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News Release

June 9, 1998
Special Sandia Memory Chip Wins 1998 Discover Award

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The editors of Discover magazine have announced that Sandia National Laboratories' memory-retentive computer chip has received one of the magazine's ten 1998 Discover Awards.

The awards, often called the "Academy Awards of Invention," honor technologies that the judges say offer "promise to have a revolutionary impact on society." They were announced on June 6, 1998, at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla. Judges for the 1998 Discover Awards competition included celebrities, professors, astronauts, scientists, executives of major corporations, and public officials.

Scientists at Sandia, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national security laboratory, and France Telecom developed the inexpensive, low-powered memory-retaining device that may keep computer data from being lost during a power outage.

To create the new type of chip, the scientists bathed the device in hydrogen gas at a key step during fabrication. The gas permeates the heated chip, and protons become embedded at defects in the silicon dioxide. During operation, the protons can roam only within the chip's central layer of silicon dioxide, which is sandwiched between layers of silicon. When the power is turned off, the protons stay where they are, thus preserving the information. In devices such as D-RAMs (dynamic random access memory), typically based on electron flow, all data are lost when the power goes off.

The technique is simple and inexpensive and requires only a few additional processing steps.

More information about the project is available at http://www.sandia.gov/media/protonic.htm.

Another DOE lab, Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago, also received a 1998 Discover Award for its new process for making a non-polluting, corn-based solvent.

Secretary of Energy Federico Peña congratulated the DOE award winners and other honorees at the Walt Disney World ceremony. "It is fitting that you should be recognized here at Disney World where they are 'making dreams come true,'" he said, " because you are the people whose dreams of the next century will be the foundation for future generations. This just goes to show that the Department of Energy is truly a national pacesetter in scientific innovation."

Since 1995 DOE facilities have won eight top Discover prizes. Over the past four years DOE labs have had 23 finalists for the Discover Awards. More than 4,000 nominees were considered for this year's competition.

Another Sandia project was among this year's 45 finalists for the ten top honors. This involved the work of a Labs team that demonstrated that a new type of aircraft fuselage "patch," made of a synthetic boron fiber-epoxy material adhered to the aircraft's hull, was stronger and easier to apply than traditional riveted metal patches.

The Sandia engineers, based at the Airworthiness Assurance NDI Validation Center (AANC) managed and staffed by Sandia for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), first installed the new type of lightweight patch in February 1997 to reinforce a door corner on an active Delta Airlines L-1011 passenger jet following an intensive validation and flight-certification procedure with the FAA. More information about the project is available at http://www.sandia.gov/media/faa.htm.

In 1997 Sandian Ralph James at Sandia's California site was a Discover Award winner for his wristwatch-sized detector that can distinguish between sources of radiation.

Sandia is a multiprogram DOE laboratory operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has research and development programs contributing to national defense, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Media contact:
John German, jdgerma@sandia.gov, (505) 844-5199

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