Breakthroughs

Ames Lab scientific discoveries have led to new technologies that have impacted our lives in many ways.

  • Ames developed the process that enables scientists to produce the purest rare earth and other materials used in academic and industrial research today.

  • Some 17,000 analytical laboratories worldwide are reaping the benefits of pioneering work in inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy.

  • An analysis tool enables the rapid and accurate determination of up to 80 elements in metals, alloys, and liquids such as oil, serum, blood, and soils. This determination is accurate down to levels of a few parts per trillion.

  • A novel smart material was developed that has the ability to adapt to outside environmental influences. Terfenol-D is a magnetorestrictive material that converts electrical power to mechanical power and vice versa. The material found its first use in sonar technology for the military but is now used in industrial applications.

  • Ames designed and demonstrated the existence of photonic bandgap crystals, which make it possible to develop more precise and efficient lasers.

  • Industry has a new ally in its efforts to remove hazardous lead-based solders from the environment. Ames’ lead-free alloy of tin-silver-copper has been widely adopted by the electronics industry for use in all types of devices such as computers and cellphones. Lead-free solder has been licensed by more than 60 companies in the United States and around the world.

  • High heat conditions can be the enemy of maintaining strong bonds between ceramic composites used in the fabrication of solar arrays. A process was developed for creating tough ceramic glue for joining continuous-fiber ceramic composites that promotes mechanical bond toughness in solar arrays at operating temperatures of up to 1800 °C.

  • A ceramic coating made from an alloy of boron-aluminum-magnesium (BAM) can be applied to surfaces in industrial hydraulic pumps to reduce friction and increase wear resistance. The result: a potential reduction in U.S. industrial energy usage of 31 trillion BTUs annually by 2030 or a savings of $179 million a year. The coating also has a second application as a friction reducer on industrial cutting tools.

  • Ames helped create left-handed materials, which exhibit fascinating optical properties not found in naturally occurring materials. This discovery could help scientists create ultra-highresolution imaging systems with applications in aerospace, solar power, and communications.

  • A technique was developed that quantitatively analyzes the chemical content of a single human red blood cell. Multiplexed capillary electrophoresis technology is now the standard analysis tool used for DNA sequencing.

  • The next generation of refrigeration technology may get its “cool” from a material and, at the same time, help save the environment. Taking advantage of the magnetocaloric effect, an environmentally benign alloy of gadolinium-silicon-germanium could replace harmful chemical coolants as the cooling method in large supermarket chillers and air conditioners.

Developed at Ames Laboratory by Iver Anderson, John Smith, Chad Miller, and Robert Terpstra — with co-inventor Frederick Yost of Sandia National Laboratory — lead-free solder is found in most consumer electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets. With this innovation, more than 50,000 tons of lead per year will no longer be released into the environment worldwide.

Tech Transfer

Ames Laboratory is committed to developing and transferring technologies. Each year over the past decade, it has generated an average of 10 patents from DOE-supported research and enters into about five technology license agreements and/or options. Collaborations between industry and Ames can help both parties meet their common technological objectives, while reducing development costs and risks. Under Privately Funded Technology Transfer (PFTT), the laboratory, contractor, and inventors share in any monetary success derived from DOE-funded intellectual property.

DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy sponsors a searchable database of the National Laboratories’ energy technologies available for licensing, and patents and patent applications.

For information on technologies available for licensing, visit the tech portal here . For further information, contact Stacy Joiner, Program Manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 515-294-5932.