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Breakthroughs Magazine

Notable Achievements

PNNL scientist just keeps on giving

Aaron Diaz, a staff scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, has received two distinct honors for his work in homeland security.

Aaron Diaz demonstrates the Acoustic Inspection Device, a technology that provides a noninvasive evaluation of sealed containers.

Diaz is the first PNNL staff member to win a Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award. Diaz is being recognized for both his technical accomplishments as well as his extensive contributions in the Hispanic community. He joins other 2004 winners from IBM, Hewlett Packard and Argonne National Laboratory.

The second award is the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation's Homeland Security Award. Diaz was recognized in the field of border/transportation security for his scientific research and engineering work in developing an acoustic inspection device for PNNL that allows noninvasive evaluation of sealed containers such as steel drums and shipping containers. This technology won an R&D 100 Award and a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Technology Transfer in 2003.

Diaz has been a guest speaker at scientific conferences, high schools, night schools and student conferences. He also makes regular visits to his hometown of Toppenish, Wash., where he encourages high school students to pursue studies in science. "I like taking live science to the kids," Diaz said. "I try to convey that this can be a rewarding career. It is especially rewarding to see a kid who remembers me coming to his school."

Researchers take aim at human diseases

Improved treatments for asthma and bacteria-related illnesses are two of the goals Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists hope to achieve in the next five years.

PNNL will lead two separate National Institutes of Health projects over the next five years. The first is a $10 million, multi-institutional study which will use 3-D imaging and computational models to devise a virtual lung of unsurpassed detail, representing the respiratory systems in humans and other mammals.

The grant will enable PNNL and its partners to devise imaging and simulation techniques that promise a better understanding of what happens to airborne contaminants in the respiratory system and, ultimately, to help improve treatments for asthma and other respiratory ailments.

PNNL developed "the virtual respiratory tract" in 2001. At the time, it offered the clearest picture yet of how pollutants enter the respiratory system, how they move and where they accumulate. For more information, see PNNL's Web site at

In the second award, PNNL received a $10.3 million biodefense contract from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Agents (NIAID) to identify the proteins that regulate the bacteria that cause salmonella poisoning, typhoid fever and the monkey pox virus.

Besides monkey pox, which serves as a close viral analog to deadly smallpox, two species from the genus Salmonella will be examined: typhimurium (which causes food poisoning) and typhi (typhoid fever). These pathogens, which spread quickly and are not easily combated with conventional drugs, could lead to major epidemics if used by terrorists. NIAID is banking that determining which microbial proteins interact with which human host cells will point drug designers toward quick and effective treatments during an outbreak.

Collaborators at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland will prepare the infectious agents for PNNL and will assist in analyzing the data generated there. For more information about the respiratory study, visit PNNL's Web site at For more on the proteome study, see

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