Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits Labs
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was impressed by what he saw in a recent 90-minute visit to Sandia — impressed not only by the Laboratories’ technical capabilities but also by the talent of the people who work here.
“I was impressed with the kind of people I met today, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, the commitment that they have made to this country and to the future of the country,” Hagel told members of the national press corps who traveled with him on Jan. 8 to Sandia and the Air Force Materiel Command’s Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base. “And they do it . . . because they understand the privilege of helping make this a better world.”
He said he wanted to look at Sandia’s work in nuclear weapons modernization and research and development because “that technological edge that we have been able to maintain is critically important, especially in the world that we’re in today.”
In R&D and such national security programs as weapons stewardship and nuclear monitoring, he said it’s especially vital “to continue to be able to recruit and keep the cutting-edge minds in the world on our team.”
Among those accompanying the defense secretary were Frank Kendall, under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics; Andrew Weber, assistant secretary for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs; Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary for global strategic affairs; and Don Cook, NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs.
The agenda included briefings on the modernization, safety, and security of the nuclear arsenal and proliferation assessment, along with walk-through tours of Sandia’s nuclear weapons display area; the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications complex, or MESA; and the Z machine facility. Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert and Executive VP and Deputy Director for National Security Programs Jerry McDowell escorted Hagel, who also met with other Sandia officials and staff during his tour.
“It’s very important to all of us who have some responsibility for the national security of this country to pay attention to every aspect and area of that responsibility,” Hagel said as he wrapped up his day by briefing reporters at Kirtland’s 377th Air Base Wing headquarters.
The nation’s nuclear deterrent has prevented World War III, Hagel said. “We’ve had wars, but not on the scale of what we saw in the first half of the 20th century,” he said.
The defense secretary noted that presidents since Richard Nixon have advocated reducing the nuclear stockpile along with corresponding Soviet/Russian reductions. However, he described himself as both a realist and an optimist. “I also understand the reality of the kind of world we live in,” he said. “We can’t just unilaterally cash in our nuclear chips.”
“I think the reality is that we are going to continue to need nuclear deterrence for our future, but that doesn’t mean it [the number of weapons in the stockpile] can’t continue to come down and still protect our country and our security,” he said. “It is the slogan: Peace through strength. As long as we have the strongest national security system of any nation in the world and we continue to keep that modern and strong, then we should also continue to promote that de-acceleration and bringing down the threat of nuclear weapons.”
Hagel acknowledged that tight budgets will mean making choices about where resources will do the most good. “To modernize your nuclear weapons stockpile — ensure that they continue to stay secure and safe — takes resources. This country has always been willing to make that investment. I think we will continue to make it, and that Congress will be a strong partner,” he said.
-- Sue Major Holmes
USSTRATCOM commander spends day being briefed on Sandia’s NW mission
The commander of US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) says he has wanted to come to Sandia for years to see firsthand the Labs’ nuclear weapons program work and “to connect the dots between the missions, where we are today with the capability, and where we have to be tomorrow.”
Adm. Cecil Haney spent all day Jan. 10 touring Sandia, hosted by Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert and Executive VP and Deputy Director for National Security Programs Jerry McDowell. Paul presented an overview of Sandia’s work and briefed the admiral on the Labs’ nuclear weapons mission. Haney also toured Sandia’s nuclear weapons display area, heard about its work on weapon modernization programs and the advanced hypersonic weapon, participated in discussions about the nation’s nuclear detonation detection system and space programs, joined a group of Sandia weapon engineers for lunch, and addressed Sandians at an all-hands meeting in the CNSAC auditorium.
Haney told the packed all-hands meeting that strategic deterrence often is framed as a discussion of the triad, with its legs of bombers, submarines, and ICBMs. “But it’s more,” he said. “It’s the ability to detect in enough time, to process that information in enough time, to get that information moved through our command and control apparatus in enough time for the president to make a decision.”
While he said he hopes that scenario never plays out, putting all the deterrence pieces together gives the strategy its credibility.
Sandia’s work plays a role, Haney said in an interview with the Lab News following the all-hands session. “Just the snapshot that I got today in seeing some of the work that’s being done, the chance to meet these incredible people who are behind the scenes, to me is also a part of our nation’s deterrence.”
“We have a mature arsenal when you look at our strategic capabilities today in terms of warheads,” and it’s inspirational “to know we have gotten as much life as we have out of what we have today but even more to see the talented people making sure we can sustain this capability, as we must, for some time to come,” he said.
Haney was joined on the visit by Steve Callicutt, USSTRATCOM’s director of capability and resource integration; Brig. Gen. Jim Dawkins, principal assistant deputy administrator for military applications in defense programs for NNSA; and Jim Colasacco, division chief of USSTRATCOM’s Global Strike Capabilities Division, Global Strike.
Haney came to Sandia with strategic deterrence in mind, but said he also was impressed by the Labs’ other national security work. He mentioned seeing a display of Sandia’s contributions, decade by decade. “I admire that, and I’m glad to see Sandia has taken the time to post that history so it can be a reminder to all who come to visit, but also a reminder to the workforce,” he said.
He was familiar with Sandia’s work before his visit, but said he wanted to put “boots on the ground” to get a more personal understanding and to talk to Sandians about their work and what motivates them. “That ultimately gives me a deeper appreciation than I came with,” said Haney, who said he was struck by how passionate Sandians are about their mission.
He ended the interview with a message to Sandia’s workforce: “I know I can count on them to maintain the standard of excellence that Sandia was built upon. I can’t thank them enough for the support they have, and will continue to provide, for the mission areas of US Strategic Command but also for their dedicated efforts for our country at large.”
-- Sue Major Holmes
Computer power clicks with geochemistry
Sandia researchers Matthew Brake (1526), Adrian Chavez (5629), Seth Root (1646), and Daniel Stick (1725) have been named by President Barack Obama as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE Award is the highest honor bestowed by the US government on outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent careers.
The four Sandians are among 102 researchers nationwide to receive the honor, and Sandia is tied with Princeton for the most PECASE recipients this year. All recipients were either funded by or employed by 13 federal agencies, including DOE. Winners will be recognized later this year at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., for their work in advancing the nation’s science and engineering.
Matt, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s mechanical engineering program, joined Sandia in early 2008 after earning his PhD. One aspect of his work focuses on understanding interfacial mechanics, or how two objects interact when they impact and rebound. “You want to be able to predict how a joint will perform in different shock environments. You could build a mesh and have thousands and thousands of degrees of freedom, but to simulate that with the necessary number of elements to get convergence for your contact models, it’s going to be prohibitively expensive. There’s no way to actually do that in a feasible amount of time and get the correct answer,” Matt says. “So the whole philosophy behind this modeling effort is rather than having the extremely large number of elements needed to get convergence, why don’t we use a course mesh, but have a very high fidelity representation of contacts, so we can very quickly and accurately do these simulations of how a strong link will respond in different environments.” Shrinking the models means an analyst can now understand in a few days with a desktop what would have otherwise taken years on a supercomputer.
Matt is currently studying friction and energy dissipation between two bodies and has become involved with the global community of joints researchers, taking on several leadership positions. He is the secretary of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is also organizing the 2014 Sandia Nonlinear Mechanics and Dynamics Summer Research Institute, which will bring researchers from around the world to Sandia to study some of the biggest challenges of predicting the behavior of jointed structures.
Adrian, an Albuquerque native, started at Sandia in 2000 as an intern in the Center for Cyber Defenders while a student at the University of New Mexico. He spent four years there, learning about computer security. In 2004, he took advantage of Sandia’s Master’s Fellowship Program to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder and returned to Sandia in 2006. Since that time, he has focused on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure systems and adding security to systems like the power grid, oil and gas refineries, and water pipelines to make sure that responses and protections are in place in the event of a cyberattack. Adrian has worked on several projects focused on securing these systems.
“The vision of each project is to secure the hardware and software of critical infrastructure systems that harness our nation’s most critical assets. My research focuses on retrofitting new security protections into an architecture that supports both the legacy and modern devices,” Adrian says. “Protections that were previously unavailable in these systems include end-to-end cryptographically secure communications, secure engineering access, and built-in situational awareness.”
Building on that model, Adrian and his team are working on randomizing networks, essentially turning computer networks into moving targets, making it more difficult for an adversary to locate and attack a specific system.
“I am honored to receive this award. It’s great to have all of the excellent research we perform at Sandia be recognized at such a high level,” Adrian says. He is working on his doctorate in computer science at the University of California, Davis and is interested in continuing research to help secure critical infrastructure systems.
Seth earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at the University of Nebraska and his doctorate in physics from the Institute of Shock Physics at Washington State University. He joined Sandia in 2008 for the opportunity to work on the Z machine, the world’s largest pulsed-power facility.
“You are working on a platform that can generate pressure and temperature regimes that few else in the world can access to understand material behavior at extreme conditions,” he said. “The opportunity to do research at extreme conditions at a facility like Z is really exciting.”
Seth has been involved in a team combining theoretical and experimental methods. The team is applying density functional theory, a method of calculating energies and pressures using quantum mechanics, to noble gases — which are odorless, colorless, and chemically inert under standard conditions — at extreme pressures and high temperatures. In one experiment, the physicists cryogenically cooled xenon gas to a liquid and then shock-compressed it to 8 million atmospheres of pressure. “We were able to show that density-functional-theory simulations can capture the response of the liquid xenon at very high pressures,” he said. The research helps explain the physics of atoms with relatively high numbers of electrons and has helped to verify and improve theoretical methods used in computer simulations.
Seth says the PECASE was more than just an individual award, but rather a recognition of the many people involved. “We have a really good team at Sandia. The award shows that the work we do in understanding material properties at high pressures is greatly appreciated on a national level,” he says.
Dan earned his undergraduate degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology and his PhD at the University of Michigan. He was nominated for his development and demonstration of miniaturized ion traps for quantum computing. Moore’s Law predicts that about every 18 months the processing power of classical computers double, but as devices shrink, they will run into fundamental physical limits at which transistors start behaving unpredictably. Quantum computing is one strategy to circumvent these limitations, but there is a lot of work to be done.
“For these devices to be a viable platform for quantum information processing, they have to be made more reliable and be engineered to eliminate particular sources of noise that make quantum computing extremely difficult,” Dan says. “Quantum computing is something that is usually talked about in terms of its promise for exceeding classical computing, but everyone realizes that the technical challenges for actually realizing such a device are extraordinary.”
Dan came to Sandia as a postdoctoral researcher in 2007 and was hired on as a staff member two years later. With his background in experimental atomic physics, he worked with Sandia’s microfabrication experts to design and fabricate novel trap geometries.
“My main contribution is the experimental demonstration of these traps. They’ve become really successful in that a lot of the leading ion-trapping groups around the world use Sandia-fabricated ion traps for their quantum experiments,” Dan says. “This award is a wonderful recognition, and I’m honored to receive it. There are so many people at Sandia who deserve some of the credit for this as well.”
Three of the four winners, Matt, Dan and Adrian, were or are supported by LDRD funding. The awards were established by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and coordinated through the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
-- Sandians honored by White House for early career achievements