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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 55, No. 10        May 16, 2003
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Sandia bonelike microscaffolding may benefit patients Successful Homeland Security visit lays next stage for budding relationship Testing, testing leads to safe nuclear weapons arsenal MESA gets DOE go-ahead to construct all buildings



Sandia bonelike microscaffolding may benefit patients

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By Neal Singer

In an operating room in Carle Hospital in Urbana, Ill., on May 7, with scientists from the University of Illinois and Sandia looking on, Dr. Michael Goldwasser, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, fitted a highly unusual prosthetic device into the mouth of an elderly woman who had lost most of her teeth and along with it, much of the bone of her lower jaw.

The purpose of the fitting was to see whether the implant had been accurately designed, from its overall shape down to inclusion of a nerve groove.

"If it had fit like a sock on a rooster, our method wouldn't have worked," Goldwasser said.

Observers said it fit like a glove.

If approved by the FDA for testing, the scaffoldlike structure -- a layered mesh stronger than bone, yet porous -- would substitute for a portion of the mandible, or lower jaw, until healthy, newly grown bone and blood vessels could weave their way through it.

The ceramic scaffolding would reduce the pain, recovery time, and chances of infection of those needing bone replacements in the jaw, as well as skull, spine, or other bony areas. It is built mainly of hydroxyapatite, a material already approved by FDA for bodily implants, so approval of the new device could be swift.

Sandia has applied for a patent.

The woman was reportedly pleased to be part of an experiment that might benefit humanity, because the quality of fit would determine whether scientists and doctors using computer programs, modern communications, and machines a thousand miles from each other could produce a prosthetic device that would fit seamlessly in a patient's sensitive mouth -- or, for that matter, skull or spinal vertebrae -- without the manufacturers ever seeing the patient.

But because the device's strength and permeability have been studied only in vitro (in the lab), the woman had then to endure the standard method of bone replacement, which by comparison seems almost medieval. This involves cutting a several-square-inch piece of bone from her pelvis, which is then power-sawn and drilled into the correct shape right in the operating room, a process that takes about an hour and leaves the patient with the job of healing pelvis as well as mouth.

"Surgeons and patients would love to eliminate both the retrieval and implant preparation processes," says Sandia scientist Joe Cesarano (1843), whose team fashioned the new implant. "This test showed we can make artificial porous implants prior to surgery that will fit perfectly into the damaged region. the reconstructive procedure would then only require attaching the implant and closing the wound."

A short course on bone implants

Ideally, says Goldwasser, a surgeon would use the patient's own bone to minimize rejection by the body after trauma or tumor removal has left an absence of bony architecture in face or skull. Harvesting bone, however, creates new problems. Not only is a new area of patient discomfort opened but the time of operation and amount of anesthetics are increased. These raise the risks of complications in the operation and in healing. "We could use cadaver bones," he says, "but then we face risks of rejection by the host and of possible transfer of disease."

The body may also dispose of the foreign bone prematurely by absorbing it.

"What we want," Goldwasser says, "is a method by which I can see a patient in Illinois, transmit X-ray information to someone who can make a substitute part that would have the porous properties that would allow bone to grow into it, yet be strong enough for normal function. Here, this would mean mastication and appearance."

With the aid of UI bioengineering professor Russ Jamison and graduate and Sandia summer student Jennifer Dellinger, who were experimenting with the growth of bone across porous surfaces and needed a more regularly porous substrate than those found in nature, he learned of a device at Sandia that could do the job.

- - Neal Singer

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Successful Homeland Security visit lays next stage for budding relationship

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By Bill Murphy

The national labs are the Department of Homeland Security's "factory for ideas and technologies," DHS official Penrose (Parney) Albright said last Friday during a high-level visit to Sandia.

Albright, Acting Director of Plans, Programs, and Budget, accompanied DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Charles (Chuck) McQueary on a two-day trip to review work at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia. Next week, the two, along with other DHS officials, are scheduled to visit Sandia/California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The DHS and DOE/NNSA are forging a cooperative relationship in which the NNSA labs will provide primary R&D resources for the new department while still carrying out their traditional nuclear weapons mission for DOE. McQueary and his delegation are visiting the labs to get a better sense of their capabilities, as well as current and future areas for Homeland Security-related R&D.

The three NNSA labs have been rigorous in taking a unified "tri-lab" approach to their dealings with DHS (see "McQueary likes tri-lab effort," on page 4).

T.J. Allard, who heads up Sandia's Homeland Security Office, says he was pleased with the quality of the interaction with the DHS delegation.

"It was a great visit," he says. "We covered exactly what we needed to with them. I think we hit a home run with what we covered."

In brief overview remarks, Labs Director C. Paul Robinson noted that Sandia has been involved in issues closely related to homeland security for a number of years. It has, since the mid-1990s, actually organized its business units to reflect R&D activities in many areas with direct homeland security applications.

McQueary, in turn, noted in opening remarks that he and his team view Sandia as a "systems" lab, with a tradition of being able to tackle challenges from a broad-based systems level, considering all the pieces of the puzzle at the same time. He indicated that DHS and his Office of Science and Technology are committed to a long-term relationship with the labs.

Dave Nokes, VP 5000, and T.J. conducted the walk-through briefing/tour for the DHS delegation of Sandia's recently updated Homeland Security exhibit room in Bldg 810. The exhibit has been reorganized, T.J. says, "to reflect more of how outside folks look at the work instead of how we look at the work." The exhibit room, in fact, is now organized to coordinate with the DHS's own organizational structure. Thus, as you walk from exhibit to exhibit, you move through areas that correspond to the DHS under-secretariats: Borders and Transportation Security; Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; Emergency Preparedness and Response; and Science and Technology.

Sandia bomb-disablement guru Chris Cherry talked the visitors through a series of live demonstrations on the Bldg. 810 mall of explosives sniffing, bomb disablement, and explosion containment technologies. The demonstrations were similar to those conducted for DHS Secretary Tom Ridge during his February 2002 visit, with real-world first responders from the Albuquerque Police Department participating.

It turned out the state and local interactions were particularly important to Parney [Albright] and Chuck [McQueary]," T.J. says. "They understand that everything they do has to have meaning at the state and local level, so seeing the involvement of APD turned out to be very impressive to them. And so I went further and explained that that's just one piece. We talked about the workshop we did last fall, the joint workshop we did with Los Alamos National Lab, and the one we're doing in October.

We really have had a significant engagement with first responders. And [before the visit] they just didn't understand that. They were really 'wowed' that we had the interfaces, the relationships with the state and local guys."

As a result of the visit, T.J. says, he thinks it is possible that DHS may request the Labs to accelerate work in certain areas.

"I got a call after the visit from Holly [Dockery (5350), a Sandian on "loan" to DHS in Washington], and she anticipates that as a result of the visit, DHS is going to come back with a request to accelerate many of our technologies. We have to be careful not to pin them down, but things like the radiation-detection technologies and MicroChemLab -- those are examples of things that they might want to ramp up. I think they're going to want to take some of these technologies and move them more quickly to the field. And that's good. That's just what we should be doing."

McQueary, clearly impressed with what he saw both at Sandia and Los Alamos, said the Science and Technology directorate at DHS is in a catch-up mode relative to the work already on-going at the NNSA labs.

Says T.J., "What he means is that the Labs are out in front; we've spent more time on these challenges, so we're moving faster than S&T is. But his message was, 'Don't slow down. We'll catch up to you; don't slow down.' I thought that was a compliment, that, Hey, you guys are doing the right thing, so keep moving."

As a result of the successful DHS visit, T.J. says, "I think we're ready to start down the path of the specifics of how to do business with each other. We're going to start shifting into areas like how do you move money; how do you get programs into the labs. We're moving from the high-level dialogue to the nuts and bolts of implementation.

"One of the things we wanted to make sure of," T.J. says, "was that we reaffirmed the decision [by DHS] to use the NNSA national labs as the DHS national lab. And I think he [McQueary] went away with that. DHS could have tried to start from scratch, to build their own lab from the ground up. And also, Chuck [McQueary] comes from an industry background; he could have said, "Look, I'm just going to pull stuff from industry;' But I think he sees that the Labs are doing things that he couldn't get from industry."

McQueary likes tri-lab effort

The visit by DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Charles McQueary and his delegation -- including Plans, Programs, and Budget Director Parney Albright and Office of the National Laboratory Director Michael Burns -- offered a perfect forum to roll out the tri-lab concept. That's the idea under which the three NNSA labs -- Sandia, Los Alamos (LANL), and Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) -- present a unified position in their interactions with DHS. The concept, under which a Tri-Lab Council will deal directly with DHS on key issues, is designed to eliminate turf protection, duplication of effort, red tape, and confusion about channels of communication.

When the DHS team visited LANL on May 1, notes Sandia Homeland Security Office chief T.J. Allard, "We were there and Lawrence Livermore was there." Likewise, when the DHS delegation moved on to Sandia on May 2, representatives from LLNL and LANL were there, too.

"One of the things we did up at Los Alamos," says T.J., "was to present the Tri-Lab model that we've come up with (Lab News, April 4). At dinner Thursday night -- Paul [Robinson] hadn't been with the group at Los Alamos, so he didn't know what they had seen -- Paul asked them, 'So what was the highlight of your day today?' And Chuck [McQueary] said, "The highlight? The Tri-Lab Model. That's going to make my job a lot easier.'"

It was important to McQueary, T.J. says, to see that the labs have come together.

"In fact, the Los Alamos guys, to their credit, did a great job throughout the day of bringing up Sandia. You know: Sandia's doing this. Sandia's taking the lead on that. And this was Los Alamos doing it. And we did the same thing. I was really pleased at how well Los Alamos did that, and we found out that was without prompting.

"The bottom line is, we did reaffirm the wisdom in DHS choosing the NNSA labs to be their national lab."

- - Bill Murphy

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Testing, testing leads to safe nuclear weapons arsenal

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By Chris Burroughs

Editor's note: This is part of a series of Lab News articles covering Sandia's Nuclear Weapons Surveillance Program.

When realtors talk about the value of a piece of property, they always emphasize "location, location, location."

When members of the nuclear weapons community talk about the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons arsenal, they refer to "testing, testing, testing."

And in this era where weapons testing by underground explosions of nuclear devices is banned, non-nuclear testing remains one of the few ways available to determine if weapons will work when they are supposed to and not work when they are not supposed to.

That is where Departments 2955 and 2956 come in. They build system test equipment (STE) to conduct non-nuclear testing that determines if nuclear weapons are safe, secure, and reliable.

"Our product consists of the complete design and implementation of test systems, including electrical hardware, mechanical hardware, software, and documentation," says Oscar Hernandez, Manager of Test Equipment Design Dept. 2955. "Our efforts support the mission of the Stockpile Surveillance Program by providing the design, development, and maintenance of test systems used in evaluating stockpiled weapons."

Every year 11 weapons are randomly pulled for testing from each of the nine enduring stockpile systems, making for about 100 weapons tested annually. Eight of the 11 weapons systems are typically sent to Sandia's Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory (WETL) at the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where they undergo more than 700 tests on "testers" built by the two departments (Lab News, Jan. 24). The tests are conducted by 18 Sandia engineers and technicians who work at the WETL facility.

The current 40-year-old WETL structure houses about $90 million in testing equipment and is the only US facility that conducts systems-level tests on nuclear weapon non-nuclear subsystems and components. Earlier this year ground was broken for a new 30,000-square-foot, $22 million WETL facility that will replace the old building when it is completed in 2004. In addition, the weapons program is setting aside $30 million over the next several years for Sandia engineers to build a new generation of modernized testers.

Nuclear weapons disassembly

The sampled weapons, which are turned over to the NNSA by the military, go through a disassembly and inspection (D&I) process by BWXT personnel at the Pantex plant. The Sandia-designed subsystems and components are then reassembled into a "testbed" that is transported to the WETL for testing. Testbeds are designed so they replicate the configuration of the weapon to the extent possible without nuclear systems. Non-nuclear subsystems and components are kept intact in the testbed so testers can determine how they function together as a complete system.

"We're looking for defects and anomalies," Oscar says.

He gives the example of an electrical subsystem that might consist of several components. Contact corrosion may have occurred that causes the subsystem to not function properly. If the subsystem is totally dismantled, the corrosion may be scraped off and go away. As a result, the reassembled subsystem would work and the problem would be missed.

Many of the testers at WETL are old, some dating back 30 years. Consequently, they do not take advantage of modern technologies, such as fast computers, that can provide a richer suite of information about weapons needed by weapon engineers to gauge their functionality.

One tester instead of three

"Our mission is to design, develop, and deliver the next generation of STE," says Roger Lizut, Manager of the newly formed New Systems Testers Dept. 2956, which was broken off from Dept. 2955. "The new STE will provide improvement in two ways -- efficiency and effectiveness. The efficiency is achieved by combining the functionality of similar weapons into an integrated STE. For example, the first new STE will test the W76-0, W76-1, and the W88. By having one tester instead of three, we reduce total cost for operation and maintenance. Effectiveness is realized by incorporating an expanded suite of tests that will provide data to better understand the current, and possibly, future, state of health of the weapon system."

Building new testers starts with a "requirement-gathering phase."

"Engineers from throughout the Labs with different interests -- systems engineers, component designers, nuclear safety, quality, human factors, independent surveillance assessment -- get together and make up a wish-list of what the tester could do," Oscar says. "Coordinated by a systems evaluation engineer, we then distill that list down to essential requirements that are achievable."

Working from a set of B-series drawings (test requirements) and component specifications, engineers from Departments 2955 and 2956 design testers that will be able to meet the test requirements.

Toward the end of the process they use actual components to make sure the tester works.

Prior to completion of the testers, WETL technicians are brought in to train on the STEs and to work with the design staff in the final debugging and development of operations procedures. After they are checked out, the systems are shipped to the WETL.

Roger notes that the two departments' work is critical.

"Our work in maintaining current testers and implementing new generation testers is important to the Stockpile Stewardship Program," says Roger. -- Chris Burroughs

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MESA gets DOE go-ahead to construct all buildings

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By Neal Singer

It's early to call the MESA project a success, since it hasn't yet been built. But in the most recent climax to a remarkably orderly series of review-and-approval steps dating back four years, the Sandia MESA team now has received official approval from DOE to begin construction of its Microfab, Microlab, and Weapons Integration Facility (WIF) -- the entire set of buildings that constitute MESA proper.

"We turned in our engineering design last Nov. 14 and requested permission to start main construction," says Don Cook (1900), director of the MESA center. "I thought we'd get permission to start one building and have to come back later for the rest."

Sandia had been authorized to spend $113 million -- enough to begin construction on the Microfab and Microlab -- but the 'okay' to begin all buildings was a bonus.

"We haven't committed on placing a construction contract for WIF since we don't have '04 money yet, but we hope to place the contract in June '04," Don says.

The project already has placed a construction contract for a temporary road, east of Hardin, to ease traffic around the construction site. The construction contract for the Microfab begins in May, and the Microlab in September, of this year.

Meanwhile, after a slow start, demand for space for personnel and equipment in the mock-up WIF building, located in Research Park outside the Eubank Gate (Lab News, March 7), "has far exceeded our ability to house them," says Don. "The desire of people to work with analysts, weapons designers, and microtechnologists in a new way, with lowered organizational boundaries, has become intriguing for Sandians."

Sandia's biggest construction project ever, MESA is expected to fashion a new, possibly more effective way of working together for researchers under its wing. Among the $462.5 million project's goals is to hasten the day when microstructures perform effectively in high-surety situations.

MESA awards contract

Sandia awarded the MESA MicroFab construction contract this week to M.A. Mortenson -- Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), a Tempe, Ariz., based company, for $54,174,000. The bid was full and open competition, advertised nationally in Federal Business Opportunities, with six proposals received. Mortenson was determined to be the best value after being ranked high technical and offering the low price. Mortenson does not have a local office in Albuquerque but has spent significant time and effort developing a subcontracting plan focusing on both small and New Mexico business opportunities. Mortenson intends to subcontract 82 percent ($44,422,680) to New Mexico based businesses and 30 percent ($16,252,200) to small businesses including disadvantaged, Hub Zone, and woman-owned firms.

-- Neal Singer

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Last modified: May 16 , 2003

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