skip to: onlinetools | mainnavigation | content | footer
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Engineering the Information Age:

The Founding Fathers


As part of its observation of National Engineers Week (Feb. 18-24), the Lab Newsasked Sandia engineer and local historian John Taylor to write about some of the notable contributions engineers have made to our way of life.

John chose to write about the Information Age, but from a unique perspective: In his story, John tells us about the founding fathers of the age, beginning with a most significant breakthrough by a eunuch in the court of Chinese Han Dynasty Emperor Ho Ti almost 2,000 years ago.

Click on the image above to open a the PDF file that tells the story. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

SANDIA LAB NEWS

Lab News -- February 16, 2007

February 16, 2007

LabNews 02/16/2007PDF (650KB)

Hey, kid, you stole my dog: Workshop on stolen dog interests students in science

By Neal Singer

Adults wonder how to get kids interested in science. One way, Tim Boyle (1815) and his volunteers have found, is to collect them in a room and accuse them of stealing your dog. You have their immediate, undivided attention. Then teach the students to use science to find who really did the deed.

While the approach is not systematic teaching but merely the arousal of interest in scientific techniques, it is still somewhat stunning to experience the effect achieved by Boyle’s group, one classroom at a time. There’s nothing grandiose about it. They won’t save the world and certainly won’t get rich. But Thursday morning two weeks ago, 25 fifth graders from Bellehaven Elementary School came into an impromptu classroom — the meeting room in the Advanced Materials Laboratory on University Blvd. — sat down on the wall-to-wall rug, and learned that Tim’s dog Beaux — yes, Beaux the Magic Chemistry Dog — had been dognapped. And that Tim thinks one of the kids sitting in front of him took his pet. And Tim isn’t going to do the purported chemistry magic show until his dog is found.

Who’d do such a thing?

Of course it’s all in fun. The kids laugh and protest. They have their teacher Ms. Jewell and a few parents in the room for backup; they’re not scared.

Tim says he can’t believe any of the adults who work in the building would do such a thing. But wait, he says: He has a fingerprint he believes was left by the perpetrator. He challenges the kids to take a fingerprint test. Interested, they agree. Led by Tim’s assistant and event manager, postdoc Bernadette Hernandez-Sanchez (1815), the volunteer staff provide each kid a pencil to blacken a square on a piece of paper. The kids press their finger on the blackness, place a piece of Scotch tape over their fingertips, and press that tape onto another piece of paper. Presto, each child has created a fingerprint.

The game is afoot.

Tim and his assistants — drawn from a pool of more than 60 willing volunteers internal and external to Sandia — project images on a screen to show how to match one set to another — the whorls, the dips, and other patterns. Do any of the students’ prints resemble that of the perpetrator? No? Then who stole the dog?

And now the kids are off, involved in a game in which there is no competition to be best of show, as in science fairs, or the best at solving problems in a particular field for a competition. What they are going to experience — fully — and only — is using science to find the answer to a problem that interests them.

Why? “Fourth grade, fifth grade is where kids make their career choices,” Tim tells the Lab News. “They say, ‘Oh, I can’t do math or chemistry,’ and they’re gone forever. Here, at a crucial moment in their lives, they get a chance to see that science is useful and fun. And that they’re good at it.”

For Galileo, it was inclined planes. For James Clerk Maxwell, it was wires, electricity, and magnetism. For Tim, it was fireworks and how they produced the varied colors of their displays. For these kids, still very young, Tim and his staff create an artificial interest, a la the TV program “CSI,” which uses intensive scientific investigation to solve crimes. Tim credits Bernadette, along with Sandia student intern Christina Baros (1815) and Saskia King (2701), for first creating a “CSI”-type program used by Sandia’s outreach MANOS program for middle school students, and then helping modify the program for elementary grades.

Tim shows pictures of four adults on a wall screen. These are the only people who were in the building at the time of the ’nap. One was the elementary school principal, Ms. Hamilton.

“That’s her!” the kids say excitedly. “She’s guilty!” It didn’t help Hamilton’s credibility to be the only suspect portrayed with a skeleton standing behind her.

“So, you think you can tell from a picture who’s guilty?” says Tim.

Energetic but indecisive

Now he shows a description of the habits of the four suspects. Some like dogs, some don’t. Some like ice cream, some lemonade. Some wear lab coats, some do not. The kids vote for guilt by a show of hands. They are energetic but, as a group, now indecisive.

Tim, sitting in the back of the room, raises his hand for each suspect, and Bernadette calls him on it.

“To me, everyone’s guilty,” he says, “until we prove otherwise.” Dressed in jeans and running shoes, a Spy-vs.-Spy T-shirt visible under his black corduroy jacket, with dark shades and thick dark hair combed forward over his forehead, he could be a walk-on scientist on the mathematically oriented “Numb3rs” TV crime show.

“So, from habits and appearances, you can’t tell?” says Tim. “Okay, let’s do some science.”

The kids, aided by Bernadette and other volunteers, inspect the “crime scene” — a collection of objects that seem to have nothing visually to do with each other, side by side: purple-colored water, the ransom note — “I have your dog! If you want to see him again, then you have to take Beaux out of the chemistry magic show” — a white spilled liquid, other oddities. “What do you see that’s strange, that’s a little unusual?” Tim asks.

“Purple water, right? What is that and why is it there? Is there anything that could lead us to the dognapper?” He points out other tiny bits of material that look as though they weren’t part of the original décor of the office.

Now the kids are broken up into groups. Each goes to a table where they watch or perform a particular kind of analysis. A pH test determines that one liquid found in a cup was acid-based, suggesting a drink enjoyed by two of the suspects. A chromatological ink analysis finds the ransom note was written by a gel pen. “Who uses a gel pen?” A nanotechnology lab (which takes some explaining) finds that nanoparticles of gold, treated with certain solvents, becomes purple in the water. “Who among the suspects do we know was working with gold nanoparticles?”

At the end of the analysis, the kids file back into the conference room, sit back on the floor, and line up suspects and attributes with analysis of the clues.

“We match the evidence to the suspects,” says Tim.

The guilty party, as portrayed unassailably or at least most probably by science was big, ostensibly friendly and even fatherly-appearing manager Bill Hammetter (1815).

“Give it up, Bill,” says one kid’s voice.

“Why’d you do it, Bill?” the others shout.

“I wanted Beaux to be my dog and I wanted my cat to be used in the show,” Bill confesses as he returns Beaux to the room.

The kids go off to celebrate the successful solution of the case by creating liquid-nitrogen-cooled ice cream.

Having fun, learning about science

The show has hidden costs. Someone needs to pay for a school bus to transport the kids and substitute teachers to stay with the kids who, for one reason or another, can’t come. There are supplies.

Tim and Co. figure they can handle the fourth and fifth graders from two schools in a week during winter break, and the same in spring. That means the team can excite kids in four schools a year. Tim tells the kids they can use science in jobs like engineering and chemistry and even firefighting. He keeps statistics on many positive results arising from the three-hour event — more students turned on to science; teachers, administrators, parents all happy with the project and more aware of Sandia; the possibility of a larger student base for Sandia among local students over the years.

But Tim needs a grant to continue this effective program.

Can he get it? He doesn’t have the buzzwords; he doesn’t mention “strengthening the syllabus” or “fortifying the science experience.”

The kids are just having fun learning about science. And, oh, yes, finding Beaux, the Magic Chemistry Dog. -- Neal Singer

Top of page


Sandia searches for unexploded ordnance

By Michael Padilla

It’s a local twist to a nationwide problem: potential unexploded ordnance (UXO) at old bombing ranges.

Several intact 250-pound bombs were recently discovered during a construction project at the old Kirtland bombing range near Double Eagle Airport on Albuquerque’s West Mesa. Since then the bombs have been safely removed from the area.

A complete site survey was conducted after excavation of a new sewer line turned up the 250-pound bombs. Expansion of the Eclipse Aviation facility near Double Eagle Airport has also necessitated adding water and power lines. The survey of the Kirtland site, one of the national Wide Area Assessment (WAA) sites, was initiated and funded by DoD’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP).

However, the main result of the survey by this team showed no evidence of any target areas south of the runways.

“This southern portion of the site completely encompasses the area in which Eclipse Aviation is expanding, so good news for them,” says Sean McKenna (6313), project team leader. “We did identify several other potential target areas north of the airport; some of these turned out to be geological noise such as magnetic rocks. About three of them turned out to be legitimate potential ordnance target areas.”

Site characterization

Sandia, along with members from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), used lidar (light detection and ranging) imagery to remotely characterize the Kirtland site. The imagery revealed several features indicative of UXO targets. The lidar provided a high-resolution topographic map of the area and focused on old targets such as concentric circles, a ship outline, and other areas of interest, Sean says.

The entire site was characterized using two complementary geophysical techniques: magnetometers and electromagnetic induction. The techniques were run simultaneously on a specially designed trailer pulled by a dune buggy. This technique, done by Geo-Centers (now SAIC), is known as Vehicular Simultaneous Electromagnetic Induction and Magnetometer System or (VSEMS). In addition, a helicopter-mounted magnetometer was used to survey the entire site, including some areas south of the Double Eagle runways that were not surveyed with the VSEMS.

“These geophysical tools don’t have the discrimination power to identify UXO versus scrap metal, but they do a good job of identifying locations with relatively larger concentrations of metal in the ground,” says Sean. “Typically, these areas are the target locations we’re interested in.”

Project conception

Research on the development of the project techniques was funded by SERDP beginning in 2000. Work funded by SERDP focuses on basic research. The ESTCP subsequently funds initial field application and verification of technologies developed under SERDP funding.

Sandia received ESTCP funds for initial “field” testing that involved application of algorithms to simulated sites; no field sites had been adequately characterized and excavated to a point where they could be used for validation. Characterization of the simulated sites was successful.

ESTCP recently organized a set of wide-area technology assessments and demonstrations. These wide-area studies involved testing and evaluating a number of UXO technologies at a given field site. The field sites for the wide-area assessment have been chosen based on visibility and urgency of the need to remediate the land. Urgency is generally driven by someone else wanting to use the land.

Sandia has been involved with various WAA research sites including the Pueblo site in southeast Colorado; Toussaint River, an underwater site in Lake Erie off the north shore of Ohio; the Victorville site in southern California; and the Camp Beale site north of Sacramento.

“The reason for the different sites across the country is to test the different technologies on various topography, soils, site areas, expected number of target areas, and anomaly densities,” says Sean.

Overall, as much as 20 million acres of land in the US — that’s about half the size of Maine —could possibly contain UXO. The unexploded ordnance is left over from wars as well as from decades of live-fire training and practice in the US. “UXO presents a discrete and acute health hazard, but not the same as the land-mine problem,” says Barry Roberts (6313), a member of the team. The Kirtland site was used for training during and after WWII.

In addition, data collected from known historic target sites at Laguna and Isleta pueblos have been used for development of various research techniques. The data sets, funded by SERDP, were mainly collected to test the helicopter-mounted magnetometer being built by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “We also used the data for the statistical algorithm development work, but did not complete any reports regarding the two sites,” Sean says.

Work in progress

Currently the team is writing up final reports for the Pueblo, Victorville, and Kirtland sites. The Sandia team has completed work on the conceptual model for Camp Beale and worked with the Corps of Engineers and PNNL to come up with a transect design for that site. The ground magnetometer surveys will begin there this month.

This year, ESTCP has funded Sandia and PNNL to develop a training course for state and federal regulators and contractors involved with site characterization and cleanup using these methods. The first course will be offered in August. -- Michael Padilla

Top of page


There’s gold (plating) in them thar hills (of Livermore)!

By Patti Koning

Often, it’s the things behind the scenes that are crucial, like the airbags hidden beneath the dashboard in your car or the hydrogen getter that keeps your waterproof flashlight from exploding. The Center 8700 materials manufacturing labs have been in the business of making hidden — yet essential — devices since Sandia has been in Livermore.

The materials labs boast a full range of capabilities. The plating shop, plastics lab, and composites shop churn out devices of practically any size, shape, material, or function. In addition to manufacturing, Sandia researchers use the capabilities of the materials labs to look for new solutions to science and engineering problems.

“At Sandia, we always do things a little differently. Sometimes it’s because of classification, sometimes because off-the-shelf products just don’t fit our needs,” says Tim Shepodd (8778). “We need a strong scientific and manufacturing base to make things happen, and the materials manufacturing labs are a key element of this capability.”

Tim is manager of Materials Chemistry Dept. 8778. The department’s plating shop recently had a breakthrough in the development of gold-plated items.

“We’ve hit the gold standard on gold plating,” Tim says. “We’re making devices with emissivity that matches commercial calibration standards.”

Low emissivity requires a fine grain structure. The plating baths for the ultrafine grain-size gold were developed for the LIGA program and now enable plating for heat flow control devices.

While gold plating is common with simple shapes — think of fireplace doors or jewelry — applying gold to Sandia geometries while maintaining uniform low emissivities is a challenge. The breakthrough came in collaboration with Gas Transfer Systems Dept. 8224. In terms of controlling heat-flow, Sandia has taken gold plating to the limits of physics.

The plastics lab at Sandia/California creates a full range of materials in polymer science. The lab’s capabilities in foam production range from energy-absorbing devices to structural materials; some are strong enough for tools, and others for lightweight materials, like a surfboard core. (TufFoam®, developed in the plastics lab by researcher LeRoy Whinnery, has received a great deal of public attention for its applicability to the surfboard “blank” industry.)

Foam, in fact, shows up in a lot of places where you might not expect it. There are foams sandwiched in some armor plating for blast mitigation and shock isolation, for instance. Foam has also proven to be an excellent means of large-scale decontamination of physical structures, as demonstrated in Sandia’s licensed foam technology.

If you own a waterproof flashlight, there’s a good chance it is embedded with a device that originated in the Materials Chemistry department. A Sandia-licensed hydrogen getter, developed by the plastics lab staff, is now used by a major battery manufacturer in millions of flashlights every year. This getter, while small in size, is a crucial safety feature.

Environmental advances in batteries eliminated most of the toxic mercury, making batteries greener, but created a problem of hydrogen buildup, especially in sealed waterproof devices. If enough hydrogen builds up, the gases can explode. The Sandia-invented getter effectively scavenges undesired hydrogen, thus eliminating the hazardous properties of trapped hydrogen.

More than 10 million of these getters have been produced in the last 10 years and are found worldwide in commercial products.

The plastics lab also supports hydrogen getters for the stockpile and provides rigid foam for fixing components within devices. Just as the components of a printed circuit board are fixed together, the internal “guts” of weapons systems are potted to prevent damage to crucial elements.

Another important lab at Sandia/California is the composites lab, which is capable of producing a full range of composites structures. A recent, significant composite is TEPIC, a tooling material that won an R&D 100 award in 2005.

The characteristics of TEPIC — high-temperature stability, low cost, and high strength, to name a few — make it ideal for processing advanced composites. TEPIC solves a common manufacturing difficulty, replacing composite parts when tooling no longer exists or only the old, possibly broken part remains. The casting characteristics of TEPIC permit the fabrication of tooling directly from an existing structure. The dimensional and feature fidelity of the resulting mold is sufficient to permit the use of the mold with minimal additional machining.

The production of composites and foams sounds very messy, but all these labs are designed for minimal environmental impact. The plating shop sits on a big catch pan, which collects all the waste water for recycling. Most discarded paper, metal, and empty reagent containers are also recycled. “The goal is to impact the environment as little as possible,” says Tim. -- Patti Koning

Top of page