Groundbreaking scientific innovations from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory received four of this year’s R&D 100 Awards on June 20.
Known as the “Oscars of Innovation,” this year’s R&D awards paid homage to 100 high-technology innovations. Each of the recognized machines from the Berkeley Lab improve upon existing technology and bring the total number of R&D 100 awards given to the lab to 62 since the award’s inception in 1963.
Developed by Richard E. Russo, Alexander Bol’shakov, Xianglei Mao, Christopher McKay, Dale Perry and Osman Sorkhabi, LAMIS — or Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry — uses a laser beam to determine the isotopic composition of a desired sample. Because the LAMIS laser beam can be shot at extremely long distances, it can be used to determine the chemical composition of material from surrounding planets without requiring the removal of the substance from its location.
In knowing the isotopic composition of such substances, scientists gain a greater understanding of the surrounding planets, and could even detect the presence of water.
“Having a background to work from was really instrumental in developing LAMIS,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Timothy Suen. “The original technique looks at the electron structure in atoms (in samples) rather than in molecules, but what hadn’t been done is looking at the isotopic structure.”
In addition to changing the process of analyzing samples, LAMIS economizes the process and made it more eco-friendly, according to Suen.
The Multinozzle Emitter Array was created by Pan Mao, Daojing Wang, Peidong Yang and Hung-Ta Wang. The technology enables researchers to analyze the products of metabolism, nucleic acids and proteins, all from a single cell. By using the machine, researchers can determine the masses of particles, the types of elements in a sample and the chemical structure of molecules.
Berkeley Lab’s Qing Ji and Bernhard Ludewigt collaborated with Melvin Piestrup of Adelphi Technology, a Redwood City manufacturer of neutron sources and radiation detectors, to develop the High Output Neutron Generator. The generator produces a billion neutrons per second, which can be used for purposes such as homeland security and the detection of radiation.
According to Ji, the plasma ion source used in the generator is advantageous because it produces a greater number of atoms. By having a greater number of one type of atom in comparison to other types of atoms, the source functions at low operating pressure, meaning that it requires less energy to maintain the pressure.
The Compact Variable Collimator, or CVC, developed by a team led by researchers Simon Morton and Jeff Dickert, uses X-ray beams to determine the shape and size of protein crystals.
Protein crystals are formed after submerging a protein into a specific solution, such as a detergent solution. Since proteins are found in all cells of the human body, scientists can conduct research on diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, by using the CVC.
Previous technology made it more difficult to analyze protein structure due to impurities in the protein crystal created during preparation, but the CVC increase the margin of error in which a protein can be analyzed. Now, the scientific community can spend less money perfecting batches of protein crystals and more time analyzing their structure.
“Typically the most common problems are that the crystals are very small, that they contain cracks, that they are made up of several smaller crystals clumped together, or that the properties of the crystal vary too much from one end of the crystal to the other,” Morton said. “Using the CVC, researchers can precisely target the X-ray beam to hit the best spots within their crystal, or they can pick out a single crystal from within a group.”
The scientists and their research will be honored at an awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 1.