News

June 29, 2012

Sandia wins four R&D 100 Awards

by Neal Singer

Winners include Sandia Cooler, neutristor, solar glitter,and digital microfluidics hub

Sandia researchers — competing in an international pool of universities, corporations and government labs — captured four prestigious R&D 100 Awards in this year's contest.

R&D Magazine presents the awards each year to researchers who its editors and independent judging panels determine havedeveloped the year's 100 most outstanding advances in applied technologies. An awards banquet will be held Nov. 1 in Orlando, Fla.

The awards, with their focus on practical impact rather than pure research, reward entrants on their products' design, development, testing,and production. The Chicago Tribune once described the contest as "the Oscars of invention."

"Congratulations to this year's R&D 100 award winners," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "The research and development at the Department of Energy's laboratories continues to help the nation meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security, and improve our economic competitiveness."

Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert said, "I congratulate our researchers and their entire teams for this outstanding recognition of their work. One of our strategic objectives is to 'excel in the practice of engineering.' The work selected for these R&D 100 awards is the perfect expression of that objective. These notable accomplishments also stand as excellent examples of how we have taken capabilities developed over six decades to execute our core nuclear weapons mission and applied them to new challenges facing the nation."

Sandia Chief Technology Officer and Div. 1000 VP Steve Rottler said, "I want to congratulate this year's winners of the R&D 100awards. These awards recognize four highly innovative technological advancements by members of our staff. These advancements represent enablers for our national security mission, as well as advances at the frontiers of science and engineering."

Researchers at DOE labs received 36 awards. Sandia's sister labs in NNSA, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, won three and four awards, respectively.

The Sandia winners:

Computer Chip Configuration for Neutron Generators: The ultra-compact neutron generator, dubbed a "neutristor," is a thousand times smaller than anything on the market today. A three-year Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project led by Sandia researcher Juan Elizondo-Decanini (2625) turned away from conventional cylindrical tubes and demonstrated the basic technology necessary for a tiny, mass-produced neutron generator that can be adapted to medical and industrial applications.

"The idea of a computer chip-shaped neutron source —compact, simple, and inexpensive to mass-produce — opens the door for a host of applications," Juan says. Juan's vision for the neutron generator of the future is one that uses no tritium and no vacuum and is made in a solid-state package.The technology is ready to be licensed for some commercial applications, but more complex commercial applications could take five to 10 years.


The “Sandia Cooler,” also known as the “Air Bearing Heat Exchanger,” will significantly reduce the energy needed to cool the processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments, says Sandia researcher Jeff Koplow (8366). With the Sandia Cooler, heat from a conventional CPU cooler is efficiently transferred across a narrow air gap from a stationary base to a rotating structure. The normally stagnant boundary layer of air enveloping the cooling fins is subjected to a powerful centrifugal pumping effect, causing the boundary layer thickness to be reduced to 10 times thinner than normal. The Sandia Cooler also offers benefits in other applications where thermal management and energy efficiency are important, particularly heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC).


Microsystems Enabled Photovoltaics (MEPV): Sandia’s microsystems-enabled photovoltaics, also known as “solar glitter,” combine mature technology and tools currently used in microsystem production with groundbreaking advances in photovoltaic cell design. Sandia researcher Greg Nielson (1719) led the project, in which the cells are created using mature microdesign and microfabrication techniques. The cells are then released into a solution similar to printing ink and “printed” onto a low-cost substrate with embedded contacts and microlenses for focusing sunlight onto the cells. Each cell can be as small as 14 microns thick and 250 microns wide, reducing material costs while enhancing cell performance by improving carrier collection and potentially achieving higher open circuit voltages. The technology has potential applications in buildings, houses, clothing, portable electronics, vehicles, and other contoured structures.


Preparation of Nucleic Acid Libraries for Ultra-High-Throughput Sequencing with a Digital Microfluidic Hub builds from Sandia’s RapTOR (Rapid Threat Organism Recognition) Grand Challenge. RapTOR rapidly identifies and characterizes unknown pathogens. It is a digital microfluidics “Grand Central Station” that manages and routes samples. “We’re taking advantage of DNA sequencing technology,” says Sandia’s Kamlesh (Ken) Patel (8125). “Reading the genetic code, the original building blocks, allows you to begin characterizing a pathogen at the most basic level.” Ken leads the Automated Molecular Biology (AMB) research to scale down and automate traditional sample preparation methods such as normalization, ligation, digestion, and size-based separation — methods that traditionally require a skilled scientist and take days or even weeks. The hub functions like a train station for samples, shrinking and enlarging samples as necessary and manipulating their speeds. Samples are cargoed within a microliter-scale droplet that is spatially moved across the Teflon-coated surface of the hub when electrostatic forces are appropriately applied. The hub moves samples from one step to the next with the flexibility to skip or repeat steps on the fly. The hub also manages the size of the sample, extracting the right amount for each process.

-- Neal Singer

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Cyber research facility opens at Sandia/California

by Mike Janes

Sandia/California’s new Cybersecurity Technologies Research Laboratory (CTRL) now offers an open yet controlled area for cybersecurity professionals from the Bay Area and across the country to meet and discuss critical cyber research issues.

A grand opening for the facility, which resides on the grounds of the Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC) and is part of

Sandia’s Cyber Engineering Research Institute (CERI), was held June 12.

During the ribbon-cutting event, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) talked about the growing national issue of cybersecurity and said CTRL will “bring together a tremendous amount of talent and synergy” from Sandia, neighboring Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, academia, and industry.

Other speakers at the event included executive vice chancellor Ralph Hexter from the University of California-Davis, Livermore Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Dale Kaye, and Sandia’s Div. 8000 VP Rick Stulen and Center 8900 Director Len Napolitano. Following the remarks, guests visited workstations staffed by students from the Center for Cyber Defenders (CCD) and other Sandia researchers, learning about cyber-related project themes such as malware, cell phone tracking, and supply chain security.

“With CTRL, we can run experiments and talk more freely about a wide range of cyber research activities, and we can do so with a variety of US and international collaborators but without some of the unrelated restrictions that are often associated with a national laboratory,” says Jim Costa (8950), senior manager of computational sciences and analysis at Sandia/California.

“At the same time, we can do these things in a uniquely controlled environment where we know what activities are taking place and we can monitor who and what else is in the building,” Jim says. “We look at CTRL like our own neighborhood hangout for Sandia and visiting cyber professionals who need an open but secure place to meet and collaborate.” CTRL will also, as part of CERI, support research initiatives like the Cyber Sciences Laboratory (CSL), a joint DOE and NNSA initiative to drive cyber security research for NNSA and DOE missions.

Broadly, CTRL will promote stronger relationships among industry, academia, and national laboratories in the research and development of cybersecurity solutions through technology, practices, and policy. Specifically, CTRL aims to:

  • Develop the science and computing foundation necessary for robust cyber security research and development.
  • Develop critical relationships to help understand the full range of technical threat concerns facing industry, government (non-classified), and academia.
  • Develop, test, and help implement cybersecurity approaches in real-world situations.
  • Promote the various technical domains that support the advancement of cybersecurity, essential to the security and stability of the US and the world.
  • Develop political and social awareness of the imminent threat and consequences posed by cyber exploits and attacks.
  • Provide a window to the external world on open cybersecurity and related work throughout Sandia, along with acting as a Bay Area resource for open work performed at Sandia/New Mexico.

Sandia has a decades-long history in cybersecurity, Jim says, the origins of which lie in the Labs’ nuclear weapons program. Most recently, it has received accolades for its successful Center for Cyber Defenders (CCD) program, which has trained hundreds of college students in cyber defense and has seen many go into private industry and government to tackle cybersecurity issues. This summer’s Sandia/California CCD interns are housed in the CTRL facility.

As a national security laboratory, Sandia needs to remain active in the cybersecurity arena, says Jim, and Sandia/California is well-positioned to offer a facility like CTRL to Silicon Valley interests, federal and local government, and companies from around the country that need it the most. Virtually every company and organization in existence has issues with privacy, supply chains, exfiltration of intellectual property, malware, and communications, so places where scientists, engineers, and cyber analysts can gather openly yet securely have become critical.

“The Bay Area is a hotbed for social media and computer companies of every type, and every product or service being developed today must be reliable and resilient,” Jim says. “Any of it can be attacked by our adversaries, so the more we can facilitate technical discussions with our cybersecurity brethren, the better.”

Access to CTRL, he says, is very flexible, so some non-Sandia personnel could conceivably come for an afternoon or day, stay a week or more, or even have an office set up for long-term use.

In addition to its Center for Cyber Defenders students, the CTRL facility houses a number of Sandia cyber programs funded by multiple sources and is beginning to provide office space for academic and industrial partners. Jim says he envisions even more CTRL users in the coming months and years, potentially from collaborators Sandia hasn’t even begun to work with. He also sees the facility as an important contributor to workforce development.

-- Mike Janes

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Explosives legend Paul Cooper hangs up his teaching hat

AN ENERGETIC CAREER — Paul Cooper built a global reputation as an explosives engineer and passed his knowledge to hun- dreds of Sandians in courses he taught for more than 30 years. “It was fun,” Paul says. “And I’m proud of what I accomplished.” (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Nancy Salem

Paul Cooper first stood in front of a Sandia class in 1977. His topic was explosives safety and his goal was to make it pop, but not literally. He wanted to grab the students’ attention and hold it.

Paul was a natural. He taught with expertise, humor, and a dash of irreverence. “If I wasn’t an engineer, I would have been a comedian or actor,” Paul says. “I feel like a performer in front of the group.”

He held the stage for 35 years, teaching nearly 1,000 Sandians everything they needed to know about blowing things up. His classes filled fast and his reputation grew, both as a teacher and an internationally recognized explosives engineer.

“Paul is an acknowledged expert in the explosives community with over three decades of extraordinary accomplishment. He also has taught explosives courses to hundreds of Sandians during that time,” says David Keese, director of Integrated Military Systems Center 5400. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to individuals like Paul Cooper who not only excel in their chosen professional field but also put forward the time and effort to pass along their skills and knowledge to others who will follow in their footsteps.”

Paul taught his final class offered by the Corporate Learning and Professional Development (CL&PD) organization on May 24. Students stuck around and friends stopped by for a slice of pizza and to witness the end of an era at Sandia. “We are very sad to see him go,” says Belinda Holley, manager of Technical and Compliance Training Dept. 3521. “He has had a sustained commitment not only to teaching but shaping the explosives training program and supporting education at Sandia. He is a rarity when it comes to that level of dedication and passion.”

Paul’s explosives safety course spawned four more classes, all focused on technology: Chemistry and Thermochemistry of Explosives; Shock and Detonation; Initiation Theories and Design of Initiators; and Scaling, Engineering Design, and Applications of Explosives.

“We felt people would be much safer if they understood the materials and processes they were working with,” he says. “We went deeper into the engineering.”

Paul says the classes took on a life of their own because of the scarcity of formal explosives training in the US. Paul himself learned explosives from “what I read, what I did, who I talked to, and from experience.”

Colleague Jerry Stofleth (5434) says the only thing Paul enjoys more than teaching is engineering. “His passion in life is for knowledge, not just explosives, but every discipline of engineering, and not just

engineering, but for nature and humanity as well,” Jerry says.

Paul’s professional career is the stuff of legend. He built a global reputation, searching for nuclear weapons in Iraq and investigating disasters ranging from the explosion of a gun turret on the USS Iowa in 1989 to the crash of TWA Flight 800 over New York in 1996.

Paul describes his Sandia career with typical humility. “Along the way, wonderful things happened,” he says. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Come to Albuquerque

Paul is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a 1958 chemical engineering graduate of the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, where he studied under rocket-engine expert Paul Torda. He followed his mentor to Chicago for a job when Torda was named director of research at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Armor Research Foundation.

 “When I got there I looked at all the different places I could work,” Paul says. “There was an explosives department. I was like a little kid. Here was a place where they pay you to go out and blow stuff up. That’s how I officially got into the explosives business.”

A colleague was recruited to Sandia in 1964 and sent Paul a message: Come to Albuquerque. I have a place for you. “The minute I stepped off the plane I didn’t care what the offer was, I’d take it,” Paul says.

He worked in explosive components until 1977 when he was recruited by the Underground Nuclear Testing arming and firing group, where he stayed until he retired in January 1997. His work focused on the design of explosive systems. “It’s not all bombs,” he says. “There are lots of things we do with explosives.”

In 1979, Paul joined the national Nuclear Emergency Search Team, NEST, an atomic bomb squad of sorts. “If the FBI or somebody got a lead there was a clandestine or homemade atom bomb somewhere, NEST had to locate and disarm it,” Paul says. “It was very exciting.”

Paul was a NEST member until the mid-1990s when its work transitioned to the military.

An explosives dream team

The USS Iowa gun turret exploded on April 19, 1989, in the Atlantic Ocean, killing 47 crewmen. A Navy investigation concluded a suicidal crew member who died in the blast deliberately caused it. Members of Congress were critical of the investigation, and Sandia was asked to review the findings.

The Labs put together a dream team of about two dozen engineers headed by Dick Schwoebel and including Paul. It found evidence that propellants were pushed into the 16-inch gun barrel too fast and too far, hitting the base of the 2,700-pound projectile instead of stopping a foot away as required.

“Karl Schuler, looking at scratch marks on the mechanical equipment, established that the powder bags had been rammed right up to the base of the bullet and so hard that they compressed three inches,” Paul says. “I showed that propellant pellets, when hit, can crack and throw burning pieces, and set off an explosion.”

The Sandia report was delivered in dramatic testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Paul was among those testifying. The Navy reopened the investigation after Sandia concluded the explosion was likely caused by an accidental overram of powder bags into the gun’s breech. The Navy said the cause of the explosion could not be determined and closed the investigation, but withdrew accusations against the dead crew member. Both reports remain in the record.

In October 1991, following Operation Desert Storm, Paul was named to a United Nations/IAEA inspection team sent to Iraq to look for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. “In early October the Iraqis denied having a nuclear program,” Paul says. “When we left at the end of October, they declared officially they had a nuclear program. It was a pivotal team and a critical turning point. It was a fantastic time to be there.”

A year and a half later, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, burned down at the end of a 51-day siege involving the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and sect leader David Koresh. Seventy-five people died in the fire, including Koresh. Paul was named to a presidential commission that investigated ATF and FBI participation in the incident after surviving Branch Davidians alleged the FBI started the fire.

“We determined that the Davidians were making explosive devices and set the fire in bales of hay,” Paul says. “The ATF and FBI acted legally and within normal procedures.”

Paul also was called upon by the state of Oklahoma to look at technical evidence in the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the federal building in downtown Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.

“It was two years after the actual bombing in Oklahoma City, so I went through tons of files and studied photos of broken windows, overturned cars, and the crater. Those are passive pressure gauges that give insight into the explosives,” Paul says. “I was able to closely match the amount of explosive material McVeigh and Nichols had bought in Kansas and Texas with the damage. That calculation had not previously been done, and was used in the state trial.”

Paul helped investigate the July 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island, N.Y., that killed all 230 people on board. The complex, four-year inquiry concluded that the probable cause of the accident was an explosion of flammable fuel and air vapors in a fuel tank, most likely due to a short circuit.

“When I got there, the plane’s pieces were being reassembled and I could walk through the fuel tank,” Paul says. “I looked around and could see where it started and where it detonated.” His calculations became part of the final report.

Bringing education to life

Paul did other accident and criminal investigative work for outside agencies, particularly the FBI. He says his field experience improved his explosives classes at Sandia. And teaching made him a better engineer. “The more I talked the more I learned,” he says. “What I learned in setting up and doing those classes I applied to my work, which got better and better.”

Rus Payne (54341), who took all Paul’s courses, says Paul’s experiences and stories brought the material to life. “He didn’t just lecture on how an application works. He told how it worked and gave an example from real life,” Rus says. “He tells great stories. And he loves to talk to people. He has a way of bringing the curriculum to the level of every individual in the class. He can speak to any PhD at that level and also to the lay person in an enlightening way.”

Paul’s class notes turned into a book, Explosives Engineering, begun in 1982 and published in 1996. To this day it is the definitive text on explosives, used in university and industrial engineering programs worldwide.

Paul says his approach to teaching is to make it fun. He brought history to the classes, gathering tidbits about the people behind the equations. “When I talk about Hooke’s Law, the basis of mechanical engineering, I mention that Robert Hooke’s blood enemy was Isaac Newton. There was a war between those two!” Paul says. “I love the history.”

Paul continued to teach the explosives courses for the CL&PD organization after retiring in 1997. Why stop now? “It’s 30 plus years, and I’m tired,” he laughs. “My feet hurt. My back hurts.”

He says there are three successors who will continue to teach the classes, which gives him peace of mind.

Paul’s retirement plan is unstructured: drives in his 1950 MG and 1970 Fiat 500, home maintenance, time with his family, and consulting for Sandia.

He might even pop his head into an explosives class now and then.

“After all this time, I’m not sure I can stay away forever.”

-- Nancy Salem

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