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Lab News -- September 1, 2006

September 1, 2006

LabNews 09/01/2006PDF (650KB)

Sandia plays role in DHS program to bolster commuter train security

By John German

Several Sandians worked alongside transit officials at a security checkpoint in a New Jersey commuter train station recently as part of a program to improve rail security.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program, funded by

Congress shortly after the 2004 commuter train bombings in Madrid, Spain, is intended to identify security approaches that may help prevent attacks on US rail transit systems.

The two-week field demonstration in July, which tested five new detection systems provided by vendors, took place at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Exchange Place Station in Jersey City. The trials involved checking rail passengers for explosive objects hidden underneath clothing as they passed through a checkpoint.

Its focus was on large threats such as explosive vests and package bombs, says project leader Jim Phelan of Contraband Detection Dept. 6418. Two other Sandians, Eric Varley (6418) and Andrew Vaughn (8134), served as technology experts during the trials and worked alongside Transportation Security Administration screeners.

“Security systems for passenger rail are challenged by open station design, ease and speed of entry, and low-cost features that make mass transit popular,” Jim says.

Five systems tested

The five demonstrated systems employ various standoff imaging techniques — including millimeter wave, infrared thermography, and terahertz imaging technologies — to detect large threat objects as commuters pass walkthrough checkpoints. A few of the systems included automatic threat recognition.

The field demonstrations in Jersey City followed a round of laboratory evaluations at Sandia of the five systems. For the lab tests Sandians built mock bombs, including explosive vests and belts, to understand system performance against a range of threats. They also tested the systems for false alarm rates, passing through the mock checkpoints with concealed cell phones, PDAs, and other commonly carried objects.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Jim of the activity leading up to the field tests.

The July trials in New Jersey were the third in a series of field exercises that are part of the overall DHS program.

The first, in June at a MARTA station in Atlanta, Ga., evaluated dogs specially trained to sniff out explosive vapors coming off passengers moving through crowds. The dogs were trained via an Auburn University “vapor wake canine” process. Andy Vaughn led the canine field tests and evaluation, with participation from Oak Ridge National Lab and the Atlanta Police Department bomb squad.

The second field exercise, in June at a Maryland Transit Administration station in Baltimore, tested two developmental fare-card vending systems that detect trace explosives residue on passengers’ fingers. Four Sandians — Dave Hannum (6418), Mary Mitchell (6418), Akinbayowa Falase (6115), and Jim — planned and performed the field test and served as technical advisors.

Next step: assessment

Sandians will now begin assessing the systems and approaches based on the data gathered during the lab evaluations and field tests.

As part of the DHS program, Oak Ridge National Lab also is using enterprise modeling to assess the greater impact of new security systems on rail transit in terms of delays, costs, manpower, and other factors.

“This has been a great project in demon-strating where technology can meet some of these needs, and how much further it needs to go,” says Jim. -- John German

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National nanotechnology Core Facility formally opens

By Neal Singer

Several stories about Caltech professor Richard Feynman surfaced at a ceremony dedicating the 96,000-square-foot Sandia-Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) Core Facility on Aug. 23.

DOE Deputy Secretary Clay Sell mentioned the talk by Feynman in which he made famous the phrase “plenty of room at the bottom” (referring to technological opportunities in nanometer spaces).

Then the usually straight-faced Sen. Jeff Bingaman described Feynman’s presence at a LANL security meeting in which Edward Teller opined that too much was being made out of security issues. Teller felt that he kept his keys satisfactorily locked in his desk. Feynman, one of whose hobbies was picking locks, walked casually out of the meeting as Teller spoke, entered Teller’s office, picked his lock, took his keys, and re-locked the drawer. Returning to the meeting, he mentioned to Teller that he’d be honored to view Teller’s security apparatus. When Teller obliged, only to find his keys missing, he immediately understood what had happened and chastised Feynman.

“I don’t know what that story has to do with nanotechnology,” said Jeff, “but it’s too good a story to pass up.”

After praising the openness of the new facility — “you don’t have to drive through a checkpoint to reach it” — he went on to say that the $75.8 million spent on the project (including a Los Alamos Gateway facility) constituted “a statement of the nation’s priorities and the importance we attach to remaining preeminent in science and technology.”

The building, on the west side of Eubank Boulevard just north of the Eubank Gate, is funded by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Sandia Labs President and Director Tom Hunter spoke in visionary terms about the future of nanotechnology, saying that he saw the new building as “a symbol that science can be transformed.” Historically, he said, “science has gone from the top down to get to the bottom of things, an unraveling process. Nano is raveling, putting it together, teaching us a new way to think, learn, and create.”

Sen. Pete Domenici held both a carrot and stick, describing his wonder at the building but warning that output from the facility was expected and would be closely monitored by funders.

“What a fantastic thing,” he said, gesturing at the CINT building. “Notice that the government did not go out and establish these [five DOE Office of Science nano centers] in hundreds of universities — they are in labs the government has confidence to give big tasks. Maybe we don’t deserve it — I personally think they couldn’t have chosen better — but remember, you’re going to be watched.”

Later he said, “I’m so pleased we can fund this [work] for a few years at maximum to see what you can do.”

Senior VP and Deputy Laboratories Director for Integrated Technologies and Systems Al Romig, who worked with Terry Michalske and others to launch the idea of a Sandia/LANL nanotechnology center in the first place, pointed out that “almost any organization can build a building, but the possibilities of CINT are embodied in the people who work here.”

About the building itself, Patty Wagner from DOE’s Sandia Site Office praised construction of the building for being on-time and on-budget. “We were going to build a DOE building [on the 20 acres] here, but I think this is a better building to have here,” she said.

“Dr. Hunter,” she said, turning from the podium to face Tom, “this is another example of a line-item project well-managed by Sandia.”

Terry Wallace, LANL acting principal associate director, spoke about the appropriateness of “integrating Los Alamos and Sandia around a new type of science.” He said that “We cannot underestimate the danger to the country today. These have solutions in science and technology.”

The speakers were each introduced by CINT director Julia Phillips, who praised those involved with the project.

CINT is the only research center run jointly by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. The CINT Core Facility is the only permanent Sandia research facility in Albuquerque located off the airbase.

Design evokes Southwest heritage

The building’s curved front wall of stacked stone, hundreds of feet long, symbolically links New Mexico’s history of innovation by Native Americans at Chaco Canyon, nearly a thousand years ago, with that emerging from today’s labs.

The center is expected to help keep the US in a leading position in the expanding field of nano- technology. Countries around the world are vying to be first in a research area that may have considerable economic, scientific, and military consequences.

Researchers from the University of New Mexico Cancer Research Institute, the University of New Mexico, and New Mexico Tech will participate in nanotechnology projects, as will researchers from around the world.

The CINT Core Facility houses low-vibration laboratories with sensitive microscopes for materials characterization, chemical/biological synthesis labs, and a clean room for device integration. The Scanning Probes Laboratory houses unique and state-of-the-art instruments crucial to the advancement of nanoscience. The work will focus on nanomaterials and nanofabrication.

The Core Facility will be a distribution point for researchers best served at “gateways” at LANL and Sandia.

The 36,500-square-foot CINT Gateway to Los Alamos Facility at LANL features roughly 11,000 square feet of laboratory space dedicated to chemical and biological synthesis and characterization, biomaterials fabrication and characterization, optical microcopy and spectroscopy, physical synthesis, thin film fabrication, spatially resolved scanned probe characterization, and advanced computation.

Both facilities will house lab scientists, post-doctoral researchers, technical support staff, and visiting researchers.

A ceremony marking the opening of the LANL Gateway Facility was held in Los Alamos Aug. 21.

The Sandia Gateway is already in place in Bldg. 897.

A new agreement and laboratories milestone, called a pre-competitive users agreement (PUA) and designed specifically for outside researchers, is in place. The agreement with DOE enables relatively quick access for industrial, university, and non-profit researchers because DOE BES agreed to delegate its right to review and approve each agreement to local authorities at Sandia and LANL prior to allowing users access to the CINT Gateway facilities.

The CINT External Agreements Management Plan was prepared by Sandia CINT User Program Manager Neal Shinn (1131), Sandia Strategic Relationship Center (9112; Deborah Payne, and Vic Weiss), and the Small Science Cluster Business Office (1051; Alan Nichelason and Jennifer Lange), in collaboration with counterparts at LANL. -- Neal Singer

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Three lightning detection systems alert outdoor workers that electrical storms are in area

By Chris Burroughs

Everyone knows that working outside when lightning strikes can be dangerous. But at Sandia it’s less dangerous than most work places.

The reason? Three lightning detection systems give workers early warning that electrical storms are in the area. Two of those protect people working with explosives, and the third protects everyone.

EOC system

About three years ago Sandia’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) replaced an unreliable system that measured lightning potential with one that provides information on generally where and when lightning strikes occur.

Sandia’s sole meteorologist, Gina Deola (10333), worked with the EOC to determine which system to buy and where to put it. At her suggestion, Sandia purchased a system from the Arizona-based company Vaisala that consists of a sensor placed on a five-foot concrete pedestal just north of Tech Area 3 in the middle of the desert.

When lightning strikes anywhere within a 30- and 15-mile radius of Sandia, the information acquired by the sensor is transmitted via a modem to a computer in the EOC, located in the basement of Bldg. 801. Data concerning strikes are instantly displayed.

Software called WARN produces on a computer screen in the EOC a pie-shaped chart centered over a map of Sandia that consists of 16 30-mile pie-wedge-shaped sectors and 16 15-mile pie-wedge-shaped sectors. They show the general area where the lightning strikes are occurring. When there are five or more strikes in a sector, the sector turns red. Less than five, it is yellow. Sometimes — like at 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 21 during a riveting lightning storm — the entire pie turns red.

John Sensi (10337), who manages the computer system, says when any quadrant turns red, an alarm alerts EOC communication coordinators. They then send a text page message to about 200 Sandians warning them that lightning is in the area. The people on the page list have all requested to be notified when lightning strikes are in the area. Most work outside as groundskeepers, at the Solar Tower, at Coyote Canyon, or are contractors at construction sites.

“This is our best effort to warn people working outside about lightning strikes,” John says. “It doesn’t predict where strikes will occur, it just tells them that lightning strikes are happening in the area.”

Over the past several weeks, the monitoring system has been busy, John says. There has been hardly an afternoon when some sectors or all have not been red, and workers have not been paged.

People wishing to be added to the pager lightning strike advisory list should call the EOC at 844-6511.

Two lightning warning systems protect explosives workers

Sandians working with explosives have two lightning warning systems.

“Obviously it is really important to keep people working outdoors with explosives informed about possible lightning,” says Amarante Martinez (1535), who operates the lightning warning systems for field testing groups. “Even conditions with high electric static conditions that may not produce lightning can be a problem and force operations to shut down. That’s why we use these two systems.”

One system is a Lightning Early Warning System (LEWS), a commercial product that, through a satellite, monitors lightning strikes throughout the country. However, Sandia has only purchased rights to monitor strikes within a 120-mile radius of the Labs and closely watches strikes in a 60-mile range. All data are archived.

As an example, Amarante points out that within a 24-hour period Aug. 22-23, there were 323 lightning strikes in a 120-mile radius of Sandia and 39 strikes in a 60-mile range.

The second system, which consists of 14 probe sensors on candy cane-shaped five-foot poles, is homegrown, designed by Sandia engineers.

“This is a system Sandia developed on its own because of need,” Amarante says. “It’s gone through many renditions with the most recent version put on the web two years ago. It is available to any Sandia group that wants to subscribe.”

The 14 probes — located primarily in Area 3 where field testing is routinely done but also in other locations around Sandia including Mt. Washington, the Eubank Gate, and Sandia’s munitions storage facility — transmit data constantly. The information is put on a website. The sensors detect volts per meter (V/m). When V/m is at 1,000 or less there is no advisory. An advisory is issued at 1,000 to 2,000 V/m, a yellow code, and at 2,000 V/m and above, a red code. If lightning is in the vicinity, it’s not unusual to reach 7,000 V/m. That’s definitely time to suspend outdoor work!

Organizations subscribe to the web-based lightning monitoring system. Amarante says explosives testing groups constantly monitor the website while preparing for and staging tests.

“They know they are in danger if the V/m goes into the red zone,” he says.

Recently subscribers have been given pagers that provide text page messages whenever V/m at any probe site reaches the yellow zone warning level.

Some organizations have local probes at their locations just in case the web and radio frequency repeater go down. They provide the same type of V/m information in the consoles.

“The warnings provided by both the web and portable sensors have definitely saved lives,” Amarante says. “People need to know when and how to get to a safe area or vehicle. And we do follow the 30-30 rule, which is not to resume outdoor activities until 30 minutes after the last audible thunder.”

Sandia offers meteorological service

In addition to the three lightning monitoring systems, Sandia has a well established meteorology program run by the Labs’ sole meteorologist Gina Deola (10333).

For more than a decade Gina has kept track of wind speed, wind direction, temperature, humidity, and other weather data by managing eight tower stations equipped with instrumentation scattered throughout Sandia and KAFB. The sensors provide information important to emergency management, environmental activities, and researchers doing outdoor tests. It is also used by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in modeling plume flow in case of accidental chemical spills.

The information obtained through the network is placed on a website ( and is available for anyone at Sandia to view. The monitoring program also provides Labs-wide customer support, upon request, with additional meteorological instrumentation. -- Chris Burroughs

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