January 25, 2024
News Release

PNNL Software Technology Wins FLC Award

Impact Award goes to Visual Sample Plan for its global use

Composite image showcasing different uses of the Visual Sample Plan software tool.

Visual Sample Plan is a software tool that supports the development of a defensible sampling plan based on statistical sampling theory and the statistical analysis of sample results to support confident decision-making. The Federal Laboratory Consortium has given the software a 2024 Impact Award.

(Composite image by Timothy Holland | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

RICHLAND, Wash.—Visual Sample Plan (VSP), a free software tool developed at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that boosts statistics-based planning, has been recognized with a 2024 Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Award.

The FLC represents over 300 federal laboratories, agencies, and research centers. The annual FLC awards program recognizes agencies for their contributions to technology transfer, which turns innovative research into impactful products and services.

Judges bestowed PNNL’s VSP with the FLC Impact Award, which honors FLC member laboratories whose technology transfer efforts have made a tangible and lasting impact on the populace or marketplace ranging across local and global scales. As of 2023, VSP has more than 5,000 active users from multiple U.S. federal, state and local agencies and in over 70 countries around the world, and has tracked over 8,000 downloads since 2018. 

All-in-one software solution

“Over my time working on VSP, I have seen how impactful it is for our users to have a simple all-in-one solution for developing statistical sampling plans,” said Lisa Newburn, a computer scientist and team lead in Software Engineering Architectures who oversees the VSP program along with Debbie Fagan and Jen Willis. “It’s hugely gratifying to have that impact recognized by the FLC award.”

VSP provides a unique capability for developing site maps and statistical sampling designs. From its easily accessible website to robust training resources, VSP shows users that PNNL is open for partnership and building a user community that continually expands VSP applicability to new areas of impact.

The software program’s most meaningful impact is its use for national and global security, helping U.S. agencies such as the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense and British government agencies such as the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment and the UK Government Decontamination Service. Additionally, VSP has helped a wide range of U.S. agencies: The Offices of Environmental Management, Health, Safety, and Security, and Legacy Management; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Centers for Disease Control; the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and many others.

It’s free, for the greater good

“Making technologies available for use by industry, academia and government agencies is an integral part of the Laboratory’s mission,” said Kannan Krishnaswami, a PNNL commercialization manager. “This is a great example of how we use different technology transfer models to achieve maximum impact for and on behalf of our federal sponsors.”

Newburn said the VSP team is continuing to develop and improve the software program.

“Recent releases include major improvements to building modeling and visualization, including added support for uneven ceilings and improved handling of furniture sampling,” she said. “Major new additions are planned to address the challenges and needs of subsurface sampling and analysis and expanding VSP’s spatial analysis capabilities from 2D to 3D.”

Under development and improvement for decades

Newburn credited VSP pioneers at PNNL for providing the base of work that resulted in the FLC award. Development of the software program began in 1997.

“Brent Pulsipher, who retired from PNNL in 2015, pioneered VSP and its distribution strategy,” she said. “Jim Davidson and John Wilson co-created the initial statistical spatial sampling code that formed VSP’s foundation.”

Wilson, a PNNL computer scientist, has continued to lead development of VSP since its inception, and created the overall VSP platform that accommodates new operating systems and computing updates.

“When VSP entered the world, billions of dollars had been spent by the federal government on sample design and collection, often without understanding the sampling goals or decisions to be made,” Wilson said. “Today, VSP’s standardized approach to sampling and decision-making has changed the state of sampling for agencies throughout the United States and abroad.”

FLC award recipients will be honored at the 2024 FLC Awards Ceremony and Banquet, held during the FLC National Meeting, April 9–11 at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel in Dallas. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the FLC.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.