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NMSU College of Engineering graduate leads research team to prestigious award

New Mexico State University College of Engineering alumni Jessie Nichols and Pete Pittman have led a team of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in collaboration with Y-12 National Security Complex, to a R&D 100 Award for Valveless Laser Processing.

Jessie Nichols, Pete Pittman, Martin Piltch, Thomas Lienert, Marc Robbins and Wynn Christensen are photographed standing outside with pine trees in the backgrou
(Left to right) Jessie Nichols, Pete Pittman, Martin Piltch, Thomas Lienert, Marc Robbins and Wynn Christensen comprise the Los Alamos National Laboratory team that recently won an R&D 100 Award for their Valveless Laser Processing project. Nichols and Pittman are NMSU College of Engineering alumni. (Courtesy photo)

R&D 100 Awards have been called the "Oscars of Innovation," recognize the top 100 technologically significant accomplishments of the past year, and are awarded annually by R&D Magazine. Since 1963, the R&D 100 Awards have identified revolutionary technologies newly introduced to the market. Many of these have become household names, helping shape everyday life for many Americans. These include the flashcube (1965), the automated teller machine (1973), the halogen lamp (1974), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm anti-smoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), lab on a chip (1996) and HDTV (1998).

Nichols and Pittman are research and development engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Nichols is a 2000 mechanical engineering technology graduate and Pete Pittman is a 1989 mechanical engineering graduate. They co-led a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory comprised of Martin Piltch, Thomas Lienert, Marc Robbins and Wynn Christensen, in collaboration with Nicklas Hayes and Chris Hayes from Y-12 National Security Complex.

Valveless Laser Processing uses a laser to alloy, access, sample and reseal hermetically sealed containers without compromising seal integrity. This eliminates the need for a valve, which can be unreliable, costly and often impractical due to weight and volume limitations. Applications include environmental remediation, nondestructive analysis and enablement of modern leak detection methods. The technology was developed for implementation at the Y-12 plant in Oakridge, Tenn.

"This gives engineers and designers the capability to use another process, something else on their tool belt they can implement and be able to use to reduce the weight of systems, reduce the cost of production and increase the lives of systems, and also, in the long run, reduce the need for valves," Nichols said.

Previously, testing of hermetically sealed containers required a valve, which adds weight and cost to each container, and requires more space for storage. Valveless Laser Processing (VLP) eliminates the need for the valve and uses a laser to drill into, sample and seal each container, without compromising the contents of the container.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has earned 124 R&D 100 awards since 1978.

It is projected that this non-destructive container interrogation method could save the National Nuclear Security Administration up to $10 million dollars annually.

To view the Los Alamos National Laboratory video on this topic visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WjRXLSaAZ4. To read more about the team's work visit http://www.rdmag.com/award-winners/2012/08/testing-sealed-containers-no-valves-needed.