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Breakthroughs Magazine

Special Report - Cultivating Future Technologies

A Look Back

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2000. The last 35 years have been full of interesting events and innovative breakthroughs, here are a few of the highlights.


1965 Newspaper with Headline

Battelle assumed management of the new Pacific Northwest Laboratory and began operating it for the Atomic Energy Commission.


The Rattlesnake Mountain Observatory was established in 1967. It's located on the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, which Pacific Northwest began operating the same year.



Scientists used an acoustical holography transducer to determine structural integrity of this aluminum test block, "reading" interior flaws as a three-dimensional image.


State-of-the-art computer facilities included a digital computer system for data acquisition and process control system development.


Pacific Northwest was the only organization in the region chosen by NASA to analyze lunar material collected from the entire Apollo program.

Marine Sciences Laboratory

The Marine Research Laboratory in Sequim, Wash., now known as the Marine Sciences Laboratory, was dedicated in 1973. The photo shows the original facility plus additions to the complex made in 1982.

Optical digital recording

Optical digital recording was pioneered by James T. Russell of Pacific Northwest and serves as the basis for manufacturing today's compact discs.

Robotic Mouse

In their off-hours, researchers built three robotic maze-running mice, including this one called "The Moonlight Special," to compete in regional and national contests.


Mount St. Helens

Pacific Northwest collected and analyzed samples of ash following the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens to determine potential environmental and health impacts.

scientist with goat

Development of a portable blood irradiator to continuously treat blood in an effort to reduce rejection of tissue or bone marrow transplants began in the early 1970s and was recognized with an R&D 100 Award in 1983.


Researchers developed a "biobarrier" with time-released herbicides that prevents unwanted root growth and vegetation from septic tanks, roadways and sidewalks and buried gas pipes.


Encapsulating nuclear waste in glass, or vitrification, was examined as a disposal option.


Pacific Northwest's DC-3 research aircraft collected air samples of fallout from the Chornobyl nuclear accident in 1986. The research aircraft was used for acid rain, air pollution and other atmospheric monitoring studies.


"Manny" the robot, complete with advanced chemical sensors and computer control systems, was delivered to the U.S. Army for protective clothing testing.

solar energy research

Researchers designed a shadowband photometer for solar energy research.

Bottle with potato merged

A process was developed that converts carbohydrates in agricultural byproducts into materials that can be used to manufacture biodegradable plastics, surface coatings, adhesives, textiles and detergents.



Industries began using Pacific Northwest's Waste Acid Detoxification and Reclamation process to recover and recycle metals and acids from waste streams.

corona reactor

Pacific Northwest was the first to use a low-intensity electrical corona reactor to destroy gaseous contaminants in soil and groundwater cleanup or from automotive exhaust.

Hellfire Inspection System

The Hellfire Inspection System was developed to evaluate missile seekers' accuracy and sensitivity and whether they meet mission requirements.

PNNL logo

Before the Laboratory was renamed "Pacific Northwest National Laboratory" in 1995, it was known as Pacific Northwest Laboratory—the only DOE multiprogram national laboratory not to include the word "National" in its name.

EMSL ribbon cutting

The William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory opened its doors to the research community in 1997 as the newest U.S. Department of Energy user facility.

super computer

The EMSL facility welcomed the arrival of IBM's most powerful supercomputer in 1997. Its capabilities aid computational chemistry and modeling techniques used to study molecular structures and determine chemical properties.


A bioprocess called RubberCycle™ changes the surface chemistry of waste tire rubber, enabling it to bond with virgin rubber which eliminated a key barrier to recycling old tires.

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