Sandia LabNews

Oil exploration, light manipulation, radiation detection are chosen

Sandia research projects earn three R&D 100 awards

Three Sandia research groups have won R&D 100 awards in the 1999 competition, according to editors at R&D Magazine, which sponsors the annual contest.

Teams of technical experts chosen by the magazine select winners of the annual contest. The winners must not only be original but show promise of real-world application.

Prizes in the form of plaques will be presented at a banquet hosted by the magazine at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in September.

The Sandia winners created oil exploration algorithms, artificial crystals capable of manipulating radiation frequencies with negligible leakage, and room-temperature detectors of radiation in the X- and gamma-ray range.

Salvo: Finding hidden oil

Sandia researchers Curt Ober (9221), David Womble (9222), and Louis Romero (9222), with former Sandians Ron Oldfield and Robert Gjersen, won by presenting a three-dimensional method to find oil that is superior to currently used 3-D commercial packages. In a joint entry with Charles Burch of Conoco, Inc. and Scott Morton of Amerada Hess Corporation, the researchers developed a software package called Salvo, a code that produces higher quality seismic images than traditional methods.

Most of the remaining oil and gas in the United States lies in regions of complex geologies where traditional seismic imaging methods are frequently unable to produce high quality images, which increases the risks of drilling dry wells, the researchers wrote on their contest application.

Wells frequently cost more than $10 million each to drill, and in cases of extreme difficulty can run as high as $50 million; ending up with dry holes can get expensive. Failure jacks up the overall cost of oil to consumers and can put small oil companies out of business by increasing operational costs.

Meanwhile, 3-D seismic datasets can be tera-bytes in size, making them time-consuming and therefore costly to process. Salvo’s algorithmic improvements, designed to use the power of massively parallel computers, results in time savings between 10 percent and 40 percent when compared with other programs.

Photonic crystal manipulates light

It’s been one heck of a year for Shawn Lin and Jim Fleming. The Sandia duo, with the aid of associates at Sandia’s Microelectronic Development Lab, have published in Nature, Science, and Optics Letters as they improved the ability of their tiny three-dimensional lattice to manipulate radiation of smaller and smaller wavelengths without leaking any well, hardly any.

The pair used silicon technology to create structures that under a microscope look like stacks of Popsicle sticks intersecting at right angles. The tiny structures were able to control radiation at microwave, infrared, and then optical frequencies. Control of microwaves may be important for airplane communications; infrared light has military implications; and control of optical wavelengths could prove tremendously important for worldwide communication systems, almost all of which use optical wavelengths to transmit information.

The work, endorsed by 1998 physics Nobel laureate Daniel Tsui and the subject of the lead article in the January issue of Physics Today, may prove commercially important to the fiber-optics communications industry. The technique appears to be the cheapest, most efficient way to manipulate light entering and emerging from optical cables.

X-ray and gamma-ray radiation detectors

The market for X- and gamma-ray detectors and instruments used for radiation sensing or imaging now exceeds several billion dollars a year. But the most accurate detectors must be cryogenically cooled an expensive process that requires heavyweight accessories. Other detectors, lighter, cheaper, and able to operate at room temperatures, are fuzzy on identifying the precise element emitting the radiation they perceive.

Surmounting this logical trade-off, Sandia investigators, led by Ralph James and Jill Hruby (8330), in conjunction with Digirad Corporation of San Diego, Calif., have developed a unique detector that can operate at room temperature yet identify the isotopes responsible for emitted radiation.

The high-performance properties of these detectors are made possible by a novel electrode design, invented at Digirad, and by improvements in the quality of the cadmium-zinc-telluride crystals and processes used to produce the devices, which were jointly discovered by Digirad and Sandia.

Possible applications include X-ray radio-graphy, environmental cleanup, safeguarding of nuclear materials, treaty verification, and detection of tumors.

Other members of the Sandia team (all from 8330) include Patrick Doty, Eilene Cross, Richard Olsen, Bruce Brunett, Michael Schieber, Ed Lee, Nathan Hilton, Ed Schlesinger (a visiting professor from Carnegie Mellon University), and Walter Yao; also (all from 8723), Arlyn Antolak, Dan Morse, Colin Hackett, and Ed Tarver.