Labs brings home a record five regional tech transfer awards

Matt Piccini (8621), left, Chung-Yan Koh (8621) and Anup Singh (8620) lead the SpinDx team. SpinDX is a diagnostic tool with medical and non-medical applications.  (Photo by Jeff McMillan)

by Nancy Salem

Sandia won five regional awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) for its work to develop and commercialize innovative technologies. It was the most FLC regional awards Sandia has won at one time.

The FLC’s Far West/Mid-Continent regions recognized the Labs’ SpinDX, Sandia Cooler, and Self-Assembled Multifunctional Optical Coatings (SAMOC) with Outstanding and Notable Technology Development awards. Outstanding Regional Partnership awards were given to Sandia and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC) for their work on protocell research; and SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Sandia for the development of cargo container security technologies.

 “It’s quite an honor to receive recognition for our technology development and technology transfer work,” says Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Technology and Economic Development Dept. 7933 and Sandia’s representative to the FLC. “It’s especially gratifying when we are recognized alongside our partners.”

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SpinDX: Time is money

SpinDX is a lab-on-a-disk, medical diagnostic tool that can determine a patient’s white blood cell count, analyze important protein markers, and process up to 64 assays from a single sample, all in a matter of minutes.

“In a doctor’s office, time is money,” says Anup Singh, senior manager of Biological Science and Technology Dept. 8620. “Patients have become accustomed to an initial visit, some tests, samples that are sent off to a far-away lab, a wait of a week or more for results, more tests, and charges every step of the way. With SpinDx, you can see results before you even leave the office.”

SpinDx has both medical and non-medical applications, ranging from detection of markers of infectious diseases to food and water safety testing. It can quickly complete a variety of lab screening tests and be used by people with minimal scientific training, in a lab, or in the field.

The first license for SpinDX technology was signed in December 2012, the second in March 2013, and three more are being negotiated. Chung-Yan Koh (8621) and Matthew Piccini (8621) also worked on the technology.

Sandia Cooler: Cutting power consumption

The Sandia Cooler reduces the energy needed to cool processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments, says Sandia researcher Jeff Koplow (8366). The technology has the potential to decrease overall electrical power consumption in the US by more than 7 percent.

 The Sandia Cooler takes heat from a conventional CPU cooler and efficiently transfers it 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 cooler offers benefits in other applications where thermal management and energy efficiency are important, particularly heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. It won an R&D 100 Award in 2012. One license has been issued and about a dozen companies are interested in the technology. Prototypes are being developed for the interested parties.

SAMOC: Efficient coatings

 SAMOC inexpensively forms filmlike coatings already widely used in consumer electronics, semiconductor devices, and high-performance glass and ceramics. But rather than requiring high temperatures and/or the considerable vacuum of current commercial operations to deposit films, the Sandia method disperses commercially available polymers by inserting them in common solvents under ambient conditions and then uses simple spin, dip, or spray techniques to coat surfaces.

Evaporation of the solvents induces the polymers to self-assemble into multifunctional nanoparticles, as well as films with tailored optical properties and a nanostructured surface. Because the process is compatible with conventional spray processing, it can be applied directly to the coating of large or complex parts, which current commercial methods are less able to do.

 The work, which won an R&D 100 award in 2010, was led by Hongyou Fan (1815) and his group. Also participating were researchers from UNM. The technology has been awarded three patents.

Protocell: Breakthrough drug delivery

Protocell research is a joint effort of Sandia and UNM HSC, which includes the UNM School of Medicine, the UNM Cancer Research and Treatment Center, the College of Pharmacy, the Center for Infectious Disease and Immunity, and various UNM hospitals. A protocell is a novel nanoparticle delivery vehicle that can dramatically improve the efficiency of chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, and vaccines while reducing side effects. Protocells have been shown in in vitro models to improve upon existing nanoparticle-based drug delivery by a million-fold.

 Development of the protocell combined the knowledge of UNM in biomedical, cancer, engineering, and infectious disease research with Sandia’s expertise in materials science and nanotechnology. Sandia and UNM have been working together to promote technology transfer since their first joint technology was licensed in 1993.

Research on the protocell is part of Sandia’s University Partnerships Program, which nurtures talent, collaborative research, and national advocacy. The Sandia-UNM collaboration, led from Sandia by Jeff Brinker (1000), Carlee Ashley (8622), and Eric Carnes (8635), has worked the past six years to develop the protocell technology and test its efficacy in in vitro and in vivo cancer models, including leukemia and cancers of the ovary and liver.

The Sandia-UNM team is extending protocell technology to prevention and treatment of infectious disease, addressing Sandia’s national security mission.

Cargo security

In cargo research, Sandia has partnered with SSC Pacific and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop, test, evaluate, and transition new security technologies to meet specific DHS and Department of Navy needs. Since 2001, DHS has been required to secure the storage and transportation of cargo entering and traveling through the United States against terror attack, introduction of contraband cargo, and pilferage. And the Navy must ensure the security of high-value cargo that it transports around the world on a 24-hour basis.

John Dillinger (5628) and Steve Morrison (6531) worked on the project for Sandia.

“We are thrilled to have won these two partnership awards,” Jackie says. “Partnerships with academia, government, and industry are crucial to Sandia’s efforts to deploy technology for the public good.”

The FLC is a nationwide network of more than 300 members that provides the forum to develop strategies and opportunities for linking laboratory mission technologies and expertise with the marketplace.

The FLC Awards Program annually recognizes federal laboratories and their industry partners for outstanding technology transfer efforts. Since its establishment in 1984 the FLC has presented awards to nearly 200 federal laboratories, becoming one of the most prestigious honors in technology transfer.


-- Nancy Salem

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Plasmonic crystal alters to match light source

GREG DYER (1118) is co-principal investigator of a Sandia-led team that has created a plasmonic, or plasma-containing, crystal that is tunable by adjusting the voltage applied to it. The technology potentially could increase the bandwidth of high-speed communication networks. Read the story on page 5.  (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Neal Singer

 Crystals are noted for the beauty of the light that passes through them. But the atomic arrangements of gems permanently fix the frequencies that are permitted passage.

 Now a Sandia-led team has created a plasmonic, or plasma-containing, crystal that is tunable by adjusting the voltage applied to it. Because the crystal is agile in transmitting terahertz light at varying frequencies, it potentially could increase the bandwidth of high-speed communication networks.

“Our experiment is more than a curiosity precisely because our plasma resonances are widely tunable,” says Greg Dyer (1118), co-primary investigator of the paper published online Sept. 29 by Nature Photonics and expected in print in November. “Usually, electromagnetically induced transparencies in more widely known systems like photonic crystals and metamaterials require tuning a laser’s frequencies to match a physical system. Here, we tune our system to match the radiation source. It’s inverting the problem, in a sense.”

Photonic crystals are artificially constructed crystals built to allow transmission of particular wavelengths. Metamaterials require micron- or nano-sized bumps to tailor interactions between manmade structures and light. The plasmonic crystal, with its ability to direct light like a photonic crystal, along with its sub-wavelength, metamaterial-like size, in effect hybridizes the two concepts. Its methods could be used to shrink the size of photonic crystals and to develop tunable metamaterials.

 The crystal’s electronic plasma forms naturally at the interface of semiconductors with different band gaps. It sloshes between their atomically smooth boundaries that, properly aligned, form a crystal. Patterned metal electrodes allow its properties to be reconfigured, altering its light transmission range. In addition, defects intentionally mixed into the electron fluid allow light to be transmitted where the crystal is normally opaque.

However, this crystal won’t be sold to beauty lovers any time soon. First, its transmitted light is in the terahertz range, unobservable by human vision. And its output frequencies are electronically varied by precisely tweaking a two-dimensional electron gas, a capability not required by most casual crystal buyers.

The paper is titled “Induced transparency by coupling of Tamm and defect states in tunable terahertz plasmonic crystals.”

Other paper authors are Sandians co-p.i. Eric Shaner, Albert D. Grine, Don Bethke (all 1118), and John L. Reno (1131); Gregory R. Aizin of the City University of New York,  and S. James Allen of the Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology, UC Santa Barbara.

The work was supported by the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences and performed in part at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, a user facility of DOE BES.


-- Neal Singer

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Harnessing the sun’s energy with tiny particles

Joshua Mark Christian works with a falling particle receiver, which more efficiently converts the sun’s energy to electricity in large-scale, concentrating solar power plants.  (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Stephanie Hobby


Sandia researchers, along with partner institutions Georgia Tech, Bucknell University, King Saud University, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are using a falling particle receiver to more efficiently convert the sun’s energy to electricity in large-scale, concentrating solar power plants.

Falling particle receiver technology is attractive because it can cost-effectively capture and store heat at higher temperatures without breaking down, which is an issue for conventional molten salts. The falling particle receiver developed at Sandia drops sand-like ceramic particles through a beam of concentrated sunlight, and captures and stores the heated particles in an insulated container below. The technique enables operating temperatures of nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius. Such high temperatures translate into greater availability of energy and cheaper storage costs because at higher temperatures, less heat-transfer material is needed.

Central receiver systems use mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a target, typically a fluid, to generate heat, which powers a turbine and generator to produce electricity. Currently, such systems offer about 40 percent thermal-to-electric efficiency. The falling particle receiver enables higher temperatures and can work with higher-temperature power cycles that can achieve efficiencies of 50 percent or more.

 “Our goal is to develop a prototype falling particle receiver to demonstrate the potential for greater than 90 percent thermal efficiency, achieve particle temperatures of at least 700 degrees Celsius, and be cost competitive,” says principal investigator Cliff Ho (6123). “The combination of these factors would dramatically improve the system performance and lower the cost of energy storage for large-scale electricity production.”

Could bolster adoption of concentrating solar power

The project is funded up to $4 million by DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which aims to drive down solar energy production costs and pave the way to widespread use of concentrating solar power and photovoltaics.

Falling particle receiver technology was originally studied in the 1980s, and Sandia researchers are working to address challenges that hindered greater acceptance of the concept. Among the issues are mitigating particle loss, maintaining the stability of falling particles, increasing the residence time of the particles in the concentrated beam and reducing heat losses within the receiver cavity.

Cliff and his colleagues at Sandia have been working to address these issues by studying the effect of an added air curtain, created by a series of blower nozzles, to help particles fall in a stable pattern and reduce convective losses. Adjusting the particle size and how sand is dropped has also helped, ensuring more of the sand gets heated in a pass and makes it to the collection bin at the bottom. Researchers are also investigating the benefits of using an elevator to recirculate particles through the aperture a second time to increase their temperature.

 “Given our unique facilities at the National Solar Thermal Test Facility, we have the capability of developing prototype hardware and testing the concepts we’ve simulated, which include innovations such as air recirculation and particle recirculation. Advanced computing lets us do complex simulations of the falling particle receiver to understand the critical processes and behavior,” Cliff says. “We’re very encouraged by our progress and look forward to further developing this enabling technology.”

Falling particle receiver technology could lead to power-tower systems capable of generating up to 100 megawatts of electricity. The project is in its first of three years, and a test-ready design is expected in 2015.


-- Stephanie Hobby

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Download Lab News October 18, 2013 (PDF, 2MB)