An innovative personal theater system that's scheduled for beta release has won Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland one of three new R&D 100 awards.
Technology developed at the national lab in Richland is being used for the Glyph, a headset display system. The lab also has been honored by R&D Magazine for technologies that enable better scientific analysis at the molecular level and that improve the efficiency of natural gas power plants.
The magazine annually selects the 100 most innovative and technological breakthroughs of the past year. The three awards announced Friday bring PNNL's total to 93 since the start of the awards in 1969.
The research that led to the Glyph started as a way to improve the sight of soldiers on dark battlefields without creating eye strain.
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Allan Evans, formerly an electrical engineer at PNNL with a background in medical devices, started thinking about how people see and tried to copy that, working with PNNL scientist Bruce Bernacki, an optics expert.
"All we tried to do is create light the same way that it goes into your eye," Evans told the Herald after a Kickstarter internet crowd-funding campaign for the Glyph was started at the first of the year.
Evans and Bernacki came up with a headset display that reflects light onto the back of the viewer's eyes.
PNNL has teamed with Avegant, of Ann Arbor, Mich., a company that Evans cofounded to demonstrate military applications for the headset, such as maneuvers at night and piloting armored or unmanned vehicles. There also may be applications for surgery or virtual training.
But its first use is expected to be for entertainment with the Glyph, a headset system with a bar that folds down in front of the eyes. It displays media from a computer, TV, game console or other device with a screen on the bar close to the eyes. The picture seen is comparable to looking at an 80-inch screen from eight feet away, according to PNNL.
The technology works like a miniature projector, using a micromirror device to reflect light into the eye's retina. It effectively uses the back of the eyeball as a screen, according to Avegant.
Because the technology mimics natural vision, it produces a look more natural than an image on a screen and it reduces nausea and eye strain that can be caused by other display systems, according to PNNL.
The Kickstarter campaign brought in $1.5 million, more than five times its fundraising goal. The beta version of the Glyph is expected to be shipped to Kickstarter donors by the end of the year.
The Glyph made The CNN 10: Inventions list for 2014 and was picked for an Editor's Choice Award at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The technology also earned PNNL a 2014 Excellence in Technology Transfer award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium.
PNNL's other R&D 100 awards this year are for STARS and SALVI, short for Solar Thermochemical Advanced Reactor System and System for Analysis at the Liquid Vacuum Interface.
STARS allows natural gas power plants to use 20 percent less fuel when the sun is shining by injecting natural gas with solar energy.
That produces an energy-rich fuel called syngas, which power plants can burn to make electricity.
With the United States using more inexpensive natural gas for energy, STARS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of power production. DOE estimates that natural gas will be used to produce 27 percent of the nation's electricity by 2020.
STARS uses a mirrored dish to concentrate sunlight to heat natural gas flowing through a chemical reactor. The reactor includes a catalyst to help turn natural gas into syngas. The system also has a heat exchanger to help recycle heat left over from the chemical reaction gas.
The system has set a world record with 69 percent of the solar energy that hit the mirrored dish converted into chemical energy, according to PNNL. STARS also can produce other chemicals, such as methanol and hydrogen.
SolarThermoChemical in Nopomo, Calif., has a license to manufacture and sell this technology.
The team recognized for developing the technology includes current PNNL employees Robert Wegeng, Paul Humble, Robert Dagle, Daryl Brown, Dustin Caldwell, Richard Cameron, Richard (Feng) Zheng, Brad Fritz and Ward TeGrotenhuis, as well former PNNL staff members Shankar Krishnan, Steven Leith, Dan Palo and Jair Lizarazo-Adarme.
SALVI can be used to help scientists gain new insights about nanoparticles, bacteria, batteries and more, according to PNNL.
The system can be connected to certain scientific instruments to image liquid samples in real time to study how solids and liquids interact on a molecular level. Getting real-time imaging on the molecular level has been a challenge for liquids because they evaporate in the vacuum of certain instruments, including some ion mass spectrometers and scanning electron microscopes.
SALVI can take a sample as small as two drops and flow it down a channel to a window the size of a pinhole. There an ion beam performs analysis. Surface tension keeps the liquid from escaping the window.
The system has other benefits, including being able to be used by more than one analytical instrument at a time and eliminating the need for freezing or drying cells being studied.
Structure Probe in Pennsylvania is expected to bring the product to market by the end of the year.
PNNL staffers recognized for developing SALVI include Xiao-Ying Yu, Zihua Zhu, Bingwen Liu, Martin Iedema and Matthew Marshall. Former PNNL staff member James Cowin and Evans Analytical Group's Li Yang are also recognized. The team developed SALVI in collaboration with scientists at EMSL, DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews