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Lab News -- February 25, 2011

February 25, 2011

LabNews - February 25, 2011PDF (2.3 Mb)

Pete V. Domenici National Security Innovation Center

By Bill Murphy

Sandia honors former senator for years of unparalleled support

In an outpouring of affection and appreciation, an audience of enthusiastic Sandians, along with elected officials and representatives from NNSA and the community, gathered last week in Sandia’s Tech Area 1 to honor the service of former US Sen. Pete Domenici.


BUILDING A LEGACY — In a quiet moment amid the festive hubbub of the day, former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici pauses in front of the building named in his honor. Domenici, joined by members of his family, received plaudits from Sandia and NNSA for his long-time support for the nuclear weapons program and NNSA’s national security enterprise. (Photos by Randy Montoya)

In recognition of his decades of advocacy and support for the role the national laboratories play in protecting the nation’s security, officials at Sandia rededicated the still relatively new Weapon Integration Facility building as the Pete V. Domenici National Security Innovation Center.

With the long-serving, now retired senator and members of his family looking on, Sandia Labs Director Paul Hommert said, “Today is an extra special day because a visionary leader, a steadfast supporter, a dear friend is going to be honored by Sandia for Sandians and for people throughout our state and nation. Henceforth, the Weapons Integration Facility of the MESA complex at Sandia National Laboratories will be known as the Pete V. Domenici National Security Innovation Center. . . .”

‘You believed in us’

“Sen. Domenici, by dedicating this building to you, we are celebrating your long-term vision for the security of our nation, your vision for a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent; your vigorous push intended to stimulate creativity and innovation; your staunch belief in sharing the knowledge with industry, universities, and other partners; your genuine delight at the advancements of science and engineering that would ultimately benefit the local and national economy. To a great extent, the entire MESA complex came into being because you believed in us. You asked us to demonstrate what we could do and what was needed in order to carry out our mission, and then you transformed a vision into reality for the benefit of our country and the world.

“Sen. Domenici, in your typical unassuming way, you once told us, ‘You do your best, and I’ll do what I can.’ It is now our turn to say to you, ‘We did our best, but you did the very best,’ and for that, we thank you.”

In his own remarks, Domenici connected with his audience with the same easy and distinctive style that made him a perennial favorite at Sandia whenever he conducted one of his almost annual colloquia during his years as a US senator. Domenici reiterated his conviction that the national laboratories have a vital role to play in securing the nation’s future.

Grateful for support

Don Cook, NNSA’s deputy administrator for Defense Programs, also spoke of Domenici’s efforts on behalf of the national laboratories.

“In the same week we released a budget that provides the resources to invest in NNSA’s future and implement the president’s agenda, we have the opportunity to honor one of the true champions of investing in the people, the science and engineering capabilities, and the facilities that underpin our nuclear security,” Cook said. “We are all grateful for support we at NNSA received from Sen. Pete Domenici, and for his lasting commitment to modernizing the nation’s nuclear security enterprise.”

Domenici, Cook, and Paul were joined by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and by representatives from the offices of Reps. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

The dedication ceremony took place at the southeast corner of Sandia’s MESA complex, of which the Pete V. Domenici building is a key facility. MESA stands for Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications. Domenici was a long-time champion and ardent supporter of the MESA complex, and played a key role in securing funding for the best-of-class microsystems research, development and fabrication complex.

The Domenici Center houses 350 Sandia staff, most of whom work on weapon subsystem engineering and modeling and simulation or engineering sciences. -- Bill Murphy

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Explosives experts blowing the lid off traditional ETD technology

By Renee Deger

For many, explosives detection these days brings to mind fuzzy images of air travelers and long lines at the airport. But the serious hunt continues for better tools to detect explosives and the expanding range of compounds that can be used as explosives, with veteran Sandians creating more precise and elegant solutions for detection.


Explosive detection specialist Chuck Rhykerd snaps into place the metal screen at the heart of the next-generation explosive trace detection technology under development. (Photo by Randy Montoya) )

Sandia’s Contraband Detection Dept. 6633, a key contributor to the aviation and border security programs in the International, Homeland and Nuclear Security Strategic Management Unit, is working on the next generation of explosives detectors. Their work significantly advances existing explosive trace detection (ETD) technology and elevates their ability to help secure borders and transportation systems.

Though much of the recent attention on explosives screening at airports has emphasized the millimeter-wave imaging technologies for bulk detection of explosives, the use of ETD machines has expanded in the past year. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced last year that it was purchasing 1,200 ETD machines to add to the 7,000 already in use in US airports. TSA screeners use trace detection technologies to look for the wispy residue of explosives left accidentally during the bomb-making process. They typically examine a person’s hands, shoes, hair, clothing, or baggage.

Working on a project for DOE, the Contraband Detection group is building a better ETD machine that will increase the number of detectable compounds. The current project builds on the group’s history of using preconcentration techniques to improve the chances for a detector to find explosives.

The result of the new research will be a more powerful and precise instrument for guiding first responders, customs officials, border guards, and others in their search for hidden danger in innocuous-looking containers or clinging to seemingly innocent people.

‘Reliable, useful and robust’

“Our aim is for this technology to be useful in the field,” says Charles (Chuck) Rhykerd Jr., (6633), a lead researcher on the project who is also the principal investigator for a related Laboratory Directed Research Development (LDRD) endeavor (see story at right). “We’re struggling with getting tools out into the field that are reliable, useful, and robust, taking into account the ideal size, weight, and performance for someone on the move as well as the challenges they face.”

The basis for Sandia’s ETD innovation is a heated metal screen and a process called temperature-stepped desorption. Currently, commercial trace detection technologies that use heat apply a small blast of heated air to a cloth swab that was rubbed on a suspect surface such as a briefcase, a shipping container, a truck bed, or a person’s hands or clothes. The heat causes explosive compounds to detach from the swab; a vacuum sucks the explosive particles into an ion mobility spectrometer, where they’re ionized and those charged molecules are then recorded.

Part of the problem with this approach is that explosive compounds compete for ionization loads, with some grabbing a greater charge than others. The ion mobility spectrometer interprets the ionization loads like a smoke detector that goes off whether it’s sensing a steamy shower or a candle-fueled curtain fire; it reports an imposing presence but it cannot differentiate the actual cause.

Replacing the cotton swab with a metal screen and the single blast of heat with a steady increase in temperature over time, creates a more differentiated environment for the compounds. The result is that different compounds, desorbing at different temperatures, lift off the screen and enter the chamber at different times, which then affects how they’re ionized and ultimately, how they’re interpreted. The process, which involves several new patents, was designed for and will be housed in commercially available ETD units. However, it builds on more than twenty years of trace explosives detection R&D, the kind of work that helps define Sandia as a national laboratory.

“This is part of an ongoing dialogue about the ability to detect broader ranges of compounds,” Chuck says. “With this project, we’re seeking ways to better utilize existing methods of detecting explosives.” -- Renee Deger

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Global Security team launches new Mideast genie

By Renee Deger

Even in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, nuclear energy is seen as a go-to technology. That’s the conclusion experts in the United Arab Emirates came to in 2008 as they considered the demands their expanding economy would place on long-term energy capacity. Nuclear energy, they decided, must be considered a critical element in the UAE energy supply mix to meet projected demand.


RESPONSIBLE NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT — Div. 6000 VP Jill Hruby signs a memorandum of understanding with Raymond Juzaitis, head of the nuclear engineering program at Texas A&M University, left, and Tod Laursen, president of the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in Abu Dhabi, that establishes the Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute. (Photo by Scott Struve)

And the UAE wasn’t alone in its thinking; it wasn’t long before a handful of other Middle Eastern nations signaled their interest in nuclear energy as well.

Sandia’s Amir Mohagheghi (6821), who travels to the region extensively, had seen this coming. The nuclear scientist began to sketch out ideas for establishing a responsible nuclear energy culture in the region to ensure that proper safety, safeguards, and security policies were adopted along with the technology.

Nearly three years later, the most visible milestone in the program that eventually unfolded around Amir’s ideas was achieved in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The Gulf Nuclear Energy Infrastructure Institute (GNEII — pronounced “genie”) opened last Sunday with a pilot class of 11 professionals and the signing, by Div. 6000 VP Jill Hruby, of the official agreement naming Sandia an institute sponsor. GNEII is a cornerstone development in the global nuclear security initiatives under the International, Homeland, and Nuclear Security Strategic Management Unit, which Jill oversees.

“The opening of the institute represented more than just the hard work and long hours by the team to make this idea a reality. It is also a first major step forward in the safe and responsible expansion of an energy source more and more nations are finding compelling to ensure sustainable economic growth,” Amir says.

GNEII represents a three-way sponsorship by Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University of Science Technology and Research, Sandia, and the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute (NSSPI) at Texas A&M University. Recognizing the value of such an institute almost immediately, the government of the United Arab Emirates and Khalifa University signed on to serve as host. Financial sponsorship of GNEII comes from Khalifa University, NNSA’s Office of Nonproliferation and International Security (NA-24), and the Department of State’s Office of Partnership for Nuclear Security. The Texas A&M connection came via Adam Williams (6812), the GNEII project lead. A Texas A&M graduate, Adam was intrigued by Amir’s proposals and signed on in mid-2008 to assist in the effort. As he began to understand the project even more, it became clear to him that his alma mater would be a terrific project partner on this side of the globe.

Three core principles

Adam, who participated in many of the exploratory conversations throughout the Middle East, says the GNEII team started out with three core principles that had to be met for the project to be a success:

  1. Demand-driven — Regional governments and institutions had to support this program financially and with encouragement;
  2. Indigenous — The program would have to transition to local control within five years; and,
  3. Regional — Professionals from across the Middle East would be able to participate in the program regardless of where the physical institute was based.

            “Nuclear energy programs are complex and there are many steps to establishing a responsible nuclear program,” Adam says. ”Among the local ranks in the Middle East, few understood all facets. Our goal is to provide a solid start for a comprehensive, complete, and coherent introduction to a responsible nuclear energy program so the idea of a ‘Middle Eastern nuclear energy program’ won’t keep people up at night.”

The idea took off like a rocket, and the biggest stumbling block in establishing GNEII was balancing the UAE’s desired aggressive pace of development with the realities of conducting a complex program. Adam says he spent most of 2010 traveling to and from the Middle East — as well as around the US — advertising and marketing the program as well as discussing the curriculum, the logistics, the student enrollment, the management and oversight structure, and other operational project details.

While the work was daunting, the project represented significant new opportunities for nuclear energy education, Adam says. In the US — and in other more mature nuclear energy programs — safety, safeguards, and security represent discrete disciplines and it’s sometimes a challenge to convince specialists to work together. Developing a brand-new program from the ground up was a chance to build awareness and integration of these disciplines into the foundation of nuclear energy programs.

Nonproliferation a key element

“We wanted to weave the theme of integration throughout the curriculum,” Adam says.

Working together, Sandia and NSSPI developed a 12-week academic program — covering nuclear energy basics (systems thinking, basic nuclear-related physics, the nuclear fuel cycle, nonproliferation issues, power plant operations, radiological materials management, and nuclear energy safety, safeguards, and security) — followed by an independent research project that will provide graduates with a professional certificate from Khalifa University. It seeks entry- and mid-level policymakers, government officials, and energy program executives and emphasizes broad concepts in nuclear energy safety, safeguards, and security culture; it does not attempt to train plant operators. Ultimately, the curriculum will provide the initial credits toward a master’s degree from Khalifa University, which is developing GNEII into a broader, research-based institute. Personnel from Sandia and NSSPI will teach the classes, staying for up to several weeks at a time.

A key element to the program is nonproliferation, Adam adds. Typically the word has a negative connotation with many foreign countries that see it as a means for the US to deny access to technologies, Adam says. GNEII represents an opportunity to examine the concept outside of the political arena and offer a better understanding of the underlying principles to future regional nuclear energy decision-makers.

Ultimately, Adam says, what GNEII may provide to the rest of the world is a fresh take on nuclear energy policy. He adds, “This program should ideally develop a cadre of Middle Eastern nuclear energy experts who can further contribute to the international conversation on nonproliferation.”

While Adam was the lead, the program team included many contributors from Sandia and Texas A&M and Khalifa University. The project management team included Patricia Dickens (4031), Geoff Forden (6821), Faraj Ghanbari (6821), Scott Struve (4031), David Boyle (Texas A&M), and Phil Beeley (Khalifa). The curriculum development and instruction team included Shawn Burns (6231), Matthew Dennis (6231), Randy Gaunt (6232), Marvin Hadley (4128), John Matter (6833), Riyaz Natha (6613), Ashley Nilsen (6821), Brian Thomson (4128), Ryan Whalen (6821), Timothy Wheeler (6231), and from Texas A&M, Mike Schuller, Bill Charlton, Charles Kurwitz, and Alex Solodov, who is also affiliated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. - Renee Deger

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