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March 26, 2012 | Tom Ballard

ORNL launches initiative to bring high-risk, high-potential innovations to market

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has committed $1 million to jump-start a major initiative that could see high-risk innovations with significant potential impact brought to market. Called the “Launch Initiative,” the inaugural program is providing $200,000 to each of five teams that were judged to have the highest potential in a competition run earlier this year. The official ORNL news release follows.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 23, 2012 — Oak Ridge National Laboratory has selected five projects for its inaugural Launch Initiative, a competitive program that challenges scientists to pursue high-risk cutting-edge innovations with the potential for significant societal impact. Each project team will receive $200,000 to develop high impact innovations and work with private sector partners to transfer technology outside of the lab.

“Using venture capital companies as a model, we are encouraging our scientists to develop technologies that exhibit technical merit and societal impact,” said Thomas Zacharia, ORNL Deputy Director of Science and Technology. “I’m looking forward to seeing where the launch projects have the most profound impact and which companies our researchers team up with.”

The Launch Initiative is part of ORNL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program. The selected teams are working to develop the following new technologies:

The Transparent and Durable Superhydrophobic Thin Film Technology team seeks to create durable silicon dioxide-based thin film coatings less than a micron thick to repel water on a wide range of materials. An atomically bonded glass-on-glass structure means the film cannot easily scrape away and has the potential to be inexpensive because the base material is glass. Applications for a water-resistant thin film range from electronics to solar panels and heart stints. Tolga Aytug, a materials scientist, brings expertise to the “thin film” side of this technology, while John Simpson, an optical scientist, offers expertise in the superhydrophobic arena.

The Active, Composite Material for the Prevention and Treatment of Fouled Surfaces team is working to develop integrated plastics and nanomaterial technology to change the physical and chemical properties of a material on demand. The technology, being developed by Mitch Doktycz, David Allison, Scott Retterer and Steve Allman, can be used to prevent bacteria from growing and settling on the plastic used to make medical catheters. For very little added cost, doctors may be able to use this technology to reduce hospital- acquired infections due to catheter contamination. In addition, this composite material may be useful for other medical devices, including implants and prosthetics.

The NanoFermentation: Low-Cost Nanomaterials for PV Devices team is developing a biological process called NanoFermentation to convert salts into semiconducting nanoparticles. Because NanoFermentation can be used with abundant, low-cost salts as starting materials and sugar as the energy source, the process has the potential to be much cheaper than conventional high- temperature and chemical synthesis routes. The NanoFermentation process becomes more cost-effective as the nanoparticle production scale increases. The focus of this project is to demonstrate large-scale production of PV- relevant nanoparticles by NanoFermentation. The team’s approach is versatile and could be used to produce a range of nanoparticles, including metal oxides for batteries, superparamagnetic nanoparticles for medical imaging and semiconducting quantum dots for lighting applications. Researchers on the project are Chad Duty, Tommy Phelps, Lonnie Love, Ji Won Moon, Ilia Ivanov, Pooran Joshi, Jay Jellison, Beth Armstrong, and Adam Rondinone.

The Quantitative Volatile Organic Compound Field Sensor team is working to develop a deployable ion mobility spectroscopy technology that can detect volatile organic compounds in vapor and water in real time. To collect, preserve, package and ship water samples to a laboratory, and analyze and report the results can be very expensive and take weeks, while this technology has the potential to provide results in 20 minutes and at a much lower cost. Applications for this field sensor include monitoring drinking water, contaminated groundwater and vapor migration. Jun Xu, who specializes in physics and chemistry, brings spectroscopy proficiency to the team while David Watson, a hydrogeologist, provides practical experience with the planned application.

One-Stop Information Shop, being developed by computer scientist Songhua Xu, is an intelligent software tool used to compile personalized content recommendations for an individual user. The program, which is planned for use on a computer, iPad, or iPhone, will collect and analyze a user’s behaviors to determine what information that person is interested in. The more someone uses the program, the better it can predict and recommend high- value content. Beyond helping individual readers, the program is expected to also help information providers more effectively deliver content. For example, teachers can tailor their curriculum according to how students search for supplemental reference materials, government agencies can find public needs and social trends in specific areas, health agencies can determine how the public wants to receive health education information, and retailers can analyze market needs and develop targeted marketing strategies in a more efficient, effective and affordable way.



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