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Breakthroughs Magazine

Science of Doing Business

Three top technologies have roots at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Plants growing from seed to flower

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and their collaborators cultivated three technologies that were among this year's 100 most significant innovations named by R&D Magazine.

Pacific Northwest's yield included awards for technologies that reduce losses on food processing lines, help ensure food safety and may replace glass with engineered plastics in electronic displays.

R&D honors the most promising new products, processes, materials or software developed throughout the world each year. Awards are based on technical significance, uniqueness and usefulness. Since 1969, Pacific Northwest has received 54 R&D 100 Awards. The three budding technologies recognized in 2000 include

The Knife Failure Detector developed by Pacific Northwest and the Lamb-Weston Technical Research Center in Richland, Wash., takes less than one second to detect blade failure and trigger redirection of product flow. If not detected, broken knives cause defective cuts and generate truckloads of irregular product that doesn't meet quality specifications. This real-time process monitoring system is based on acoustic and wireless communication technologies and could be used in other industrial situations where measurements are difficult to obtain.

The Sunna Dosimeter™ addresses an expanding need for an accurate, inexpensive way to measure how much radiation food and other products are receiving—especially pertinent given the government's recent approval of irradiation to kill bacteria in red meat. The measuring unit, licensed to Sunna Systems Inc. of Richland, Wash., offers instantaneous readings that can be repeated. It uses light instead of heat to read the amount of radiation passing through a product. The Sunna Dosimeter also could be used for quality assurance in other irradiation proc-esses such as sterilizing medical equipment and the curing of environmentally friendly inks and paints that require no solvents.

Two products—Flexible Glass™ engineered substrates and Barix coating™—can overcome a major obstacle to the use of plastics in displays. Using plastics instead of glass would allow laptop computer monitors, cell phones and other flat-panel displays to be thinner, more rugged and lighter weight. Plastics also could make possible new flexible displays such as roll-up computer screens. Both ultra barrier coating products, which are licensed to Vitex Systems Inc., of Sunnyvale Calif., prevent oxygen and water vapor from passing through plastics and damaging display electronics. These products provide excellent levels of protection without affecting clarity or other qualities necessary for display manufacturing.

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