Wednesday, 15 February 2017
ORNL wins 4 awards for technology transfer
Two of the awards went to innovations in the field of mass spectrometry, a method of measuring the characteristics of individual molecules. William Whitten, an ORNL senior research scientist developed the "Miniature Ion Trap Mass Analyzer" with Michael Ramsey, formerly of ORNL and now with 908 Devices, the technology's new licensee.
"We're trying to identify certain chemicals by how much their molecules weigh, so it involves separating an unknown material into its individual parts, usually by vaporizing it and then removing an electron from the molecules," Whitten said.
The analyzer accelerates the molecules in an electric and magnetic field to determine their mass.
908 Devices is working with the Army's Next Generation Chemical Detector program to develop devices that identify chemical warfare agents quickly.
"Finding the mass of the molecules is pretty much an indication of what the compound is," Whitten said.
Some molecules have the same mass and may create an interference, but Whitten said in those scenarios the analyzer helps soldiers put safety first and analysis later.
"Say you identify molecules that have the same mass as a chemical warfare agent, like Sarin gas: You are probably going to put on your gas mask whether it's Sarin or not," Whitten said. "It might be something else with the same mass but you have a pretty good warning that you're going to heed."
A few seconds can determine life or death when soldiers identify a chemical agent. Getting the warning out early allows soldiers to don and seal their gas masks and protective gear before it's too late.
The analyzer is portable enough for troops to carry on patrol. It weighs as little as four pounds, about half the weight of newer military personal radio models. The output is also simple enough for any soldier on patrol to read because it only targets a certain class of chemical compounds.
"The idea is having these things so small, you can spread them around so you don't rely on some central warning system to tell people there's trouble," Whitten said.
Another team of ORNL scientists, Gary Van Berkel and Vilmos Kertesz, created open port sampling interfaces for mass spectrometry to simplify identification methods for wider use.
ORNL Senior Research Staff members Tolga Aytug and John Simpson, formerly of ORNL, created a thin film that is extremely durable, antireflective, and repels water and fingerprints.
ORNL scientists Thomas Potok, Robert Patton and James Treadwell invented the Piranha text mining tool, which previously won a research and development award in 2007.
The idea came about in the 1990's when military intelligence needed a way to quickly pull information from online newspapers around the world.
"We would go into sites, scrape the information and pull the text," said Thomas Potok, the founder of the Computational Data Analytics Group at the ORNL. Once the scientists had the raw text, they would use mathematical vectors to cluster similar information. "Then you've got a collection of news articles related to a certain topic of interest."