BNL shines in annual ‘Oscars of Invention’

Charles in charge: Charles Black, new head of Brookhaven National Laboratory's Center for Functional Nanomaterials, also leads one of five BNL projects among the R&D 100 Awards finalists.

Brookhaven National Laboratory has once again flexed its technological muscle, scoring five finalists in the 2016 R&D 100 Awards, R&D Magazine’s annual championing of the year’s top tech.

An independent panel of more than 50 judges selected a bevy of BNL projects for the penultimate cut, including a novel electrocatalyst, a nanostructured water-repellent surface, an X-ray microscope, a “flex plate” ideal for protein crystallization and X-ray detectors fashioned from synthetic diamonds.

Noting the “important role the lab plays in connecting research to commercial impact,” BNL Deputy Science and Technology Director Robert Tribble said the Department of Energy-funded Upton facility was proud of its strong showing among R&D Magazine’s final-round honorees.

“The laboratory is pleased that five of our technologies have been selected as finalists,” Tribble said. “Our scientific mission includes translating new ideas into benefits to society.”

Among the BNL projects honored is the “MoSoy Catalyst,” a hydrogen-producing electrocatalyst derived from soybeans and the non-precious transition metal molybdenum. Created by Brookhaven chemists James Muckerman, Etsuko Fujita and Kotaro Sasaki, the durable and effective catalyst is more cost effective than most predecessors – primarily through the elimination of precious metals like platinum – and can serve as a cathode electrode in a solar cell or as an electrolyzer, using electricity from external sources to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Judges considered the MoSoy Catalyst’s potential as an economically viable producer of hydrogen that can be used directly as fuel or compressed and stored for future hydrogenating purposes.

Yong Chu (left) and Evgeny Nazaretski: X-ray marks the spot.

Yong Chu (left) and Evgeny Nazaretski: X-ray marks the spot.

A joint entry teaming BNL physicists Evgeny Nazaretski and Yong Chu with collaborators at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory involves a “high-throughput hard X-ray scanning microscope” with applications ranging from nanoscience to biology.

With specialized lenses and spatial resolution as fine as 20 nanometers, the device is both a general-purpose X-ray instrument and a multimodal scanning device for a broad range of imaging experiments.

Less flexible, but also critically important to a wide range of experiments, is the “Flex Plate,” lab-ware designed by BNL biophysicist Alexi Soares to work with one robot familiar to protein-crystallization researchers while eliminating the need for another.

Alexi Soares: Full plate.

Alexi Soares: Full plate.

The plate is built to function with standard liquid-handling robots, allowing crystals to be studied by X-ray diffraction without the need for plate-handling robots – a key advantage for chemical indexing and various drug-discovery efforts.

Nanostructured anti-reflecting and water-repellent surface coatings fashioned by BNL physicist Charles Black, who was recently named director of the laboratory’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, are also among the R&D 100 finalists. Black used self-assembling block copolymers – which can place themselves into ordered, nanometer-sized patterns – as templates for silicon, glass or plastic surface etchings, creating nanotextured surfaces with unique water-repelling and light-absorbing properties.

R&D Magazine panelists cited the potential for self-cleaning solar cells, glare-free smartphone screens and totally transparent windows, among other anti-reflective and liquid-repellent uses.

Also gracing the R&D 100: ultra-compact diamond X-ray monitors created by a team of Stony Brook University, Case Western Reserve University and BNL researchers, including John Smedley of Brookhaven’s Instrumentation Division. Based on synthetic diamonds, the monitors are designed to provide synchrotron beamline researchers – like those working at BNL’s National Synchrotron Light Source II – with extraordinarily accurate measurements of X-ray flux, position and shape, vital to X-ray beam diagnostics at synchrotrons around the world.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, which had two finalists in the 2015 edition of the R&D 100, has won 30 prestigious R&D 100 awards since 1987.

Including projects that paired Brookhaven researchers with innovators at other institutions, the 100 finalists for the 54th annual “Oscars of invention” hail from a major-league cross-section of federal research laboratories, one-in-a-million startups and titanic international conglomerates. In addition to BNL and Argonne national laboratories, R&D 100 finalists represent Johnson & Johnson, the Battelle Memorial Institute, NASA, Thermo Fisher Scientific, MIT and the Los Alamos, Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge national laboratories, among other hotbeds of technological innovation.

Noting “many outstanding technologies that broadened the scope of innovation,” R&D Magazine editor Anna Spiewak heralded a particularly inventive class of R&D 100 finalists.

“This was a very strong year for research and development across various markets,” Spiewak said in an announcement of the 2016 finalists. “We are honored to recognize these products and the project teams behind the design, development, testing and production of these remarkable innovations.”

Winners are scheduled to be announced Nov. 3 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, as part of the three-day R&D 100 Conference, a tech-heavy convention promoting “R&D strategy, innovation and leadership,” according to R&D Magazine.

More information on the conference, which is slated to be keynoted by Center for Advancing Innovation founder and CEO Rosemarie Truman, is available here.


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