Sandia LabNews

Sandia takes three R&D 100 awards


Every 12 months, teams of experts selected by Chicago-based R&D Magazine name their choices of the year’s 100 most outstanding advances in applied technologies.

Sandia researchers — competing in an international pool that includes universities, private corporations, and government labs — this year were selected for three of those hundred awards.

These were for the Xyce™ Parallel Electronic Simulator 4.0.2., submitted by Eric Keiter (1437); the Silicon Micromachined Dimensional Calibration Artifact for Mesoscale Measurement Machines, submitted by Hy Tran (2541); and the Superhydrophobic Coating, submitted by Jeff Brinker (1002). (For the names of all researches, see “R&D 100 team members” on page 2.)

“This is yet the latest example of how the Department of Energy and our national laboratories are continuing to demonstrate world-class leadership in innovation as we enhance our energy security, national security, and economic competitiveness,” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said. “On behalf of the Department, I would like to congratulate all of our employees who have earned R&D 100 awards and in particular this year’s winners.”

Simulating extremely complex circuits

Xyce™ is the world’s first analog tool capable of full simulation of large digital circuit systems through the use of massively parallel computation, rather than resorting to accuracy-compromising simplifications used by other tools. Given the complexity of large-scale integrated circuits, trial-and-error circuit testing is prohibitive and lower-fidelity digital simulation fails to take effects like parasitic currents and electrical-interconnects into sufficient account. Existing analog simulators are limited to single processor workstations. Xyce, under development at Sandia since 1999, accurately simulates more than 10 million circuit elements on hundreds of processors, far exceeding any other simulation tool. Originally used to help certify integrated circuits in the presence of radiation and other hostile effects, today it also helps the electronics industry create simulations that cope accurately with decreasing feature size and the increasing number of integrated circuit components.

Calibrating production devices

To calibrate a device, an accurate calibration artifact is of primary importance. The Silicon Micromachined Dimensional Calibration Artifact for Mesoscale Measurement Machines has a long title but will help improve measurement accuracy for producing miniaturized devices such as fuel injectors, watch components, and inkjet printer parts as these high-volume parts are being manufactured. The Sandia MEMS-based three-dimensional physical artifact is 10 times more accurate and much less expensive than the former gold (so to speak) standard of patterned chrome on glass — a fundamentally two-dimensional device lacking the ability to be calibrated by high-accuracy methods. The Sandia artifacts, formed through the classic MEMS technology of anisotropic bulk micromachining, have nanometrically sharp, long-lasting crystalline edges that are macroscopically long. Such artifacts can be used to calibrate a variety of inspection systems.

A coating that really, really doesn’t like water

A transparent coating that isn’t just impermeable to water but actually makes it bounce off a surface has a number of potentially interesting applications. It could prevent corrosion, protect electronics and antiquities, or provide a new, more efficient surface to collect pure water. Modeled from nature — the lotus leaf’s micro-craggy roughness and the hydrophobic regions of the Namib Sternocara Desert beetle — the Brinker group used sol-gel chemistry to make a patent-applied-for, simple-to-prepare coating solution that, upon simple drying, develops a nanoscopically rough silicon dioxide surface decorated with hydrophobic (water-hating) ligands. The coating can be applied by any standard method — including spin-coating, dip-coating, aerosol spraying, and ink-jet printing — to any surface regardless of composition, size, and shape. An additional benefit is its nearly perfect optical clarity, important for applications like self-cleaning, non-fogging displays, avoiding ice formation on optical elements, and protecting — in a transparent fashion — culturally important statuary from acid-rain corrosion. Importantly, the contact angle of the water droplet can be patterned with light to vary from a sphere to a pancake and to control whether and where a drop may roll. Competing hydrophobic products on the whole require very complex processing, are often opaque, and are generally substrate-specific. Furthermore, they do not provide optically defined spatial control of the coating’s love-hate relationship with water.

Groups led by Brinker have won three R&D 100 awards.

The R&D 100 awards — occasionally referred to as “the Nobel Prizes of technology” — were first awarded in 1963 as the I-R 100s, in keeping with the original name of the magazine, Industrial Research.

Many entries over the ensuing years 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 full color graphics 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 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.