Tri-Valley business leaders and entrepreneurs often seek competitive advantages to bolster the success of their products or companies. One major competitive advantage for both the Tri-Valley region and the Bay Area as a whole is the Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC), which is becoming known as an innovation engine.
Built along the boundaries of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory, LVOC allows researchers from private industry and academia to collaborate with lab personnel on research that often leads to new patents, products, and technology that benefit private industry as well as the larger public.
The area's business and civic leaders have long recognized the value of the two labs to the region's economic success. Together they employ approximately 9,000 people, thousands of whom are scientists, to explore and develop dozens of powerful technologies in a range of research areas, including nuclear energy, the human genome, and high-performance computing.
The concentration of expertise, equipment, and national-security missions has made the labs a powerful force for innovation. But until the LVOC was developed, it was much harder for outside business experts and academic specialists to participate in, or benefit from, collaboration with the labs. As highly secure sites, the process for outsiders to get access to the resources of the labs was formidable and time-consuming.
That changed when the first phase of LVOC opened in 2011. LVOC was meant as a bridge between the labs and the outside world and designed to help boost the country's economic competitiveness by providing greater public access to research and advanced computer programs developed by the labs.
Modeled after research parks, LVOC has less restrictive security than the two labs, which often work on highly classified research. This more open model allows for collaboration with a much wider range of organizations, from industrial partners and think tanks to academic institutions and federal, state, and local agencies.
Stephanie Beasly, Livermore Valley Open Campus Lead, wants the business community to clearly understand that LVOC and the laboratories are open for business. "We are here as a resource to businesses as much as to our national security missions," she says. "The assets and expertise within the laboratories can be applied to challenging, really intractable issues that industry is facing. We are happy to see how we can help."
There are a variety of benefits for companies accepted by LVOC to collaborate with the labs. As officials point out, one benefit is that lab personnel offer deep and broad expertise in multiple disciplines, including advanced computing, physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
Another benefit is access to sophisticated, world-class scientific equipment and facilities that individual businesses and academic institutions simply cannot afford. This may include unique equipment, such as the world's largest laser system, as well as top-performing computers and powerful research tools at the interface of the physical, computational, and biological sciences.
The labs' expertise in working with different groups is perhaps a less known but equally important benefit. As LVOC officials put it, "because the problems we solve stretch beyond a single discipline, we are adept at assembling multidisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, and technical staff experienced in collaboration."
At the official opening of the LVOC's High Performance Computing Innovation Center in July 2011, Congressman Jerry McNerney predicted big benefits from the shifting missions of the two neighboring laboratories. "The Tri-Valley and the Bay Area represent the most innovative corner of the entire world and this collaboration we're seeing today will allow us to maintain that position," McNerney noted. "This will benefit not only our national security but also our local region by creating jobs."
Today it is clear that over the years LVOC has made a powerful contribution to the Tri-Valley economy and beyond. "Perhaps the most important aspect of the labs' relationship with the Tri-Valley is the way that they anchor innovation in the region and help to promote the innovation economy in the Tri-Valley," according to LVOC officials. "Millions of dollars come from the patents and licensing deals that the labs generate, and millions of those dollars stay in the Tri-Valley to promote the technologies and businesses their employees generated."
One of the most recent businesses to come out of the labs is Sandstone Diagnostics, a Livermore-based medical device company that announced in January 2018 that it had obtained $5.8 million of Series A1 funding. The company was created in part by government scientists from Sandia who helped develop Sandia's lab-on-a-disk SpinDx technology.
In the case of Sandstone Diagnostics, the SpinDx technology is helping couples conceive by enabling rapid and private monitoring of male fertility. The SpinDx technology may speed progress in other applications as well, according to lab officials. One promising possibility is using SpinDx to rapidly diagnosis the causes of contamination of algal ponds, which has been a barrier to biofuels development.
There are many ways to work with the labs both via LVOC and independently. They include licensing technology developed at one of the labs for commercial purposes, hiring a team at one of the labs to do research that only one of the labs has the expertise or equipment to do, or creating a true collaboration, which may include getting office space at LVOC so a company's researcher can work closely with their lab counterparts.
The main engagements between the LVOC and companies typically involve some kind of research and development agreement that varies in terms of longevity and intent, according to Rich Rankin, the leader of LLNL's Innovation and Partnerships Office. "The end result could be advice, it could be a paper, it could be code."
IBM, for example, worked with LLNL to develop cardioid, which LVOC officials call "a highly scalable code that replicates the heart's electrical system with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. For the first time, researchers can run whole heart models quickly enough to examine the development and treatment of potentially fatal arrhythmias."
It is an exciting time to work with the labs via LVOC. "We are about to officially open the new Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory over there and something like eleven companies are getting agreements in place to work there," notes Rankin.
The new $10 million, 14,000 square-foot facility includes a large wet lab with a dozen fume hoods to support 3D printing, materials research, chemical work, carbon capture technology, and other research activities can be performed. According to LLNL, the first-of-its-kind facility will have a 5,000-square-foot dry lab housing industrial-size manufacturing machines that include laser powder bed fusion and diode-based metal additive manufacturing systems as well as additional features.
LVOC serves as an amazing resources to the business community. But it also serves another function for the two national laboratories, according to Rankin. "It allows us to attract new employees," he says. "The workforce of the future tends to be mobile, tends to want more unfettered interactions, tends to want to pop into a project and pop out again. LVOC facilitates that kind of interaction."
And if lab employees decide to leave, they often stay in the Tri-Valley area and continue to spark innovation in a cycle that has made the rich, entrepreneurial environment so fertile for so many.
For more information about the Livermore Valley Open Campus, please visit https://lvoc.org/ .