R&D 100 Awards
Kenneth “Mark” Bryden and Douglas McCorkle
The software package osgBullet creates 3-D, real-time computer simulations that can help engineers design complex systems ranging from next-generation power plants to highly efficient cars and tomorrow’s video games. The osgBullet software tool integrates highly detailed 3-D drawings with physics engines. This enables engineering design in a real-time computed environment.
Kenneth “Mark” Bryden and Douglas McCorkle
Virtual Engineering Process Simulator (VE-PSI) is a software application that enables engineers to review and revise proposed designs more quickly, more efficiently and at less cost than ever before by integrating different types of engineering data into one virtual environment. VE-PSI combines information about process simulation – data and models about chemical, physical and biological processes – with computer-aided design drawings and fluid dynamics data to create a comprehensive real-time graphic display of power plant designs. In the interactive virtual environment, engineers can analyze multiple aspects of a proposed power plant at the same time with the aim of optimizing the overall system. VE-PSI is part of the Ve-Suite, an open-source virtual engineering software package.
Kenneth “Mark” Bryden Gerrick Bivin and Douglas McCorkle
Texture Based Engineering Tools (TBET) is a software toolkit that allows engineers to interrogate large transient datasets faster than any other software program by utilizing the graphics-processing unit. It can be employed by engineering applications to allow engineers and other project stakeholders to gain insight into complex engineering projects, such as ways in which to decrease pollution, by enabling them to visually interact with the data in ways not previously possible.
Brian Gleeson and Dan Sordelet
“Novel Platinum-modified nickel-aluminide coatings” deliver unprecedented oxidation resistance and phase stability as bond coat layers in thermal barrier coatings. The new bond coats promise to significantly improve the reliability and durability of gas turbine engines, allowing them to operate at higher temperatures and extending their lifetimes.
“Multiplexed Capillary Electrophoresis Using Absorption Detection” is a high-throughput analysis technology that can perform 96 chemical separations simultaneously through its array of 96 capillary tubes. Because these capillaries can disperse heat so well, an electrical charge of up to 20,000 volts can be used. The high voltage means separations can be done in as little as 15 minutes.
“Absorbance detection” describes how the system detects molecules. Ultraviolet light is focused through a tiny window to illuminate the capillaries, and the amount of light absorbed by the migrating molecules is detected by an array of photodiodes. Absorbance detection makes Yeung’s approach more widely applicable than other forms of capillary electrophoresis.
The ultraviolet absorption data, along with the time it takes the molecules to migrate, are sent to a standard personal computer. Custom software processes the data to generate charts called electropherograms, revealing the type and quantity of the separated molecules. The data can also be exported in tabular form to standard software packages.
Yeung is the co-founder of CombiSep, Inc., a new company formed in Ames, Iowa, to turn the technology into a commercial instrument. The technology has applications in several fields, including combinatorial chemistry, drug discovery, genomics and proteomics.
Gerald Small and Ryszard Jankowiak
“Capillary Electrophoresis – Fluorescence Line-Narrowing Spectroscopy” (CE-FLNS) is a selective detection method that can provide the information necessary to distinguish between structurally similar molecular compounds. In particular, it can ease the process of identifying structurally similar cancer-causing compounds and closely related DNA adducts, which can present a chemical analysis nightmare. The novel CE-FLNS combination can provide more detailed information on complex biomolecular samples than either CE or FLNS can do on its own. The technology first takes advantage of CE to separate minute amounts of closely related biological analytes. FLNS then characterizes the CE-separated molecular samples. The process differentiates structurally related analytes by laser exciting them to fluoresce and emit fluorescence line-narrowed spectra, which can be collected and measured.
Bill McCallum, Kevin Dennis, Matt Kramer (Ames Lab), and Daniel Branagan (INEEL)
“Nanocrystalline Composite Coersive Magnet Powder” is the result of the development and application of a new alloying approach in rare-earth-based permanent magnet systems. The method provides a means of creating advanced alloys with a nanocrystalline composite microstructure. The new alloy developed by the Ames Lab researchers in partnership with their colleagues and co-winners from INEEL is suitable for gas atomization, a significant accomplishment since current commercial rare-earth permanent alloys do not retain their hard magnetic properties when atomized. Gas atomization methods will make possible high-volume, low-cost production to meet the rapidly growing market demand for uniform magnet powder. The Ames Lab/INEEL improvements in properties and processing characteristics will allow industry to develop better magnets for use in more energy-efficient motors for industrial, automotive and consumer applications.
The “ESY9600 Multiplexed Electrophoresis DNA Sequencer” is a detection system for simultaneously monitoring 96 capillary separations based on laser-excited fluorescence in the samples. Operating at 24 times higher speed, it is destined to replace current DNA sequencers and do so at a comparable cost. The technology promises to play an integral role in worldwide efforts to sequence the entire human genome. And the ability to decipher our complete genetic code should greatly enhance the diagnosis of diseases and the development of improved treatments.
John Gustafson and Quinn Snell
“Hierarchical INTegration” (HINT) is a computer benchmark that measures a computer’s full range of performance. To do so, it fixes neither the problem size nor the calculation time. Rather, it uses a work measure called QUIPS (Quality Improvement Per Second) to measure performance based on the amount of work a computer can do over time. Most computers start fast and then slow down when they run out of fast memory and start to use main memory. They slow even more when they have to go to disk. All those different ranges of speed are visible on the HINT benchmark. HINT is particularly important for high-performance computing where performance depends enormously on how memory is accessed. The HINT benchmark also allows the user to get a feel, for example, of whether a certain computer is a fast starter but runs out of memory early.
The HINT benchmark is simple to use. The measured program is only two pages long. It’s also scalable and easily ported to a variety of computer architectures. The program can be run on a pocket calculator or a supercomputer. No previous benchmark has ever achieved that kind of portability.
John McClelland and Roger Jones
“Transient Infrared Spectroscopy” (TIRS) allows on-line analysis of non-metallic solids or viscous liquids by measuring their infrared spectra as the materials move along a process line, a feat that was not previously possible in the mid-infrared spectral region.
Manufacturers are interested in the mid-infrared portion of the spectrum
(400 to 4000 cm –1) because it contains an abundance of information about a material’s molecular and chemical makeup. Although mid-infrared spectroscopy can provide data critical to quality control, companies traditionally could not put the technique’s analytical capabilities to use where they are needed – on moving solid materials in a production line.
Because most solid or thick materials readily absorb infrared radiation, they are opaque in this region of the spectrum, making mid-infrared analysis a tedious task that involves removal from the production line and preparing thin samples for spectroscopic analysis.
To achieve the rapid, real-time analysis that manufacturers desire for quality control, TIRS reduces absorption to make a thick material appear thin to the infrared spectrometer. By inducing a temperature transient in the moving solid with jets of hot or cold gas, TIRS temporarily creates a very thin hot or cold layer at the surface of the material without physically thinning it. The mid-infrared spectrum of the thin layer is then measured as the solid moves along the process line past an infrared spectrometer.
TIRS may one day be used in the adhesives industry to determine moisture content, cure level and uniformity of application. Or, within the coatings industry, it may provide continuous monitoring of the polymerization of paper coatings. It could even ensure coal quality by determining ash heating value and the moisture content in feedstock for the coal-blending process. TIRS has even provided reliable process control for the polymer encapsulation of radioactive waste. The instrument is used at Rocky Flats and has reduced the number of samples needed to verify that the product meets regulatory requirements, making for a more economical quality-control process.
The “Microfluor Detector” combines high sensitivity with the capability to analyze very small volumes, providing unparalleled detection of valuable biological materials for which only limited samples are available. It allows scientists to analyze samples of sizes 50 time smaller than those required by other methods and can monitor substances at significantly lower concentrations than other technologies. Already in use to analyze DNA in studies of how carcinogens affect living cells, this detector offers advantages for sequencing DNA or proteins and for analyzing numerous substances such as pharmaceuticals, toxins and amino acids.
The Microfluor Detector detects, monitors and quantifies fluorescent materials by sensing the intensity of light emitted by the sample as it flows through a region irradiated by a laser beam. Its cost-effective design offers easy operation in a fully lit room, uncommon in laser technology.
John Gustafson, Stephen Elbert, Diane Rover and Michael Carter
"SLALOM (Scalable Language – independent, Ames Lab one-minute measurement)" is a computer benchmark that meets the difficult challenge of providing objective evaluation of computers with widely differing designs. In a nontraditional approach that provides improved assessment, SLALOM fixes the time of the comparison test, while previously developed benchmarks fix the size of the problem to be run during the evaluation.
SLALOM is the first scalable supercomputer benchmark. Adaptable to future computer technology and unprejudiced toward any machine or programming environment, SLALOM is useful on scalar, vector and parallel machines of all kinds. The type of comparison made possible by SLALOM is particularly important in allowing computer buyers to explore new approaches in computing and take advantage of the latest technological advances.
Iver Anderson and Barbara Lograsso
“High-Pressure Gas Atomization” (HPGA) is a technique for making rare-earth permanent magnet material. The Ames HPGA process uses a unique supersonic nozzle to direct very cold (minus 20 C to minus 40 C) argon or nitrogen gas traveling at speeds up to Mach 3 to blast a stream of molten magnet alloy into extremely fine spherical droplets. As the particles fall to a collection point, they cool rapidly – at the rate of about one million degrees C per second. Due in part to this rapid cooling, the molten droplets solidify so quickly that the atoms within each particle become frozen in a microstructure of nanometer scale, avoiding their otherwise normal tendency to segregate into a much coarser dendritic structure. This process imparts optimum isotropic magnetic properties to the material.
An important characteristic of the Ames powder resulting from this process is its consistently fine, spherical shape. This smooth, regular geometry makes the powder well suited for either traditional powder metallurgy processing into sintered magnets or for new alternative magnet fabrication techniques like hot isostatic pressing (HIP) into near-net shapes or metal injection molding (MIM) into extremely complex net shapes. The suitability of the Ames powder for HIP and MIM can reduce or eliminate the need for grinding magnets into final shapes, resulting in significant cost and scrap savings, and in a less environmentally hazardous material.
Rick Schmidt, John Wheelock and Dave Peterson
The “Thermite Reduction Process” is an easier, more energy-efficient technique for producing rare-earth alloys that exhibit superior magnetic strength over traditional materials of iron alloyed with aluminum, nickel or cobalt. Increased strength means a smaller motor can do the work. The end results are smaller VCRs, radio speakers, computer disk drives, power tools and other appliances. Smaller magnets are particularly attractive to the automobile industry since a single car has numerous motorized devices and decreasing the size of those motors can increase fuel efficiency.
The Ames Lab Thermite Reduction Process produces the desired rare-earth-iron alloy in a single, energy-saving step by taking advantage of the heat produced when calcium metal reacts with a blend of iron fluoride and rare-earth metal fluorides. The process was adapted from an already-established procedure developed at Ames Laboratory in the 1940s to purify uranium. The new version of the process allows scientists to initiate the reaction in a non-contaminating crucible with calcium as the reducing agent. While the reduction of iron fluoride serves as a thermal booster and provides the iron for the final alloy, it also lowers the melting point of the rare-earth metal, eliminating the need for expensive high-temperature production facilities. The heat of the chemical reaction allows the molten alloy and the unwanted slag to separate by gravity. When cooled, the two layers are simply broken apart.
A bonus for the environment as well as the magnet producers, this alloy process is the first to recycle unused materials. Up to 30 percent of the starting alloy ends up as scrap after the magnets have been formed and sorted. Rather than wasting the hundreds of thousands of pounds of scrap piling up at magnet manufacturing plants, such material can now be fed back into this process to produce high-quality magnet alloy.
The technology for the Thermite Reduction Process is licensed to Edge Technologies, Inc. of Ames, Iowa. It allows the company’s Ames Specialty Metals Division to make rare-earth-iron alloys more efficiently than current alloy producers.
The “Micropol Liquid Chromatography Detector” offers an unconventional approach to the long-standing problem of detecting mirror-image forms of a molecule. The technology combines the sensitivity of laser spectroscopy with the specificity of liquid chromatography. The Micropol Detector monitors and quantifies a molecule by sensing the rotation in a plane of polarized light passing through the sample. The angle of rotation identifies the compound and its concentration.
With a sensitivity a thousand times greater than that of existing devices, this detector can analyze samples of sizes 50 to 500 times smaller than other systems that measure optical activity. Fast and versatile, it is proving useful in analyses such as detecting sugar in urine, assessing industrial output streams, classifying coals and dating archaeological finds that are outside the limits of conventional radioactive carbon dating.
Velmer Fassel, Art D’Silva and Gary Rice
Within the “Helium Afterglow Discharge Detector” sample particles collide with helium and then emit light of a wavelength that reveals their identity. The device is helping companies in the U.S., Japan and England find impurities online during manufacturing processes. One example is detecting unwanted sulfur during petroleum processing.
Manufactured and marketed by CETAC Technologies of Omaha, Nebraska, the detector is also proving effective in spotting environmental pollutants. Environmental applications include finding organic solvents in water, paint residue compounds in seawater and phosphorous in pesticides.
The “Photoacoustic Cell for Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy” quickly and precisely identifies substances by the infrared absorption spectrum of a substance’s acoustic signals, which are triggered by light. The device spawned MTEC Photoacoustics, an Iowa business that is still growing. Useful in verifying the composition of substances such as pharmaceuticals, protective coatings and polymers for advanced materials, the photoacoustic detector is also proving ideal for evaluating fabrics the U. S. Army is designing to protect soldiers from chemical warfare.
George Holland, John Homer and Walt Struve
The “Video Voice” speech-training system analyzes a person’s speech, displays that analysis on a computer screen and allows the person to repeat sounds until the visual imprints match those of the model. The technology now helps thousands of people across the world overcome speech, voice or language difficulties.
Micro Video Corporation in Ann Arbor, MI, licensed the Video Voice technology in 1984, refined it to fit precise market needs and now has more than 350 systems operating in the U. S., Canada, Mexico, Italy and Korea. Most of Micro Video’s customers are schools, speech clinics and hospitals using the device to help people with various speech disorders, such as those caused by hearing impairments, head injuries or strokes. There is also a growing interest in using the device to help people learn the correct pronunciation of a second language.