Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

2004 R&D 100 Award Submissions

Discoveries, developments, advancements and inventions pouring from Los Alamos make America—and the world—a better and safer place and bolster national security.
ClustermaticR&D Winner

ClustermaticOriginally designed as a low-cost version of a supercomputer, a computer cluster consists of a group of connected computers that work together as one. Unfortunately, setting up and managing such clusters is tedious and prone to mistakes, thus making clusters much more difficult to use than supercomputers. To address this problem, we developed the Clustermatic software suite. Clustermatic increases reliability and efficiency, decreases node autonomy, simplifies programming, reduces administration costs, and minimizes a user’s reliance on unpredictable software. As a result, Clustermatic enables commodity-based cluster networks to compete with their higher-cost and -profile super-computer cousins by scaling to largest cluster configurations, providing predictive monitoring that reacts to mode failures and creating a one-system view of an entire cluster.


High-performance computing (HPC) applications include

  • nuclear weapons, other defense programs
  • weather-pattern and climate simulation, forest-fire data gathering, viral modeling

Applications related to LinuxBIOS include

  • motherboard manufacturing
  • embedded systems (such as iRobot.com’s PakBot)
  • caching appliances for web content, DVD players, fiber-channel analyzers
Confocal X-Ray Fluorescence MicroscopeR&D Winner

Confocal X-Ray Fluorescence Microscope Our microscope uses x-ray fluorescence to nondestructively measure the concentrations of elements within a tiny quasi-spherical “probe volume.” The microscope moves the x-ray probe volume on or through an object to measure elemental concentrations on the object’s surface, beneath a specific spot on the surface or throughout the object’s interior. The microscope measures the concentrations of a wide range of elements with parts-per-million sensitivity. It can analyze objects as thick as a few millimeters with a spatial resolution of 15 micrometers.


  • Analysis of fine-art paintings, i.e., nondestructive studies of valuable paintings in situ
  • Identification of elements present in radioactive waste for conversion to forms suitable for long-term storage
  • Inspection of Space Shuttle thrusters
  • Quality control of pharmaceuticals
  • Characterization of new types of films for the semiconductor industry
  • Analysis of crime scene evidence—enhances forensic information provided by other types of microscopes
mpiBLAST: A High-Speed Software DNA plus circuit board Catalyst for GeneticR&D Winner

mpiBLASTBLAST, an open-source software package distributed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, has become the ubiquitous genomic-sequencing tool in molecular biology. With mpiBLAST, our open-source parallelization of BLAST, we have dramatically enhanced BLAST’s throughput and minimized its response time. The mpiBLAST software uses a new process known as in-memory database segmentation, in which a database is chopped into memory-sized pieces so that each compute node searches only a distinct portion of the database. When each portion has been searched, the message-passing interface (mpi) handles the communication to merge the results from each compute node. Thus, a search of a 300-kilobyte query that took 1,346 minutes (22.4 hours) using BLAST takes only a few minutes with mpiBLAST.


  • Enables quick identification of previously unknown viruses, e.g., the SARS coronavirus, West Nile virus, and different strains of AIDS and cancer
  • Accelerates complete genomic sequencing of organisms and drug discovery, reducing bioterrorism threats via pathogen detection and identification
  • Contributes to other medical efforts, e.g., phylogenetic profiling and pairwise genome alignment
  • Provides a more effective data-mining technique, e.g., technique could help identify and correlate intelligence and reconnaissance information and parallelize internet search engines
Plasma-Torch Production of Spherical Boron Nitride ParticlesR&D Winner

Plasma-Torch Production of Spherical Boron Nitride ParticlesParticles of heat-dissipation filler can be added to the resin packaging around an integrated circuit to improve thermal management. Crystalline boron nitride, with the highest thermal conductivity of any ceramic, would be the most effective filler material except that it naturally forms as irregular platelets. Only spheres have the right rheological (material flow) characteristics for semiconductor packaging tools and techniques. We have succeeded in melting crystalline (hexagonal) boron nitride by injecting the natural platelets into a hot (>3,500 kelvin) plasma, whose nitrogen-atom-rich environment stabilizes boron nitride, allowing it to be heated to its melting point. The particles melt, form spheres and retain that shape when cooled. Ours is the first process to produce crystalline boron nitride spheres.


Our plasma-torch method produces a variety of materials:

  • spherical crystalline boron nitride for integrated-circuit packages
  • oxide spheres for integrated-circuit packages
  • carbon nanotube threads with the highest strength-to-weight ratio for ropes and other structures
  • photocatalysts for hydrogen generation and water purification
  • supported metal catalysts for crude-oil refinement, catalytic converters and polymers
  • metallic and carbon-coated metallic nanoparticles as fuel components
  • oxide nanoparticles, possibly for next-generation armor
10-Gigabit Ethernet Adapter: Speed Really Changes EverythingR&D Winner

10-Gigabit Ethernet AdapterHave you ever tried to download a high-resolution graphic, movie or video game from the internet? Such downloads can take hours, and if you’re lucky, your computer will not lock up, and the download will come through successfully. Now, imagine that by installing a simple adapter into your computer, you could transfer information up to 148,000 times faster than a high-speed modem connection and up to 23,000 times faster than a DSL connection. This “super-adapter’s” plug-and-play installation, reliability and unprecedented speed will revolutionize how computers and the internet positively impact our lives.


  • Entertainment markets, e.g., video editing and animation, video- and music-on-demand, video games and file-sharing applications such as iTunes, Kazaa, Napster and Gnutella
  • Worldwide modeling and simulation markets, e.g., global weather and wildfire predictions, contagious disease communicability, galaxy formations and supernova explosions, financial market forecasting and human genome sequencing
  • Data acquisition and data mining markets, e.g., military intelligence and reconnaissance, basic-science research (fusion, bioinformatics, aerospace) and data warehousing
  • Medical applications, e.g., interactive distance education (for patients and medical personnel), expedited patient care and enhanced diagnostic imaging
Aerosonic: Acoustic Concentrator of Aerosol Contaminants

AerosonicAn inexpensive, low-maintenance, piezo-electric device, Aerosonic generates focused, resonance-based sound pressure to concentrate aerosols. The concentrated aerosols can then be directly isolated for analysis. Alternatively, when added as a front-end concentrator to existing low-sensitivity, hand-held detectors, Aerosonic increases detector sensitivity. Its light weight and low power consumption make it an ideal add-on. Functioning independently as a “filterless” filter, Aerosonic can—by removing the concentrated material—eliminate such air pollutants as diesel-engine combustion particulates, toxic byproducts from restaurant-kitchen exhaust and airborne bacteria in hospitals.


  • Facility safety: front-end sensitivity enhancer for hand-held detectors such as optical classifiers and particle sizer
  • Air-pollution control: “filterless” filter for diesel-exhaust particulates, combustion exhaust from restaurant kitchens, airborne bacteria in hospitals
  • Homeland security: concentrator for aerosol chemotoxins and biotoxins to facilitate their analysis
Be Safe: Assay for Rapid Environmental Beryllium Detection

Be SafeA 30-minute assay for the presence of workplace beryllium, Be-Safe provides an unambiguous method for assessing the health and safety risks of workers from exposure to the toxic metal. With chronic, degenerative lung disease the potential consequence of even a small and transient exposure to beryllium particles, a fast, accurate detection assay is needed for industries that use beryllium in manufacturing products such as electronics, sporting goods, tools, jewelry and dental apparatus. Be-Safe provides a convenient and inexpensive method for frequent and reliable workplace testing, thereby promoting prompt remediation and preventive measures.


Workplace beryllium detection in the following:

  • Department of Energy complex in which beryllium is widely used in weapons manufacture and maintenance
  • Manufacturing environments producing electronics, sporting goods, tools, jewelry and dental apparatus
  • Aerospace industry and other R&D environments in which beryllium and its alloys are used in development of new electrical and mechanical components
BioNetGen: Software for Modeling Biological Signaling Complexity

BioNetGenBioNetGen is a software package that creates precise and comprehensive models for a wide array of biological regulatory systems, which often cause disease when they function abnormally. These models facilitate the design of more-focused experiments to test actual cellular signaling configurations (i.e., molecular species and reactions) and to evaluate the therapeutic potential—and potential side effects—of candidate drugs and drug targets inside cells. With its modeling flexibility, the software narrows the field for drug targets and defines what are potentially the most useful drugs, thus promoting the development of novel drugs and helping to reduce R&D costs in the pharmaceutical industry.


  • Predicting possible and probable signaling configurations in various cell types (guides experimenters in designing the potentially most informative protocols)
  • Analyzing molecular forms and complexes that arise within the dynamics of signaling reactions
  • Identifying promising strategies for drug intervention, thereby directing design initiatives for drug synthesis
  • Evaluating probable effects on signaling of candidate drugs that act inside cells before animal or human testing
DMFC-20 Portable Power System

DMFC-20 Portable Power SystemThe DMFC-20 is a compact, highly energy efficient, direct methanol fuel cell power system that is designed to deliver 20 watts of electric power for use in portable military applications. Portable devices are also in great demand in the civilian sector, and potential industrial partners are interested in moving the DMFC-20 to the commercial market. When operated for a month, the DMFC-20 can provide up to 10 times the energy density (or specific energy) of batteries. A lightweight, integrated methanol sensor ensures that the DMFC-20 operates with maximum fuel-conversion efficiency. The DMFC-20’s high specific energy and very efficient fuel conversion distinguish our system from other direct methanol fuel cells.


Commercial applications:

  • portable electronics
  • battery chargers
  • household tools
  • long-operating air-quality sensors (e.g., carbon dioxide sensors)
  • remote road signs
  • camping equipment
  • electric scooters (hybrid systems with rechargeable battery)

Military applications:

  • auxiliary power
  • battery chargers
  • deployed field sensors
GN-5: A Portable Gamma-Ray and Neutron Instrument

GN-5: A Portable Gamma-Ray and Neutron InstrumentGN-5 is a lightweight, robust, versatile instrument with the following key features:

  1. detects gamma rays with high energy resolution using a high-purity germanium (HPGe) crystal
  2. uses a bismuth germinate (BGO) scintillator to suppress parasitic Compton signals that can obscure gamma rays
  3. compares gamma-ray signals with an extensive library of relevant gamma-ray energies
  4. includes sophisticated electronics and software for accurate, real-time radioisotope identification with minimal user training.

Operated alone, the BGO scintillator can be used to quickly scan containers for evidence of radioactivity. Once gamma rays are detected, the HPGe detector identifies the radioisotopes present. Comparison of the count rates from the two GN-5 neutron detectors (one shielded with cadmium) provides information about the possible presence of hydrogenous materials (e.g., explosives) in containers.


GN-5 can be used to detect smuggled nuclear and other dangerous materials or proliferation activities at many critical locations:

  • border crossings
  • harbors, airports
  • tunnels, bridges
  • office buildings, sports arenas, convention centers
  • vulnerable installations, such as dams and power plants
  • facilities at which nuclear-proliferation activities are suspected
MIST: Magnetic Imaging of Superconducting Tape

MISTOne of the stumbling blocks in manufacturing thin objects (such as superconductors) and miniscule objects (such as computer chips) is minimizing and perhaps even eliminating defects and imperfections. In many instances, defects and imperfections lead to less-than-stellar performance and even costly malfunctions. But how can one detect nanosized defects in objects that are so tiny to begin with? To address this problem, we have developed a combination of magnetic sensors and computer software known as MIST (magnetic imaging of superconducting tape) that noninvasively and nondestructively detects microscopic defects in superconducting tape and minuscule objects such as integrated circuits and other nanotechnological devices. For superconducting tape, MIST tests the fabricated tape for defects so that the manufacturing process can be adjusted to avoid producing “bad” coated conductors.


  • Detecting microscopic and gross defects and imperfections in superconducting tapes likely to play an important role in generating and transmitting electrical power
  • Testing currents in electronic and computer circuits
  • Optimizing magnetic-hard-drive storage
  • Enhancing quality-assurance and -control in the manufacture of nanosized objects
PAD: Polymer-Assisted Deposition of Metal-Oxide Films

PADPAD uses an organic polymer and one or more metal compounds dissolved in water to deposit high-quality films of nearly any metal oxide on nearly any shape or substrate. The organic polymer binds to the metal ions or complexes in the solution to prevent them from precipitating or forming other inorganic compounds. The result is a stable, homogeneous chemical solution that coats objects uniformly—an essential part of PAD’s ability to form high-quality films.

PAD produces higher-quality films with a greater range of chemical compositions than is possible with other chemical solution deposition techniques. Vacuum deposition techniques can also produce high-quality, metal-oxide films. But because PAD does not require a vacuum system, PAD is easier and less expensive to use.

PAD can deposit amorphous, polycrystalline or epitaxial films with thicknesses of 10 nanometers to hundreds of nanometers or more. The only requirement for the substrate is that it be stable in oxygen up to 400 degrees Celsius or slightly more. Metals, ceramics, glass and silicon can be used as substrates.


PAD can be used to make films for

  • flat-panel displays
  • microchips
  • solar cells
  • superconducting tapes
Stripper Microhole Technology

Stripper Microhole TechnologyMicrohole technology is a paradigm shift for the drilling industry. It has the potential to allow much cheaper access to the remaining small pockets of oil in stripper fields (economically marginal fields that produce ~10 barrels of oil/well/day). In the past, 6- to 12-inch-diameter wells were necessary to support exploration as well as large-flow production during a well’s commercial life. Drilling technology advances and progress in miniaturizing electronics and sensors have facilitated use of microholes (1-3/4 in. to 2-5/8 in. dia.) reducing oil recovery costs in shallow, economically marginal fields; increasing the number of accessible oil reserves; and reducing environmental damage. We proved to a skeptical industry that “it can be done.” We integrated and adapted existing technologies into a drilling system that allowed construction of a 497-ft.-deep demonstration stripper microhole at the Teapot Dome oil field near Casper, Wyoming, in September 2003.


  • Reviving production in economically marginal oil and natural gas fields
  • Exploring for shallow oil and gas at greatly reduced cost
  • Acquiring high-quality seismic data through the drilling of inexpensive holes to place sensors in an ultraquiet environment
  • Monitoring primary and enhanced production processes for reservoir management
  • Producing coalbed methane at remote locations
Superhard, Ultratough Nanocomposites

Superhard, Ultratough NanocompositesDiamond is the material of choice for most abrasive applications because of its superhardness. Unfortunately, its use is limited because diamond is brittle and prone to fracture. We have solved the brittle-fracture problem by developing a novel nanostructured composite that consists of diamond particles embedded in a matrix of nanocrystalline silicon carbide. This nanostructured matrix halts the growth of cracks that lead to fracture. Our nanocomposites are the toughest, most durable diamond composites ever produced. They set a new performance standard for next-generation abrasives. In addition, our innovative synthesis technique can be extended to tailor the properties of other superhard materials.


Our diamond nanocomposites possess the performance-critical properties required to replace current tungsten carbide and diamond abrasives in a broad range of applications:

  • Composite inserts for drilling bits in the oil and gas industry
  • Super-abrasive components for high-impact mining, grinding and cutting environments
  • High-speed tool surfaces for machining nonferrous alloys and hard ceramics
  • High-temperature dies for wire drawing
  • Anvils for high-temperature, -pressure materials research

R&D Winner = Winner