8 Los Alamos projects win R&D 100 Awards

‘Oscars of Invention’ honor the best innovations of the past year

November 9, 2021

R D100
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers brought home eight of the coveted R&D 100 awards this year, plus an additional five special-recognition awards. Pictured above, engineer Clara Safi was among the winners with the Quantum Ensured Security for the Smart Electric Grid project, which relies on the quantum realm to provide cybersecurity for control signals on the nation’s electric grid.

Los Alamos, N.M., Nov. 9, 2021—Eight Los Alamos National Laboratory technologies won R&D 100 Awards, and five inventions received Special Recognition Awards, including a Gold Award for Corporate Social Responsibility, a Gold Award for Battling COVID-19, a Silver Award for Market Disruptor – Product, and Silver and Bronze Awards for Market Disruptor – Services.

“With these eight technology awards and five special recognition awards, we see the broader community continuing to recognize innovation from Los Alamos National Laboratory,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “The people behind these awards are developing solutions to serious problems in big data, polar climates, national security, and biothreats. Congratulations to the winners, special recognition awardees, and finalists for their outstanding work.”

The winners are:

  • ADS Codex: open-source translation tool allows computer binary information to be encoded and decoded for DNA’s four-letter nucleotide alphabet for high-capacity, robust archival data storage.
  • CICE Consortium: open-source software provides extensive, accurate sea ice modeling across scales.
  • Earth’s-field Resonance Detection and Evaluation Device (ERDE): magnetic resonance spectrometer uses the Earth’s magnetic field for rapid, accurate, and safe identification of chemicals.
  • Mochi: open-source tool provides scalable data services for high-performance computing.
  • Portable EnGineered Analytic Sensor with aUtomated Sampling (PEGASUS) : miniaturized, fieldable biosensor makes laboratory-quality analysis of complex samples available in remote or resource-poor areas.
  • Quantum Ensured Defense for the Smart Electric Grid (QED): technology uses single light particles (photons) to create cryptographic “keys” that “lock” control signals into secret codes to protect the electric grid from third-party infiltration.
  • SmartTensors AI Platform: software uses unsupervised machine learning to sift through massive datasets and identify hidden trends, mechanisms, signatures, and features buried in large high-dimensional data tensors (multi-dimensional arrays).
  • Terra Spotlight: software enables rapid change detection using satellite data from different imaging modalities.

“The Laboratory’s tradition of scientific and engineering excellence is well-established, and it is gratifying that our innovative work has been recognized again,” said John Sarrao, deputy Laboratory director for Science, Technology, and Engineering. “Our collaborations with industry, academia, and other national laboratories continue to support our national security mission, the frontiers of research, and the broader technical community. I offer my highest congratulations to all of the teams that participated in R&D100 this year.”

The R&D 100 Awards

The prestigious “Oscars of Invention” honor the latest and best innovations and identify the top technology products of the past year. The R&D 100 Awards span industry, academia, and government-sponsored research organizations.

Since 1978 Los Alamos has won more than 178 R&D 100 Awards. The Laboratory’s discoveries, developments, advancements, and inventions make the world a better and safer place, bolster national security and enhance national competitiveness.

See all of the 2021 R&D 100 Awards. Read more about the Laboratory’s past R&D 100 Awards.

More information about the winners:

ADS Codex: Adaptive DNA Storage Codec

Keeping up with the exponential growth of information and data requires a new storage approach that is cheap, compact, and consumes minimal energy. The open-source translation tool allows the ones and zeros of computer binary information to be encoded and decoded for DNA’s four-letter nucleotide alphabet (T, C, A, G). Combining this adaptive software with new DNA synthesis methods offers high-capacity, robust archival data storage on stable biomolecules into the future.

Latchesar Ionkov led the team of Bradley Settlemyer, Tracy Erkkila, Dominic Manno, Jason Gans, Frank Marrs, Jurgen Schmidt, and Scott Hennelly.

CICE Consortium

Sea ice is critical in moderating the global climate and polar ecosystems. Los Alamos leads the CICE Consortium, an international group of stakeholders and code developers that advances sea ice modeling in the public domain, providing state-of-the-art models for both near-term predictions of sea ice and weather and longer-term climate projections. CICE and its infrastructure are the global standard for sea ice modeling across scales for scientific research, weather and ice forecasting, maritime operations planning, and global climate projections.

Los Alamos led the joint entry with the Danish Meteorological Institute, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Institute of Oceanology – Polish Academy of Sciences, National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Naval Postgraduate School, Naval Research Laboratory Stennis Space Center, University of Washington, and University of Reading. The Los Alamos research team of Elizabeth Hunke, John Dukowicz, Bill Lipscomb, Adrian Turner, Andrew Roberts, Matthew Turner, Nicole Jeffery, Philip Jones, and Scott Elliott developed the core sea ice model and software.

In addition to a R&D 100 Award, the CICE Consortium won the Gold Special Recognition Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility Category. This award honors organizational efforts to be a greater corporate member of society, from a local to global level.

Earth’s-Field Resonance Detection and Evaluation Device (ERDE)

ERDE devices are portable nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers that use the Earth’s magnetic field for rapid, accurate, and safe identification of chemicals without requiring superconducting magnets and liquid cryogens. Smaller than a microwave oven, ERDE devices have spectral resolutions equivalent to or higher than achieved with conventional superconducting NMR spectroscopy at a much lower cost, and can simultaneously collect signature data for all NMR-active nuclei in a single spectrum. These portable NMR spectrometers leverage heteronuclear J-couplings for applications in environmental sensing, through-pipe sensing, chemical analysis, toxic chemical detection, and compound structure identification

Derrick Kaseman and Bob Williams led the Los Alamos team of Michelle Espy, Jacob Yoder, Per Magnelind, Algis Urbaitis, Michael Janicke, and Scarlett Widgeon Paisner.

ERDE also received the Silver Special Recognition Award for Market Disruptor – Product, which highlights any product from any category that has changed the game in any industry.


Most scientific projects rely on data storage systems for the gathering and analysis of data, but the needs can differ vastly. Mochi provides an open-source tool for the rapid development of customized, scalable data services involving high-performance computing, big data, and large-scale learning applications across many scientific fields. These specialized services offer greater efficiency, flexibility, and performance than a traditional monolithic file system.

Argonne National Laboratory led the entry with partners Los Alamos National Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University, and The HDF Group. Galen Shipman directed the Los Alamos team of Tyler Reddy and Robert Robey.

Portable EnGineered Analytic Sensor with aUtomated Sampling (PEGASUS)

Conventional processing and analysis typically require well-equipped laboratories, trained personnel, and expensive equipment. The PEGASUS rugged, miniature biosensor detects a variety of important biomarkers, including bacterial signatures, viral genetic material, toxins, and potential biothreat agents. The simple-to-operate system uses a phone app for readout, analyzes a wide array of samples, and makes laboratory-quality analysis available anywhere.

Harshini Mukundan led the Los Alamos team of Kiersten Lenz, Aaron Anderson, David Mascareñas, John Morales Garcia, Pulak Nath, Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland, and Shailja Jakhar.

Quantum Ensured Defense of the Smart Electric Grid (QED)

The technology provides a novel approach to electric grid security. Current security systems rely on mathematical complexity, but QED applies the unusual behavior of the quantum realm (single light particles, or photons) to protect electric grid control signals from third-party infiltration. Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories demonstrated scalable, plug-and-play, systems-level cybersecurity on EPB’s commercial, metro-scale electricity distribution network in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Raymond Newell led the Los Alamos team of Claira Safi and Justin Tripp.

SmartTensors AI Platform

Crucial signals can be overlooked in big data. SmartTensors AI Platform uses unsupervised machine learning to transform and compress hundreds of trillions of data bytes into manageable pieces of information. Identifying hidden patterns in the data facilitates the discovery of new phenomena and new mechanisms, which enables informed decisions. Applications include analyses in medicine, disease spread and prediction, energy extraction, material science, carbon sequestration, climate change, economy, infrastructure stability, anomaly detection, text mining, and national security.

Boian Alexandrov and Velimir “Monty” Vesselinov led the Los Alamos team of Bulbul Ahmmed, James Ahrens, Manish Bhattarai, Gopinath Chennupati, Derek DeSantis, Hristo Djidjev, Maksim Erin, Namita Karat, Daniel Livingston, Maruti Mudunuru, Ben Nebgen, Dan O’Malley, John Patchett, Elijah Pelofske, Lakshman Prasad, Jesus Pulido, Kim Rasmussen, Adam Rupe, Erik Skau, Justin Sybrandt, Carl James Talsma, Duc Truong, Ravi Vangara, and Neda Vesselinova.

SmartTensors AI Platform also won the Bronze Special Recognition Award for Market Disruptor – Services, which highlights any service from any category as one that forever changed the R&D industry or a particular vertical within the industry.

Terra Spotlight

The software accomplishes what once seemed impossible: automatic identification of changes in satellite-based imagery collected from multiple independent imaging systems. The rigorous mathematical framework implicitly aligns the disparate sensing systems for multi-satellite, multi-physics data fusion and rapid discovery of important changes on the Earth’s surface. Terra Spotlight uses more data collected from existing satellite imaging sensors, without requiring investment in additional expensive satellite platforms.

Amanda Ziemann led the Los Alamos team of James Theiler and Christopher Ren.

Terra Spotlight also won also won the Silver Special Recognition Award for Market Disruptor – Services, which highlights any service from any category as one that forever changed the R&D industry or a particular vertical within the industry.

Additional recognitions

EpiCast Simulates Epidemics in Extreme Scales received the Gold Special Recognition Award in the Battling COVID-19 category. This award highlights any innovation that was employed to battle the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

The agent-based simulation uses synthetic, representative populations to simulate infectious disease transmission in the U.S. in tremendous detail. The simulation models human behavior combined with community-specific information to provide a fine-grained projection of the effect of potential mitigation strategies for decision makers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC, and the New Mexico Department of Health used EpiCast simulations to examine what-if scenarios of the combined impact of different intervention strategies.

Sara Del Valle led the Los Alamos team of Timothy Germann, Geoffrey Fairchild, Carrie Manore, Manhong Z. Smith, Lori Dauelsberg, Terece Turton, Morgan Gorris, Chrysm Ross, James Ahrens, Daniel Hemphill, and Kaitlyn M. Martinez.

The Laboratory also received an R&D 100 Finalist Award for Integrated Chutes & Sensors.

Biomass with high moisture content in current biorefineries plugs the processing system, leading to costly shutdowns and equipment wear. Los Alamos National Laboratory and Jenike & Johanson have combined continuous in-line acoustic moisture sensors with dynamic “smart” transfer chutes to prevent either excessively moist biomass from plugging process lines, or excessively dry material that could result in safety or handling problems. This linked technology enables biomass processing to generate alternative biofuels from biomass at relatively low cost.

Troy Semelsberger and Cristian Pantea led the Los Alamos team of Eric Davis, Hung Doan, John Greenhall, Christopher Hakoda, Craig Alan Chavez, and Pavel Vakhlamov. Carrie Hartford and David Craig of Jenike & Johanson directed the work of their company on the project.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is managed by Triad, a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and the Regents of the University of California (UC) for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.