By Neal Singer
Anyone thinking of traveling light might be interested in packing the world’s smallest chess board — about the diameter of four human hairs — designed by students at Texas Tech. The board comes with micropieces scored with the design of traditional chess figures. Each piece is outfitted with even tinier stubs that allow a microrobotic arm to move them from square to square. Space along the side of the board is available to hold captured pieces.
Those interested as well in personal grooming might want to also pack a pea-sized microbarbershop. Intended to service a single hair, the micro gripper, cutter, moveable mirror, and blow dryer were designed by students at the University of Utah. “Our device is so small that a single misty drop of an Irish drizzle would swamp the scissors and drown the device,” says team advisor Ian Harvey, a professor in mechanical engineering at the university.
A high-spirited contest
Both ideas won this year’s contest for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) for novel and educational categories, respectively, held at Sandia in mid May. The winning teams will get to see their designs enter the real world by being birthed in Sandia’s microfabrication facility, one of the most advanced in the world.
The high-spirited contest, open to institutional members of the Sandia-led MEMS University Alliance program, provides an arena for the nation’s student engineers to hone their skills in designing and using microdevices. Such devices are used to probe biological cells, arrange and operate components of telecommunications and high-tech machinery, and operate many home devices.
The contest helps develop a sense of the maximum and minimum displacement of a micro-object, the amount of force needed to move it, and the degrees of freedom needed for a part to accomplish its preset task.Texas Tech’s chess board is 435 by 435 micrometers. (A human hair is about 100 micrometers in diameter.) Each chess pieces is approximately 50, or half the width of a human hair. The design integrates bidirectional linear drives that enable the movement of pieces longitudinally, a positioning stage with two degrees of freedom, and apparently, the world’s smallest chess board.
The University of Utah’s microbarbershop consists of a microgripper that reaches off the chip to grasp a human hair and holds it in front of an off-chip deployed microbuzzsaw to be cut. Both microtools, driven by a ratcheting actuator, will be observed at a video-enabled station and portrayed on a large video monitor as they move and cut a human hair. Also included are a moveable micromirror, an off-chip micro hair dryer, and an off-chip single-hair “teaser” to complete the playful notion of a barbershop and convey an intuitive sense of relative scale for these tiny machines.
A LITTLE OFF THE TOP - The University of Utah’s microbarbershop has all the components necessary to cut hair - a single hair, that is.
Contributing to Texas Tech’s success were Sahil Oak, Sandesh Rawool, Ganapathy Sivakumar, and Ashwin Vijayasai, says team advisor and electrical engineering professor Tim Dallas.
Leading the Utah effort were Austin Welborn, Brian Baker, Kurtis Ford, Alex Hogan, Ted Kempe, Keng-Min Lin, Charles Fisher, and advisor Ian Harvey.
This year’s contest participants included the Air Force Institute of Technology, the universities of Oklahoma and New Mexico, and Central New Mexico Community College.
Outreach to universities
The MEMS University Alliance is part of Sandia’s outreach to universities to improve engineering education. It is open to any US institution of higher learning. The alliance provides classroom teaching materials and licenses for Sandia’s special SUMMiT V™ design tools at a very reasonable cost. This makes it possible for a university without its own fabrication facilities to develop a curriculum in MEMS. The design competition is an increasing activity within the University Alliance, which now has more than 20 members.
The entire process takes almost nine months. It starts with students developing ideas for a device, followed by creation of an accurate computer model of a design that might work, analysis of the design, and finally, design submission. Sandia’s MEMS experts and university professors review the design and determine the winners.
Sandia’s state-of-the-art MESA fabrication facility then creates parts for each of the entrants. The SUMMiT V™ fabrication process makes MEMS devices with five levels of polysilicon, the most of any standard process, and is especially well-suited for making complex mechanisms such as gear drive trains. The design competition capitalizes on Sandia’s confidence in achieving first-pass fabrication success, which restricts the entire process to a reasonable student timeframe.
Fabricated parts are shipped back to the university students for lengthy tests to determine whether the final product matches the purpose of the original computer simulation.
The University Alliance coordinates with the Sandia-led National Institute for Nano Engineering (NINE), providing additional opportunities for students to self-direct their engineering education, and the Sandia/Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT), a DOE Office of Science center with the most up-to-date nanotechnology tools.
If operators didn’t hear the deafening sounds of heavy fans, motors, pumps, alarms, steam valves popping during testing, water running, and the hiss of steam moving through pipes, that meant something was wrong at Sandia’s steam plant, says Jerry Wright (4842-1), an electrician who worked there for 21 years.
Now, Bldg. 605 has fallen silent and by autumn it will no longer exist.
Officials from the Labs and NNSA celebrated on May 27 the completion of a modern distributed heating system and the start of demolition of the now-obsolete 18,000-square-foot steam plant that has been part of the Labs’ skyline for 60 years.
“It was a big part of my life for a long time,” says Jerry, who was the last Sandian to move out of the building in 2008. “It’s going to be strange to see it gone, but things change and you go on.”
The demolition of the obsolete facility marks the completion of the NNSA’s $60 million Heating System Modernization program at Sandia, which is part of NNSA’s Facilities and Infrastructure Recapitalization Program (FIRP). FIRP is aimed at eliminating or modernizing substandard facilities across the nation’s nuclear weapons enterprise and reducing a large maintenance backlog that developed during the 1990s.
The red brick building, which rises to four stories on its northern side, was designed by Black & Veatch of Kansas City, Mo., and the US Army Corps of Engineers in Albuquerque, according to records provided by corporate historian Rebecca Ullrich (9532). The plant also once heated the surrounding military base.
When the plant was first built, the operators lit the fires with a torch and monitored the flames by looking at them, Jerry says. Upgrades to that system came along in 1960 and 1994, he says.
In its day, the plant was known for its efficiency. In 1960, during a cold snap its production reached a peak rate of water converted to steam per hour of more than 180,000 pounds, according to a Lab News article written that year.
At times, oil consumption reached nearly 35,000 gallons per day to heat the Laboratories and other facilities on the base, according to the Lab News article.
Because the plant had to run around the clock, the operators were on call after regular work hours to respond to emergencies at the Labs, including intrusion alarms, fire alarms, vehicles stuck in winter snow storms, stuck elevators, and many others, Jerry says.
Heroes worked here, often unsung
“If anything, they were heroes. They kept this place warm and comfortable. They went out on calls at night, and sometimes they had no idea what was out there,” Jerry says.
Those who worked in the plant were proud that it could switch between fuel oil and natural gas, Jerry says. Sometimes during cold weather the local utility asked the Labs to switch so there would be enough fuel for Albuquerque hospitals and homes. At other times, the plant switched when fuel shortages arose to save money.
Deferred maintenance costs and equipment corrosion issues that made the steam plant inefficient led to a 2004 decision to replace the aging centralized heating system with local boilers placed in buildings or groups of buildings in Tech Area 1, which has now been completed, says Jim Smith, project manager of the Heating Systems Modernization effort.
“I love steam boilers. Any time you take something down, there’s always going to be that nostalgia, but by the same token it’s the right thing to do,” Jim says.
The new heating system will save nearly 12 million gallons of water a year. It is about 85 percent efficient, compared to the 65 percent efficiency rating for the old boilers. It will reduce heating system energy usage and pollutants by at least 60 percent, Jim says.
With the new heating system, emissions of nitrous oxides will be reduced from about 44 tons a year to nine tons a year. Carbon monoxide will decline from nearly 33 tons a year on the old system to 15.6 tons a year with the modern system. And, sulfur dioxide will fall from 14.5 tons a year to 0.4, Jim says.
“From a pollution standpoint, what we’re doing with the local boilers is way, way better,” he says.
About 80 percent of the work to modernize the heating system was completed by small businesses, one of which grew to become a large business while it was working on the project, Jim says.
Over three years during the summers, these companies converted 47 buildings from the centralized system to local boilers. They installed 106 hot water boilers, five steam boilers, new natural gas connections, and meters, Jim says.
Sixty percent of the materials removed from buildings to prepare for the installation of the local boilers were recycled, he says. Significant additional recycling by the contractor is anticipated during the final demolition work.
The building will come down over the next six to eight weeks and all the debris, most of which will be recycled, should be removed from the site by the end of September, Jim says. -- Heather Clark
On May 19, Sandia’s Women’s Connection (SWC) honored 20 young women from high schools in the Livermore area for their achievements in math and science. Now in its 19th year, the Math & Science Awards event is intended to both encourage the recipients to continue studying math and science and to create mentoring opportunities.
Pat Smith (8500), director of Site Operations and director champion of the SWC, gave the welcome address.
“The women and men of Sandia believe strongly that you, this year’s awardees, are our future,” she said. “We congratulate you on your achievements and hope you will continue to pursue your interests in math and science through college and beyond. I also hope your interactions with the Sandians here tonight will give you a glimpse of some exciting career paths.”
Brooke Harmon (8621), a virologist, spoke about being the first person in her family to attend college. Valerie Peters (8621), who specializes in systems analysis for homeland security and energy systems, shared her experience struggling with, but eventually excelling in, a difficult math course as an undergraduate at University of California, Berkeley.
Each spring, the SWC sends out nomination forms to 10 area high schools. Math and science teachers, as well as principals and counselors from each school, nominate two young women who have done exemplary work in the areas of math and science. The award is given to high school juniors so they can list it on college and scholarship applications.
Cathy Branda (8621), chair of the Math & Science Awards, shared some of what was written in the nominating statements from the schools. “It is clear that you all are extremely bright, motivated, hardworking, and high-achieving students, most if not all in the top 5 percent of your class,” she said. “But there was another very common theme in this year’s nominating statements that I want to mention — you are leaders in your class who reach out to support your peers.”
Each awardee was paired with a Sandia host working in the field of math or science, with the hope that the Sandia women can mentor the high school students as they continue in their academic and professional careers. This year’s hosts were Donna Djordjevich (8116), Julie Fruetel (8125), Patricia Gharagozloo (8365), Brooke Harmon, Linda Houston (8530), Tammy Kolda (8966), Paula Krauter (6375), Jane Ann Lamph (8243), Valerie Peters (8114), and Jeanne Stachowiak (8125).
In the last two years, the event has also focused on internship opportunities at Sandia. Last summer, Prihatha Narasimmaraj (Foothill High) and Mary Shi (Tracy High), both recipients of the 2009 Outstanding Achievement in Science award, interned at Sandia with Darryl Sasaki (8621) and Cathy, respectively, and are returning this year. Chelsea Finn of Amador High School, recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Achievement in Math award, will also be at Sandia this summer, interning with Diana Roe (8621).
Mary is again interning with Cathy and the two are already developing a mentor/ mentee relationship. Cathy wrote one of Mary’s recommendations to Yale, her alma mater.
“For me, having mentors was key,” says Cathy. In college she didn’t really know what she wanted to do until one of her professors suggested she apply for a Pew Fellowship for intercollegiate summer research.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could be a scientist, I simply hadn’t thought of myself in that way before. It really planted the seed in my mind about what I could become and reach for,” she says.
Kathleen Siwicki, the Swarthmore professor she worked with as a Pew fellow, encouraged her to attend graduate school. Cathy earned her PhD in genetics from the Yale University School of Medicine and is now researching detection methodologies relevant to biodefense.
“Mentors showed me the path that led me here,” she says. “I want to make sure others have that opportunity too.”
The SWC’s Math & Science Awards program is organized by the Math & Science Awards Committee, composed of Donna Blevins (8953), Marilyn Hawley (8116), Seanna Crouch (8942), Deneille Wiese-Smith (8129), as well as Cathy and Pat.
The recipients of the 19th annual Math & Science Awards are:
Amador High School, Pleasanton
Elizabeth Fromson – math
Omsri Bharat – science
Dublin High School, Dublin
Tess Schoenthal – math
Michelle Lee – science
East Union High School, Manteca
Hermila Mendoza – math
Kayla Tirnetta – science
Foothill High School, Pleasanton
Annie Wei – math
Jessica Xu – science
Granada High School, Livermore
Amanda McNary – math
Erika Carlson – science
Livermore High School, Livermore
Cynthia Jing – math
Rachelle Hamblin – science
Manteca High School, Manteca
Michelle Sinclair – math
Dallas Mould – science
Merrill F. West High School, Tracy
Gabriella Herrera – math
Ashley Vergel de Dios – science
Sierra High School, Tracy
Lisa Thomas – math
Jasmine Currimao – science
Tracy High School, Tracy
Qiran Xie – math
Effie Zhou – science