Five patents, copyright prove an innovative year in inventions

peer review

For decades, the NNSS has realized revolutionary technology instrumental to our mission. But we are not one to rest on our laurels. In fiscal year 2017, NNSS’ scientists earned five patents (with another pending) and a copyright that serve our national security.


Optic Probe for Multiple Angle Image Capture and Optional Stereo Imaging, Pat. US 9,507,024 B2 (Robert M. Malone and Morris Kaufman) – Enhanced state-of-the-art optics helps scientists better understand the physics performance of a nuclear weapon. Optics measures certain characteristics along the surface of test material. System instrumentation records the data, creating a comprehensive picture of materials under extreme stress.

The new optic probe, including a multiple lens array, can measure velocity distribution of a moving surface along many lines of sight. Laser light, directed to the moving surface, is reflected back from the surface, is Doppler-shifted, collected into the array, and then directed to detection equipment through optical fibers. The received light is mixed with reference laser light, and using photonic Doppler velocimetry, a continuous time record of the surface movement is obtained. Imaging a portion of the surface during initial travel can determine how the surface is breaking up under shock loading. The probe measures quantities relevant to the shock physics experiment along the surface of test material. Then its instrumentation records data, creating a comprehensive picture of materials under extreme stress.

The Geometrically Enhanced Photocathode Pat. US 9,837,238 (Dr. Katerina Opachich and Andrew MacPhee)– With colleagues and collaborators, Dr. Opachich developed the recessed geometrically enhanced photocathode designed to improve high-energy efficiency in X-ray detectors and images without changing or compromising the data’s accuracy. The project also recently won an R&D 100 Award (seeNevada National Security Site’s Project Wins Prestigious R&D 100 Award). Long considered the most globally prestigious recognition of invention and innovation, the R&D 100 Awards honor the 100 most innovative technologies of the past year. This is the NNSS’ fifth R&D 100 win since 2009.

Autofocus System and Autofocus Method for Focusing on a Surface, Pat. US 9,658,444 B2 (Mary O’Neill)– Distinguished Engineer Mary O’Neill invented a new microscope autofocus method directly applicable to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation mission. Detection of fissionable (i.e., uranium) material via microscopic particle samples is critical to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This invention speeds up this process by automatically creating clear microscope images that can be analyzed like never before. Beyond its use in the DOE, it can be licensed to microscope manufacturers for inclusion in their systems since the filter size can be altered to favor the desired objects being imaged.

Hyperchromatic Lens for Recording Time-Resolved Phenomena, Pat. US 9,706,094 B2 (Daniel K. Frayer)– Recording ultrafast events has been part of Nevada’s DNA since the earliest days of nuclear testing at the Site. Technological advances over the decades have enabled improvements, but recording images at very fast timescales remains an outstanding challenge. This patent describes a method, developed under the Site-Directed Research and Development program, for combining (1) active laser illumination using a chirped-pulse laser to map moments of time onto optical frequency, (2) an innovative hyperchromatic lens design which focusses images of differing wavelengths at differing image planes, mapping optical frequency onto focal position, and (3) commercial plenoptic imaging technology which can separate multiple focal planes, effectively recording many frames of data at once. The method offers a new, unique way to achieve ultrafast movies, potentially up to 10 GHz. The heart of the innovation is the hyperchromatic lens, which transforms phenomena in the temporal domain into spatially separated snapshots. The patent covers both the specifics of the hyperchromatic lens design and the general recording scheme.

Electromagnetic Spectrum Management System (ESMS), Pat. US 9,559,803 B2 (Doug Seastrand, Rudolpha Jorgensen, Ryan Martin, Eric Schmidthuber)– Seastrand and his team invented a way to control radio frequency (RF) airwaves. This is especially helpful to bomb disposal technicians out in the field who are disabling an improvised explosive device (IED) and variations of them. Typically, they would worry that wireless radio signals may remotely set off the explosive. Therefore it is common practice to employ RF jamming technology to prevent remote detonation while disarming the device. The ESMS controls the RF airwaves, instead of simply jamming them. This prevents unwanted RF signals in a user-determined area while allowing friendly signals (like voice communications) to operate unimpeded. The ESMS has an advantage over traditional methods because it does not require any foreknowledge about the adversaries’ RF threat. Because it only responds to unfriendly signals, it uses less power than traditional jamming techniques.

The NNSS awards $2,000 for each patent. Having the exclusive rights allows the NNSS to sell/license the technology to other companies, with the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration’s approval. Patents are a visible means of promoting DOE and NNSS technology transfer missions. The patent demonstrates that DOE dollars are being spent effectively on cutting-edge research.


Image Segmentation Tool (Marylesa Howard, Timothy Meehan, Aaron Luttman, Margaret Hock)– The Image Segmentation Tool is a software tool this team created for extracting information from images to visually understand material changes. To compute quantities such as density, scientists need to determine the boundaries of the material in the image. To this end, Howard’s team developed a mathematical analysis technique specifically for images with special qualities such as low contrast and materials whose color varies throughout the image. This tool has been successfully demonstrated on current experiment radiographs and data.

Howard’s team collaborated with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of whom have images of this type that need analyzing. Her paper on this technique was accepted into the Journal of Applied Physics and highlighted as a paper of broad scientific interest in Scilights (seeArticle Co-Authored by NNSS Scientists Chosen for Journal of Applied Physics “Scilight”).