Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Featuring some of our top Engineering innovations in 2015.

Developments in Advanced Manufacturing Techniques and Strategic Partnerships

Advanced Manufacturing (AM) remained one of Engineering’s major thrust areas in 2015, and continuing technological developments, recognition, and a new partnership were hallmarks of ongoing success in this important area.

  • Building on earlier work, Engineering researchers successfully developed hierarchical mechanical metamaterials with features across multiple length scales. Using a printed polymer template and nanoscale nickel–phosphorus coatings, researchers were able to achieve materials with hierarchical features across seven orders of magnitude. Overall sample sizes approached 10 centimeters and had features ranging in size down to approximately 50 nanometers. These materials were designed and fabricated into hierarchical combinations based on the deformation mechanisms of the single unit cells (e.g., bend-stretch, stretch-stretch, and bend-bend).
  • LLNL researchers are engaged in challenging materials and additive manufacturing research in an effort to control and customize properties with AM. Engineers and materials scientists have developed processes and components such as soft, cushion-like parts as well as optimizing the structure of metal components using AM.
  • The authors of an important article appearing in the journal Science, “Ultralight, Ultrastiff Mechanical Metamaterials,” were honored with an Excellence in Publication award by Deputy Director for Science and Technology Patricia Falcone. The award recognized publication of significant research that was judged to have made an impact on the broader scientific community or the Lab’s mission.
  • Under an 18-month Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), LLNL will use state-of-the-art software for generative design from Autodesk Inc. as part of studies on how new material microarchitectures, arranged in complex configurations and printed with additive manufacturing techniques, will produce objects with physical properties that were never before possible. In the project, LLNL researchers will bring to bear several key technologies, such as additive manufacturing, material modeling, and architected design.
  • Contact: Chris Spadaccini;

Computational Simulations and Wind Tunnel Experiments Enable Development of More Fuel-Efficient Trucks

In the U.S., tractor-trailer “big rigs” burn 36 billion gallons of fuel annually, and each truck expends more than 50 percent of its usable propulsion energy to overcome aerodynamic resistance at highway speeds. In an effort to make trucks more efficient, the Department of Energy (DOE) established the Heavy Vehicle Aerodynamic Drag Consortium in 1997. As one of the collaborating organizations, LLNL has over the years helped develop drag-reducing technologies that can be retrofitted to existing semi trucks. Within the past two years, research has evolved from producing add-on aerodynamic devices for existing trucks to completely redesigning the tractor–trailer rig. According to Engineering’s Jason Ortega, “We can’t change much more on existing vehicles. To significantly optimize vehicles, we need to take a different approach.” To this end, Ortega, PI Kambiz Salari, and their colleagues are developing aerodynamic specifications to benefit DOE’s SuperTruck initiative, a collaborative effort to create a next-generation, highly aerodynamic, integrated tractor–trailer geometry, reduce tractor–trailer weight, and improve heavy-duty engines.

Livermore’s first-generation highly aerodynamic integrated truck model, the Generic Speedform One (GSF1), was created using a one-eighth reduced-scale clay model in NASA Ames’ wind tunnel last year. Initial testing for the new model involved 132 wind-tunnel experiments. The proposed GSF1 model reduces the aerodynamic drag compared to existing road vehicles by more than 65 percent. Ortega and the Livermore team plans to further refine and enhance the GSF1 shape through scaled-model wind-tunnel testing and computational optimization of surface geometry. “We make approximations in our simulations,” says Ortega. “Wind-tunnel experiments and their resulting data help validate our device designs.” A full-scale wind-tunnel test of an aerodynamic tractor–trailer is planned for 2016 at the NASA Ames National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex.

Contact: Kambiz Salari;

Successful Completion of Engineering Services’ Triennial ISO 9001 Recertification Audit

The triennial external recertification audit of Engineering Services’ ISO 9001 Quality Management System(QMS) was completed successfully on March 6, 2015. As a result of the five-day review, the external auditor recommended renewal of ISO 9001 certification for the 22 Engineering Services certified work centers encompassed by the QMS. The external certifying body, Bureau Veritas Certification, subsequently validated this recommendation on April 17, 2015, and issued a new certificate. The auditor noted a high degree of professionalism and dedication to customer service by all of the employees he met. He was especially impressed with efforts made to ensure customer needs and expectations were understood and met prior to performing work. This focus on customer service has produced a consistently high level of customer satisfaction, as expressed in over 1800 customer surveys received in the last year alone (representing a 41% feedback rate, which is about 10 times the industry average). The auditor offered valuable suggestions for further improving the Engineering Services QMS. These refinements are helping to pave the way for an easier transition to compliance with the 2015 revision of the ISO 9001 standard, which became effective in October and contains major changes that will be in force for the next recertification.

Contact: Robert Dillman;

Engineering Personnel Receive Significant External Honors

A number of Engineering people were recognized by prestigious outside organizations for their contributions in 2015. These included:

  • Susana Reyes – Fusion Power Associates (FPA) 2015 Excellence in Fusion Engineering Award. Reyes was honored for the leadership she has been providing to both magnetic and inertial fusion efforts in many areas, including safety and licensing, tritium systems, and power plant designs. She was also recognized for her important roles on the National Academy’s panel on Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems and as Chair of the American Nuclear Society Fusion Energy Division.
  • Monica Moya – EmpowHer Institute Millennial Leader Award. The award acknowledges women under 40 who demonstrate promise as future decision-makers, have demonstrated excellence in their professional endeavors and who are accomplished professionals working for the advancement of girls and women in the arts, business, public service, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
  • Vanessa Tolosa – DARPA Riser. Tolosa was selected as one of 54 researchers from across the country that DARPA program managers have identified as DARPA Risers: up-and-coming standouts in their fields, capable of discovering and leveraging innovative opportunities for technological surprise—the heart of DARPA’s national security mission.
  • Leon Berzins – NNSA Excellence Medal. Berzins was recognized in his role as manager for the successful Source Physics Experiment 4 Prime (SPE4’) campaign at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). He led a multiorganizational team (which included personnel from LLNL, LANL, SNL, NSTec, DTRA, and UNR) to overcome numerous technical challenges, including the redesign of the canister and emplacement, while keeping to a tight time schedule.
  • Walter Dekin – NNSA Administrator Silver Medal. Dekin received this award in honor of his significant contributions to the planning and execution of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization's On-Site Inspection Integrated Field Exercise 2014 (IFE14). IFE14 was conducted in Vienna, Austria, and the Dead Sea Region of Jordan from November 3–December 9, 2014. The exercise involved more than 200 experts and 150 tons of equipment to search for the site of a simulated nuclear explosion in a 1,000-square-kilometer inspection area.
  • Chris Spadaccini, Lisa Poyneer, Joshua White, Sat Pannu, Vanessa Tolosa, and Eric Duoss – Invitees to National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Symposia. Spadaccini, Poyneer, and White were among 100 invited attendees at the 2015 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering symposium. Spadaccini, Pannu, Tolosa, and Duoss represented LLNL while attending the 2015 Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in Beijing, China.

Neural Interfaces Return First-ever Research Data; Neurotechnology Programs Significantly Expanded

Groundbreaking advances in neural interfaces, along with new funding awards from Federal agencies to further develop our neurotechnologies, were significant highlights of 2015.

  • As part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) SUBNETS program, LLNL developed the world’s first micro-electrocorticography (micro-ECoG) electrode array. The arrays have been successfully implanted in human patients and have enabled unprecedented mapping of the human cortex. Micro-ECoG arrays are being used to decode human speech and study neuropsychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). LLNL micro-ECoG electrode arrays are 100 times greater in density than available commercial devices and have been approved by the FDA for use on human patients.
  • In addition to the SUBNETS program, LLNL was selected as the system lead for the DARPA Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program with the University of Pennsylvania. As the system lead, LLNL will be developing a neuromodulation system that will be utilized across nine surgical sites as part of DARPA’s largest clinical trial. The neurmodulation system will aid in the understanding of memory and development of therapeutics for wounded service members with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Finally, DARPA also chose Laboratory researchers to participate in developing the world’s first neural modulation system to restore sensation to upper-limb amputees through the Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program. The effort seeks to provide wounded service members with a prosthetic hand that provides natural sensation as well as the full dexterous motion of a natural hand.
  • LLNL and a team of international academic partners was chosen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to receive funding to pursue research as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. LLNL will be developing neural probes that are capable of recording brain signals across the entire brain over months, a capability no current technologies can deliver.
  • LLNL was also chosen by the NIH for another grant through the President’s BRAIN Initiative to develop neural interface technology in humans to improve our understanding of auditory, vestibular, and olfactory systems. The data from these neural interfaces will be the first of its kind from humans.
  • Contact: Sat Pannu;

Significant Research Featured in Prestigious Journals

Important research being conducted by various Engineering teams was featured on the covers of several peer-reviewed journals in 2015.

  • Langmuir: “Directed Self-assembly Using Electrophoretic Deposition”
    In a paper featured on the cover of the March 31 issue, an LLNL team describes a method for precise particle assembly with single particle precision using electrophoretic deposition (EPD) in combination with a patterned electrode template. An electrode with differently sized-hole patterns, from 0.5 to 5 μm, was used to demonstrate the ability to control particle deposition events based on the applied voltage and particle-to-hole size ratio. This phenomenon opens the path to controlled, multimaterial deposition and assembly onto substrates without re-patterning of the electrode or complicated surface modification of the particles. The authors on this paper were Fang Qian, Andrew Pascall, Mihail Bora, T. Yong-Jin Han, Shirui Guo, Sonny Ly, Marcus Worsley, Joshua Kuntz, and Tammy Olson.
  • Physica Status Solidi B: “Studying the Effect of Chlorination on TlBr Crystals Used in Radiation Detectors”
    Thallium bromide (TlBr) crystals subjected to hydrochloric acid (HCl) chemical treatments have been shown to advantageously affect device performance and longevity in TlBr-based room temperature radiation detectors, yet the exact mechanisms of the improvements remain poorly understood. In this research, an LLNL team investigated the influence of several HCl chemical treatments on device-grade TlBr and described the changes in the composition and electronic structure of the surface. This study establishes a strong correlation between device process conditions, surface chemistry, and electronic structure with the goal of further optimizing the long-term stability and radiation response of TlBr-based detectors. The research team included Joel Varley, Adam Conway, Lars Voss, Erik Swanberg, Robert Graff, Rebecca Nikolić, Stephen Payne, Vincenzo Lordi, and Art Nelson.
  • Journal of Applied Physics: “Effects of Coupled Mechanical, Thermal, and Chemical Responses in Crystalline HMX”
    This article features the work of Ryan Austin and a team of LLNL researchers, who performed a series of simulations to explore the effects of coupled mechanical, thermal, and chemical responses in crystalline HMX, an energetic material. The simulations addressed chemical decomposition reactions that occur in hot spots induced by mechanical loading. A key finding of the simulations was that the shear banding and reactivity of a shock-loaded HMX crystal is quite sensitive to the respective flow resistance of the solid and liquid phases. In this regard, it is shown that reasonable assumptions of liquid-HMX viscosity can lead to chemical reactions within the shear bands on a nanosecond time scale. This modeling and simulation work was enabled by the coupling of the ALE3D, Cheetah, and MSLib codes.
  • Contact: Andrew Pascall,; Adam Conway,; Ryan Austin,

Largest-ever Neural Network Trained Using a 100-million-image Dataset

As analysts struggle with sifting through vast and ever-increasing amounts of raw data, deep learning neural networks have been shown to perform well in a wide variety of tasks, including text analysis, speech recognition, classification tasks, and unsupervised and supervised feature learning on natural imagery. LLNL engineers, in conjunction with colleagues at Stanford University, employed the Lab’s Edge high-performance computing (HPC) system to train a 15-billion-parameter deep-learning network using the Yahoo! Flickr Creative Commons 100 Million (YFCC100M) dataset. This effort involved cutting-edge hardware (the 206-node Edge HPC system, with two NVIDIA graphical processing units [GPUs] per node); the massive, 15-billion-parameter network (15 times larger than the “Google Brain”); and the largest-ever publicly available dataset ever published, YFCC100M, which comprises approximately 99.2 million images and 800,000 user-created videos from Yahoo’s Flickr image and video sharing platform. After training the network for eight days, the research team achieved very encouraging results, which suggested the network was capable of learning highly complex concepts such as cityscapes, aircraft, buildings, and text, all without labels or other guidance. This achievement, along with continuing efforts to increase efficiency and train even larger networks, will have significant impacts for national security, science, and economic competitiveness applications.

Contact: Barry Chen;

World-Class X-Ray Deformable Mirror Results

Building on the adaptive optics expertise gained with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), in 2014 the Laboratory launched an effort to design, fabricate, and test x-ray deformable mirrors (XDM) equipped with adaptive optics. An XDM provides the capability to change or correct the electric field in an x-ray experiment. Use of an XDM at a next-generation light source could both enable very high-resolution, coherent measurements and provide customized beam shaping for specific experiments. LLNL, in collaboration with Northrop Grumman, has developed a 45-cm long, 45-actuator XDM made from a superpolished single-crystal silicon bar and controlled its surface to just 0.7 nanometer RMS—a length-to-height error ratio of better than 500,000,000 to 1. In collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, this best-in-class XDM has been fielded at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) synchrotron. In 2015, experiments have demonstrated vacuum operation and used x rays to measure the XDM’s surface with 1 microradian precision. By enabling delivery of more coherent and better-focused x rays, the mirrors are expected to produce sharper images, which could lead to advances in physics, chemistry, and biology. Additionally, the technology may enable new types of x-ray diagnostics for experiments at the National Ignition Facility. Continuing research will focus on fielding and understanding higher-precision metrology as part of a real-time adaptive x-ray optics system.

Contact: Lisa Poyneer;

High-Explosive Pulsed-Power Testing Begins at Ancho Canyon Firing Facility

In early February 2015, a team led by LLNL engineers Andy Young and Dave Milhous executed the inaugural testing of one of LLNL's pulsed power systems at the Ancho Canyon Firing Facility in Los Alamos. Research teams from LLNL and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had been working together for some time to improve the Ancho Canyon facility and establish the capability of firing LLNL’s family of flux compression generators there. The first test consisted of discharging a single-point fireset into exploding bridgewires. This initial success was followed by two tests for the Phoenix program: Mini-Generator (MiniG) test #10 was executed in April, and Full Function Test 5 (FFT-5) was executed in September. The FFT pulsed-power driver was an LLNL-designed explosive flux compression generator that used nearly 1,000 lb of high explosive to compress magnetic fields into small volumes. The device was capable of delivering many tens of megajoules of energy and hundreds of mega-amperes of current to inductive loads. The MiniG was nearly identical to the FFT but was half-scale in physical size.

Together, these experiments marked the culmination of a significant, multiyear collaborative effort between staff from LANL and LLNL to modernize and upgrade the Ancho Canyon firing facility. LANL Director Charlie McMillan attended the FFT-5 experiment and noted that it was a good example of what could be accomplished by LLNL and LANL working together.

Contact: Adam White;

Successful Rollout of Enterprise Lifecycle Management (ELM) System

Culminating a two-year effort, the new Lab-wide unclassified Enterprise Lifecycle Management (ELM) system was launched in 2015. ELM, based on the PTC Windchill product, is a state-of-the-art Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system that integrates people, tools, data, and business practices. ELM acts as a powerful “umbrella” tool for managing all forms of electronic technical data. Engineering led the effort to replace four disparate, aging PLM systems with a single, modern system that is now used across the Laboratory. ELM integrates functions such as change and configuration management, bills of materials, document and CAD data management, approval workflows, and records retention. To facilitate acceptance, the ELM team developed a comprehensive training plan that helped users transition to the new system. Later in the year, the ELM team added an index searching capability, a powerful utility that allows users to search for keywords within the attributes and file content of the 4 million objects stored within the ELM system.

In recognition of their efforts, the ELM team was honored with a 2015 Director's Institutional Operational Excellence Award, which is given to recognize excellence in operations or business areas.

Contact: Scott Perfect;

Engineers Win Three R&D 100 Awards for Novel Inventions

LLNL engineers were the recipients of three awards among the top 100 industrial inventions worldwide for 2015. Considered the “Oscars of invention,” this year’s winners raised the total number of awards captured by the Laboratory since 1978 to 155. This year’s winners and their inventions included:

  • Bryan Moran, Large Area Projection Micro Stereolithography (LAPµSL). A 3D printing device, LAPµSL technology is an image projection microstereolithography system that rapidly produces very small features over large areas by scanning images produced by a spatial light modulator. LAPµSL combines the advantages of conventional stereolithography (large area and speed, but lower resolution) and projection microstereolithography (fine details and speed but only over a small area), enabling the rapid printing of fine details over large areas. The system continues to be developed and improved by Bryan and other team members including Julie Jackson, Logan Bekker, Jim Fugina, and Brian Bauman.
  • Matthew McNenly and Russell Whitesides, Zero-order Reaction Kinetics (Zero-RK). Zero-RK is a computer code that significantly advances predictive computer science for designing next-generation car and truck engines. It provides an innovative computational method that speeds up simulations of realistic fuels a thousand-fold over methods traditionally used for internal combustion engine research. These complex combustion simulations can resolve tens of thousands of chemical reactions, producing results in days instead of the years required by previous methods.
  • HILADS team, High-power Intelligent Laser Diode System (HILADS). This team developed the new HILADS laser pumping system, which achieves two-to-three-fold improvements in peak output power and intensity over existing technology in a 10 times more compact form that can scale to even larger arrays and power levels. HILADS has produced 3.2 MW of peak optical power from four pump systems at a 20-Hz repetition rate in its largest power output to date. HILADS improves upon other laser technologies by providing significantly more optical power at significantly higher intensity in a system with a substantially smaller footprint and a higher degree of integration.
  • Contact: Bryan Moran,; Matt McNenly,; Robert Deri,

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