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Lab News -- November 7, 2008

November 7, 2008

LabNews 11/07/2008PDF (1 Mb)

Sandia’s FACT site goes big

By Stephanie Holinka

Most Sandians will never find themselves anywhere near the Facility for Acceptance, Calibration, and Testing (FACT). The facility sits far southeast of the tech areas, down several winding dirt roads. Researchers at the remote site prefer their neighborhood quiet.

The site provides testing facilities for researchers to evaluate geophysical sensor systems of all types, but primarily seismometers and infrasound sensors (for very low-frequency sound). These sensors are the most useful for detecting nuclear explosions hidden underground or near the surface. Signals from these large events can travel thousands of miles through the Earth or the atmosphere until they are picked up by a monitoring station.

Expanding its footprint

Generally, sensor system experiments usually involve laying out sensors, creating signals that are recorded by the instrumentation, and then analyzing the recorded data. Seismic equipment doesn’t respond well to above-ground noise, so the facility has underground spaces and boreholes where the only vibrations the sensors pick up will be the vibrations from their tests.

Soon, FACT will expand its footprint from 40 acres to 400 acres to provide more testing space and more buffering space between its facilities and other projects.

“There are lots of different types of seismic work,” says Sandia principal investigator Darren Hart (5736). “Nuclear test monitoring sensors, unattended sensors, tunnel sensors. After all, explosions are explosions.”

Some sensors tested at the site can be used to monitor seismic activity related to natural geophysical events both underground and above ground. Other systems tested there will be installed at locations all over the world to alert in the event of unexpected underground nuclear tests. The sensor systems also vary in their range from “near field” sensors that monitor things nearby to those that monitor things hundreds to thousands of miles away.

“Some sensor work involves distinguishing man-made seismic events from naturally occurring events such as earthquakes,” Darren says. Researchers need to know how to distinguish nuclear detonations from large explosions for industrial purposes such as mining and from earthquakes. “Earthquake signals start small and grow larger,” Darren says. “Mining or other explosions create big bangs that get smaller over time. Their profiles are different.”

Studying proliferation detection

Most of the Sandia researchers at the site study proliferation detection. They evaluate ways to improve our ability to monitor the Earth for underground nuclear detonations. One way researchers decide how to look for underground nuclear tests is by doing mantle and core simulations. Researchers attempt to discover what would happen to signals as they pass through the Earth’s mantle and core and what they would look like in the event of a test.

Mark Harris (5736), FACT site manager, says engineers at the site test components that go into sensor systems for US monitoring systems deployed by the Air Force. Other researchers develop and test seismic sensor systems that get deployed around the world for the United Nations’ Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) detection systems at International Monitoring System (IMS) sites.

Mark says that nations that participate in the CTBT would want to know if anyone attempts any nuclear test. Sensor systems such as those developed at Sandia allow CTBT participants to be confident that unexpected tests can be detected and analyzed.

Two years ago, North Korea surprised the world by attempting a full-scale nuclear test. Researchers wanted to know if the test was successful and precisely how successful it was. Sensor systems such as those tested at the site are one way to collect data on such activities.

In late October, the FACT site sponsors hosted the first Rio Grande Instrumentation and Testing Community Meeting. The event brought together seismic researchers from Sandia, United States Geological Survey, Los Alamos, New Mexico Tech, and many other organizations. Mark says that one goal of the meeting was to solicit collaborations with outside agencies to better meet future threats.

The workshop also included representatives from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL) Instrumentation Center at New Mexico Tech. This consortium provides state-of-the art equipment for many different types of seismology research. Anyone can request to use PASSCAL equipment for scientific work, provided they allow the experiment data to be freely available two years after the completion of field work.

Ultimately, researchers at the FACT site hope that expanding the site and engaging sensor researchers in other communities will allow them to share best practices and to expand work done at the site. In the future FACT also hopes to reach out to Kirtland AFB testing groups so that explosive events on base could be used as data in sensor system tests. “It would be nice to analyze the activity on base,” Darren says, “so that we can compare our analysis of FACT data to the activities taking place during the tests.”-- Stephanie Holinka

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Sandia hosts fourth Decade of the Mind symposium

By Chris Burroughs

Reverse engineering of the brain will be the focus of a two-day symposium — Decade of the Mind IV — Jan. 14-15 in Albuquerque. Hosted by Sandia, the symposium will be attended by some 200 to 300 internationally respected scientists and decision makers.

The symposium, subtitled “Reverse Engineering the Brain: Sowing the Seeds for Technology Innovation,” will explore recent scientific advances in brain science and application of this science to create new technologies.

“This will be a very interesting two days of discussions that will reach across disparate fields such as cognitive science, medicine, neuroscience, psychology, mathematics, engineering, neurotechnology and computer science,” says John Wagner (6341), manager of Sandia’s cognition department and symposium chairman. “We at Sandia are honored to host a symposium of this magnitude.”

Discussions at the symposium sessions will cover potential benefits and hurdles of reverse engineering of the brain, computational neuroscience, cognitive modeling and massive neuronal simulations. Scientific breakthroughs in these areas are believed to offer insights that will spawn a wave of innovative new technologies promoting US competitiveness across nearly every sector of the economy.

The symposium will be held at the Tamaya Resort north of Albuquerque and is open to the public. Registrations are accepted at Cosponsors include the Krasnow Institute at George Mason University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Santa Fe Institute, the University of New Mexico, and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

For more information about the Decade of the Mind symposium, contact Kevin Dixon at 505-284-5615 or

Symposium speakers

The symposium will include keynote addresses by Rick Stevens, senior vice president of Human Resources and Administration for Boeing, and George Johnson, New York Times science writer. Also presenting will be Jim Olds, George Mason University; Jim Giordano, Georgetown University; Christof Koch, California Institute of Technology; Bob Shulman, Yale University; Jim Albus, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Jay McClelland, Stanford University; Jeff Krichmar, University of California, Irvine; and Gert Cauwenberghs, University of California, San Diego.

Initiative focuses on four broad areas

(From Wikipedia entry on Decade of the Mind)

Recent advances in brain research, in combination with the scientific consensus that mind emerges as a result of the activities of the brain, has led to the notion of a new Decade project — one dedicated to understanding the phenomenon of mind within the context of neuroscience.

In May 2007 a group of leading scientists met at George Mason University’s Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study to map out what such a national initiative might look like. The starting point was the earlier Decade of the Brain initiative during the 1990s, which set the stage for today’s accelerated understanding of the operations and diseases of the brain.

The Decade of the Mind initiative is transdisciplinary and multiagency in its approach. Success will require research that reaches across many disciplines.

The Decade of the Mind initiative focuses on four broad areas:

The Albuquerque symposium is the fourth in a series of Decade of the Mind conferences.— Chris Burroughs

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Sandia’s entrepreneurial program is back

By Chris Burroughs

Sandia’s Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology (ESTT) program is back as an important part of Sandia’s technology transfer mission.

So says Hal Morgan (1030), senior manager for Industrial Partnerships and Strategy.

The program — one that allows Sandia employees to leave the Labs to start companies or help expand small businesses that already exist and then return to the Labs two years later if the venture doesn’t work — was put on hold starting Dec. 21, 2007, to make some much needed procedural changes.

“Al Romig [Interim Chief Operating Officer] just lifted the moratorium on Oct. 15,” Hal says. “We have addressed the deficiencies identified last year and believe ESTT is a lot better as a result and will be even more successful in transferring Sandia technology to industry. We will reevaluate the program in a year to make sure. ”

Two days after the moratorium was lifted the first Sandia employee, James Pacheco, took an entrepreneurial separation under the new procedures. He joined a small start-up company in Pasadena, Calif., eSolar, that develops, constructs, and deploys modular, scalable solar thermal power plants.

Since ESTT was launched in 1994, 137 employees have left Sandia to start up 44 entrepreneurial companies and help expand an additional 46 companies. Fifty-five people started businesses and 82 helped expand businesses. Sandia has negotiated 42 licenses with ESTT companies.

After a team spent several months evaluating the program, ESTT underwent several fundamental changes. In particular, says Dick Fairbanks (1033), who manages the day-to-day operations of the program, there was a renewed emphasis on line management responsibilities. Management must agree that the individual leaving under the program is the right person to undertake the entrepreneurial activity. In addition, the line manager will be working much more closely with the partnerships during all phases of the separation process.

Most importantly, care must be taken to ensure there is no conflict of interest while the employee remains at Sandia. The employee can’t work on the new business during Sandia business hours. Also, newly added was an ESTT exit agreement that clarifies expectations for both Sandia and the entrepreneur.

“People leaving Sandia as part of the ESTT program understand that once they are gone from the Labs they become a third party. They don’t have access to employees or facilities unless they make formal arrangements through a CRADA [Cooperative Research and Development Agreements], work for others agreement, or the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program,” Dick says.

Another change is the expedition of the employee’s separation from Sandia. For instance, in the case of an employee seeking a license, he or she has one month to leave the Labs once the license is finalized

Exiting Sandians can participate in ESTT in two ways. They can take a technology they developed at Sandia, have it licensed, and start a new company. Or they can leave and go to an existing small business, taking their unique experience with them.

James and Randy Normann represent both types of separations. James took the expertise he gained working at Sandia in the areas of concentrated solar power and access delay technology (research and development of security systems and technology) to a small Pasadena company, the same company that recently retired Sandian Craig Tyner joined in September.

Randy left in April to start his own company, Perma Tools, a technology solutions and high-temperature electronics provider enabling new energy frontiers in ultra-deep natural gas production, steam flood assisted oil production and enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). He obtained a license from Sandia for technology he developed while he worked at the Labs and will pay Sandia a four percent royalty fee every year.

Both men say taking the plunge to leave Sandia was a difficult and risky decision. Randy worked at Sandia for 23 years, and James for 22.

They are both starting out in their entrepreneurial ventures, but the program has had many successes in its decade-and-a-half existence. Some include Tim Estes, Tom Brennan, Tom Anderson, and James Gee:

• In 1994 Tim Estes became the first to take advantage of the entrepreneurial leave program, setting up Conductor Analysis Technologies in partnership with Ron Rhodes, who left AT&T Bell Labs at the same time. Conductor Analysis Technologies is a provider of market-critical data used by designers, purchasers, and manufacturers of printed circuit boards. The data provides quantitative statistics on worldwide printed circuit manufacturing capability, quality, and reliability.

• Also in 1994, Tom Brennan, a solid-state electronics expert, started up MicroOptical Device (MODE) to commercialize products based on Sandia’s Vertical Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser (VCSEL) technology. He sold MODE to Emcore in 1998 and became VP of a new division entitled Emcore Photovoltaics. Tom later became president and CEO of Zia Laser, which developed quantum dot laser diodes in 2001, then in April 2008 joined ARCH Venture Partners as a partner with a special DOE-sanctioned assignment — Entrepreneur in Residence at Sandia.

• After leading some of the first 3-D touch applications in the world at Sandia, Tom Anderson established Novint Technologies, Inc., a pioneer in haptics for consumer computing. His company’s highly successful Falcon is a 3-D game interface that makes virtual objects and environments “feel real.” Replacing a computer mouse or joystick, it is essentially a small robot that lets the user feel shape, weight, texture, dimension, dynamics, 3-D motion, and force effects when playing enabled games. Novint went public in June 2006, and the Falcon is available for sale at retail outlets.

• James Gee’s group at Sandia broke a succession of records for solar cell efficiency before he left to help establish Advent Solar Inc. The company, a manufacturer of advanced technology solar cells and modules, has grown from two employees to 71 since it was founded in 2002. Its technology centers on an innovative back-contact cell technology and module assembly. James spent 18 years focused on various aspects of photovoltaic solar energy research during his Sandia career and is the lead inventor of intellectual property exclusively licensed to Advent Solar by Sandia.

More information about the ESTT program can be obtained by contacting Dick Fairbanks at 844-9462 or — Chris Burroughs

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