Sandia Labs News Releases

Innovation Celebration spotlights teamwork between science and business

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A kick in the teeth got Delano Romero thinking about mouth guards.

An Albuquerque martial artist, Romero was sparring in Brazilian jiu-jitsu when his mouth took a hit. His over-the-counter mouth guard didn’t do its job, and his teeth fractured. Romero decided to develop a better mouth guard, started a business, Albuquerque Delicate Dentistry, and worked through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) Program to perfect his idea.

With Sandia Labs' help, Albuquerque martial artist Delano Romero and his wife, dentist Vesna Delic, developed a mouth guard that can absorb the toughest punches. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program). Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Albuquerque Delicate Dentistry was one of 340 small businesses in 27 counties that participated during 2011 in NMSBA, a public-private partnership among Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the state of New Mexico that connects small business owners with scientists and engineers who give their companies technical assistance. The program provided $4.6 million worth of help last year.

Ten projects that delivered outstanding innovations through the program in 2011 will be honored at NMSBA’s annual Innovation Celebration on May 1 at the Encantado Resort in Tesuque.

“NMSBA has been bringing small businesses together with scientists and engineers from Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories for more than a decade. These collaborations have resulted not only in successful innovations, but also jobs and economic growth,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Sandia’s Technology and Economic Development Department.  “I love being able to recognize some of the success stories at our annual Innovation Celebration.”

Albuquerque Delicate Dentistry was among the projects recognized. Many athletes don’t wear mouth guards because they are bulky, uncomfortable and make it hard to breathe. Romero and his wife, Albuquerque dentist Vesna Delic, researched how custom mouth guards could be improved and used more widely but found little information or industry standards. They applied to NMSBA and were teamed with James McElhanon, an organic chemist at Sandia.

They had two questions: What is the best material for shock absorption? How thick should the ideal mouth guard be?

McElhanon tested and analyzed a variety of materials and helped Romero identify the best one for a mouth guard and worked out its ideal thickness. “As a result of working with NMSBA, Albuquerque Delicate Dentistry now makes custom-fit mouth guards that are lightweight, strong, shock absorptive and even customizable with color and design,” said Romero, who hopes to expand his product line into commercially available over-the-counter mouth guards and other protective gear.

Other  projects that will be recognized at the Innovation Celebration include:

  • Bruce McCormick of SAVSU Technologies worked with Sandia on a solar thermal ice-making product. The Santa Fe company plans to deliver life-saving vaccines worldwide in storage containers that use only solar energy to keep temperatures low.
  • Sandia researchers helped Musicode Innovations of Taos create a state-of-the-art design for a musical instrument based on Musical Instrument Digital Interface technology.
  • Pueblo of Zia is working to develop and export renewable energy in a project that aligns culture and values with economic goals. LANL helped the pueblo with site assessments, energy transmission and distribution system access and economic analysis of energy alternatives.
  • LANL collaborated with Herbs, Etc. of Santa Fe to develop a scientifically based standard for microbe levels in its herbal products.

Mouth guards by Albuquerque Delicate Dentistry have customized colors and designs. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program). Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

More detailed information on all 10 award winners is available upon request.

Since its inception, NMSBA has provided 1,876 small businesses with $29.8 million worth of research hours and materials. The program has helped create and retain nearly 2,317 New Mexico jobs at an average salary of about $38,000, increase small companies’ revenues by $107.6 million and decrease their operating costs by $63.6 million. These companies have invested $34.9 million in other New Mexico goods and services and received $40.9 million in new funding and financing.

For further information about NMSBA, companies may call Genaro Montoya at (505) 284-0625 or visit

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Nancy Salem,, (505) 844-2739