Sandia researchers capture three R&D 100 awards

Cliff Ho, right, and Cianan Sims were recognized with an R&D 100 award for the Solar Glare Hazard Analysis Tool. Other sandia winners, pictured below, include Bruce Burckel headed a team that was recognized for the Membrane Projection Lithography team and Mike Heroux, who led a large team of people at Sandia and elsewhere that was recognized for Mantevo Suite 1.0. (Photos by Randy Montoya)

by Neal Singer

Sandia researchers captured three R&D 100 Awards in 2013, competing in an international competition with participants from universities, corporations, and government labs. Since 1976, Sandia has won 104 of these awards. Five Sandia applications were submitted this year to the annual contest.

Trade journal R&D Magazine presents the awards to researchers who its editors and independent judging panels determine have developed the year’s 100 most outstanding advances in applied technologies.

The awards, with their focus on practical impact rather than pure research, reward entrants for the design, development, testing, and production of their innovations. The sole criterion for winning, according to 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.

Previous winners over the contest’s 60-year history include inventions important in their time but fading — the flash cube (1965) and the fax machine (1975), for example. Others present with more vigor include halogen lamps (1974) and HDTV (1998).

The winners of the awards, sometimes referred to "the Oscars of invention," will receive plaques at a formal banquet at the Renaissance Orlando Hotel at SeaWorld, Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 7.

DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz said, "My sincere congratulations to the winners of this year's R&D 100 Awards. The scientists and engineers who developed these award-winning technologies at the cutting edge facilities across our national labs are keeping Americans at the forefront of the innovation community and assuring our nation’s economic competitiveness and national security."

This year’s Sandia winners are:

Bruce BurckelBruce Burckel (1712, photo at right), representing the Membrane Projection Lithography team [John Anderson (1716), Igal Brener (1712), Rob Ellis (5331), Rick McCormick (1110), Bonnie McKenzie (1819), Paul Resnick (1719), Sally Samora (1728), Mike Sinclair (1816), Greg Ten Eyck (1718), Joel Wendt (1728) and Mike Wiwi (1746)].

This microfabrication technique started as a cartoon drawn by Bruce in 2009 while working on the Metamaterials Grand Challenge LDRD. "The team converted the cartoon into reality," says Bruce.

The cartoon showed that by using suspended patterned membranes as stencils, three-dimensional microscopic structures of almost any geometry can be created. While traditional microfabrication methods require horizontal surfaces on which to pattern, the stencil method permits patterning materials in three-dimensional cavities — whether these be cubes, cylinders, hemispheres, or more. These patterns can be vertical or, in corners of the host object, in several dimensions at the same time.

Because the method uses standard microfabrication materials and equipment, the membrane projection technique could be used to create 3-dimensional integrated circuits. If successful, this next step in the evolution of 2-dimensional microprocessors could resurrect the fading Moore’s Law. (Further exploration of the technique will be the subject of an LDRD, also led by Bruce, just coming on line.) The lithographic technique also is capable of creating structured electromagnetic materials with components so small that they allow interaction with and control over thermal infrared wavelength radiation. This offers the possibility of creating thermal antennas that can control the direction of heat emitted from an object, potentially easing cooling and heating needs for satellites or perhaps even buildings and cars. Discussions with industry are in progress.

Says Bruce of the team’s methods, "You create a cavity, backfill it with sacrificial material, polish it flat, then deposit material as a thin film that you want for a membrane, and pattern it with standard lithography methods. After you’ve etched the pattern you want, you dissolve out the backfill sacrificial material.

"It’s compelling technologically because it’s simple."

* * *

Mike HerouxMike Heroux (1426, photo at left) (who led a large team of people at Sandia and elsewhere) for Mantevo Suite 1.0, an integrated collection of small software programs (miniapps) that model the performance of full-scale applications, yet require code only a fraction of the size of the full application. The Mantevo project pioneered the miniapp concept, and Mantevo Suite 1.0 is the first integrated collection of full-featured miniapps. Miniapps have emerged as central components of computer system co-design in an era of rapid architectural changes. Major companies like Intel, IBM, NVIDIA, AMD, and Cray, along with universities and national laboratories, use miniapps for rapid design-space exploration in the development of the next generation of high-performance computers. The miniapp work was done in collaboration with, among others, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories and Santa Clara-based NVIDIA Corp.

* * *

Cliff Ho and Cianan Sims (both 6123), for Solar Glare Hazard Analysis Tool (SGHAT). Solar energy installations are popping up across the country at record rates. In the first quarter of 2013, 723 megawatts were installed, a 33 percent increase over the same quarter last year. But while installers naturally want the best configuration and panel angles to produce maximum power year-round, government agencies are raising concerns about the impact of glare on pilots, air traffic controllers, motorists, and even neighbors.

"SGHAT quickly and easily addresses both concerns," says Cliff.

By using an interactive Google Maps interface and a few user-specified parameters — among them, elevation, orientation, and tilt of the panels — the web-based tool, available to the public at, can be used quickly to locate a site, outline the proposed array, and calculate the potential glare’s intensity and size, predicting ocular hazards on a minute-by-minute basis throughout the year. The tool also can predict annual energy production of proposed arrays so that alternative designs, layouts, and locations can be optimized to maximize energy production while mitigating glare impact. More than 200 users from 16 countries have already registered to use SGHAT. Contributors to SGHAT include Julius Yellowhair, Evan Bush, and Brian Ehrhart (all 6123), James Yuan (1514), Siri Khalsa (former student intern, 6123), and Andrew Sharp (1353).

"It's especially rewarding to produce a technology that has an immediate impact," says Cliff.

The US now has more than 8,500 MW of cumulative installed solar electric capacity, enough to power more than 1.3 million average American homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

-- Neal Singer

Back to top of page

Shape memory alloys hold promise

SHAPE MEMORY ALLOYS — Mark Reece (foreground) and Don Susan (both 1831) examine a new shape memory alloy button that they have removed from an arc-melter. Several new alloys have been developed at Sandia. For more about their groundbreaking work, see the story on page 8. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Sue Major Holmes

Imagine untwisting a finger-size spring, then holding the flame from a lighter underneath the unraveled section. Like magic, it twirls itself into a spring again because it’s made from a metal alloy that remembered its original shape.

Sandia researchers think such shape-memory alloys could be used to improve safety in weapons components in a fire or other accident. A thermal device made of a high-temperature shape-memory alloy might, for example, close or open a switch or lock a gear to prevent it from turning, says materials scientist Don Susan (1831).

"It’s almost unlimited what you can think of, what you can do with shape-changing alloys," he says.

Don is principal investigator for a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project, now in its third and final year, aimed at creating high-temperature shape-memory alloys for weapons components. Accomplishments so far:

  • Researchers made new alloy compositions, including nickel titanium platinum, nickel titanium palladium, and nickel titanium hafnium, and filed technical advances for those compositions, a first step in documenting an invention for a later patent application.
  • The team has characterized such key properties of the materials as the way they change shape, strength, and ductility.
  • Team members have produced prototype parts that show shape change at desired temperatures.
  • Sandia is the first to demonstrate a property called super-elasticity in higher temperature shape-changing alloys, and filed a technical advance for that. Super-elasticity is a rubbery sort of behavior in metals, such as eyeglass frames that twist without snapping. Don says Sandia doesn’t currently intend to exploit this property but it could provide future design options.

Alloys remember original shape

Shape-memory alloys work somewhat like the thermal sensor in a building’s fire sprinkler system. That thermal sensor is made of a liquid that expands and breaks a glass enclosure, triggering a switch that turns on the sprinklers. Shape-memory alloys work in a similar way, but change shape instead of expanding.

"If you bend a wire, it’ll go back to straight if it was originally straight," Don explains. "If it was originally bent and you made it straight, it will go back to bent. It will remember a shape when you heat it up."

Such an alloy can trigger a process simply because it’s able to change shape, says project manager Jim McElhanon (1835), who started the LDRD with weapon safety engineer John Debassige. Don, part of the team from the start, became team lead when Jim became a Sandia manager after the project’s first year. Other members are Tom Buchheit (1814), Jordan Massad (1526), Don Bradley (1833), and Mark Reece and Tom Crenshaw (both 1831). Sandia also collaborates with Ron Noebe and his colleagues at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

"I truly believe this research on [high-temperature] shape-changing alloys will allow us to create new devices that significantly impact nuclear weapon safety. The shape-memory alloys we are developing can passively change shape via exposure to a particular temperature or actively change shape by passing current, which generates heat, through the material," Jim says.

Shape-memory alloys have been around for decades and various types are sold commercially. They’re commonly used in the human body in medical appliances such as stents that change shape at body temperature. A tiny stent, stored at below-body temperature, can be squeezed small enough to fit into an artery, then opens up the artery when warmed to body temperature, Don says.

Shape change needed at specific temperatures

The Sandia alloys can change shape at temperatures below room temperature to greater than 500 degrees Celsius, or about 930 degrees Fahrenheit.

Commercial alloys change shape at temperatures that don’t meet Sandia’s needs, Don and Jim say.

Sandia built upon recent research into higher temperature shape-memory alloys to create its own alloys.

"Folks at Sandia were studying these alloys decades ago, but the temperatures were always too low to be useful for our parts until these new alloys came along over the past 15 years or so," Don says.

Any shape change has to take place above the temperature at which components are manufactured, Don says.

"You don’t want this to happen when you’re making the parts," he says. "You don’t want it to happen when it’s sitting out in the sun either. It has to be higher than that."

In April, the Consortium for the Advancement of Shape Memory Alloy Research and Technology (CASMART) voted to add Sandia as a member. Government, academic, and industry experts in the field started CASMART in 2006 to share applied research on shape-memory alloys.

"Joining the consortium is a huge step forward for the Labs," Jim says. "We are collaborating with the world experts in the area."

Computer models to show behavior

In addition to its cooperation with NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Sandia also is working with Texas A&M University in College Station on shape memory alloys. NASA and Texas A&M are both consortium members. NASA is interested in the alloys for flight applications, while the university works on materials processing — turning the alloys into specific shapes, Don says. In addition, he and Jim say Texas A&M researcher Brian Lester is working with Sandia this summer on computer models of shape-memory alloy behavior.

"Our computer models can’t handle something that changes shape like that," Don says. "When you heat something up, it expands a little bit and when you cool it down it contracts. We can handle that in the computer codes, but not this more dramatic shape change."

Don envisions Sandia eventually studying shape-memory alloys for wind and solar energy and perhaps satellites.

"They are really interesting materials," he says. "Most of what we work on at Sandia is stainless steel, aluminum, the kinds of things we’ve worked on forever and that most of our parts are made of. So it’s interesting to work on something different and explore the possibilities."

-- Sue Major Holmes

Back to top of page

Air Force Association names Sandian Citizen Airman of the Year

DEPLOYED TO AFGHANISTAN — Sandia’s Andy Anderson (6815) poses outside the Afghan Army Logistics Headquarters in Kabul in 2011 during his deployment as a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. Andy, who recently retired from the Reserves, and Sandia have been named the Air Force Reserve 2013 Citizen Airman and Employer of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Andy Anderson)

by Sue Major Holmes

Labs also honored as Employer of the Year

Sandia’s Andy Anderson (6815) and the Labs have been chosen as the Air Force Reserve 2013 Citizen Airman and Employer of the Year.

“This is an incredible way to end a career,” says Andy, who retired May 1 from the Air Force Reserve as

a colonel after 37 years of service, including four on active duty. Citations accompanying the award recognize Andy’s service, particularly his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, and Sandia’s support to him and his family.

The Air Force Association (AFA), which sponsors the awards, will present plaques to Andy and Sandia on Sept. 16, the opening day of its Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in National Harbor, Md. The nonprofit AFA is a professional military and aerospace education association that  promotes public understanding of the role aerospace plays in the nation’s security.

“Sandia is profoundly honored by this recognition and proud of Andy Anderson and his service to our nation,” says Infrastructure Operations Div. 4000 VP Michael Hazen, the executive champion of Sandia’s Military Support Committee and himself a lifetime member of the Air Force Association. “We feel privileged to receive such a significant award. It is special both for Col. Anderson and for Sandia, which values our veterans, reservists, and members of the National Guard.” 

Dan Briand (6811), who was Andy’s manager when he was nominated this spring, responded, “Outstanding, and well deserved,” when he heard Andy and Sandia had won.

Andy says he was honored to be chosen, but points out it was a joint award Sandia shares.

“It is a tribute to the outstanding support Sandia has provided me, my wife and family, and the many other Sandia military members,” he says. “I am pleased that this is an opportunity for Sandia to be recognized nationally for all it does to support our military personnel and their families.”

He says he was “hugely appreciative” of his military unit and command that nominated him, and singled out Rick Bacon and Rod Simmons of the Air Force North National Security Emergency Preparedness (NSEP) directorate at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Andy was based at Tyndall but attached to his home state as emergency preparedness liaison officer for New Mexico, coordinating with state officials during disasters to support them with requested Air Force resources.

Bacon, NSEP regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 6, nominated Andy. Bacon, then Andy’s military supervisor, says the nomination was “the least I could do, knowing the sacrifices Andy made for his country serving in the military and the support Sandia gave him. Andy is definitely a true patriot, serving both in the military and in his civilian position with Sandia, and this award validates Andy’s and Sandia’s contributions.”

Andy’s most recent deployment was to Afghanistan for nine months beginning in July 2011 as senior military adviser to the Afghan National Army’s general staff. Other deployments include the Persian Gulf in 1991 for Desert Storm and Qatar in 2005-2006 with the 302nd Maintenance Group from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Andy and his wife, Ellen (1500), a senior management assistant, were among three Sandians who nominated Sandia last year for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Sandia was a finalist in 2012 and 2013 for that award, the highest Department of Defense recognition for employers who support their employees in the National Guard and Reserve.


-- Sue Major Holmes

Back to top of page

Download Lab News July 26, 2013 (PDF, 2MB)