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E.coli pathogen

Threats from biological pathogens such as E.coli, are identified most often as a result of diagnosis, clinical testing, or pathology from disease.

Combating biological threats to human health: pathogen detection

In Kansas, an oncologist is charged with attempted murder for trying to poison her estranged husband with ricin. In London, two hospital patients nearly die from an infection by a bacterium that adapted to feed on the antibiotic intended to kill it. In the Northwest, one child dies and several others are ill from E. coli poisoning.

In Richland, Washington, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory launches a new initiative that will aid in preventing these types of incidents from occurring.

Biological pathogensliving organisms that include bacteria (salmonella, anthrax), viruses (cholera, typhoid fever), and the toxins they produce (botulinum, ricin)can cause death or serious injury, including paralysis, nerve disorders, and hemorrhaging.

The science and technology developed through Pacific Northwest's Detection and Characterization of Biological Pathogens initiative will aid in identifying pathogens sooner and, ultimately, lead to advances in such diverse areas as food safety, counterterrorism, air and water quality, and medical health care delivery.

Threats from biological pathogens are identified most often as a result of diagnosis, clinical testing, or pathology from disease. Where they exist at all, currently available methods for detection often are costly and too slow for routine use or implementation of effective responses.

Research in the initiative is directed at developing methods of detection that are not dependent on having to take a sample to a laboratory. "This research represents a fundamental improvement in the ability to detect disease-causing organisms. This approach provides radically new opportunities to develop responses to disease threats to the public health," said Barbara Seiders, who leads the initiative team.

The initiative involves three research and technology areas:

  • advanced background analysis, which will improve the capability to detect dangerous pathogens in complex environmental samples with ever-changing types of living organisms
  • sample acquisition, concentration, and preparation methods, which enhance capabilities for collecting pathogen samples in the environment and quickly delivering the samples in a usable form to detection equipment
  • integrated systems design and manufacturing, enabling diverse detection and analysis technologies to be assembled into small, self-contained tools (not much larger than a home smoke detector) that meet users' needs in potentially contaminated environments.

Through the initiative, collaborations have been established with a variety of companies, agencies, and academic institutions, including Genometrix, the University of Washington, and CoronaCat, a local firm.

"By using Pacific Northwest technologies to detect the presence of pathogens before they result in the development of disease, we ultimately could make it possible to reduce or even prevent the outbreak of disease altogether," Seiders said. "Our goal is to create capabilities that will enable Pacific Northwest technologies to become the first line of defense between people and microbial threats to human health and welfare."

Pulse Echo Instrument

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory engineer Jim Skorpik demonstrates the Ultrasonic Pulse Echo Instrument and, at left, the Material Identification System. These two portable devices provide border enforcement personnel with new tools to combat smuggling.

On the border training helps countries stem smuggling

What do blue jeans and nuclear reactor components have in common? Not a lot, except they're among the items smugglers try to illegally transport across borders in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe.

Smuggling in that part of the world has increased significantly since the breakup of the Soviet Union. "Because many border stations lack funds, adequately trained personnel and technology, goods have a better chance of making it through," said Bill Cliff, Pacific Northwest's program manager for International Border Security.

Recognizing these issues, countries asked the U.S. to help them provide improved training for their personnel and obtain the latest detection technologies.

America responded by establishing a comprehensive foreign border enforcement training program at the Department of Energy's Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response facility in Richland, Wash.

The Department of Defense sponsors the program, developed and taught primarily by Pacific Northwest staff with technical oversight by the U.S. Customs Service. The focus of the training is detection, identification, interdiction, and investigation of smuggling activities.

During the two-week program, visiting border enforcement officials spend time in the classroom, and in "hands-on" training. A number of detection technologies are demonstrated, including Pacific Northwest's Material Identification System and Ultrasonic Pulse Echo instrument. These devices will be provided to countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as new republics of the former Soviet Union.

Customs officials from Hungary and Slovakia were the first to complete the training program.

freeway/commuter train traffic

Weight reduction will be achieved primarily by using lightweight materials to replace current steel components.

Shedding a few pounds for a leaner, more efficient machine

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory made a New Year's Resolution to help shed 40 percent off an American-made automobile's weight by the year 2002. The leaner, more efficient machine could net drivers as much as 80 miles to the gallon.

With support from the Department of Energy, the Laboratory created an alliance of the Big Three automakers and Northwest organizations, called the Northwest Alliance for Transportation Technologies, to help produce durable, lightweight, energy-efficient cars and trucks.

NATT, established last October, supports a U.S. Government-domestic automaker initiative launched in 1993 called the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The Laboratory has done considerable work in developing new materials and high rate forming of metals for the car, truck, and aircraft industries.

A primary goal of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles is to produce a durable, mid-sized vehicle with performance and price similar to today's cars but with triple the fuel efficiency, greatly reduced emissions, and 80-percent recyclable components.

"To make substantial increases in fuel efficiency, the weight of vehicles needs to be reduced dramatically," said Gary McVay, director of NATT at the Laboratory. quot;Therefore, NATT's initial focus will be to help develop the technology necessary to reduce the weight of today's vehicles by about half."

"Weight reduction will be achieved primarily by using lightweight materials to replace current steel components," McVay added. "A lighter vehicle also will enable more effective use of advanced propulsion systems."

Specifically, NATT partners will combine their individual strengths to design new lightweight metal shaping and connecting techniques and lower the cost of materials production. Research will focus on five areasaluminum, magnesium, titanium, polymer composite, and glazing.

The IBM Corporation, through the investment of a $9.7 million supercomputer, will be a major participant in the alliance.

"State-of-the-art computer simulation technology is needed to help understand the forming and processing challenges associated with lightweight materials," explained McVay. "IBM, through their knowledge of supercomputing and their investment, will play a major role in this task."

"Lightweight, fuel-efficient vehicles will bring environmental, energy, and economic benefits to the United States," McVay added. "These vehicles will lessen reliance on foreign oil, contribute to a cleaner environment, and aid the nation's automobile and light metal industries, which directly or indirectly account for one in seven U.S. jobs."

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