Sandia won four regional awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) for its work to develop and commercialize innovative technologies. One of them honored business development specialist Bianca Thayer (8539) as Technology Transfer Professional of the Year.
Sandia technologies recognized by the FLC’s Far West/Mid-Continent regions for 2015 are:
- Dynamic Prosthetic Socket System with a Notable Technology Development Award
- Decontamination Technology for Chemical and Biological Agents with an Excellence in Technology Transfer Award
- Twistact with an Outstanding Technology Development Award
The awards will be presented Aug. 26 at the Hilton Airport/Harbor Bay Marina in San Diego, California.
“Sandia is truly honored to be recognized by our peers for our work in technology development and technology transfer,” says Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Technology and Economic Development Dept. 7933 and Sandia’s representative to the FLC. “Congratulations to the all principal investigators and teams who are being acknowledged for their inspiring accomplishments.”
A passion for tech transfer
Bianca started her Sandia career five years ago as a licensing executive in Albuquerque after working 30 years in industry. She has negotiated new industry and academic partnerships and transferred a wide range of Labs technologies through licensing and cooperative research and development and Work for Others agreements. She also developed the TEDS courses for intellectual property and licensing and has personally trained many technical staff on the value of IP.
Among Bianca’s successes was negotiating the patent license in 2012 with UOP Honeywell for crystalline silico-titanates used to remove radioactive cesium from contaminated seawater following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. She also negotiated numerous new licenses for Sandia’s decontamination technology resulting in more widespread use of the product.
“Bianca Thayer has been outstanding to work with on technology transfer,” says Mark Rigali (6224). “Her understanding of the mindset of our business partners and the nature of technology being licensed made the tech transfer effort smooth and almost effortless. She’s really good at what she does and makes it look easy when it’s not.”
Her manager, Carrie Burchard, says Bianca, who transferred to Sandia/California in 2013, “is constantly thinking of new ways to help her licensees be successful in commercializing technologies from Sandia. She’s got a true passion for technology transfer.”
A better prosthesis
The national Amputee Coalition says nearly 2 million people in the United States live with limb loss, and about two-thirds have lost a lower limb. Diabetes is the leading cause, accounting for more than 65,000 amputations a year nationwide.
The fit of a prosthesis is a challenge for amputees because fluid in the leg shifts and muscles shrink while walking on an artificial leg. A custom-fit socket doesn’t always fit.
Jason Wheeler (6533) has been studying prosthetics at the Labs for a decade and is part of a robotics group that developed a sensor to tell how a limb changes, along with a system that automatically accommodates those changes.
Jason says Sandia’s sensor is unique because it detects pressure in three directions: normal and two shear forces on the skin. Shear forces cause such problems as rubbing, blisters, and abrasions, but no appropriately sized commercial sensing system can monitor them, he says.
Sandia’s three-axis pressure sensor fits in a liner that slips into the socket of a prosthesis. The system automatically adjusts socket shape by moving fluid into bladders inside the liners that amputees normally wear to improve a socket’s fit and comfort. Since modifying a custom socket would be expensive and cumbersome and could require several fittings, Sandia adapted its technology to fit inside a liner made of elastomeric material similar in thickness to a gel liner.
“With the liner, you just take out your old one and drop in the new one and you’re good to go. That’s a very important component of this technology,” Jason says.
Development continues and more amputee testing is needed, but the technology “is getting mature enough to partner with companies who will commercialize it and make it available to people who need it,” he says. Sandia has applied for patents on the technology.
Sandia decontamination technology neutralizes chemical and biological agents using a mix of mild, nontoxic, and noncorrosive chemicals found in common household products such as hair conditioner and toothpaste. It contains both surfactants, which lift agents off a surface, and mild oxidizers, which break down the agent’s molecules into nontoxic pieces that can be washed down a household drain like detergent or dish soap.
The product works quickly and kills 99.99999 percent of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Originally used by the military and first responders, Sandia has licensed the formula to companies that have developed it to battle toxic mold and decontaminate meth labs, disinfect healthcare facilities and schools, remove pesticides from farm equipment and agricultural packing plants, and fight the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. It also has been used as a preventive measure against contaminants at presidential debates and a political convention.
Sandia has promoted the technology, worked with companies to license and commercialize it, and adapted it for new products and uses. Seven new licensees are manufacturing and distributing products based on the Sandia decontamination patents. Efforts continue to add more licensees and product applications.
The decontamination formula was developed with funding from DOE and NNSA Chemical and Biological National Security Program (CBNP).
New approach to an old problem
Sandia’s Twistact technology is designed to take wind energy to the next level. “It can eliminate the need for rare earth magnets in multimegawatt wind turbines, which is the last major hurdle to proliferation of cost-effective wind power,” says principal investigator Jeff Koplow (8366). “Anticipated rare earth supply disruptions are holding back large-scale investment in wind power.”
Twistact also should allow construction of very large wind turbines to achieve better economies of scale that exist at 10 megawatts and beyond, and reduce the weight of wind turbine housings and, potentially, construction costs.
“Twistact is a new approach to the very old problem of how to transmit electrical power between something that moves and something that doesn’t,” Jeff says. “Think of a moving subway train taking power off a stationary third rail.”
It is done now with a sliding contact device, a brush or shoe that rides along a surface. But sliding electrical contacts easily wear out. “Twistact connects an electrical circuit between something moving and something stationary or, in the case of a wind turbine, something rotating and something not, without a sliding contact and without electrical arcing.”
The technology could be important for wind turbines because it makes the use of copper and steel instead of rare earth magnets practical in the generators. “Twistact technology is designed to eliminate the need for high-maintenance components like gear boxes and brush contacts,” Jeff says.
Earlier this year, Twistact was chosen for DOE’s LabCorps entrepreneurship pilot program. Jeff will receive $75,000 to develop commercialization plans for the technology and will get business training and have access to other resources.
The FLC is a nationwide network of more than 300 members that provides a forum to develop strategies and opportunities to link laboratory mission technologies and expertise with the marketplace. Its awards program annually recognizes federal laboratories and their industry partners for outstanding technology transfer efforts. Since established in 1984 the FLC has presented awards to nearly 200 federal laboratories. It is considered one of the most prestigious honors in technology transfer.
“Decon technology, Twistact, and a better-fitting prosthesis are great examples of how Sandia’s scientific research translates into products that benefit the public,” says Pete Atherton, senior manager of Industry Partnerships Dept. 1930. “We look forward to working with partners to make these innovations widely available, and people like Bianca Thayer help make that possible.”