Captains of invention: Creative technical contributions recognized

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory fulfilled one of its annual spring rites Thursday evening, honoring the inventors who discover and explore newfound territory in science and technology.

On the terrace of Fuller Lodge with blustery winds buffeting the paperwork, hundreds of names were called and a score of awards were presented to researchers for their patents, copyrights, licenses, research agreements and regional economic contributions.

Duncan McBranch, science directorate deputy, hosted the ceremony and introduced the keynote speaker, Manual E. Gonzalez, manager of the Chevron Energy Technology Company, which is involved in a strategic alliance with the laboratory working on advanced energy solutions.

Gonzalez has had a long relationship with the laboratory. In the 1990s he founded Isotag Inc. (now known as Authentix and recently acquired by the Carlisle Group), based on a LANL technology for tagging liquids.

“Calvin Klein jeans are tagged by the company we started,” he said. “That’s how you know your wearing Calvin Klein and not some cheap imitation.”

Even earlier, in the 1980s, Gonzalez’s experience at the laboratory involved development of an oil drilling technology, including an insulating device that saved $300,000 per well. Recounting the unlikely genesis of that invention and others like it, led him to conclude that “high-impact ideas” don’t have to cost a million, or take many years to develop and they don’t always come from where you might expect.

The drilling solution, he said, came from a small mom-and-pop operation suggested by the laboratory space science group. They took a couple of weeks and came up with an instrument that cost a fraction of what a big company had projected at the time.

Among the achievement awards, specific individuals and projects were recognized for distinguished awards in each category:

Distinguished Patent Award: Dipen N. Sinha, Sensors and Electrochemical Devices, “Noninvasive Characterization of a Flowing Multiphase Fluid Using Ultrasonic Interferometry.” The invention can non-invasively monitor composition and flow rates of liquids using ultrasound to monitor. It is licensed to Chevron and Safety Scan.

Distinguished Copyright Award: Tim German, Theoretical Chemistry and Molecular Physics Group, “EpiCast.”

This software for epidemiological forecasting was developed to help health officials predict possible scenarios of an avian flu pandemic.

Distinguished Licensing Award: Yusheng Zhao, of Los Alamos Neutron Scattering Center, for inventing a “novel nanostructured composite that consists of diamond particles embedded in a matrix on nanocrystalline silicon carbide.

The material, Zhao said, overcomes a fundamental physical problem that tough materials like metals are soft and hard materials like diamonds are brittle. The super-hard, ultra-tough material created has been licensed to U.S. Synthetic to create the world’s toughest synthetic drill bits.

He said the project began with a Los Alamos Directed R&D grant in 2001.

Programmatic Impact Award: Geoffrey S. Waldo and Stephanie Cabantous, Bioscience, Advanced Measurement Sciences Group, “Green Flourescent Protein (GFP) Technology,” including the GFP Toolbox that helps biologists analyze protein dysfunction. Merck & Co. Inc. and Johnson & Johnson have licensed GFP for commercial use and there are many non-commercial licenses as well.

2007 Technology Transfer Award: Steven Graves, Gregory Goddard, John Martin, Robert Habbersett and Mark Naivar of the Bioscience Division and Gregory Kaduchack and Michael Ward of Acoustic Cytometry Systems (ACS) Inc. of Los Alamos.

The invention, which has become the foundation of a new company uses acoustic focusing to concentrate and align particles in a narrow tube, key to processing and analyzing biological cells and particles. The company received a grant from the Los Alamos National Security Venture Acceleration Fund in 2007.

ACS now has eight employees and initial seed money.

Looking over the assembled inventors with their family, friends and associates, McBranch said, “It makes me proud to see the diversity of work going on at this laboratory.”

Next up for the spring and summer technology season will be nominations for the R&D 100 awards, said Belinda Padilla of the laboratory’s Technology Transfer Division.