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Lab News -- July 31, 2009

July 31, 2009

LabNews 07/31/2009PDF 2 Mb)

Sandia wins five R&D 100 Awards, plays role in sixth

By Neal Singer


Sandia researchers — competing in an international pool that includes universities, start-ups, large corporations, and government labs — received five R&D 100 Awards this year and played a role in a sixth.

R&D Magazine presents the awards each year to researchers who, in the opinion of teams of judges selected by the magazine, have developed the year’s 100 most outstanding advances in applied technologies.

The six Sandia award winners are:

Sometimes referred to as “the Nobel Prizes of technology,” the R&D 100 Awards were first presented in 1963 as the I-R 100s, in keeping with the original name of the magazine, Industrial Research.

The sole criterion for winning, according to a description released by the magazine, is “demonstrable technological significance compared with competing products and technologies.” Properties noted by judges include smaller size, faster speed, greater efficiency, and higher environmental consciousness.

Many entries in the years since 1963 became household names, including Polacolor film (1963), the flashcube (1965), the automated teller machine (1973), the halogen lamp (1974), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the printer (1986), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm antismoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), lab on a chip (1996), and HDTV (1998).

“The Department of Energy’s national laboratories are incubators of innovation, and I’m proud they are being recognized once again for their remarkable work,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The cutting-edge research and development being done in our national labs is vital to maintaining America’s competitive edge, increasing our nation’s energy security, and protecting our environment. I want to thank this year’s winners for their work and congratulate them on this award.”

Team members will receive their awards at R&D Magazine’s formal awards banquet Nov. 12 at the Renaissance Orlando Hotel at SeaWorld in Florida.

Here’s more detail on each winning entry:

NanoCoral™: Dendritic platinum nano-structures. This innovative nanotechnology for producing metal nanostructures offers unique control over their shape, size, porosity, composition, stability, and other functional properties compared with those achieved by existing methods. Novel catalysts and electrocatalysts produced by the Sandia approach are expected to significantly reduce platinum metal usage and thus the cost of platinum catalysts in fuel cells, solar cells, and other applications in the renewable energy sector. Ten patents have been licensed to Compass Metals, two patents have been issued, and eight more applied for. Principal developer and submitter John Shelnutt (1815) worked with Bob Comstock and Roland Degenkolbe of Compass Metals, Inc., Yujiang Song, James E. Miller, (both 1815), Frank van Swol (1814), and Sivakumar Challa and Craig Medforth of the University of New Mexico.

The high-temperature silicon carbide power module more efficiently converts electrical energy from one form to another. This invention reduces the size and volume of power electronic systems by an order of magnitude over present state-of-the-art silicon-based solutions while simultaneously reducing energy loss by more than 50 percent, offering the potential for users to save hundreds of millions of dollars. Applications are in hybrid and electric vehicles, renewable energy interfaces, and aircraft. The work was submitted by project lead Stan Atcitty (6336) jointly with Alex Lostetter at Arkansas Power Electronics International Inc., Alan Mantooth at the University of Arkansas; Takukazu Otsuka at Japan-based Rohm Co. Ltd.; and Imre Gyuk at DOE’s Energy Storage Program.

The ultra-low-power silicon microphotonic communications platform enables wavelength division multiplexed communications within high-performance computers. The ultrasmall components establish a platform of elements capable of addressing the bandwidth and power consumption problems of high-performance computer and data communications networks. Silicon-resonant modulators demonstrate for the first time 100 microwatts/gigabit/second optical data transmission on a silicon CMOS-compatible platform. Together with the first high-speed silicon bandpass switches, the platform enables optical data transmission and routing on a silicon platform at nanosecond switching speeds with up to 100 times less power consumption and 100 times the bandwidth density compared to traditional electronic approaches. The work was led and submitted by Michael Watts (1727), with Douglas Trotter (1748), Ralph Young (1748), Anthony Lentine (1727), and David Luck (1749).

The Catamount N-Way (CNW) lightweight kernel leverages hardware capabilities of multicore processors to deliver significant improvements in data access performance for today’s parallel computing applications. CNW provides enhanced data access capabilities beyond other equivalent operating systems by employing a new technique that targets memory bandwidth, arguably the most important area of performance in scientific parallel computing. The CNW software is licensed to Cray, Inc., and is the operating system for the Sandia/Cray Red Storm supercomputer at Sandia. The work was submitted by lead researcher Ron Brightwell (1423) as a joint entry with Trammel Hudson of Washington, D.C.-based Operating Systems Research, with Sandians Kurt Ferreira, James Laros, Suzanne Kelly, Kevin Pedretti, John Van Dyke (all 1423), and James Tomkins (retired).

The hyperspectral confocal fluorescence microscope system rapidly acquires images with diffraction limited spatial resolution of 250 nano-meters (nm) in lateral directions and 600 nm in the axial direction. When combined with Sandia’s proprietary multivariate analysis algorithms the system enables the identification of all emitting fluorescence species contained in an image, and the production of relative concentration maps for each species — all without the need for any a priori information about the emitters. Leading this Sandia effort are David Haaland (retired), Michael Sinclair (1816), Howland Jones (8622), David Melgaard (5535), Christopher Stork (1825), Jerilyn Timlin (8622),, Ryan Davis (8625), and Mark Van Benthem (1822).

The Artificial Retina Project, for which Sandia shares the award, was cited for moving research forward to enable the blind to see. The technology employs a small video camera on a patient’s glasses to send images to a compact image processor on the patient’s belt. The processor commands an implant to deliver the desired pulses of current to an electrode array attached to the patient’s retinal tissue. This inner-eye array stimulates the retinal tissue nerves, which ultimately connect to nerves leading to the visual cortex of the brain where the patient sees an image. The award was given to a multilab/industry collaboration funded by DOE, initiated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and submitted for an award by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Sandia is developing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and high-voltage subsystems for advanced artificial retina implant designs. These include microtools, electronics packaging, and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Key Sandia project researchers led by Kurt Wessendorf (1732) are Sean Pearson (1735), Murat Okandan (1749), Adrian Casias (2452), and Dawhey Chu (1715). -- Neal Singer

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Sandia computer scientists successfully boot one million Linux kernels as virtual machines

By Mike Janes

Computer scientists at Sandia’s California site have for the first time successfully demonstrated the ability to run more than a million Linux kernels as virtual machines.

The achievement will allow cyber security researchers to more effectively observe behavior found in malicious botnets, or networks of infected machines that can operate on the scale of a million nodes. Botnets, says Ron Minnich (8961), are often difficult to analyze since they are geographically spread all over the world.

Sandia scientists used virtual machine (VM) technology and the power of the Albuquerque-based Thunderbird supercomputing cluster for the demonstration.

Running a large number of VMs on one supercomputer — at a similar scale as a botnet — would allow cyber researchers to watch how botnets work and explore ways to stop them in their tracks.

“We can get control at a level we never had before,” says Ron.

Previously, Ron says, researchers had only been able to run up to 20,000 kernels concurrently (a kernel is the central component of most computer operating systems). The more kernels that can be run at once, he says, the more effective cyber security professionals can be in combating the global botnet problem.

“Eventually, we would like to be able to emulate the computer network of a small nation, or even one as large as the United States, to ‘virtualize’ and monitor a cyber attack,” he says.

A related use for millions to tens of millions of operating systems, Sandia’s researchers suggest, is to construct high-fidelity models of parts of the Internet.

“The sheer size of the Internet makes it very difficult to understand in even a limited way,” says Ron. “Many phenomena occurring on the Internet are poorly understood, because we lack the ability to model it adequately. By running actual operating system instances to represent nodes on the Internet, we will be able not just to simulate the functioning of the Internet at the network level, but to emulate Internet functionality.”

A virtual machine, originally defined by researchers Gerald Popek and Robert Goldberg as “an efficient, isolated duplicate of a real machine,” is essentially a set of software programs running on one computer that, collectively, acts like a separate, complete unit.

“You fire it up and it looks like a full computer,” says Don Rudish (8961). Within the virtual machine, one can then start up an operating system kernel, so “at some point you have this little world inside the virtual machine that looks just like a full machine, running a full operating system, browsers, and other software, but it’s all contained within the real machine.”

The Sandia research, two years in the making, was funded by DOE’s Office of Science, the NNSA Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program, and Sandia Laboratory Directed Research and Development — LDRD — funding.

To complete the project, Sandia used its 4,480-node Dell high-performance computer cluster known as Thunderbird. To arrive at the one million Linux kernel figure, Sandia researchers ran one kernel in each of 250 VMs and coupled those with the 4,480 physical machines on Thunderbird. Dell and IBM both made key technical contributions to the experiments, as did a team at Sandia’s Albuquerque site that maintains Thunderbird and prepared it for the project.

The capability to run a high number of operating system instances inside virtual machines on a high-performance computing (HPC) cluster can also be used to model even larger HPC machines with millions to tens of millions of nodes that will be developed in the future, says Ron. The successful Sandia demonstration, he says, means that development of operating systems, configuration and management tools, and even software for scientific computation can begin now before the hardware technology to build such machines is mature.

“Development of this software will take years, and the scientific community cannot afford to wait to begin the process until the hardware is ready,” says Ron. “Urgent problems such as modeling climate change, developing new medicines, and research into more efficient production of energy demand ever-increasing computational resources. Furthermore, virtualization will play an increasingly important role in the deployment of large-scale systems, enabling multiple operating systems on a single platform, and application-specific operating systems.”

Sandia’s researchers plan to take their newfound capability to the next level.

“It has been estimated that we will need 100 million CPUs (central processing units) by 2018 to build a computer that will run at the speeds we want,” says Ron. “This approach we’ve demonstrated is a good way to get us started on finding ways to program a machine with that many CPUs.”

Continued research, he says, will help computer scientists come up with ways to manage and control such vast quantities “so that when we have a computer with 100 million CPUs we can actually use it.” -- Mike Janes

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High school students address homeland security challenges

By Rachel Kolb


Being a leader involves more than just giving orders. It requires confidence, character, and critical thinking skills. These qualities can be challenging enough for adults, but on June 14-19, students and teachers from five high schools in California, Colorado, and New Mexico gathered to try their hand at leadership during the third annual High School Homeland Security Workshop at the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) in Roswell. By all accounts, they were extraordinarily successful.

The workshop focused on developing leadership and critical thinking skills using homeland security and national security as content elements, according to

program manager John Taylor (303). It followed an in-school activity previously taught at the different high schools with students attending the workshop.

During the course of the week, John says, the students participated in several exercises: a high-level ropes course, a leadership reaction course that required them to surmount obstacles and solve physical problems as a team, and several tabletop exercises designed to hone complex thinking and teamwork skills. These exercises included a disaster recovery exercise, an international relations exercise, and a real-world disaster response exercise involving a simulated chlorine gas release.

Tim Shepodd (8223) accompanied 14 California-based students to the workshop and taught two exercises on resource management and negotiation. He says the workshop “brought the students together in a series of physical and intellectual exercises that challenged the students with various ‘wicked’ problems — complex problems with multiple answers and no clear ‘right’ answer.”

The challenging exercises tested students physically as well as mentally. According to Tim, the results were impressive. “I saw the students really blossom,” he says. “Even the quietest kids participated. They learned their natural skills and weaknesses and how to use them. They learned the advantages and disadvantages of different leadership styles.”

Anita Romero (3651), Sandia’s Emergency Public Information program manager, and Stephanie Holinka (also 3651) led an activity about interacting with the media while disseminating emergency public information.

After learning about the purposes and methods of releasing information during an emergency, students had the chance to play the role of a spokesperson in an exercise in which they got “grilled” by “reporters.”

“I think the kids have learned a great deal about how to represent an agency and how to speak with media, as well as how to conduct press conferences,” says Anita.

Denise Dixson, a teacher at Southwest Secondary Learning Center, a technology-based charter school in Albuquerque, brought 10 middle school and high school students to this year’s workshop. “It was an invaluable experience for all the students involved,” she says. “They learn and practice leadership and critical thinking skills that have real-world applications.”

Dixson says students need not be pursuing a career in homeland security to apply the knowledge they gained from the workshop. “I absolutely think this workshop is valuable to all students regardless of future plans,” she says. “It fosters skills that are useful in all areas of life.”

But perhaps the most telling feedback on the workshop’s success comes from the students themselves. Mariah Rhutasel, an upcoming senior at Southwest Secondary Learning Center, praises the workshop as an invaluable opportunity to learn about leadership, communication, and job experience, among other topics.

“I think this is an awesome camp that should be better advertised because of how impactful it was on me in just a short amount of time,” she says. -- Rachel Kolb

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