Airport scanning technology, protein find honored

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland have won two of the 10 inaugural Gordon Battelle Prizes for technology being used to scan passengers in airports and the discovery of new proteins in spinal fluid.

With each comes an education grant to the school of their choice. Researchers picked Delta High School to receive $5,000 and the Washington State University Tri-Cities electrical engineering program to receive $5,000.

The awards honor achievements of PNNL and other laboratories managed by Battelle, which calls itself the world's largest nonprofit independent research and development organization.

An award for innovation impact went to the millimeter wave technology developed at the Department of Energy lab in Richland.

The technology is being used in whole body scanners at airports in the United States and internationally to detect concealed objects. Unlike the X-ray backscatter scanners used at some airports, the millimeter wave technology uses harmless radio waves to scan for metallic and nonmetallic concealed objects.

After 9/11 Battelle formed a start-up called Safeview to commercialize technology developed at PNNL in the 1980s and 1990s. It was acquired in 2006 by L-3 Communications, which licenses patents covering the technology from Battelle for its ProVision line of security scanners approved by the Transportation Security Administration for airport screening.

About 500 ProVision systems, based on technology developed at PNNL, have been installed at airports, courthouses, prisons and other facilities around the world.

Team members on the winning project include project manager Doug McMakin and David Sheen, Tom Hall, James Prince, Ron Severtsen, Wayne Lechtel, Larry Reid and Parks Gribble. They chose WSU Tri-Cities to receive their education grant.

The second PNNL award was in the category of Scientific Discovery for the discovery of thousands of new proteins in spinal fluid.

Researchers at PNNL were able to do the work because of advanced technology developed at the lab that dramatically increased the sensitivity of mass spectrometry instrumentation.

The Ultrasensitive Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry Source and Interface can measure amounts of compounds in a sample very precisely, even when little material is available. This is especially important when sample sizes are limited, such as from microbiopsies of human tissue.

The team working on the winning project was headed by Dick Smith and included Keqi Tang, Ryan Kelly and Jason Page. It picked Delta High for its grant.