Special Report - Commercial Partnerships: Working with a National Laboratory
Research investment in PNNL technology pays big for Chicago firm
A chance meeting in Vienna, Austria has led to one of the most successful relationships between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and industry.
Steve Miller, a staff scientist at PNNL, and Craig Yoder, senior vice president of Landauer, the world leader in providing personnel radiation monitoring services, met at a conference in Vienna in 1989. "I was giving a poster on my research in optically stimulated luminescence (OSL)," Miller remembers. "Craig showed an interest in the technology and later sent me a letter suggesting we develop a research project aimed toward commercializing the OSL technology." Yoder was a former Battelle employee and was familiar with PNNL's dosimetry technology research.
The OSL radiation detection technique is based on optical stimulation of sensitized metal oxides, alkali-halide and alkaline-earth halide crystals. Developed by Miller, the OSL technique has greatly improved the state of the art in gamma and beta radiation dosimetry. OSL is more sensitive than older technology, less expensive to manufacture, and faster to read out. The technology received an R&D 100 award from Research and Development Magazine for one of the top 100 new technologies and products of 1992, a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for the Landauer technology transfer in 1994, and an R&D 100 award in 2000 for high-dose dosimetry.
Landauer began sponsoring research on the OSL technique in 1990 under PNNL's 1831 Industrial Research Contract. The Chicago-based company, highly respected for its expertise in accurate radiation dose assessments, has offices in the United States, Europe, China, Japan, and Brazil and generates $75 million in sales annually.
"In the early 90s, several market developments were occurring in providing radiation monitoring services that revealed a need for Landauer to establish a proprietary method as one way to differentiate it from its competitors," Yoder said.
Over the years, the relationship has paid off for both the company and PNNL. "When we first started, the technology was very immature," Miller said. "It took three to four years, with significant funding and technical contributions from Landauer, before we really got to the point where we had a product."
Both parties brought complementary strengths to the relationship. PNNL provided the underlying technology. "We had something that Landauer wanted," Miller said. Landauer provided the crucial funding as well as its manufacturing expertise, which enabled the development of a technology suitable for the marketplace.
As a result of the collaboration, OSL has become the method for personnel radiation monitoring service provided by Landauer. The company began the commercial use of OSL in 1997 and converted all of its films and thermoluminescent dosimetry methods to OSL. "Currently, OSL is used in 90 percent of our products and is the base technology that Landauer is using for its long-term strategic growth," Yoder said.
OSL gave Landauer a path toward international growth and has had a key impact in several foreign markets. In Japan, Nagase-Landauer (Landauer's joint venture in Japan since 1973) converted its film-based radiation monitoring service to OSL in 2000. "In response, our key competitor changed from film to glass dosimetry at the same time and, in 18 months, most of the Japanese market transitioned from film to photostimulable methods," Yoder said.
"We are having a similar impact in France where the advantages of OSL are creating pressures for our competitors to make their own technological changes. Now OSL is used in Japan, UK, Canada, France, Peru and Australia. We expect to add OSL to our subsidiaries in Brazil and China within the year, and we are in negotiations with laboratories in other countries."
As for PNNL, "The Landauer contract is the largest royalty producer for the Laboratory, bringing in $2 million in research funding and more than $3 million in royalty income thus far," Miller said.
"PNNL has been great at developing the technology, and our work with the Laboratory will continue," Yoder said. "OSL has been a successful story in personnel radiation monitoring, and we believe its applications will be equally successful in other radiation measurements as Landauer forms alliances with those who see OSL as a beneficial tool in new markets and applications."
PNNL staff members contributing to the OSL research were Mike Tinker and Paul Tomeraasen and former staff Joe McDonald and Bill Endres.