National Nuclear Security Administration

Throwback Thursday: invention hall of fame

April 26, 2018

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In recognition of Inventor’s Month, we are taking a look back at some timeless technologies developed across the Nuclear Security Enterprise with a special “Throwback Thursday” roundup.

Sandia National Laboratories physicist Willis Whitfield forever transformed science and technology when he invented the “clean room.” When Whitfield announced the invention in 1962, researchers and industrialists didn’t believe it.

Within a few short years, however, $50 billion worth of laminar-flow cleanrooms were built worldwide and Whitfield had been dubbed “Mr. Clean” by Time magazine. The constant sweep of highly filtered air has made the modern microelectronics industry possible.

Ernest O. Lawrence, founder of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, invented the cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator, in 1934.

This 90-inch cyclotron, installed at Livermore Lab in 1954, was a leading particle accelerator in its time. The machine operated until 1971, producing copious amounts of neutron cross-section data for Laboratory programs and the physics community.

In the 1960s, Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Mack Fulwyler invented the cell sorter, a device to isolate different types of cells. The invention, still a vital piece of equipment in biological labs today, operates in a fashion similar to an ink-jet printer, redirecting a flow of tiny cell-containing droplets. With this technology, scientists are able to study the biochemistry underlying many diseases.

In the early 1970s, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists used an acoustical holography transducer to determine structural integrity. An aluminum test block was used to "read" interior flaws as a three-dimensional image.

In 1986, scientists at Nevada National Security Site helped develop ground-penetrating radar that can be used to find hazardous waste, dinosaur bones and more.

Patented in 2010, RonJohn is a non-hazardous industrial solvent. In the photo, one of the inventors, Ron Simandl of Y-12 National Security Campus, degrades polyurethane foam by dipping it in RonJohn. The substance does not require respirator use or hazardous material disposal and is in commercial use today.