Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), have been recognized with 2004 R&D 100 Awards.
Given by R&D Magazine, R&D 100 Awards have been called the "Oscars of technology." The addition of these two winners brings the total of R&D 100 Awards won by Berkeley Lab researchers to 34.
Each year since 1963, R&D Magazine has honored the "100 most technologically significant new products and advancements over the past year" from the entries the magazine receives. The chief criteria for winning the award is the potential to "change people's lives for the better."
Of the R&D 100 Awards to Berkeley Lab in 2004, one went to Transition Metal Switchable Mirrors, a technology for coating a glass surface with a thin film made from an alloy of magnesium and one or more transition metals, such as nickel or manganese. This film enables the glass to be reversibly converted from a reflecting to a transparent surface through either an electrical charge or exposure to hydrogen gas. As the film can be programmed to respond to sunlight passing through a glass window, it's wide use represents billions of dollars that could be saved each year. The heating and cooling lost through windows are estimated to annually cost U.S. consumers about $9.3 billion.
The Transition Metal Switchable Mirrors technology was invented by Tom Richardson and Jonathan Slack, of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. By using transition metals rather than the rare earth metals used in the current crop of electrochromic windows, Richardson and Slack were able to significantly lower the costs of the windows, as well as add the capability to reflect and absorb both visible and infrared light. Among the possible applications of this technology, in addition to glass windows in buildings, are sunroofs and space missions. Already, Richardson and Slack are working with two major window companies to get the switchable mirrors to the marketplace.
The other Berkeley Lab R&D 100 Award-winning technology won't be available on the market anytime soon, but it's enormous potential stands in stark contrast to its incredibly tiny size. Called a "synthetic rotational nanomotor," this device was constructed under the leadership of physicist Alex Zettl, who holds a joint appointment with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and the University of California's Berkeley campus. The first nanomotor Zettl and his colleagues built consisted of a gold paddle-shaped rotor blade, measuring between 100 and 300 nanometers in length, that was connected to a carbon nanotube shaft less than 10 nanometers thick. Even though this first motor was about 300 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, the technology behind it allows for future versions to be made even smaller - perhaps as much as five times smaller.
The synthetic rotational nanomotor has been clocked at 33,000 cycles per second and is believed capable of speeds approaching one billion rotations per second. Because the carbon and carbon bonds connecting the rotor blade to the shaft are practically frictionless, the motor can run indefinitely without wearing down. It is also rugged enough to withstand the harshest of environmental conditions, including extreme temperatures and radiation.
Potential applications of the synthetic rotational nanomotor technology include bio and environmental sensors, cell phones, PDAs, optics, airbags, tire sensors, digital pens, blood pressure monitors, extremely "smart" sub-woofers and antenna alignment. The technology should also find a broad range of applications in the field of cosmology for the exploration of deep space.