Electronic Design

A DOE Program Is Turning Swords Into Plowshares

For interested companies, there's an opportunity to tap into the scientific and technological capabilities of the former Soviet Union and turn that into a business relationship. Since the U.S.S.R.'s collapse in 1991, the U.S. Government has worked with the newly independent states (NIS), Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhastan, to control nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. In 1994, the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) established the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program, which identifies and develops nonmilitary projects for former defense technologies and creates jobs for former weapons scientists and engineers. It thus channels NIS technological capabilities into peaceful uses and makes NIS lab technology commercially profitable, which in turn helps the NIS members become more stable in the global economy.

So far, 10 DOE labs, one plant, the headquarters and regional offices, and over 100 U.S. companies have participated in the IPP program. These participants are involved in nearly 400 collaborations with over 200 NIS institutes. The program supports nearly 10 NIS scientists for every U.S. scientist.

Two successfully launched projects by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) illustrate the IPP effort. In one, a magnetron project, LBNL and a U.S. microwave and accelerator firm are working with Russia's SRPC Toriy in Moscow to convert magnetron technology into industrial and medical benefits. They aim to use high-power magnetrons to design and build a portable and highly efficient linear accelerator for various beam-based applications like sterilization, electron-beam curing, food processing, security, and environmental cleanup. Two years ago, the SRPC Toriy met all specifications in testing such a magnetron. The next stage is to design a linear accelerator that uses it in commercial applications.

The second example is a program collecting unusual microorganisms from Russia's Lake Baikal. Less than 1% occurring in nature have been isolated and studied. Applying new isolation techniques developed at Berkeley will help increase the number of "culturable" microorganisms with novel capabilities, which can be exploited in bioremediation, biocatalysis, and new therapeutics. The Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo collected samples of intrinsic microbiota from sediments, waters, and hot springs of Lake Baikal. The hydrolytic enzymes and microorganisms were analyzed for their ability to convert lignocellulosic materials to sugars, and their subsequent fermentation to fuels and chemicals.

It was predicted that the current $2 billion-per-year enzyme market will expand to $200 billion if unique niche enzymes become more readily available. Likewise, the present worldwide antibiotic market is estimated at about $10 billion a year. Currently, there's a crisis in treating certain nosocomial infections that have developed multiple resistance to the last line of defensive antibiotics like vancomycin. In the project, scientists also are using specific molecular target screens that will point to new classes of antibiotics. DuPont is the industrial partner in follow-up work to this project.

There are many other examples, including one to investigate the properties of isotopically pure silicon. The IPP program has been received enthusiastically by U.S. and NIS firms and has helped construct ongoing and fruitful partnerships. For more information on the IPP program, check out www.usic.net and www.cisa.lanl.gov.

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