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Lab News -- June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011

LabNews - June 3, 2011PDF (24 Mb)

Sandia’s CANARY software protects water utilities from terrorist attacks and contaminants, boosts quality

By Heather Clark

Americans are accustomed to drinking from the kitchen tap without fear that it might harm them, even though water utilities could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks or natural contaminants.


CANARY — Sean McKenna (6911), seated right, works with Kate Klise, standing, and Dave Hart, left, (both 6911) on the CANARY Event Detection Software, which is open source software developed by Sandia in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency to enhance the detection of terrorist attacks or natural contaminants to public drinking water systems. The projected image shows what a utility operator might see, including a map locating a sensor that has detected contamination, a graph (top) that shows a measurement of water quality at the sensor and another graph showing the operator the probability that the water has been contaminated.

Now, CANARY Event Detection Software - open source software developed by Sandia in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - is being used to protect public water systems by enhancing the detection of these threats to drinking water systems.

"People are excited about it because it's free and because we've shown that it works really well. We would love to have more utilities using it," says Regan Murray, acting associate division director of EPA's Water Infrastructure Protection Division at the National Homeland Security Research Center.

The software tells utility operators within minutes whether something is wrong with their water, giving them time to warn and protect the public. And, it's improving water quality by giving utility managers more comprehensive real-time data about changes in their water.

Greater focus on water security

CANARY is being used in Cincinnati and Singapore, and Philadelphia is testing the software system. A number of other utilities in the US are evaluating CANARY for future application.

Sean McKenna (6911), the Sandia researcher who led the team that developed CANARY and lived in Singapore for two years to install the software there and train water authority staff how to use it, says people began to pay attention to the security of the nation's water systems after 9/11. Other team members included: Dave Hart and Kate Klise (both 6911); Eric Vugrin (6921); Mark Koch (5448); and Shawn Martin and Bill Hart (both 1464).

"We wanted to help make things more secure. Water systems in particular are designed to provide water to customers and there was less consideration of security previously, but there's greater focus on security now," Sean says. Sean and Murray say that CANARY could have lessened the impact of the largest contaminated public water source ever reported in the United States. In 1993, Milwaukee's cryptosporidiosis outbreak hastened the deaths of dozens of citizens, made more than 400,000 residents ill, and cost more than $96 million in medical costs and productivity losses, according to reports about the tragedy.

"If you don't have a detection system, the way you find out about these things is when people get sick," Murray says.

Sandia had worked on water security before 9/11. So when the EPA was looking for help early in the last decade to better monitor water utilities, they contacted Sandia.

Reducing false alarms

A Sandia-developed risk assessment methodology for water focused on infrastructure physical security, but did not address how to detect and assess the impact of contamination in the water itself. Sean says his team initially received funding through Sandia's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program to address that gap in the technology and then teamed with the EPA to develop CANARY and other software tools designed to focus on security threats to water.

CANARY, which runs on a desktop computer, can be customized for individual water utilities, working with sensors and software already in use, Sean says.

While some utilities monitor their water using real-time sensors, many still send operators out once a week to take samples, says Dave, the lead software developer for the CANARY project.

Compared to weekly samples, CANARY works at lightning speed.

"From the start of an event - when a contaminant reaches the first sensor - to an event alarm would be 20-40 minutes, depending on how the utility has CANARY configured," Sean says.

The challenge for any contamination detection system is reducing the number of false alarms and making data meaningful amidst a "noisy" background of information caused by the environment and within the infrastructure itself.

Specially designed algorithms

CANARY researchers used specially designed numerical algorithms to analyze data coming from multiple sensors and differentiate between natural variability and unusual patterns that indicate a problem. For example, the Multivariate-Nearest Neighbor algorithm groups data into clusters based on time and distance, says Kate, a numerical analyst. When new data is received, CANARY decides whether it's close enough to a known cluster to be considered normal or whether it's far enough away to be deemed anomalous. In the latter case, CANARY alerts the utility operator, Kate says.

The software looks at subtle changes in water quality, using multiple sensors and time series analysis, which tracks data over successive time intervals to obtain meaningful characteristics, Kate says.

"We wanted to move beyond the idea where there are certain thresholds of water quality. We wanted to consider multiple signals at one time because contaminants could affect different measures in different ways," Kate says.

The computer program uses a moving 1.5- to two-day window of past data to detect abnormal events by comparing predicted water characteristics with current observations. But to minimize costly and inefficient false positives, the alarm is not sounded when only a single outlier is noted. CANARY aggregates information over multiple 2- to 5-minute time steps to build evidence that water quality has undergone a significant change, Sean says.

"We've taken techniques from different fields and put those together in a way they haven't been put together before and certainly the application of those techniques to water quality monitoring hasn't been done before," Sean says.

CANARY also provides information about gradual changes in the water, Sean says.

The unintended benefit of the software is that when utility operators better understood the data being sent by their sensors, they could make changes to the management of the water systems to improve its overall quality, Sean says.

"A better-managed system is more secure and a more secure system is better managed, is what we found from utilities we work with," Sean says.

A 'quantum leap' for Singapore utility

Harry Seah, director of the Technology and Water Quality Office at the Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singapore's national water authority, wrote in a letter supporting CANARY that the software provided a "quantum leap" in the utility's practices.

In the past, Seah wrote, the utility depended on preset limits of three water characteristics to determine water quality.

"With the implementation of CANARY, relative changes in the patterns of these three parameters can be used to uncover water quality events, even if each individual parameter lies within the alarm limits," Seah wrote. "This dramatically improves PUB's ability to respond to water quality changes, and allows PUB to arrest poor quality water before [it reaches] the consumers."

As the software is increasingly being installed at water utilities, researchers are working on new application areas for CANARY, such as computer network traffic logs and geophysical log analysis used by oil drillers to analyze rocks at different depths. - Heather Clark

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New thermal battery manufacturing method to be developed under Sandia, ATB research agreement

By Heather Clark

A new thin-film coating process for manufacturing thermal batteries used in nuclear weapons and other munitions that was invented at Sandia will be industrialized under a new corporate partnership with a Maryland company. The process could lead to lighter batteries in a variety of shapes for future applications.


Sandia researcher Frank Delnick (2546) invented a thin-film coating process that changes the way certain thermal batteries have been made since the 1950s. Sandia and its industrial partner, ATB Inc., think the invention will reduce the size of certain thermal batteries and lower the manufacturing costs. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

A thermal battery is a nonrechargeable, single-use energy source that can remain inert for years at room temperature before becoming activated at temperatures as high as 1,100 degrees (600 degrees Celsius). The thin-film coating process changes the way some thermal batteries have been made since the 1950s.

Sandia researchers also are looking into whether a patented binder used in the new thin-film coating process has commercial applications, for example in lithium-ion batteries in electric and hybrid vehicles and in batteries used in the petroleum industry when drilling deep underground in hot geothermal environments.

Sandia and ATB Inc., a Cockeysville, Md.-based manufacturer of thermal batteries, recently signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to test Sandia's new thin-film coating process for large-scale industrial production.

"We can take the developments that we've had in the lab, scale up the quantities of materials that we use and instead of producing tens of batteries we can produce hundreds of batteries in ATB's facility," says Tom Wunsch, manager of Sandia's Advanced Power Sources Research & Development Group 2546. "It's beneficial to us to have an industrial partner to work with on these issues and for them to have this new technology."

Guy Chagnon, CEO of ATB, says his company and Sandia had been working independently on changing the process for producing thermal batteries.

30 thermal battery designs since 1975

"The goal of the CRADA is to industrialize a new process, and to manufacture, build, and test the battery," Chagnon says. "Sandia and ATB have the same vision with the thin-film coating. We're putting our resources together to reduce the size and the cost of thermal batteries."

Sandia's expertise in thermal batteries stems from their use in nuclear weapons and other munitions. They are designed to be extremely reliable, remaining inert for 30 years at room temperature and then springing into action on a moment's notice. Sandia has developed about 30 thermal battery designs since 1975.

Sandia researcher Frank Delnick (2546) led the effort to make the thermal battery components as thin-film coatings instead of pellets. Working with him were: Denise Bencoe (1815); Chris Apblett and Eric Branson (both 1815-2); Bill Averill and Linda Johnson (both 2546); Nick Streeter (2547); Martin Bachicha (2548); James Patrick Ball, Robert Knepper, and Alex Tappan (all 2554); and Judy Odinek, who is retired.

Traditional thermal batteries are made by pressing powdered materials into electrochemically active pellets used as the anode, cathode, and separator of the battery. The pellets must be a certain thickness to maintain mechanical integrity and prevent them from falling apart when handled. The amount of material needed to achieve mechanical stability can be up to 10 times greater than what is needed to make the battery work. Therefore, considerable reduction in size can be achieved by making the components thinner, Frank says.

Relatively inexpensive equipment used

Frank's process uses relatively inexpensive equipment, common in the paint industry, that coats the battery components as thin films onto stainless steel foils. The coatings are held together and bonded to the foil using a patented binder. He says the process will work best for thermal batteries that last from a fraction of a second to a few minutes.

The binder must withstand temperatures of about 660-1,100 degrees (350-600 degrees Celsius), the operating temperature required to melt the salt electrolyte and activate the battery. Once activated, the binder must remain chemically and mechanically stable throughout the discharge of the battery without emitting gas or producing other side reactions that could adversely affect the performance of the battery, he says.

Frank overcame a lot of challenges in processing the binder needed for the thin-coating process.

In the early days, for example, the coatings would peel off after thermal processing or they would emit enough gas to extrude the molten salt electrolyte from the battery cells. Other formulations would cause the binder to deactivate the electrodes and the battery would fail, Frank says.

Coated materials much tougher

Tom says Frank had the technical savvy to overcome these complexities.

"There were many challenges along the way where the work could have stopped at any one of a number of points, but Frank kept going," Tom says.

The goal of the agreement with ATB is to jointly develop thin-film coatings that will slash the time and materials needed to make thermal batteries.

On average, thermal batteries made with thin-film coatings would use one-fifth to one-half the materials needed for their conventionally manufactured counterparts, Frank says.

The coated materials in the batteries are much tougher than those in current models, Frank says. He expects that thin-film thermal batteries also will perform much better in high-shock environments and will be much more amenable to automated manufacturing.

"Since the parts are more robust, you don't have to handle them as gingerly," Frank says.

The new process also could allow manufacturers to produce different shapes of thermal batteries, Frank says. Currently, thermal batteries are cylindrical and range in size from a man's thumb to a one-pound coffee can.

The first thermal battery made using the new process was slightly thicker than a postage stamp and about the size of a quarter, he says.

ATB employees have visited Sandia to learn more about the process and the company is busy readying its facility to begin developing the new manufacturing process. Chagnon says if the research and development are successful, large-scale manufacturing could begin by late 2012.

The thin-film coating process could be used for select thermal batteries that are being replaced in the B61 thermonuclear weapons as part of a Life Extension Program now under way at Sandia, Tom says. That project, the largest weapons refurbishment effort in the US nuclear weapons complex, currently involves hundreds of Sandia employees and is scheduled to begin production by 2017. -- Heather Clark

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Sandia coordinates international collaboration on nuclear detection architectures

By Patti Koning

Bringing together 48 different nations is no easy feat - especially to tackle topics as complex as nuclear counterterrorism and corresponding nuclear detection architectures (NDA). But that's exactly what a team from the US Department of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and Sandia, including Chad Haddal, Stacy Mui, and Jason Reinhardt (all 8112), were able to pull off this past March in Córdoba, Spain.


PHYSICIST Nick Mascarenhas (8132) prepares a neutron scatter camera detector for a test. The device detects radiation at significant standoff distances and through shielding, and pinpoints radiation sources, making it an ideal tool in the effort to counter nuclear terrorism (Photo by Randy Wong

We looked to the international community to set the agenda topics," says Jason. "We wanted a true roundtable of different players with no distinction given to size, expertise, or resources."

Formally titled the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism's (GICNT) Nuclear Detection Working Group session on Education, Training, and Exercise (ET&E), the workshop was the third in an ongoing series of international workshops funded by DNDO's Systems Architecture Directorate. The first two were held in Garmisch, Germany, in April 2009 and March 2010.

US and Russia are co-chairs

GICNT is an international partnership of 82 nations and four official observers committed to working individually and collectively to implement a set of shared nuclear security principles. The mission of the GICNT is to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism by conducting multilateral activities that strengthen the plans, policies, procedures, and interoperability of partner nations.

The US and Russia serve as co-chairs of the GICNT, and Spain serves as coordinator of the Implementation and Assessment Group (IAG). To date, GICNT partners have conducted more than 30 multilateral activities and six senior-level meetings in support of these nuclear security objectives.

Sandia's involvement began about four months after the initial Garmisch workshop, when DNDO asked Sandia to edit and restructure a high-level best practices document on nuclear detection architecture. Titled "Model Guidelines Document on Nuclear Detection Architecture," the document was released in December 2009. Sandia was then charged with creating an agenda for a second Garmisch workshop to collaboratively develop a series of topics for more focused follow-on best practice documents related to the development, enhancement, and implementation of NDAs.

The intent was to take the high-level strategic framework, as outlined in the initial Model Guidelines Document for Nuclear Detection Architectures, and focus subsequent follow-on discussion on the collective practical applications of those principles and high-level strategic objectives.

"I like to think of this effort as the collaborative development of an encyclopedia for NDAs," says Stacy. "If you're going to stand up a capability in the next three years, how do you leverage existing infrastructure within a country or region?"

The second Garmisch workshop led Jason, working with Karen Jefferson, who recently retired from Sandia, to home in on three topics: awareness, training, and exercise; planning and organization; and the role of technology. The goal is to develop a best practices document on each topic over the next three years.

The Córdoba workshop was the first meeting to brainstorm critical concepts related to education, training, and exercises. The workshop series, says Jason, is in some respects an international outreach effort to get as many countries as possible involved in the discussion. By all measures, that effort is a roaring success - attendance more than tripled between the 2010 and 2011 workshops. More than 150 representatives from 48 nations and observing organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and Interpol, attended the Córdoba workshop compared with 40 representatives from 18 nations in Garmisch in 2010.

"Both DNDO and Sandia wanted to make sure that the international community was well represented in the Córdoba workshop. Because of the overwhelming response, there was not a single US presentation outside of the opening remarks," says Stacy. She says it was extremely gratifying for her and Jason to help draft the closing remarks that were given by Mohan Matthews of Australia and Mark Wittrock of DNDO.

Eye-opening discussion

Among the attendees were Afghanistan, Australia, China, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Morocco, the Netherlands, Romania, Pakistan, Russia, Serbia, and Spain. The 46 nations and observers all brought different perspectives and experiences related to NDAs. Jason and Stacy describe the discussion as quite eye-opening.

"The United States tends to look internally first, and then to the international community to augment what we are doing as a nation," says Jason. "Other countries may look outward first. Some countries see themselves as part of a region, which changes the way they monitor their borders. Island nations have a whole different set of challenges."

There were also differences on training - should your first line of defense simply operate equipment or have a broad understanding of the threat? The use of technology, which will be the focus of year three, is another differentiating factor.

"In the United States, technology is inexpensive compared to labor, so technology is an obvious part of the solution for us," says Stacy. "But that's not the case in many other countries. You design a system that fits, based on your circumstances."

Another key theme throughout the course of the discussions was that technology is only a facilitator for enhanced detection; human decision-making is the central element. For this reason, the Córdoba discussions sought to build on existing law enforcement frameworks that virtually all countries have.

Among the representatives from each country there were also different points of view. The workshop brought together a mix of people that Stacy and Jason termed "implementers" - the military, national police, and border guards - with diplomats from ministries of foreign affairs and departments of state. In the many discussions that ensued over the three-day Córdoba workshop, Jason says the goal was always to explore and share different methods.

"It's all about achieving a set of agreed-upon objectives and goals. How you get there doesn't matter," he says. "Countries ultimately will choose what is best for them, but exploring that space as a collective whole is the real goal. The best-practices documents are meant to be a menu, so that everyone understands the options and we can all learn from one another."

Jason and Stacy also think the lessons from the workshop will inform their work as systems analysts back at Sandia. "We have a lot to process but we learned a lot along the way about how we can better think more systematically and broadly," says Stacy.

Follow-on conference in Croatia Now they are working on turning 50 pages of notes from the Córdoba workshop into a rough draft on which the international drafting group will build. Sixteen nations signed on to the international drafting group.

"Because we have a bigger drafting group than we expected, we envision an overall methodology with call-out case studies so nations can talk specifically about what they've done in the past and what works for them," says Stacy.

That draft will then be sent to the 82 members of the GICNT. The document will be finalized in a follow-on workshop in Croatia in October. Ideally, says Jason, Sandia will facilitate four GICNT engagements a year on behalf of DNDO, two workshops like Córdoba and two bilateral meetings. The project is funded through the next fiscal year and Jason expects a third year of funding to come through soon.

"As systems analysts, the rewards come few and far between. You write a report and a few months later someone calls with questions. A few years later, an idea from that report might catch on and in five years there might be a program based loosely on what you wrote, so you really have to dig for the credit," says Jason. "With the Garmisch and Córdoba workshops, we did something with immediate impact. I think we are in a new era of national security and global engagement. If we do this right, the national labs could play a larger role in international efforts. It's great to be part of the leading edge." -- Patti Koning

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