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Lab News -- February 17, 2006

February 17, 2006

LabNews 02/17/2006PDF (650KB)

NNSA chief Linton Brooks, Labs Director Tom Hunter introduce Red Storm supercomputer to news media, public

By Bill Murphy

In a day that highlighted Sandia’s up-and-running Red Storm supercomputer — the fastest in the world in two critical benchmark tests, if not in raw speed — NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks told members of the media that the DOE/NNSA weapons complex is “on the verge of making some fairly major changes in the way we maintain the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile.”

“We’re looking toward a smaller, transformed stockpile that is based around a concept called the reliable replacement warhead,” Brooks said during a Feb. 8 media event in the Vislab in Sandia’s Joint Computational Engineering Lab. The RRW concept, he said, hinges on responsive infrastructure and production and design capabilities.

“We can think about these dramatic advances,” Brooks said, because of the high quality of the talent at Sandia and the other weapons labs — and because of the availability of modern computers.”

Labs Director Tom Hunter, who introduced Ambassador Brooks to reporters, lauded NNSA for its role in funding and supporting investment in advanced computing. Red Storm and its sister computers at other NNSA labs, Tom said, are enabling a much-needed “reengineering of engineering” for the 21st century.

“In terms of raw speed in computing,” Tom noted, “of the top six supercomputers in the world, the NNSA now has five and two of them are at Sandia [Red Storm and Thunderbird].”

With the power of the new generation of computers, Tom noted, scientists and engineers can “look at phenomena we were unable to do even a few years ago.”

Tom cited the role of “some brave thinkers almost two decades ago,” including many Sandians, whose vision of massively parallel computing and the ability to link thousands of processors to work simultaneously to solve huge problems has been fully vindicated.

Using the stunning graphics display capabilities of the JCEL Vislab, Tom showed two visualizations showcasing Red Storm’s extraordinary capabilities. The first, showing the results of a 10-megaton nuclear blast to destroy an asteroid that may be on a collision course with Earth, depicts in vivid detail the asteroid coming apart and scattering into space in smaller (less dangerous) pieces. The second visualization, a sophisticated simulation of a fire event involving a nuclear weapon, showed streaks of fire racing across the giant Vislab screen. Tom emphasized that the videos were not animations (such as might be produced by a movie studio), but were true simulations derived from the physics of the phenomena being studied, simulacra of real-world events. There was, in short, a deep reality behind the beautiful images.

Ambassador Brooks, picking up on Tom’s theme, said, “When I grew up, there were two ways to think about science: theory and experiment. Some of my colleagues in the scientific community now say that scientists in the future will grow up thinking there is theory, there is experiment, and there is simulation — three ways in which we advance scientific knowledge.

If that turns out to be true — and it probably will be — it will be the result, in part, of the kind of spectacular successes in simulation that you saw [in the visulazations].”

Brooks said the new era of supercomputers is the result of strategic decisions made at DOE. “A decade ago, we sat down as a community [i.e., weapons complex policy leadership] and said that we needed — in order to truly conduct the kind of simulation we wanted — to improve the state of the art in computing by a factor of a million.

“A factor of a million in anything is pretty spectacular; in fact we’ve done that in computing. And we tout that a lot in terms in terms of the physics of weapons, but it’s equally important in the terms of basic safety and reliability, a part of the program that Sandia works on.”

In discussing Red Storm’s specific capabilities, Brooks noted that it performs 36 trillion operations a second, “a number that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago and regarded as a very considerable stretch even 10 years ago.”

Noting that references to supercomputers often discuss just the raw speed — 36 teraops in the case of Red Storm — Brooks offered a more refined perspective.

“There are a series of so-called high-performance computing challenge benchmarks, and Red Storm was designed to focus on two issues. . . .”

In the two “bottleneck issues” it was designed to address — the efficiency in which the 10,000+ processors are connected and the speed with which the processors can access memory — Red Storm is now the fastest computer in the world.

“Red Storm,” Brooks said, “represents work we did because we needed it for the stockpile, but it is advancing the state of human knowledge.” -- Bill Murphy

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Joint Sandia, LLNL, DHS bio-restoration demonstration helps large transport hubs prepare for bioterrorism

For information, contact Mike Janes

In the future, the nation will be better prepared for biological pathogen terrorist attacks against airports and other transportation facilities.

This improved readiness is thanks to a project funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and led jointly by Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national labs.

Late last month, a two-day demonstration event was held at the San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 for 120 officials from around the nation to lay out the response and restoration protocols to be undertaken if a biological attack occurred.

The demonstration culminated the three-year interagency collaborative effort, focusing on critical transportation facilities.

Representatives and key collaborators came from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the Defense Department, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the California Environmental Protection Agency, and key personnel from other airports (O’Hare International, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Los Angeles International).

Under the Bio Restoration Demonstration Project, researchers from Lawrence Livermore and Sandia developed restoration plans and demonstrated how airports hit by biological terrorist attacks such as anthrax could be quickly decontaminated and reopened. As part of the demonstration, personnel donned haz-mat gear and analyzed areas of the terminal based on a mock scenario supplied by the FBI.

“A deliberate bioattack on an airport could have far-reaching impacts, not only in terms of public health but also in economics,” says LLNL’s Ellen Raber, a principal investigator on the project. “This project is all about being better prepared to respond quickly and effectively while protecting human health and the environment.”

San Francisco International Airport was a partner in the three-year study. The national lab researchers used SFO’s facilities to evaluate what would need to be done to restore an airport and how to minimize impacts on airport operations.

Raber’s co-principal investigator, Sandia senior scientist Mark Tucker, says many of the ideas developed through the project could apply to the nation’s other airports and other transportation systems, such as subways.

“One of the aims of the effort has been to use SFO as a case study to transfer lessons learned, templates, and technologies to other airports,” Mark says.

“This demonstration project successfully integrated technologies and protocols, addressing many of the requirements that the Department of Homeland Security had identified as critical needs for airport restoration in the unfortunate event of a biological attack,” says Elizabeth George, DHS deputy director for biological countermeasures.

Included in the airport restoration templates are protocols for characterizing an area through sampling and analysis after an attack; decontamination options; approaches for allowing public re-use of facilities; and the possible application of longer-term monitoring.

As a part of the approximately $10 million DHS project, researchers at Sandia and LLNL upgraded technologies to help shorten the cleanup times after a biological attack. Among the advances demonstrated at the airport were:

• A Geographic Information System–based indoor sample tracking system called the Building Restoration Operations Optimization Model (BROOM), developed by a team of Sandia scientists. The system permits public health authorities to collect samples in a more efficient manner, manage the large amount of data associated with samples collected from a contaminated facility, and visually display the extent of any biological contamination. Sandia’s BROOM decision support tool, says Mark, is one of three technologies recently selected for the DHS Science and Technology directorate commercialization pilot program.

• A rapid viability test procedure, developed by LLNL researchers, to determine within hours, rather than days, whether anthrax spores are dead or alive — a capability that will greatly assist in the decontamination process by shortening cleanup timelines.

• Sampling methodologies developed by Sandia and LLNL to better understand the percentage of anthrax spores collected in samples (so public health authorities will have more knowledge about the extent of a contaminated area). This work also focused on how to sample more effectively using more statistical-based approaches for evaluating cleanups. -- For information, contact Mike Janes

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Tom Hunter joins President Bush in panel discussion at Intel on America’s global competitiveness

By Ken Frazier


Less than six months after President George W. Bush’s memorable visit to Sandia to sign the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Lab News, Aug. 19, 2005), the president was back in the Albuquerque area, and Sandia Director Tom Hunter found himself once again participating in a presidential event.

This time it was in a panel on the president’s new American Competitiveness Initiative conducted at the Intel New Mexico plant in Rio Rancho. Tom was invited to participate in the

55-minute-long, locally televised panel discussion Feb. 3 along with Intel CEO Craig Barrett and several local educational leaders and students.

President Bush himself led the discussions, which centered on boosting US technological competitiveness and math and science education. The initiative, announced by Bush in his State of the Union address three nights earlier, grew out of recommendations of a National Academy of Sciences study led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine and was encouraged and “fine-tuned” (in the president’s words at Intel) by New Mexico’s two US senators, Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman.

In introducing Tom Hunter, the president jokingly recalled the tour Tom gave him of Sandia’s solar thermal test facility last August. “The last time I was with him,” said the president, “we were standing out kind of in a desert area, and he fired up one of these new solar research [here he paused] beams.” That provoked some laughter. “All I can tell you is that I was glad I wasn’t at the other end of the beam.” That brought more laughter. He quickly added, “They’re doing some good stuff when it comes to research and development at Sandia.”

“Welcome,” Bush said to Tom. “Thanks for being here. What’s on your mind?”

Here is a slightly edited transcript of Tom’s comments to the President:

Tom Hunter: Thank you, Mr. President. Well, I should say it’s a real pleasure today to represent about 10,000 of the most committed and best men and women in the role of national security [R&D], support for our economy, and our energy future. It’s probably important to say, though, that this initiative could not have been more important to the future of the country, and could not be more important to me.

As I look back on my life, I was born in a place and time when opportunities weren’t that great. I was a middle child of a recently widowed mother, and the economic conditions were not good. I ended up through that period having a mother who loved me and encouraged me about some things — education and hard work. And because of that I was able to arrive at a position where I can represent this fine institution and be seated with you today.

And it makes me feel good that those values of education are so important in this initiative that you have. As we look forward, though, which is going to be absolutely critical to this country in how we work across the globe, we’re going to do some new thinking. It’s going to be necessary to not look back at how we have done science and engineering in the past, but look ahead and ask questions about, how can we encourage scientific thought from its very roots? How can we reengineer, if you will, engineering? How can we say there are different ways to do things than we’ve done in the past?

We have just begun to realize the important power of these large supercomputers that are now present everywhere. As I sit here today, a few miles away at our laboratory there’s a computer doing something like 40 trillion calculations every second. And that allows people to realize and see things they could never have dreamed of years ago.

We’re also seeing now — Intel being one of the most prominent examples [of private sector firms involved in this transition] — what I call small, smart things that will redefine how all of our lives work, from our ability to understand the functions of the human body to how we process information, to how we provide lighting — all those questions. And, finally, looking very deep at the atoms, themselves, and asking, how can we build them up in a way that allows new material to be created? This nano-technology is opening a new frontier.

So as we think about educating this next generation of scientists, engineers, and technicians, it’s really critical that we think differently and [inventively] about how we can have a prominent role in those areas across the globe.

Our view of ourselves and our institution is to help partner with all the people that you see at this table, and to try to bring forward new ways to look at education and support for education and be prominent in that. We have a large number of partnerships to do so, not only here, but with every university across the country. And I’m proud to be able to be a part of that, proud you called such prominent attention to it, and thank you for being here.

[Bush then marveled at how fast technology advances — people can now watch DVDs in their cars while motoring across Texas — and asked Tom to give an example for the audience of a government-funded research area that has an application to peoples’ lives.]

Tom: Well, let me give you an example. If you look at the lights in this room or other places, you’ll find that about 20 percent of electricity is devoted to lighting, just to make light, at night and as we see today. If you could understand how to change the atoms in one of these little photodiodes — and rearrange them in such a way that you could put in a little electricity and out would come light, then you could end up, by a factor of 10, changing the energy consumption in lights all across the globe.

The issue, of course, is how you make white light. Today we can make lots of red light and other colors, but we can’t make white light. So with research, going in and bending the atoms around a bit, we can figure out how to make that lighting just so much more efficient. And I predict that, like DVDs in the cars across Texas, you’ll see lighting in a few years that is all done by other means, saving us an enormous amount of energy. -- Ken Frazier

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