Technology Bulletin 418

DN Staff

August 12, 1996

8 Min Read
Technology Bulletin

Telepresence connects researcher with remote microscope

Larry Allard sits in front of the Hitachi HF-2000 electron microscope at Oak Ridge (TN) National Laboratory. On his computer screen sits an image of the atomic lattice structure of fullerene carbon nanotubes, magnified about 4 million times. As Allard watches, the image shifts to a different position on the screen. Although Allard is the only one in the room who knows how to operate the microscope, he isn't at the controls. Instead, Edgar Voelkl, one of Allard's Metal and Ceramics Div. colleagues, operates the microscope from a computer in San Diego. The two sites are linked through tiny video camera systems that allow each operator to see the other, and to converse directly in a "telepresence" mode of operation, using speaker phones for voice contact. Operators also can send messages instantaneously via keyboard using "flash" mail. Voelkl wrote the software that allows the $1.6 million field-emission gun transmission electron microscope to be operated from a computer located at the microscope. The commercial software package, Timbuktu Pro, then mirrors the screen, mouse, and keyboard functionality of the local computer to a PC of average power outside the lab. Cost of camera and program: about $300. FAX Joe Culver at (423) 574-0595.

No easy answers to who owns a creative product

A professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University whiles away the hours on a plane trip to Japan by toying with an idea that might be patentable. Should he call a private patent attorney when he gets home, or let Stanford's Office of Technology Licensing in on the idea? That was one dilemma raised at a recent panel discussion of intellectual property issues at a meeting of the Stanford chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Such issues have come under increasing scrutiny since the university instituted a new policy on conflict of interest in 1994. The whole question of who owns which creative product is in flux, the panelists agreed. It is driven in part by rapid changes in information technology that make copyright laws out of date, and by the speed with which potentially patentable new laboratory techniques are transferred to industry. E-mail [email protected] .

Alliance offers new business venture for technology development

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Bechtel National Inc. have formed a new joint venture, The Center for Sustainable Technology (CST). The object: to help speed the demonstration and commercialization of selected energy, environmental, and transportation technologies. Another partner, the University and Community College System of Nevada in Las Vegas, will host the venture. "We are very encouraged at the possibilities of commercializing some exciting technologies and launching new business enterprises," says Ken Partain, a Bechtel senior manager and CST president. The center will operate in three phases: Phase One--formation and the evaluation of applicable technologies and projects; Phase Two--the implementation of selected demonstration programs; and Phase Three--commercialization of the resulting technology. Southern Nevada was chosen to house the center because it and the Nevada Test Site, a nuclear facility managed by Bechtel, have been well studied by scientists and researchers for their environmental assets. FAX EPRI's Deborah Clark at (415) 855-2041.

Space-shuttle insulation cools NASCAR driver

Recently, NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace had 30 to 50 degrees less heat to contend with inside the cockpit of his Ford Thunderbird. The reason: his car was outfitted with a heat-reduction system designed and installed by NASA's Kennedy Space Center made from scrap Space Shuttle Orbiter Thermal Protection System (TPS) blanket material. Under a Space Act agreement signed between the space center and Penske Racing Inc., the Rockwell Space Systems Div. agreed to design and install the TPS in a racing car. In like manner, the Penske team agreed to test the material in the car under racing conditions. During the test, Wallace ran twenty 2.5-mile laps with only the external elements of the TPS system in place to reach a constant temperature level. He then drove the same distance with the thermal barriers removed. Computer-based sensors and data recorders measured temperatures at hot spots around the vehicle. With the material in place, temperatures of 108F were recorded; without the blanket, temperatures hit 145F. E-mail [email protected] .

Supercomputer to accelerate Ford's car design

Ford Motor Co. will use the world's most powerful IBM RS/6000(R) SP supercomputer to crank up the rpms on its car design. That's the word from the Cornell Theory Center (CTC), Ithaca, NY, where the computer is housed. Ford, a new member of CTC's Corporate Partnership Program, plans to apply CTC's high-performance computing (HPC) capabilities in its quest to reduce the time it takes to bring a new car to market. "We're eager to scale up the numerical simulations to help system design," says George Shih, a supervisor in Ford's Advanced Vehicle Technology group. Physical prototypes limit the number and accuracy of scenarios that engineers can initiate. "Our 512-node IBM RS/6000 SP and new high-performance storage system offer industry a unique, scalable environment to develop and test solutions to complex engineering problems ranging from computational fluid dynamics to crash simulations," explains Malvin H. Kalos, CTS' director. E-mail [email protected] .

Ultraviolet light zaps bacteria in industrial fluids

Pesky bacteria in machining fluids, wastewater, and many other liquids could be zapped out of existence through a new process jointly developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Triton Thalassic Technologies Inc. (T3I), Ridgefield, CT. The process, based on a patent-pending ultraviolet (UV) light technology, holds promise to reduce health risks for millions of U.S. workers exposed to contaminated fluids in the auto, aerospace, and other metalworking industries. The design incorporates a new type of UV source that uses selective wavelengths to overcome problems associated with opaque fluids. And, according to Los Alamos researcher John Coogan, it produces a previously unattainable UV power density at reasonable electrical efficiency. "Our system seeks to eliminate the need for chemical biocides and potentially could reduce and maintain the bacteria level to one-millionth of the highest levels typically seen with biocide treatment," notes Barry Ressler, T3I CEO. Currently, T3I is testing the UV system on ballast water from commercial cargo ships and tankers, hoping to stop the introduction of zebra mussels, toxic algae, and pathogenic microorganisms such as cholera into U.S. ports. FAX (203) 438-1044.

Intelligent computing could lower the cost of power

"Smart" computer chips and other new, advanced "intelligent" control approaches have the potential to make nuclear and fossil fuel power plants last longer, operate more efficiently, and supply electricity at lower costs. That's the belief of nuclear engineers Robert M. Edwards, Kwang Y. Lee, and Daniel E. Hughes at Pennsylvania State University. To demonstrate this belief, the researchers use a research reactor at Penn State to simulate a commercial power plant. In the demonstration, Edwards relates, a new intelligent control concept developed by his group was applied to estimating the temperature of the reactor fuel and coolant. Then, using the new advanced computer programs as the controller, the group accurately estimated the temperatures to improve the plant's performance. "The reactor fuel is designed to operate within certain temperature limits," Edwards explains. "If those limits are exceeded, it can shorten the life of the fuel." Being able to keep the temperature within bounds lengthens the life of the fuel, increases operating efficiency, and saves money. E-mail [email protected] .

Nuclear reactor searches for clues to corn rootworm travel

Like a physician examining X-rays, Leslie Allee lends an expert eye to the film hanging on the light screen. Allee, a Cornell University doctoral student, is looking at film that shows a thin white line branching off in different directions. Around it are three or four tiny white marks, maybe 1/4-inch long. They are living corn rootworms in soil, caught in the act of searching for the plant root. To pinpoint the rootworm's travels, Allee makes use of a Cornell resource--a 500-kilowatt nuclear reactor. With the reactor's help, entomologists can get sharp pictures on film. The technique, called neutron radiography, is also available to art historians, agronomists, and zoologists to make detailed pictures that X-rays cannot produce. It works like this: The TRIGA Mark II reactor at Ward Laboratory produces a beam of neutrons focused on a plate holding a sample. Behind the sample is film. The neutrons pass through the film (unlike X-rays) and land on a conversion screen that absorbs them. The metal screen emits an electron for every neutron it absorbs, and that activates the emulsion and produces the photographic image on film. Companies can check out the facility by contacting laboratory director Howard Aderhold. FAX (607) 255-9417.

Fast computer code offers defense, industrial, medical aid

Acomputer program revised by Sandia National Laboratories scientists to function up to 300 times faster, in order to better simulate radiation effects of nuclear explosions, has taken on a new mission--more precise radiation treatment for cancer patients. The program, making use of a complex statistical method, should also improve analyses of nuclear reactor safety, the vulnerability of orbiting satellites to radiation from outer space, and the detection of land mines. Sandia computational scientist Greg Valdez modified the Sandia program, which he calls Monte Carlo electron-photon transport, to simulate the interaction of radiation--composed of billions upon billions of particles--with complex material objects. In principle, the method can be used to maximize the dose to cancerous tissue, while minimizing the dose to healthy tissue. In clinical settings, at current computational speeds, it takes a "prohibitive" amount of computing time to lessen the "statistical uncertainties inherent in the method," claims Sandia physicist John Halbleib. FAX (505) 844-6367.

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