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Lab News -- December 8, 2006

December 8 , 2006

LabNews 12/08/2006PDF (650KB)

Sandia research to focus on early detection of harmful algal blooms

By Mike Janes

Researchers Todd Lane and Victoria VanderNoot have been awarded a research grant to develop a technology to detect deadly toxins from harmful algal blooms (HABs). The funding is provided by the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of New Hampshire.

Todd and Victoria, a molecular biologist and an analytical chemist, respectively, are both in Biosystems Research Dept. 8321 at Sandia/

California. In addressing the HAB problem, they will employ laser-induced fluorescence and other separation methods inherent in Sandia’s µChemLab™ (MicroChemLab) technology.

Along with a small team of Sandia colleagues and external collaborators, they have commenced with the research, which could lead to longer-term funding after the initial “proof of principle” work has been completed.

Harmful algal blooms are widely acknowledged to be a severe coastal resource management issue, adversely impacting virtually every coastal region. Current methods for detecting the poisonous toxins characteristic of the blooms are cumbersome, require either expensive reagents or animal testing, or are unable to quantify toxins — critical information for managing shellfish beds. The technologies under development at Sandia would eliminate these problems.

“Today’s standard detection methods, frankly, are too slow and labor-intensive,” says Todd. “By the time the process is complete, it’s too late — the shellfish beds are already toxic.” The ability to quickly sample organisms low on the food chain, Todd says, can provide an early warning system to help protect communities from exposure to toxins.

Most algae not harmful

Most species of algae are not harmful and actually serve as the energy producers at the depths of the food web. The dense patches (or “blooms”) that sometimes accumulate near the surface of the water, however, can produce potent neurotoxins that are then transferred through the food chain, accumulating in zooplankton and shellfish, eventually harming or even killing marine mammals and humans that consume tainted shellfish.

The Sandia research will focus on enhancing the early-warning capability of detection. It is expected to lay the groundwork for the development of a reliable, cost-effective prototype to simultaneously analyze multiple HAB toxins in phytoplankton and shellfish in the field. Todd and his colleagues will aim to optimize the microseparations process for a subset of relevant toxins, and establish the laboratory-based protocols for sample preparation.

Goal: Develop lightweight devices

The long-term goal, should the initial phase of the Sandia research go as planned, is to develop small, lightweight devices that could be fielded by oceanographers and marine biologists as part of their regular monitoring systems.

In addition to Todd and Victoria from Sandia, collaborators include Donald Anderson, a senior scientist and director of the Coastal Ocean Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; and Gregg Langlois, marine biologist at the California Department of Health Services.

The technologies developed under this effort will be equally well suited to detecting algal toxins in freshwater sources and complement other ongoing research at Sandia. Sandia’s water initiative (www.sandia.gov/water), for example, strives to increase the safety, security, and sustainability of water infrastructure through the development of advanced technologies that create new water supplies, decrease demand through water-use efficiency, and provide decision-informing tools to the institutions responsible for balancing supply and demand. -- Mike Janes

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Jess lives: Latest version of popular productivity-boosting software tool is released for licensing

By Mike Janes and Nancy Garcia

A powerful new version of Sandia’s popular Java rule engine Jess has just been released for licensing.

Jess originated as a minor component of an information security

project, and is now among one of Sandia/California’s most successful intellectual properties.

The programming environment is especially suited to problems that resist being reduced to rote computation and are best described by expert knowledge and “rules of thumb.” Those questions might include: “Is our network under attack?” “Is this document fraudulent?” “How should we schedule our resources?” says the developer, Ernest Friedman-Hill (8964).

Jess has been popular in the finance, insurance, security, transportation, and manufacturing sectors, as well as government and academia.

“Programming with rules allows software to express real-world concepts in a natural, expressive way that helps business and IT professionals collaborate in bringing enterprise applications to life,” says licensing lead Craig Smith (8429). Jess 7.0 includes new tools, improved features, and enhanced performance that allows users to manage and control business rules in an enterprise


Among Jess’s new features is an integrated development environment (IDE) that increases programmer productivity and enhances collaboration. The IDE is based on the award-winning Eclipse™ platform (www.eclipse.org) and features tools for creating, editing, visualizing, monitoring, and debugging rules.

Jess is the only enterprise-capable rule engine to offer both the convenience of an IDE, and an unprecedented level of flexibility and openness. This makes it easy for developers to add the power of heuristic rules to applications that run on everything from handheld devices to enterprise servers. Jess supports the industry-standard JSR94 Java Rule Engine API as well as its own rich interface. Rules can be written both in its own expressive rule language and in XML.

Sandia receives about 25 inquiries a day about this software, which has already been licensed in earlier versions by companies ranging from startups to Fortune 50 companies. Jess (along with the textbook Jess in Action) is also used as a teaching tool at hundreds of universities around the globe.

Binary-only versions of Jess are available on a 30-day trial evaluation basis. Commercial, internal, government, R&D and no-fee academic/student use requires a license. To learn more about Jess, please visit http://herzberg.ca.sandia.gov/jess. -- Mike Janes and Nancy Garcia

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‘Deeply impressed’ DoD official praises Sandia-sponsored homeland security program for teens in Needles, Calif., as best in nation

By Noel Fletcher

The nation’s best homeland security program for high school students: That was how one top Department of Defense official described a unique Sandia-sponsored educational endeavor in which students grapple with answers to realistic life-and-death scenarios.

The one-year educational program was created by John Taylor, Sandia manager of the Integrated Technologies and Systems Strategic Office, for high school students in his hometown area of Needles, Calif. It involved three phases during which students learned about issues for first-responders and homeland security, how to apply emergency plans to three case studies, and an emergency exercise that becomes a national event when a small plane crashes into the Hoover Dam.

“I’ve met with high school students before but this program with Sandia Labs is the best ever,” said Paul McHale, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense at the DoD. “I’ve been deeply impressed by the scenarios and student responses.”

Seventeen-year-old student representatives Emily Blair of River Valley High School in Mohave County, Ariz., and Rolland Hartwick of Needles High School travelled to the Pentagon to present their findings from the emergency exercise to McHale. They were joined by John and two teachers.

What surprised the students most from this innovative learning experience, McHale asked after their presentation. The students said they were surprised by out-of-the-box responses to problem-solving such as an idea for government officials to distribute watermelons to ease a water shortage.

“We’re not creative enough to provide watermelons,” McHale laughed, “but we do provide tankers of water as we did with Hurricane Katrina.”

McHale noted that the DoD must carefully consider what role the US military should play in civilian operations involving homeland security. Terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction is the single most likely character-istic of a situation apt to get a DoD/military response to a homeland-security incident, he added. Otherwise, the DoD is more likely to play a supporting role to state and local first-responders.

McHale recommended that Sandia’s program be extended to other schools and students.

“This program is beneficial to every high school in the nation. The fact is that there are transnational terrorists who seek to do us harm, and given the opportunity, they will use weapons of mass destruction to try to kill Americans in a brutal way as they did on Sept. 11,” he said, adding that anticipating these events is the key to defeating them.

“These are very realistic threats, and I think although it is sobering to consider them, it is also essential that we think realistically not only about the threats we face today, but the kinds of terrorist threats that we will likely face over the next several decades.” -- Stephanie Holinka

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