New Mexico Small Business Assistance: Solving small business challenges through laboratory expertise SUBMIT request for assistance NMSBA Los Alamos National Laboratory Sandias National Laboratory

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December 10, 2012
Principal Investigators at Heart of NMSBA Program

Principal Investigators, or PIs for short, are at the heart of the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program. Each year, scientists and engineers from New Mexico’s two national laboratories dedicate thousands of hours of expertise to New Mexico small businesses facing technical challenges. Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) recognize outstanding PIs on an annual basis for their work on specific projects.

Brian Dwyer, Sandia National Laboratories

Environmental Engineer Brian Dwyer is a Senior Member of the Technical Staff in the Geotechnology & Engineering Department at SNL. He holds patents and has patents pending for his work on advanced landfill covers, in situ permeable barriers to remediate contaminated groundwater, horizontal subsurface barriers beneath waste sites, and a unique system for remediating leaking landfills.

This strong environmental skill set enabled Dwyer to serve as a PI and to provide engineering support for a number of NMSBA’s energy, water treatment, and environmental projects.  Recently, Dwyer helped farmers in Doña Ana County test an agricultural approach known as Intensive Production that captures carbon as plant biomass so crops can be cultivated year-round. As carbon is incorporated, it provides energy resources and structural carbon components for building microbial communities, fertility, and tilth that enrich the soil. Improvement in soil tilth also results in less water consumption for crops. Dwyer provided sensors and systems to measure the amount and volume of carbon sequestered.

"The most exciting aspect of the project was working with people who were open and intelligent about innovative technologies,” says Dwyer. “I gained great respect for the hard work the farmers have done over a lifetime.”

Ernest J. García, Sandia National Laboratories

Ernest J. García is a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff in SNL's Nuclear Safety Assessment Department and a Registered Professional Engineer in the State of New Mexico. García has extensive experience with mechanical systems, high reliability weapon system components and microsystems, and complex systems analysis. García also works with the Bi-National Sustainability Laboratory to drive economic development through technology along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In 2012, García used his skills as an electromechanical design engineer to assist Respiratory Therapist Stephen Lueckenhoff with a device called the Tube-B-Gone. Lueckenhoff noticed that patients using oxygen struggled to manage the 50 feet of tubing that inevitably drags on the floor.  At home and in nursing facilities, patients occasionally tripped and fell on the stray tubing, prompting Lueckenhoff to invent a device that retrieves the tubing and keeps it out of harm’s way. García and electrical engineer colleague Ken Pohl of SNL helped Lueckenhoff's company, Inspyrd Products Corporation, address tangling problems, implement a low-voltage DC motor and Radio frequency controller, and improve the Tube-B-Gone's manufacturability.

“Ken and I teamed to find ways to improve the design,” says García. “It was a very satisfying project to work on, and we particularly enjoyed collaborating with Inspyrd Products Corp. founder Steve Lueckenhoff, who is a very clever inventor.  

Dr. Harshini Mukundan, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Dr. Harshini Mukundan is a scientist on LANL’s Physical Chemistry and Applied spectroscopy group and a principal investigator on the LANL Biosensor Team. Her work focuses on developing novel transduction schemes, sample processing methods, and diagnostic assays for infectious diseases and cancer.

Dr. Mukundan’s work in biodetection of infectious disease was ideally suited to support a bovine tuberculosis (TB) detection project for NMSBA. The work began in 2009 and has expanded into a leveraged project, involving ranchers and veterinarians throughout the state. After three years of significant progress, Dr. Mukundan and her team are using clinical studies to evaluate the use of the biomarkers and antibodies to develop a reliable diagnostic assay for bovine TB. “The assay will not only be able to detect active infection,” says Dr. Mukundan, “but also discriminate it from non-specific infection by non-pathogenic bacteria.” Dr. Mukundan is also assessing potential partners for commercialization of bovine TB assays developed through the project.

In another NMSBA project, Dr. Mukundan helped a Los Alamos medical technologies company explore better diagnostics and determine what biomarkers are available to detect traumatic brain injuries. With the increased incidence of traumatic brain injury among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the condition has become one of significant concern for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Mark E. Smith, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Mark E. Smith’s is a scientist in Chemical Diagnostics and Engineering at LANL. With a technical background in polymers, coatings and materials, Mark has worked on a multitude of projects that partner with private industry to address national security needs. 

For NMSBA, Smith assisted Pure Color of Albuquerque, which has a patented process for staining wood through natural mineral reaction rather than binders, petroleum-based products, or chemical solvents.  Smith assisted Mike Miles of Pure Color by conducting experiments to determine the chemistry make up of minerals in solution.  Smith also assessed the surface properties of wood substrate after the company’s coloring solutions were applied. This included understanding the structures created and characterizing the chemical interactions. All of Smith’s data, observations, and findings were compiled in a final report and provided to the company.

“The NMSBA program provides a tremendous means to accelerate the application of innovative ideas that are generated by the businesses of New Mexico,” says Smith.  “I have always found that the projects provide a two-way benefit of knowledge, especially the unexpected barriers that require us to understand the nuances of the technologies.”

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory managed and operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000.  SAND#2012-10517W.