-2 computer is but one in a family of machines that will allow Sandia to address the future needs of our customers in both a time and cost-effective manner,” he says.

“As the brains of the vehicle, the flight computer must be durable, reliable, and economical,” says Kyle.

“We are fortunate that the thesis prototype worked and now we are able to expand on what we achieved.”

The primary design concept for IMPACCT was to take advantage of the continuous advances being made in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems, says Jerad.

“We are not reinventing the wheel,” he says. “But we are making advances to systems by combining technology and updating the software and hardware.”

One challenge, Jerad says, is working on unforeseen problems that might arise in off-the-shelf systems.

A portion of the collaboration is to work toward the integration of PowerPC-based hardened processors, capable of running Green-Hills Integrity software (a real-time embedded OS), into upper-level electrical and computer engineering classes.

Faculty and graduate students are able to use the equipment in a classroom setting in synergy with ongoing efforts at Sandia.

The students will be able to gain extensive knowledge of the equipment in two graduate-level courses and will be able provide feedback on how to best employ the equipment and provide recommendations for improvements.

EECE/KSU assistant professor Dwight Day is principal investigator; professor John Devore is co-investigator.

Earl says the KSU collaboration has proven to be successful.

“We have gained two very good employees, created two new flight computer programs, and have established a positive working relationship with Kansas State University.” -- Michael Padilla

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