Sometimes innovations from LDRD researchers prove useful beyond the scope of Livermore’s mission focus areas. After the results of an LDRD project are reported in the scientific press, the Laboratory often receives licensing requests for the new technology from the industry sector, some of which evolve into partnerships to further develop the technology for commercial purposes. The transfer of a technology into the private sector, along with the attendant benefits to the economy and well-being of the American people, is a sign of the success of our work.
The following stories present two examples from among many of the technology transfer successes that arose from projects covered in this year’s annual report. These stories illustrate the potential for far-reaching innovations made possible through industry partnerships.
Project: Deterministic Multifunctional Materials and Manufacturing Initiative (14-SI-004)
Principal investigator: Christopher Spadaccini
In 2016, Livermore researchers joined forces with Autodesk, Inc. to explore how design software can accelerate innovation for 3D printing of advanced materials. Autodesk is an American multinational software corporation that develops computer-aided design software for the architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and entertainment industries. Under an 18-month cooperative research and development agreement, Livermore will use Autodesk’s state-of-the-art software for generative design as it studies how new material microstructures, arranged in complex configurations and printed with additive manufacturing techniques, will produce objects with physical properties that were never before possible.
Livermore and Autodesk have selected next-generation protective helmets as a test case for their technology collaboration, studying how to improve design performance. Helmets represent a class of objects whose internal structures not only need to be lightweight, but also must absorb impact and dissipate energy predictably. Advanced additive manufacturing techniques are expected to allow the Livermore/Autodesk researchers to produce complex material microstructures that will dissipate energy better than what is currently possible with traditionally manufactured helmets.
Livermore brings unique, leading edge capabilities to this partnership, namely the ability to
- create new manufacturing processes that can mix disparate material classes and fabricate unique designs from relevant materials at relevant length scales;
- design multifunctional materials with previously unachievable combinations of functionalities; and
- create and characterize a multifunctional material.
Francesco Lorio, primary investigator on the Autodesk team and a computational science expert, explains: "By combining the advanced additive manufacturing techniques at Livermore with our ability to compute shapes made of complex combinations of materials, we stand to find breakthrough designs for the helmet." His team envisions a future where any product can be composed of bespoke materials "appropriately distributed at the micro and macro scale to optimally satisfy a desired function."
"With its extensive cross-industry customer base, Autodesk can help us examine how our foundational research in architected materials and new additive manufacturing technology might transfer into a variety of domains," said Anantha Krishnan, Livermore's associate director for engineering, further underscoring the long-term, beneficial ramifications of the collaborative relationships with industry that stem from LDRD research.
Project: New Steady-State Viral Culturing Platform for Infectious-Disease Therapeutics (14-LW-077)
Principal investigator: Maxim Shusteff
Some of the major challenges to developing effective therapies to viral infections and countermeasures to biothreats are the imperfect methods available for studying viral interactions within host cells. Traditional tissue culture approaches provide investigators with a high degree of experimental control and flexibility, but the static nature of flask-based cell culture significantly distorts infection patterns, evolutionary parameters, and replication dynamics. In contrast, animal studies provide a wealth of information, but the interpretation of results is confounded by the large number of uncontrolled or unknown variables in complex living systems.
During the LDRD project, a team of Livermore researchers led by Maxim Shusteff, a microsystems engineer in Livermore's Center for Micro and Nanotechnology, found a way to combine the best of both worlds by developing a continuous long-term viral culture platform that reproduces more in vivo dynamics than static culture approaches, while offering greater experimental control. Suspension cells are grown in a bioreactor, and retained using a label-free microfluidic size-separator—the centerpiece of the platform—while used media and viruses are removed. The same device allows for sampling each of the cell and viral sample streams at user-defined time intervals, providing nearly real-time data on experimental state, population growth, and interactions. Using this controllable, automated culture system, multiple cell types have been cultured for over one month, demonstrating flexibility in manipulating population dynamics. This platform combines automation and robustness with the flexibility to adjust parameters and add components, opening the door to a variety of high-impact investigations.
Exploring another possible application for this technology, Shusteff has initiated a collaboration with a commercial company to assess the performance of the microfluidic platform when manipulating the microscopic blood parasites that cause malaria. These initial assessments can inform and enhance improved methods for producing more effective anti-malarial vaccines.
According to the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2015, there were an estimated 214 million clinical cases of and 438,000 deaths (of mostly children) caused by malaria that year. Through Livermore’s collaboration with an industry partner, the results of an LDRD project that was primarily intended to address threats to U.S. biodefense are evolving into a technology that could, in the long run, save countless lives around the world.