March 6, 2015

Arms control research explores solutions for treaty after New START

Chain of Custody Test Bed — Justin Fernandez (5943), left, adjusts an item monitor at Sandia’s Chain of Custody Development Test Bed where engineering development work supports eventual arms control technology experiments and demonstrations at NNSS. Mike Coram, center, and Jay Brotz (both 6831) work with a container used to store mock weapons during testing.   (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Heather Clark

Future arms control agreements might require monitoring nondeployed nuclear weapons and counting individual warheads, so when US negotiators begin work on the successor agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), research by Sandia and other labs could inform them of possible technological solutions.

Sandia, working with National Security Technologies (NSTec), contractor for the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), developed the Chain of Custody Test Bed at NNSS to support arms control technology experiments and demonstrations. Working with Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) and Pacific Northwest national laboratories (PNNL), Sandia developed systems to track the movements of nuclear warheads throughout their life cycles for arms control purposes.

In the completed first phase of the project, Sandia developed the test bed backbone of the new monitoring system, worked out the systems engineering, provided the infrastructure to collect the data from sensors, defined interfaces between sensors and computers, and figured out how to store, organize, and display the monitoring data collected, Sandia physicist Sharon DeLand (6831) says.

Last spring, a second project that expands the Chain of Custody Test Bed research, called End to End, was initiated to broaden the research and development to questions of how to validate the entrance of a nuclear warhead into the monitoring system and confirm its eventual dismantlement. Both projects are funded by  NNSA.

The projects are giving researchers significant insights. The next generation of laboratory experts is learning to think about this problem in an agile fashion so they can provide insights to policymakers during future negotiations and develop solutions that will make it easier to implement new agreements, says Regina Griego (5537), lead systems engineer for the Chain of Custody project.

Under New START, the US and Russia currently only limit the number of deployed warheads on strategic weapons, but potential future monitoring of nondeployed nuclear weapons would bring new challenges.

Nondeployed warheads are in a dynamic environment throughout their lifecycles — in Department of Defense or Department of Energy storage, in transport, or undergoing maintenance. The Chain of Custody research focused on a systems approach to tracking warheads, says Mary Clare Stoddard, manager of Nuclear Monitoring and Transparency Dept. 6831.

Of course, the US has domestic systems in place to track its warheads. But when it comes to arms control verification, the procedures covered under the agreement need to provide enough information to convince a treaty partner that the US is abiding by the treaty’s terms and vice versa, Sharon says. For identification purposes, this could be somewhat like providing a fingerprint, but not an entire DNA profile.

Test bed an intermediary step

To explore ways to monitor warheads through their lifecycles, the Chain of Custody Test Bed was created to demonstrate the technologies and concept of an integrated monitoring system and evaluate US technologies in action, Regina says.

Sandia has a strong history of research and development for on-site inspection technologies, including the radiation detection equipment used for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, START, and New START.

The Chain of Custody and End-to-End programs grew out of research for the Warhead Monitoring Technology Program in the 1990s. That program developed monitoring concepts for a single weapon type, and then the Chain of Custody project expanded the research to monitor a variety of container configurations throughout more of the weapon lifecycle, says Kevin Seager (5944), an expert in radiation detection for treaty monitoring.

Demonstrating arms control technologies

The test bed consists of a tunnel that houses mock storage and maintenance areas and a second site that contains a mock staging bunker and high bay that simulate stockpile surveillance and life extension activities, Mary Clare says. Small sealed radiation sources were used to trigger some sensors in the testing.

The team installed instruments and stocked the facilities with containers that normally hold nuclear weapons, Regina says.

“These test assets weren’t easily found; Sandia and NSTec had to be scavengers,” she says. “It was quite a complex venture to collect containers and other equipment representing everything in the active stockpile.”

Sandia designed the communications backbone, a data collection and management system. Then Sandia, LLNL, and PNNL tested a variety of monitoring technologies and concepts. The test bed enabled an integrated experiment that included containers fitted with the different labs’ monitors moving among the mock facilities while the communications system tracked them, Mary Clare says.

Field test challenges

The field test experiment included baseline inspection activities: monitoring mock warheads during simulated stockpile management operations and transportation. During the four-day experiment, about 4,000 events were recorded, including attaching item monitors, checking items into and out of monitored areas, and transporting the items between locations, Sharon says.

 Successful field tests usually uncover problems not anticipated in a laboratory setting, and the Chain of Custody tests were no exception, Mary Clare says.

One challenge that emerged was synchronization of the monitoring systems. Even when times were off by tenths of seconds, it was very difficult to figure out what happened, says Mike Coram (6831), who led the software development team that collected and analyzed the data. The team built in additional synchronization to resolve the issue.

The team also battled temperatures of 120 degrees, snow, rain, and lightning, giving them a chance to expose the technology to realistic environments.

Despite the hurdles, after incorporating what the team learned during a series of technology evaluations, mock inspectors could track mock weapons through multiple facilities and reliably detect simple attempts to divert weapons or tamper with the monitoring system, Sharon says.

Test bed underpins research portfolio

The Chain of Custody project’s results became the bedrock for a large piece of NNSA’s arms control technology research and development portfolio, Regina says. “I’m really proud of the fact the team pulled together, that we were able to find such a great staff,” she says. “Every one of these people was critical.”

The Chain of Custody evaluation experiments showed it is possible:

  • to monitor and track test objects within facilities and in transit;
  • to operate in complex environments like the tunnel; and
  • to detect unauthorized opening of containers.

The Chain of Custody project was a team effort, with Regina organizing the test bed development. Test director Justin Fernandez (5943) planned and oversaw the movements of the mock weapons and orchestrated the test scenarios. Justin also designed how to attach the monitors developed at all the labs to the containers so one side could not remove them without the other side knowing.

Jay Brotz (6831) led development of the monitoring devices and equipment. The labs worked within the larger team, developing and demonstrating their tracking technologies, and enabling secure, trusted communications, which provided the basis for overall project evaluation.

The team used Sandia monitoring technologies and commercial motion sensors, door switches, and cameras, and integrated them into the communications interface.

Multilab team created to tackle arms control research

The End-to-End project is now underway as part of a larger NNSA R&D National Center for Nuclear Security program based at the NNSS, says Sandia’s deputy program manager Steve Vigil (5751). The End-to-End project broadens the concepts explored in the Chain of Custody project to include the development of technology to monitor during warhead confirmation and dismantlement and new features in the test bed.

In the End-to-End project, the multilab team is developing detection, tracking, and radiation measurement technologies, combining them into systems with integrated data collection and analysis, and exercising them with the various approaches to figure out how they could work together, Mary Clare says.

Los Alamos National Laboratory also joined the End-to-End project and will take part in a large-scale demonstration planned for 2018.

“No one has the right answer; they’re all different approaches. Because the labs are peer reviewing each other’s ideas, it really strengthens what comes out,” Steve says.


-- Heather Clark

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Nanobiologist joins ranks of state’s most influential women

INFLUENTIAL — Susan Rempe (8635) has worked on Sandia teams that have won R&D 100 and Federal Laboratory Consortium awards. “Susan has made important contributions to diverse fields,” says her manager, Eric Ackerman.

by Nancy Salem

Sandia’s Susan Rempe was named to the 2015 class of Albuquerque Business First’s Women of Influence for her professional achievements, leadership, and community involvement. “I’m excited about the award because it’s unusual for a scientist to be recognized as influential in the business world,” Susan (8635) says.

She is one of 30 honorees chosen from 450 nominees, and will receive the award at a gala March 12 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Albuquerque.

Susan is a nanobiologist whose field is molecular modeling, and she has worked on three major projects at Sandia. One is a technology that helps regulate carbon dioxide emissions from electricity-generating plants and other industrial activities. Her team’s nano-stabilized enzymatic membranes for CO2 capture provide a simple, more energy-efficient approach than conventional methods. The work won a national Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) award.

Susan also helped develop biomimetic membranes, a revolutionary advance in the field of membrane technology for water filtration. The biomimetic membrane is inspired by the way the human body filters water and is designed for water purification using reverse osmosis, which removes impurities with applied pressure powered by electrical energy. Biomimetic membranes can increase access to clean water by dramatically reducing energy use and costs. The technology received R&D 100 and FLC awards.

And Susan has worked with the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston on a problem involving an enzyme used to treat childhood leukemia that causes serious side effects. Susan’s team showed how to control the side effects by eliminating a side-reaction catalyzed by the enzyme. Susan and her colleagues are studying ways to use the enzyme in different cancer treatments.

“Susan collaborates with top experimental scientists on important problems so that her models and predictions can be tested and refined,” says Eric Ackerman, manager of Nanobiology Dept. 8635, who nominated Susan for the award. “When her part of a multidisciplinary project is successful, her models save the experimentalists years of work and hopefully lead to revolutionary breakthroughs.”

A thumbs down to medicine

Susan grew up in northwest Montana with an early love of science. As a high school senior she used ultraviolet spectroscopy to assess the water quality in Flathead Lake near her home. She graduated first in her class of about 500 students. “I thought I would become a doctor or a veterinarian,” she says. “I was curious about all kinds of things.”

She attended Columbia University in New York City as a pre-med, majoring in German literature and history. After college she married, started a family, and decided medicine wasn’t for her. She went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Montana and a master’s and doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Washington. “Physical chemistry explained all my questions in the world,” she says.

She planned to become a high school chemistry teacher until she ran into Sandia’s Jim Martin (1114), who was recruiting at Washington. “He told me Sandia is about science and solving fundamental problems, and about national security,” she says. “I could do what I wanted science-wise. He said I could find colleagues with any expertise I needed. It sounded like a place I would like to work.”

Research with a purpose

Susan started at the Labs in September 2001 and a few years later was among the first to join the newly formed biosciences center. “This organization suits my interest in fundamental science and fundamental biological chemistry and materials,” she says. “There’s an applied end, a purpose for the research.”

Susan has published extensively in scientific journals and was invited for the prestigious Wilsmore Fellowship at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is an adjunct professor of biology at the University of New Mexico. She has been invited to speak internationally at scientific meetings including Gordon Conferences and Telluride Workshops and to organize scientific conferences. She is a treasurer/secretary of a sub-group of the Biophysical Society.

Susan does white-water kayaking and back-country telemark skiing in her spare time, and is an accomplished pianist who has performed with the Symphony Orchestra of Albuquerque. She also volunteers in the community with such organizations as the Girl Scouts of America and at science fairs.

Susan says employers and female employees should take steps to bring more women into leadership roles. “Female leadership should be a top priority,” she says. “And the criteria for success and promotion must be based on specific measurable accomplishments.”


-- Nancy Salem

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‘The Jedi of education’: Bringing STEM to bilingual children

A FAMILY AFFAIR —  In the ¡Explora! Ingeniería program, families worked together to solve challenges designed by ¡Explora! educator Andres Barrera Guerrero (not pictured). (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Valerie Larkin

Before he took an entrepreneurial separation from MEMS Technologies Dept. 1719 in February, Jose Luis Cruz-Campa was an active member of Sandia’s volunteer community.

Having a father who was an electrical engineer sparked Jose Luis’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) when he was a child. Recognizing the importance of that early influence, Jose Luis frequently shares his time, enthusiasm, and expertise with local kids in the hope that they will pursue STEM studies and careers.

Jose Luis’s latest volunteer activity involved introducing children in grades four through eight to STEM concepts in a series of workshops conducted in Spanish.

Sandia sponsored Explora Ingeniería (Explore Engineering), a pilot program launched last fall, in collaboration with the ¡Explora! Science Center and Children’s Museum and the nonprofit organization Partnership for Community Action (PCA).

“The best part of the program, for me, was not only teaching the kids about science, but teaching them science in Spanish. I feel I am helping the students as a role model and showing them careers they might not be exposed to otherwise,” says Jose Luis, who recently won the Outstanding Engineer Award from the Region 6 Southwest Area chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

A new adventure each week

With the guidance of Jose Luis and Andres Barrera Guerrero, an ¡Explora! educator and facilitator, the students explored topics such as kinetic and potential energy, electromagnetics, chemistry, and structural engineering in weekly sessions at the Alamosa Community Center in southwest Albuquerque. Many of the kids’ parents attended the workshops too.

“Sometimes it makes more sense for a student who speaks Spanish at home to also hear about something cool in Spanish. For Spanish speakers, it’s like you are one person when you speak English, and that’s the school world. And you speak Spanish when you are at home, and that’s family. It’s like two different worlds, and then when you mix them, academics is family too. That’s the way I feel it, and that’s why it was important for me,” Jose Luis says.

Each session featured a different theme and a hands-on activity to reinforce the lesson. When the students learned about structural engineering, for example, they built structures from Popsicle sticks and experimented with various building profiles and environmental conditions, such as a vibration table to simulate an earthquake and a powerful fan to simulate a hurricane. The students also learned how elementary machines make work easier, constructed simple motors and then tested modifications for increased output, and manipulated gears to calculate the ratios governing transfer of power in a machine.

Jose Luis helped conduct the workshops, leading the children and their parents through the activities designed by Barrera Guerrero. Instead of teaching the concepts through lectures, the two opted for an inquiry-based format, asking the children questions and prompting them to think about alternative approaches to the activities instead of immediately providing solutions when they encountered challenges.

“At ¡Explora!, we teach science in a different way; we let the kids make their own discoveries. We are the Jedi of education,” says Barrera Guerrero.

PCA, which offers programs to strengthen New Mexico families through education, and health and economic opportunity, selected the children for Explora Ingeniería from families that participate in PCA’s advocacy programs.

Mayra Acevedo, PCA operations manager, says, “This program has truly benefitted the kids and their families. They keep coming back and learning new concepts, taking them home, and continuing the learning at home. These parents are engaged, and this is a healthy way to introduce science and to build family relationships.”

More than a STEM program

In addition to providing experiences designed to build the kids’ interest and competence in STEM, Explora Ingeniería also carried a meaningful message.

Jose Luis and Barrera Guerrero would wrap up each week’s workshop with a discussion of characteristics that lead to academic and professional success, with the aim of motivating kids to set goals and cultivate the traits — such as resilience, perseverance, and dedication — that will help them achieve those goals.

To teach the kids about perseverance, for example, they used examples the kids could relate to. “When you play video games, how many times do you have to play them to win? It’s the same with science, with your job, and with school — perseverance guarantees you succeed. You should know that within you, you can get it done,” Jose Luis says.



-- Valerie Larkin

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