Sandia LabNews

Sandia wins four R&D 100 Awards

Winners include Sandia Cooler, neutristor, solar glitter,and digital microfluidics hub

R&D 100 logo

Sandia researchers — competing in an international pool of universities, corporations and government labs — captured four prestigious R&D 100 Awards in this year’s contest.

R&D Magazine presents the awards each year to researchers who its editors and independent judging panels determine havedeveloped the year’s 100 most outstanding advances in applied technologies. An awards banquet will be held Nov. 1 in Orlando, Fla.

The awards, with their focus on practical impact rather than pure research, reward entrants on their products’ design, development, testing,and production. The Chicago Tribune once described the contest as "the Oscars of invention."

"Congratulations to this year’s R&D 100 award winners," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "The research and development at the Department of Energy’s laboratories continues to help the nation meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security, and improve our economic competitiveness."

Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert said, "I congratulate our researchers and their entire teams for this outstanding recognition of their work. One of our strategic objectives is to ‘excel in the practice of engineering.’ The work selected for these R&D 100 awards is the perfect expression of that objective. These notable accomplishments also stand as excellent examples of how we have taken capabilities developed over six decades to execute our core nuclear weapons mission and applied them to new challenges facing the nation."

Sandia Chief Technology Officer and Div. 1000 VP Steve Rottler said, "I want to congratulate this year’s winners of the R&D 100awards. These awards recognize four highly innovative technological advancements by members of our staff. These advancements represent enablers for our national security mission, as well as advances at the frontiers of science and engineering."

Researchers at DOE labs received 36 awards. Sandia’s sister labs in NNSA, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, won three and four awards, respectively.

The Sandia winners:

Computer Chip Configuration for Neutron Generators: The ultra-compact neutron generator, dubbed a "neutristor," is a thousand times smaller than anything on the market today. A three-year Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project led by Sandia researcher Juan Elizondo-Decanini (2625) turned away from conventional cylindrical tubes and demonstrated the basic technology necessary for a tiny, mass-produced neutron generator that can be adapted to medical and industrial applications.

"The idea of a computer chip-shaped neutron source —compact, simple, and inexpensive to mass-produce — opens the door for a host of applications," Juan says. Juan’s vision for the neutron generator of the future is one that uses no tritium and no vacuum and is made in a solid-state package.The technology is ready to be licensed for some commercial applications, but more complex commercial applications could take five to 10 years.

The “Sandia Cooler,” also known as the “Air Bearing Heat Exchanger,” will significantly reduce the energy needed to cool the processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments, says Sandia researcher Jeff Koplow (8366). With the Sandia Cooler, heat from a conventional CPU cooler is efficiently transferred across a narrow air gap from a stationary base to a rotating structure. The normally stagnant boundary layer of air enveloping the cooling fins is subjected to a powerful centrifugal pumping effect, causing the boundary layer thickness to be reduced to 10 times thinner than normal. The Sandia Cooler also offers benefits in other applications where thermal management and energy efficiency are important, particularly heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC).

Microsystems Enabled Photovoltaics (MEPV): Sandia’s microsystems-enabled photovoltaics, also known as “solar glitter,” combine mature technology and tools currently used in microsystem production with groundbreaking advances in photovoltaic cell design. Sandia researcher Greg Nielson (1719) led the project, in which the cells are created using mature microdesign and microfabrication techniques. The cells are then released into a solution similar to printing ink and “printed” onto a low-cost substrate with embedded contacts and microlenses for focusing sunlight onto the cells. Each cell can be as small as 14 microns thick and 250 microns wide, reducing material costs while enhancing cell performance by improving carrier collection and potentially achieving higher open circuit voltages. The technology has potential applications in buildings, houses, clothing, portable electronics, vehicles, and other contoured structures.

Preparation of Nucleic Acid Libraries for Ultra-High-Throughput Sequencing with a Digital Microfluidic Hub builds from Sandia’s RapTOR (Rapid Threat Organism Recognition) Grand Challenge. RapTOR rapidly identifies and characterizes unknown pathogens. It is a digital microfluidics “Grand Central Station” that manages and routes samples. “We’re taking advantage of DNA sequencing technology,” says Sandia’s Kamlesh (Ken) Patel (8125). “Reading the genetic code, the original building blocks, allows you to begin characterizing a pathogen at the most basic level.” Ken leads the Automated Molecular Biology (AMB) research to scale down and automate traditional sample preparation methods such as normalization, ligation, digestion, and size-based separation — methods that traditionally require a skilled scientist and take days or even weeks. The hub functions like a train station for samples, shrinking and enlarging samples as necessary and manipulating their speeds. Samples are cargoed within a microliter-scale droplet that is spatially moved across the Teflon-coated surface of the hub when electrostatic forces are appropriately applied. The hub moves samples from one step to the next with the flexibility to skip or repeat steps on the fly. The hub also manages the size of the sample, extracting the right amount for each process.