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Top Ten Innovations of 2013

Our featurres embrace complex issues around our science, technologies, and mission in a series of mini-articles that provide a context for our historical approach, current problem solving and our vision for the future.

TOP INNOVATIONS OF 2013 Science and technology for a secure nation

  • Impenetrable encryption defends data from cyberterrorism

    keyboard with attack button

    A hacker could crack a code, steal private information or shut down systems we rely on daily. Small enough to fit in a smart phone, our QkarD technology ("kee-u-kard") provides virtually impenetrable defense, using quantum cryptography to secure computers.

    This novel encryption generates security at the subatomic particle level. If someone tries to hack in, that particle is altered, and the owner quietly alerted. And it works—even against super-powerful quantum computers.

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  • Multipronged HIV vaccine shows promise in monkeys

    lab worker

    HIV constantly mutates into many different strains that skillfully kill human cells and cripple the immune system.

    Our biologists, immunologists and computer experts developed a “mosaic” vaccine now headed for human trials that stays one step ahead of the virus by creating diverse proteins to attack it—a multipronged approach that strengthens the immune system so it can adapt to the mutating virus.

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  • Tree death worldwide linked to warming climate

    tree drought

    Trees dying at alarming rates is no small concern: trees absorb one-third of human carbon dioxide emissions, and they release this greenhouse gas at death. Our scientists study why and where trees are dying and how their death is caused by a changing climate—and vice versa.

    Using the first globally comprehensive data set and our global monitoring system, we predict losses of many forests worldwide by 2100 and discovered wildfires caused by climate change add to the global-warming in a dangerous cycle.

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  • ChemCam inspects Mars: can it support life?

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    ChemChem's instrumentation aboard the Mars Science Lab’s rover Curiosity has made all sorts of discoveries. ChemCam found evidence of lots of water in the planet’s past and enough water presently to possibly sustain future astronauts.

    This instrument zaps rocks with a high-powered laser to determine their composition and carries a camera that surveys Mars, uncovering clues about the environment and climate, surveying geography and collecting data for a manned mission.

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  • Roadrunner firsts pave way for more powerful supercomputing

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    Roadrunner hit the petaflop barrier a few years ago, topping supercomputer lists for years for its power and energy efficiency, and the first to use hybrid processing.

    Science needs fast computers to model, for example, a human brain’s quadrillion synapsis or to recreate the universe from the big bang to today. Although Roadrunner retired this year, it is ushering in the next generation of supercomputing that will more powerful and efficient.

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  • Space probes predict hazards to protect spacecraft

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    Researchers think they’ve solved a 50-year-old space mystery about how electrons within the Van Allen radiation belts that surround our planet can become energetic enough to cripple orbiting satellites (and it is also the 50th year of the space-based treaty originally verified by Los Alamos sensor technology).

    With data collected by space-probe instruments, they discovered how electromagnetic radio waves cause electrons in these belts to greatly accelerate—a first. Such results may help make space weather forecasting possible (and accurate).

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  • Portable laser tool to thwart nuclear smugglers

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    Researchers demonstrated for the first time that laser-generated neutrons can detect concealed nuclear material, and that the tool can be small.

    Using a super-fast yet powerful short-pulse laser called TRIDENT, we focused neutrons onto a miniscule spot. When neutrons encounter nuclear material, they cause measurable fission, alerting guards that bomb-making material is present. A tabletop device could protect borders and crowded ports.

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  • RAPTOR telescope witnesses black hole birth

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    The first “thinking telescope” RAPTOR found the birth of big black holes, possibly the most powerful events since the big bang. This robotic array screens 100 million objects and runs real-time analysis—autonomously alerting us when there’s a discovery or a threat.

    In 2006, RAPTOR was the first of its kind to make a discovery: the birth of a black hole, announced by a powerful burst of gamma-ray emissions. This year, it discovered the biggest, brightest flash that has occurred in decades.

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  • Liquid-scanning technology boosts airport security

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    Uniquely combining Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-ray technology, scientists unlocked new threat technology that could make airport travel faster and safer.

    This advanced technology called MagRay quickly and accurate determines whether a concealed liquid is dangerous or benign—apple juice or highly explosive material. It can see through thick materials, and it works far better than the traditional X-ray technology.

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  • Improved biofuel methods: may be greener, cheaper, powerful

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    We’ve improved methods to turn abundant plant waste into valuable fuel. Efficiently extracting the plant matter has stumped others.

    A plant’s energy is tightly bound within hardy plant walls, and conventional methods to extract that energy are environmentally and economically unfriendly. Researchers unraveled these tightly packed nanofibers more efficiently into soluble sugars.

    We also improved chemical methods to access the energy under relatively mild, energy-efficient conditions.

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Innovations for a secure nation

Novel rocket design flight tested

Novel rocket design flight tested

The new rocket fuel and motor design adds a higher degree of safety by separating the fuel from the oxidizer, both novel formulations that are, by themselves, not able to detonate.

» All Innovations

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