R&D 100 Award winners: George Wicks (left) and SRNL team members pictured with flame-former apparatus. Credit: ORNL and ACerS Bulletin.

For the last 49 years, the science and engineering community has looked forward eagerly to the day the R&D Magazine editors release the new R&D 100 Awards. Yesterday was that day.

It’s a little like a cotillion ball — a coming-out for the young, the beautiful, the promising. As we posted earlier, some previous R&D 100 débutantes went on to be wildly successful: ATMs, Nicoderm patches, the flashcube. Like the debs, some are still in their prime (ATMs, Nicoderm), some are grande dames (fax machines, halogen lamps), and some are of late-but-happy memory (flashcubes). As with a real cotillion, some on the list were not unexpected, A123 for example, a company we’ve covered extensively. Others were delightful surprises, not because they are unworthy, but because our imaginations constrained them within their humble origins.

This year’s surprise was “Porous Walled Hollow Glass Microspheres” that came out of work at the Savannah River National Lab led by George Wicks (president-elect of ACerS). Why surprising? The goal of the R&D 100 is to identify the “100 most technologically significant products of the past year.” SRNL’s press release frankly states, “Hollow glass microspheres have been used for years in lightweight filler material, insulation, abrasives and other applications.” How did microspheres make the leap from “used for years as filler” to among the “most technologically significant?”

The SRNL team discovered that glass microspheres with nanoscale interconnecting porosity could be fabricated through a phase separation and leaching process, and realized that the porosity could provide controllable ingress and egress of substances like medicine, reactive or flammable chemicals, hydrogen, and more. The award also recognized SRNL’s off-campus partners: Toyota, Georgia Health Sciences University and Mo-Sci Corp. Basically, the team saw a unique characteristic, and developed and perfected it to an extent where the technology’s potential is plain to see. Not fully mature yet, but undoubtedly heading in that direction.

Innovation and successful businesses are driven by vision, commitment, passion, and hard work. The experiences of those who have “been to the ball” can help (I won’t push the analogy much further), and that is what the Ceramic Leadership Summit 2011 meeting is really about. Speakers like George Wicks, Mo-Sci’s Ted Day, and A123’s Bart Riley will share their experiences of how they got there. All CLS speakers have proven track records breaking into new markets, navigating regulations, developing new materials, recognizing new applications, valuing their businesses, understanding how to position ceramic products in a diverse marketplace — they are prepared to share their experiences and help you do the same.

Anybody engaged in business or innovation knows how valuable their time is, and in a way, time away is even more valuable because of what it “costs” to be offsite. The CLS meeting recognizes that and has built a program that is business-centric, only two days long, and has plenty of built-in networking events.

Did you know that modern-era débutantes (and beaux) spend an average of two years preparing to take their place in society as recognized adults? A team of adults guides, forms and cheers them on to reach their full potential.

Surprises don’t just happen. Luck helps, but the old adage is true, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Think of CLS as part of your strategy and preparation team. We hope to see you there.

Dress is business casual, but I hope you return with a full dance card.

Ceramic Leadership Summit 2011
August 1-3, Baltimore, Maryland