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Breakthroughs Magazine

At a Glance

Pacific Northwest blazing big trail in small world

Len Peters, Subah Randhawa, Skip Rung

The implementation agreement for the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute was signed by PNNL Director Len Peters (center), OSU Provost Subah Randhawa (right) and witnessed by Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute Executive Director Skip Rung (left).

Last month's Micro Nano Breakthrough Conference in Portland brought together an amalgamation of national and international technology experts, with organizers hoping to convince them of a large future in the Pacific Northwest for tiny technology. Micro and nanotechnology represent the technology of miniature processes and systems, and the conference offered an avenue for sharing ideas, building networks and developing new microproducts for areas such as health care, electronics, energy and defense.

It attracted representatives from Hewlett-Packard, Intel and several foreign companies in Germany and Gibraltar. The conference also highlighted the announcement of $5 million in likely federal funding and a $1.3 million grant to fund nanotechnology in the Northwest, a small but significant amount to jump-start the region's tech-based economic development. The conference was sponsored by the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, a collaboration between Oregon State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

PNNL technology closes the "lid" on Chevy Malibu Maxx

2004 Chevy Mailbu Maxx tailgate

A technology first optimized at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been applied by General Motors to the liftgate of the 2004 Chevy Malibu Maxx. Quickplastic forming (QPF), a revolutionary metal forming process, allows greater styling, reduced weight and lower manufacturing time for aluminum sheets used in automobiles. The QPF process permits automakers to use just one sheet of metal to construct car body pieces, rather than the usual two joined pieces of metal and plastic. This single-step process allowed GM to cut the weight of the liftgate on the Malibu Maxx from 39 pounds down to 20 pounds, and cut manufacturing time while maintaining exceptional safety ratings. GM may apply the process to other high-volume car models in the future. The process, which blows high-pressure air streams at the metal to form it to a die, earned its researchers a Federal Laboratory Consortium award in 2000.

Catching the cracks

nuclear power plant

Catching cracks in nuclear nozzles is no easy task when they are caused by normal stresses and corrosion inside a nuclear reactor. Approximately 70 nozzles per reactor allow control rod drive shafts to pass through the top of a reactor pressure vessel head so that the power level of the reactor can be controlled.

When cracked nozzles were discovered in nuclear power plants in Ohio and Virginia, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Electric Power Research Institute saw an opportunity to evaluate inspecting procedures and eight of these nozzles were selected for study.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are using state-of-the-art inspection systems that employ nondestructive methods and destructive testing to evaluate the reliability of current inspection procedures. The results of this testing will aid the NRC in determining if improvements are needed for inspecting the nation's 103 operating nuclear power plants. For utilities, these tests provide additional information for making decisions about timing, effectiveness and activities required during reactor maintenance.

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