ORNL's eight R&D awards in 1999 boost its total to 104, placing it first among DOE laboratories.

ORNL Wins Eight R&D 100 Awards

In 1999, ORNL researchers won eight R&D 100 awards, pushing their total to 104 since the awards began in 1963. The awards are presented annually by R&D Magazine in recognition of the year's most significant technological innovations. ORNL's 104 R&D 100 awards place it first among Department of Energy laboratories. The honored inventions and processes are described here.

Disease Detector Microchip for the Doctor's Office

Tuan Vo-Dinh (holding instrument), Alan Wintenberg (left), Nance Ericson, Gordon Miller, Narayan Isola, and J.P. Alarie developed the multifunctional biochip to provide rapid medical diagnoses in the doctor's office.

An electronic biochip that can rapidly screen for and detect various diseases has been devised at ORNL for possible use in physicians' offices. A biochip is a device that combines electronic microchip technology and biological probes. The ORNL device is called a multifunctional biochip because it can detect various types of biological systems — such as nucleic acids, proteins, and cellular components — simultaneously in a single device. This novel biochip, which also received the R&D 100 Editors' Award for Most Promising New Technology, is an important improvement over ORNL's previously developed DNA chip technology. The silicon-based chip can hold not only specific DNA sequences but also antibodies, proteins, and cellular probes for detecting disease-causing agents and other biomedical targets. The palm-size device contains a sampling platform for the probes, a set of lenses, light sources, a detector array microchip, electronic circuitry, and an on-board data collection capability.

Disease-causing agents or genes that bring about illnesses, which may be present in a processed drop of blood, will be detected if target DNA samples pair with complementary probes or if target proteins bind to antibody probes affixed to the chip's platform. The biochip will process up to 100 samples in 30 minutes.

Expected applications of the biochip are DNA sequencing; identifying and mapping genes; screening blood, vaccines, food, and water supplies for infectious agents; and diagnosing diseases, including AIDS, hepatitis, genetic-based cancers (such as breast, colon, and prostate cancer), and Alzheimer's disease. Other uses may be high-throughput drug screening, environmental sensing of biochemical species, occupational health monitoring, and rapid detection of biological pathogens. The multifunctional biochip was developed and evaluated by ORNL's Tuan Vo-Dinh, Alan Wintenberg, Nance Ericson, J. P. Alarie, Gordon Miller, Minoo Askari, and Narayan Isola from the Life Sciences and Instrumentation and Controls divisions. (For more information, see the Review, Vol. 32, No. 1, 1999, p. 13.)

The biochip could be produced on a large scale using low-cost, integrated-circuit technology. Widespread use of this technology in doctors' offices should reduce the cost of medical diagnoses, thus cutting health care costs.

Controlling the Process of Making Rust-resistant Steel

Most automobiles manufactured today do not rust as quickly as older vehicles because galvanneal sheet steel is used in their construction. To save energy, reduce waste, and ensure a quality product, ORNL has developed a measurement system for the steel industry that allows control of the temperature when galvanneal steel forms.

The galvanneal process creates a protective layer on a steel sheet by dipping it in molten zinc and heating the coated sheet in a furnace to make the iron and zinc atoms form an alloy on the surface. The problem is that the metal surface temperature may vary in the furnace, making the product quality nonuniform.

Steve Allison (left), Wayne Manges, Tim McIntyre, Mike Cates and David Beshears are part of the team that developed the galvanneal temperature measurement system, which provides crucial on-line thermal process control information during the manufacture of rust-resistant, galvanneal steel used in automobiles.

ORNL's galvanneal temperature measurement system makes it possible to strictly control steel surface temperature, enabling the production of uniform, high-quality galvanneal steel. The system uses a computer; laser; light detector; optical fibers; and white phosphor powder, which is dusted on each steel sheet by a computerized phosphor-deposition device. The laser light excites the phosphors, which emit light for a short time, based on how hot they and the steel sheet are. Measurements of the time it takes for the light emissions to disappear are used by the computer to calculate the surface temperature of the galvanneal steel. The real-time monitoring information is used by steel producers to determine whether furnace operation must be adjusted to maintain the correct temperature.

The system was developed by ORNL's Steve Allison, David Beshears, Mike Cates, Mitchell Childs, Wayne Manges, Tim McIntyre, and Marc Simpson (from the Engineering Technology and the Instrumentation and Controls divisions) in conjunction with the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), Bailey Engineers, and the National Steel Technical Center. This effort was supported by DOE's Office of Industrial Technology and AISI, a steel industry consortium that managed the project. (For more information, see the Review, Vol. 32, No. 1, 1999, pp. 17-18.)

In 1998 the ORNL system was installed and successfully tested at Bethlehem Steel's facility in Burns Harbor, Indiana. The technology has been licensed to Bailey Engineers. Just recently a system was made part of a West Virginia steel manufacturer's production line.

Frostless Heat Pump

Richard Murphy (left), Fang Chen, Ron Domitrovic, and Vince Mei (the leader) developed a frostless heat pump that greatly reduces frost formation on the outdoor coil and boosts indoor comfort during the winter.

Although relatively popular in U.S. regions with a temperate climate and low electricity rates, the air-source heat pump presents two problems to homeowners in winter. Its supply air temperature for the house is relatively low, a condition called "cold blow," and frost accumulates on the outdoor coil. As a result, the comfort of occupants and the reliability of this energy-efficient heating and cooling system are reduced.

During the heating season, when the ambient temperature is below about 4°C (40°F) and the air is humid, water vapor condenses and a deposit of tiny ice crystals builds up on the heat pump's outdoor heat exchanger. The temperature of the indoor heat exchanger coil and the air it supplies to heat the indoor space starts to drop. To defrost the coil, a control system causes a four-way valve to temporarily reverse the heat-pump cycle. Heat is taken from the house interior to raise the outdoor coil temperature enough to melt the accumulated frost. Resistance-heating elements are turned on to compensate for the heat loss in the house.

Even so, the occupants often experience cold blow, which is especially noticeable when the outdoor temperature is below -0.1°C (30°F). The periodic cycle-reversing stresses heat pump components, reducing system reliability and contributing to periodic power surges in the electric utility grid.

To reduce the frequency of defrost cycling, Vince Mei, Fang Chen, Richard Murphy, and Ron Domitrovic, all of ORNL's Energy Division, have developed a frostless heat pump. It should increase occupant comfort and heat pump reliability and reduce utility power surges.

The ORNL researchers' innovation is to add heat to the accumulator (by installing two cartridge electric heaters) to increase outdoor coil temperature a few degrees. This change not only dramatically retards frost formation at outdoor temperatures at which frost is most likely to form but also boosts heat pump supply air temperature and heating capacity. The heat pump will likely cycle off before the defrosting cycle is initiated. Cold air drafts are almost completely eliminated because of higher heat pump supply air temperature. There will be no cold blow even during the cycle-reversing defrosting period when outdoor temperatures are very low, because the indoor blower motor will be off.

"Resistance-heating elements will still be used to heat the house when the outdoor temperature is very low," Mei says. "But the frequency of use of the heating elements will be reduced because the heat pump heating capacity is improved."

Test data show that frostless technology could eliminate 80% of potential heat pump cycle reversing in the East Tennessee area. Two engineering frostless heat pumps have been built for field tests by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Two heat pump manufacturers have expressed interest in the device, which could be the first heat pump to provide a consistently warm supply of air to houses in winter.

ORNL's Two Joint Winners with UT

Jack Dongarra, an ORNL–University of Tennessee (UT) Distinguished Scientist, received two R&D 100 Awards for his computer science developments. One winning entry was NetSolve 1.2, which he developed jointly with Dorian Arnold of UT and former UT student Henri Casanova, who is now at the University of California at San Diego. The other was ATLAS, which he developed with Clint Whaley and Antoine Petitet of UT.

NetSolve 1.2 transforms an organization's hardware and software resources into a unified, easy-to-access computational service that makes available enormous amounts of computational power to users. It allows users to tap into geographically distributed hardware and software resources to achieve supercomputing levels of power without changing the way they work.

Jack Dongarra, an ORNL-UT Distinguished Scientist, was a co-winner of two R&D 100 Awards in 1999 for two computer science developments: NetSolve 1.2, a client-server system that enables users to solve complex scientific problems, and ATLAS, an automatic software production program.

"Most scientists do not have easy access to the supercomputer power needed to analyze the mass of images and data that stream in from our satellites and reactors, or to perform the complex simulations required for aircraft design or biomedicine," Dongarra says. "Now, an engineer using common programming languages can formulate a large model or simulation and turn it over to the NetSolve system. NetSolve will orchestrate the use of distributed resources on the company's intranet to perform the computations in the most efficient way possible."

ATLAS (Automatically Tuned Linear Algebra Software) generates highly optimized Basic Linear Algebra Subroutines (BLAS) that exploit all the speed the underlying hardware can deliver. It replaces time-consuming, tedious hand tuning with intelligent, self-adapting software that automatically rewrites itself within a few hours to maximize its performance on a particular computer processor.

"ATLAS will be critical to computer science," Dongarra says, "because new processors and computer systems are developed more quickly than human programmers can hand-tune the BLAS routines. The faster BLAS can run, the faster science gets done."

Self-cleaning Carbon Air Filter

Sometimes the air in a room can smell worse than the air outside. It may make us sneeze, get a headache, or feel burning in our eyes, nose, and throat. It may contain pollutants that irritate the human respiratory system or damage materials and equipment.

To get rid of airborne toxic gases such as formaldehyde, a carbon filter is usually installed downstream of the particulate filter in the room air conditioner. The problem with today's carbon filters in industrial, commercial, school, and home air conditioners is that they can be used only once. The dirty filter containing loose, granular, activated carbon must be replaced with a clean filter.

ORNL researchers Kirk Wilson of the Administrative Services Division and Tim Burchell and Rod Judkins, both of the Metals and Ceramics Division, have developed a self-cleaning carbon air filter that has a much longer life than conventional carbon filters. "One in five US schools has problems with indoor air quality, which may partly account for the increased incidence of asthma among American children," Wilson says. "A January 1999 report for ORNL that summarized scientific research on the causes of indoor air-quality problems in schools identified the need for simple, effective, and energy-efficient ways of improving indoor air quality in schools. So, we developed a low-cost indoor air filter that uses less energy and requires less maintenance than filters used today."

Tim Burchell (left), Kirk Wilson, and Rod Judkins invented a self-cleaning carbon air filter made from an activated-carbon-fiber composite that removes gaseous indoor air pollutants.

The self-cleaning filter, which has been successfully demonstrated in the laboratory, is made from an electrically conductive, activated-carbon-fiber composite that removes gaseous indoor air pollutants. It can be installed in existing or new filter banks of industrial, institutional, commercial and residential air conditioners.

When the filter becomes dirty, an automatic reverse-air-cleaning cycle passes an electric current through the filter, releasing pollutants into a purge air stream that exhausts harmful pollutants outdoors. After the cleaning cycle finishes, the unit returns to normal operation. The filter lasts through numerous cycles.

ORNL has been trying to market the concept to carbon manufacturers that could provide the filter media to end users. Several industrial firms have expressed interest in developing the technology for improving indoor air quality in buildings, automobiles, aircraft, and submarines.

Micromechanical Quantum Detector

It could let firefighters see through smoke, give drivers and pilots better night vision, and measure the temperature of hot objects. It could help energy experts spot air leaks and missing insulation in buildings and enable physicians to detect skin cancer.

A camera that could do these things would be compact, fast, sensitive, and versatile, beating the competition. It could cut the cost of infrared cameras by one-third. It would be based on ORNL's new micromechanical quantum detector (MQD), developed by Panos Datskos, Boyd Evans, Slo Rajic, all of ORNL's Engineering Technology Division, the late Charles Egert of the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant, and Irene Datskou, formerly of ORNL. Datskou (now president and chief executive officer of Environmental Engineering Group, Inc.), Datskos, and Rajic are co-inventors of the MQD.

The MQD is a highly sensitive miniature imaging device that can be tuned to respond to photons in a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, from the far infrared through visible light to the vacuum ultraviolet. The detector consists of an array of numerous springboards, each very small (~10-5 cm2), that are made of the appropriate semiconductor material.

It is known that, when low-energy photons are absorbed in a semiconductor, its temperature changes. "When we looked at how semiconductor microstructures behave in interaction with high-energy photons, we stumbled onto the photo-induced effect," Datskos says. "We discovered that high-energy photons stress the crystal electronically. Electrons and positive holes are generated, causing a mechanical stress in the material. We saw a way to use this effect to make an infrared detector that operates at room temperature."

By taking advantage of emerging micromachining techniques for making microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, the ORNL group created an array of springboards, or microcantilevers, and demonstrated that photo-induced stresses can cause them to bend in a measurable way. The more intense the incoming photons, the more the microcantilevers bend.

Irene Datskou (left), Boyd Evans, and Panos Datskos were among the developers of the micromechanical quantum detector, which may lead to a better and cheaper infrared camera.

The researchers have shown in the laboratory that an MQD made of silicon or indium antimonide provides infrared imaging at room temperature. Today's infrared photon devices must be chilled to cryogenic temperatures by liquid nitrogen. Because the MQD will not require cooling equipment, it will cost less, weigh less, and use less electricity than today's infrared photon detectors, but it will be just as sensitive and fast.

The development was funded by DOE (through ORNL seed money) and by the Defense Applied Research Projects Agency. Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Honeywell, and a number of smaller companies have expressed interest in the device. The technology is expected to be licensed soon to a commercial vendor.

Superconducting Wire Technology

In the past five years, ORNL researchers have developed the rolling assisted, biaxially textured substrates (RABiTS™) technology, which has been licensed to five companies. It is believed that this simple, scalable technology will make possible the manufacture of long lengths of ultra-high-performance superconducting wires. Such high-temperature superconducting wires could be used to make highly efficient transmission cables, as well as motors, transformers, fault current limiters, and magnetic separation devices that take up less space, cost less to operate, and use less energy than today's electric power devices. (For a history of the RABiTS™ development, see the Review, Vol. 29, Nos. 3&4, 1996, pp. 2-19.)

The developers of this award-winning technology are Amit Goyal, John Budai, David Norton, Eliot Specht, Dave Christen, Donald Kroeger, Parans Paranthaman, Frederick List, Ron Feenstra, Dominic Lee, Bob Williams, David Beach, Patrick Martin, Richard Kerchner, Ed Hatfield, John Mathis, Chan Park, Xingtian Cui, Thomas Chirayil, Claudia Cantoni, and Darren Verebelyi.

The researchers showed that texture introduced to metal (e.g., nickel) by rolling it into sheets can be transferred to a superconductive oxide coating — for example, yttrium-barium-copper oxide — through buffer layers deposited on the metal substrate. The resulting orientation of crystals in the superconductive oxide allows it to conduct large electric currents without resistance at liquid nitrogen temperature (77K). The ORNL group has developed a rolling, annealing, and coating process for mass producing kilometer lengths and centimeter widths of flexible, single-crystal-like substrates of a wide range of materials — including oxides, nitrides, and semiconductors — at only a fraction of the cost of conventionally growing single crystals (which are not flexible).

In the past two years, the ORNL researchers improved the RABiTS™ technology in three ways to make it more attractive to industry for fabricating coated conductors. First, they alloyed nickel with appropriate additions of chromium or vanadium and modified the rolling and annealing steps to make a textured metal template that is mechanically stronger and less magnetic at 77K than pure nickel. (For some applications, pure nickel may be too weak and too magnetic to enable superconductor operation in high magnetic fields.)

RABiTS™ developers are, from left, Patrick Martin, Ed Hatfield, Eliot Specht, David Beach, Fred List, Don Kroeger, John Mathis, Chan Park, Amit Goyal, Darren Verebelyi, Xingtian Cui; front row at right, from left: Domenic Lee, Parans Paranthaman, Dave Christen, and Ron Feenstra.

Second, they reduced the complexity and thickness of the buffer layers that separate the nickel-alloy substrate from the superconductive oxide coating, improving the coated conductor's ability to carry large amounts of current. Third, they demonstrated that a high-quality superconductive oxide coating can be made using a greatly simplified, lower-temperature vacuum, thin-film deposition process that eliminates the need for introducing heat and oxygen into the deposition chamber. As a result, more rapid scaleup of the fabrication process is likely.

The ORNL technology, developed using DOE funds from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and from the Office of Science, has been licensed to 3M Company; Midwest Superconductivity; Oxford Super-conducting Technology; MicroCoating Technologies, Inc.; and EURUS Technologies, Inc. The RABiTS™ technology could prove valuable for the fabrication of high-temperature ceramic superconductors. According to industry figures, sales of large-scale devices using super-conducting wires and tapes are expected to exceed $50 billion in 2010.

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