News

May 16, 2014

New NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz visits Sandia

MEET THE PRESS - NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz discusses with members of the news media the challenges and opportunities facing NNSA during a time of tight federal budgets, demanding mission work, and an infrastructure in need of modernization. With the Administrator are, from left, Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charles McMillan, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director William Goldstein. The news conference was conducted at Sandia's Superfuge facility during Klotz's May 7-8 visit to Sandia and the NNSA Sandia Field Office. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Sue Major Holmes

Newly appointed NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz said his visit to Sandia and meetings with the directors of the three NNSA laboratories is strengthening their partnership to ensure that those who work at NNSA laboratories and plants have what they need to do their jobs.

Klotz, who was sworn in April 17, arrived in Albuquerque on May 7 for a day and a half of meetings with NNSA staff, Sandia executives, and the three directors, Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charles McMillan, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director William Goldstein. The NNSA Administrator toured the NNSA complex in Albuquerque, held an all-hands meeting with NNSA staff May 7, and had briefings with Sandia officials. He held an all-day meeting with the directors to discuss the NNSA mission, its successes, and its challenges. The group also toured Sandia’s Superfuge Facility, part of a multiyear Test Capabilities Revitalization program.

The Sandia upgrades, important to handle testing in both normal and abnormal environments in a range of facilities, cost about $100 million, Paul told a news conference at the Superfuge, one of four refurbished facilities reporters saw on a tour May 8.

The weapons components testing that takes place at those facilities is critical to ensuring the nation’s nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure, and effective, Klotz told reporters. He also said he was enormously proud that Sandia completed the revitalization program $4 million under budget.

“We’ve made promises we have to keep — promises to sustain the nuclear weapons stockpile, promises to conduct leading-edge scientific research, promises to help prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists, promises to support the Navy nuclear reactor program, promises to repair and modernize our aging facilities, and promises, perhaps most important of all, to protect the safety and security of our sites, our employees, and the public,” he said.

And, he said, all that must be done in the face of tight federal budgets.

Many test facilities at the NNSA complex were built decades ago, some as far back as the Manhattan Project of World War II, Klotz said.

“Facilities age, equipment becomes obsolete, better technology is available to do some of the things we do,” he said. “For this reason, NNSA is revitalizing existing facilities not only at Sandia, but at the other national laboratories and plants across the entire complex.”

 

-- Sue Major Holmes

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W76-1 Life Extension Program remains major effort at Sandia

THE KANSAS CITY PLANT delivered these first arming, fuzing, and firing units for the W76-1to the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, in mid-2007. (Photo courtesy of Org. 2222)

by Sue Major Holmes

Sandia’s Life Extension Program to replace the W76 warhead in the nation’s stockpile with a refurbished version, the W76-1, has provided a roadmap for weapon system modernization work to come.

Production on the W76-1 began in September 2008 and is slated to run for several more years. The original W76, what manager Nick DeReu (2222) calls the “Mod-0,” has been extended beyond its original service life in the stockpile, he says.

He believes the W76-1 program has set the stage for work to follow on other systems, such as the W88 Alt370.

The Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missile carries the W76-1 warhead, which is part of the US defense triad.

Sandia is responsible for helping extend its service life, including replacing the weapon’s arming, fuzing, and firing subsystem (AF&F), Nick says.

“The end game is to put something in the stockpile that’s going to work every time if needed,” he says.

Finishing production on the W76-1 also will free production capacity at the National Security Campus in Kansas City and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, for upcoming production on the W88 Alt370 and the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP), he says.

“The B61-12 LEP is more complex, just in design and complexity and the sheer number of parts,” Nick says. “The scale is completely different from the W76-1. Both are going to turn out to be very demanding programs.”

Centers 400, 1700, 2200, 2500, 2600, 2700, 2800, 2900, and 5300 support the W76-1, “so it remains a significant effort for the Labs,” he says.

The current challenges in the W76-1 program are centered on production, Nick says. The Kansas City Plant has been moving from an older production facility to its new National Security Campus (NSC) about 10 miles away, adding new challenges to the production schedule.

A dual-build approach

That requirement necessitated a twofold approach of build ahead and dual build. In the build-ahead approach, the Kansas City Plant built enough of particular components at the old facility to bridge the amount of time it took to get that production started at the NSC. Sandia and Honeywell FM&T, which manages the NSC, worked together to ramp down production at the original facility for both production lines, making sure the work at the new plant met requirements before shutting down the line at the old one, Nick says.

“That’s all gone remarkably well. We didn’t miss a beat,” he says.

The team also kept production going over the last year at the Pantex Plant while working through facilities issues. Sandia’s release of updated weapon response information in July 2013 marked a significant milestone for the program.

Surveillance activities will continue to ensure the W76-1 Reentry Body Assemblies in the stockpile are safe, secure, and reliable. “Surveillance provides us the confidence that what we’re building for the Mod-1 is functioning properly and meeting reliability requirements,” Nick says.

-- Sue Major Holmes

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Pocket-sized anthrax detector aids global agriculture

SANDIA’S BaDx pocket-sized detector has everything needed to test a sample for anthrax. (Photo by Thayne Edwards)

by Stephanie Holinka

When most people in the US think about anthrax, they think about the 2001 terrorist incidents in Washington, D.C., and New York. Melissa Finley (6825) thinks about farmers in developing nations like Afghanistan.

As a researcher in the International Biological Threat Reduction program, Melissa works with veterinary labs in low-resource environments, helping them become safer, more secure, and also more efficient at diagnosing infectious diseases.

This work inspired the creation of the credit card-sized anthrax detection cartridge, called BaDx, which allows for safer, easier, faster, and cheaper testing for anthrax.

Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is commonly found in soils all over the world and can cause serious, and often fatal, illness in both humans and animals. The bacteria can survive in harsh conditions for decades. In humans, exposure to B. anthracis may occur through skin contact, inhalation of spores, or eating contaminated meat.

Making labs efficient, safer,  and more secure

“Working with dangerous samples like B. anthracis spores places laboratory staff at risk. Concentrating many positive test samples in a lab could also tempt someone to steal positive anthrax samples for nefarious uses,” Melissa says.

Currently, samples must be propagated in a laboratory that uses specialized tools requiring a consistent power supply not always available in the developing world, Melissa says.

Then there’s the cost.

“Farmers in many developing countries don’t make a lot of money, so they don’t pay for diagnostic testing often. When they do, they can’t afford to pay a lot for it,” Melissa says.

The most common diagnostic test for anthrax costs around $30, which is out of the reach of many farmers, perhaps discouraging them from testing animals they suspect are infected, Melissa says. The BaDx device, which is more like a pocket-sized laboratory, could cost around $5-$7 and does not require specialized tools to use.

The consequences of not testing animals suspected of having anthrax are life-and-death.

“Because anthracis forms spores when exposed to oxygen, slaughtering or opening the carcass of an infected animal places many people at risk. People can become extremely sick if they come into contact with the spores, either through inhalation or ingestion. The gastrointestinal form of the bacteria can be acquired by eating the contaminated meat,” Melissa says.

Complex and sensitive, but simple to operate

BaDx requires no battery or electric power to operate. It’s hardy against wide temperature variation and can detect very small numbers of B. anthracis spores. That could make it especially useful in parts of the world where anthrax is prevalent, but refrigeration and lab facilities are lacking.

The device can be used by a trained technician in the field. The technician would put a sample swab into the amplification chamber, which contains selective growth media. The device then uses a lateral flow assay, similar to a common pregnancy test, to detect B. anthracis. Magnetically operated valves allow the sample to advance from stage to stage to complete the testing process. If the test is positive for the bacteria, a colored line will appear on the device several hours later.

After testing, the technician can initiate a chemical process that sterilizes the device, which avoids the risk of positive samples accumulating and falling into the wrong hands. In addition to the sterilization process, BaDx is sealed closed, making extraction of live bacteria difficult.

“The device amplifies the B. anthracis so it can detect as few as 100 spores instead of the typical 1 million-10 million required for detection,” says device engineer Jason Harper (8622).

A strong team

Melissa says a strong team of technical staff brought BaDx to life.

Jason and engineer Thayne Edwards (1714) developed the microfluidics platform with the patented magnetic valving that moves the sample through the testing process.

Lead bioscientist Bryan Carson (8622), with technologists Jackie Murton (8622) and Bryce Ricken (8622), developed the selective media formulations, and worked on building and testing the device, as well as helping to develop the decontamination strategy.

Nanotechnology researchers George Bachand (1132) and Amanda Carroll-Portillo (1132) are working on strips for the lateral flow assays.

Bill Arndt (6825), a researcher in the International Biological Threat Reduction program, who works internationally in low-resource environments, provided guidance in device design.

Sandia has licensed BaDx to Aquila, a New Mexico small business that specializes in the design and manufacture of technologies and services for nuclear security and international safeguards.

“We see a lot of potential for government customers and nongovernmental organizations as well as commercial markets,” says Markku Koskelo, chief scientist for Aquila.

The team hopes to use the basic device design to develop tests for other types of disease-carrying bacteria such as salmonella and group A streptococcus, which causes strep throat. Future devices could be created to detect infectious diseases in humans and stem the spread of infectious diseases during epidemics.

The work is funded under Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research & Development program.

 

-- Stephanie Holinka

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Sandia helps teens who conquered adversity move from high school to college

TWENTY HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS who overcame adversity on the road to graduation each received an educational award of $1,500 from Sandia and Lockheed Martin. The students said in remarks at a May 7 ceremony that the award will help them reach their goals. (Photo by Norman Johnson)

by Nancy Salem

Ashley Carriaga was a senior at West Mesa High School when her brother was murdered. “It was the worst feeling in the world. He was my best friend, my rock,” Ashley says. “It tore my family apart.”

Ashley reached for support at school. “It was a struggle to get up every day, but my friends were there for me,” she says. “ Teachers, administrators, and counselors also helped me get through it and back on track to graduate. There was a lot of kindness and understanding.”

Lupita Lopez faced a different kind of challenge. She was born blind in Culiacan, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States with her family as a young child. At age 8 she had to learn new languages. “It was hard because not only did I have to learn English, I also had to learn how to read and write Braille in both English and Spanish,” she says. “I also had to learn mobility skills, how to use a cane and navigate around places, and the whole school system. And I was adapting to a new culture.”

Lupita kept a positive attitude and had the support of friends, teachers, and school administrators who integrated her into regular classes. Her drive took her to the top quarter of her senior class at Albuquerque High, where she took advanced placement classes and will graduate with a bilingual seal.

Angelo Romero was a victim of bullying by a sports teammate at Rio Grande High. When he spoke up he became an outcast at school. Angelo confronted the bully with a letter that was read in court and reported in the media. “I knew that being a victim was not going to defeat me,” he says. “I know right from wrong. There were times when I had doubt, but I had to fight for what was right.”

Ashley, Lupita, and Angelo are headed to college. Ashley has been accepted to the University of New Mexico to study nursing. Lupita will major in psychology at UNM. Angelo is going to New Mexico Tech to study mechanical engineering.

All three will have help from Sandia and Lockheed Martin Corp. They are among this year’s 20 Thunderbird Award winners who each received $1,500 in recognition of their exceptional ability to overcome significant personal challenges on the path to high school graduation.

Stories of courage

Family, friends, school principals, advisers, and mentors of the winners attended the ceremony at the Embassy Suites. Also on hand were representatives of the New Mexico congressional delegation and state Department of Education, members of the Albuquerque Public Schools board, and superintendents Winston Brooks of APS, Sue Cleveland of Rio Rancho Public Schools, Bernard Sais of Los Lunas Public Schools, and Ron Marquez of Belen Public Schools.

The stories were filled with examples of courage. There was D’Ambra, who has been living on her own with no financial help since her sophomore year, working full time to pay her rent. Celine was diagnosed in her sophomore year with thoracic outlet syndrome, which caused a deadly blood clot under her collarbone and ribs and resulted in rib re-section surgery. Cassaundra was raised by a single mom who died of breast cancer last year, leaving her to maintain the household and become a mother to her 12-year-old sister.

“It is impossible not to be touched deeply by these young people,” said event emcee Frederick Bermudez, senior manager of Public Relations and Communications Dept. 3650. “They are amazing role models to anyone who has faced a challenge.”

The road to higher education

Each of the honorees is headed to college with a career goal. Majors range from sociology to education to sports administration.

Ashley says her dream is to work as a pediatric nurse. She says the Thunderbird scholarship will help her get there. “It means a lot,” she says. “I will need all the help I can get.”

Lupita says she wants to become a counselor because she’s outgoing, enjoys talking to people, and wants to help others as she was helped. “I am really limited on money, so this award is very important,” she says. “It’s going to help me pay for college. Every bit helps.”

Angelo wants to work in the automotive industry. “After all the tragedy I went through, this award is a real positive,” he says. “I’ve learned that nothing can hold me back.”

Paul said Sandia wishes all the recipients continued success in life. “Throughout our lives, we all make choices that determine our character and our future. This year’s recipients of the Thunderbird Award have already demonstrated they know how to make the right choices, which are often the tough choices,” he said. “You exemplify the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. You are an inspiration to everyone here.”

-- Nancy Salem

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