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Lab News --February 12, 2010

February 12, 2010

LabNews02/12/2010PDF (1.5 Mb)

Understanding the secrets of water on a surface

By Neal Singer

It may seem a harmless question to ask how molecules of water arrange themselves to cover a surface, but the answer has big consequences. The drag experienced by water flowing past a surface affects the transport of pollutants in the environment. The initial growth of ice crystals on dust is essential to the formation of raindrops.

The February issue of Physics Today used this cover image to illustrate work of Peter Feibelman featured in the publication. This scanning tunneling microscope image of water on palladium reveals hexagonal rings of water molecules self-assembled into narrow chains and clusters, as depicted in the superimposed illustration. The arrangement belies the long-held idea of the first water layer as a two-dimensionally continuous molecular mesh, similar to a single “puckered hexagonal” layer of a naturally occurring ice crystal. (Image courtesy of Miquel Salmeron, director of the Materials Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

In 2001, senior scientist Peter Feibelman (1130) proposed an unexpected solution to a long-standing experimental mystery concerning a one-molecule-thick layer of water on ruthenium: By giving up a hydrogen atom, half the layer’s water molecules find themselves more attracted to the surface. They therefore move closer to it, just as was seen, but not understood, in a 1994 diffraction experiment.

 Peter’s technical paper on this work, published in Science (see Lab News, Jan. 25, 2002) has subsequently been referenced more than 200 times — an average, Peter points out with justified pride, of once every two weeks

Now Peter has written, in his usual lucid style, the cover-story article of the current issue of Physics Today, the widely distributed publication of the American Institute of Physics. The article describes research leading up to his seminal paper and the papers following it.

Titled “The first wetting layer on a solid,” the subhead explains that “for decades, researchers imagined that hydrogen bonding imposes a hexagonal, ice-like arrangement on the first water molecules on a solid. Recent theory and experiments argue for a richer view.”

Says Peter, “I had offered an explanation for the odd results of essentially the only quantitative measurement of atom positions on a wetting layer. As I recount in my review, this explanation stirred up a lot of interest, controversy, and further work, including several papers of my own.”

 Thereafter, Peter did other work on water-solid interactions, developing theoretical tools to help interpret data from (recently retired Sandian) Jack Houston’s interfacial force microscope, and interpreting atomic-resolution, scanning tunneling microscope pictures of water on metals.

The editors of Physics Today apparently noticed all the activity and emailed to ask Peter who he would recommend to write a review of what was going on.
“I gave them several names, but also said I’d be happy to give it a try,” says Peter. “They asked for an outline. I gave them a 2,500 word stream-of-consciousness sample of what I had on my mind. They liked that enough to ask me to write the article.”

The subject might seem abstract. But, as Peter writes in the opening paragraph of his review, “The first layer of water molecules at a surface is the structural template that guides the growth of ice, embodies the boundary condition for water transport, and mediates aqueous interfacial chemistry. It thus determines if rain will fall, how fast pollutants migrate in rock and soil, and governs corrosion, catalysis, and countless other processes.” -- Neal Singer

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DOE INCITE program fosters computational insights

By Neal Singer

Three computationally based Sandia research projects have been awarded 73 million of 1.6 billion supercomputing processor hours offered by DOE’s INCITE program to advance cutting-edge work.

Another Sandia researcher is participating in a Los Alamos National Laboratory-led proposal that was granted 25 million hours.

The simulation shown here, using an INCITE allocation from 2009, depicts turbulently lifted ethylene-air jet flame. It was performed at the National Center for Computational Sciences/Oak Ridge National Laboratory on more than 30,000 CrayXT5 processors. The flame is denoted by hydroxyl radical (OH) shown in reddish colors. The autoignition upstream of the lifted flame is denoted by formaldehyde (CH2O) shown in bluish-green colors. Formaldehyde also appears on the fuel-rich side of the flame. The volume rendering was performed by Hongfeng Yu and Jackie Chen (8351). The simulation was performed by Chun Sang Yoo and Jackie.

Not just another meaningless acronym, INCITE (Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment program) is meant to provoke researchers into attempting new discoveries in areas as diverse as climate change, alternative energies, life sciences, and materials science.

“Computation and supercomputing are critical to solving some of our greatest scientific challenges,” said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. “This year’s INCITE awards reflect the enormous growth in demand for complex modeling and simulation capabilities, which are essential to improving our economic prosperity and global competitiveness.”

Sixty-seven million hours of computing time on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cray XT were awarded to Jacqueline Chen and Joseph Oefelein (both 8351) to improve “High-Fidelity Simulations for Clean and Efficient Combustion of Alternative Fuels.” While it’s apparent that alternate fuels are moving into position to supplement gasoline, there is as yet no intimate understanding of the burning processes of these substitute fuels. Better understanding is crucial to most efficiently extracting the energy they could provide. The team will investigate turbulently reacting flow processes in an actual internal-combustion-engine geometry in actual operating conditions, as well as underlying turbulence-chemistry interactions in laboratory-scale flames. Participating in the research will be Sandia’s Jeffrey Doom, Ray Grout, Bing Hu, Guilhem Lacaze, Edward Richardson (all 8351), and Ahren Jasper and James Miller (both 8353), as well as researchers from Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, and Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories.

Another Sandia proposal, “Scalable System Software Research for Extreme-Scale Computing,” will be led by Ron Oldfield (1422), with coinvestigators James Laros (1422) and (all 1423) Ronald Brightwell, Kurt Ferreira, Suzanne Kelly, Kevin Pedretti, and Rolf Reisen. The project was awarded 5 million processor hours on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cray XT “to significantly advance the state of the art for system software on the next generation of HPC systems.” The work will concentrate on investigating scalability issues for research in lightweight operating systems, program resilience, input/output, power efficiency, and debugging.

Ronald Minnich (8961) will lead a research group from four other institutions (Carnegie-Mellon University, Bell Labs, IBM, and Vita Nuova) to develop a new software environment for supercomputers that make each appear to be part of the user’s desktop system instead of a remote and hard-to-access external computer. Their proposal, “BG/P Plan 9 Measurements on Large Scale Systems” was granted 1 million hours on Argonne’s IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer. Plan 9 is an operating system built with networks in mind.

Sandia researcher Mark Taylor (1433) is a coinvestigator on the LANL-led study “Numerical Study of Multiscale Coupling in Low-Aspect Ratio Rotating Stratified Turbulence” that will deal with the complicating effects on climate models of nonhydrostatic factors like local topographic features. A statistical description of these effects “would have a profound effect on our understanding of how ocean/atmosphere/climate models need to handle their fluid dynamics component, particularly when it comes to prediction of long-term phenomena . . . ” The project was granted 25 million processor hours on Argonne National Laboratory’s IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer. -- Neal Singer

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Sandia manager Jim Novak to be inducted into Anderson School Hall of Fame

By Julie Hall

Jim Novak (5935) wants his experiences as a technology entrepreneur to benefit others considering taking the plunge. As a frequent speaker to groups of potential entrepreneurs, Jim talks about lessons learned during his foray into entrepreneurship from 1997 to 2001.

Jim Novak holds a SenSolve product called the ST-90 Surface Tracker in this photo from 1999.

Now the University of New Mexico’s business school is honoring him for his contributions to entrepreneurship education; Jim will be inducted into the Anderson School of Management’s Hall of Fame next month along with five other local individuals. Jim received his MBA from UNM in 1996.

“These candidates are selected for their professional success, contribution to community involvement, and an ongoing commitment to continuing education,” Anderson Foundation board advancement committee chair Sheri Milone said in a press release.

The honorees will be recognized March 9 at the 21st Anniversary Hall of Fame reception and dinner at UNM.

An accidental entrepreneur

When Jim came to Sandia in 1988 the last thing he planned to do was launch a company. An electrical engineer, Jim had been recruited to develop sensing technology for robotic applications.

One of his projects involved fringing electric field technology as part of an automatic manufacturing system. He and Jamie Wiczer (ret.) had developed the technology, which proved useful in a variety of applications, most involving situations in which optical sensors could not be used.

In the early 1990s, a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Rocketdyne, manufacturer of the main engine for the space shuttle, led to the invention and patent of a fringing field-based sensor that enabled automated braze paste dispensing of the rocket thrust chamber assembly. Called the Multi-Axis Seam Tracking (MAST) sensor, it guided the robotic brazing compound equipment along the seams of the assembly in real-time. The procedure had previously been done

By the time Rocketdyne requested additional sensors, the CRADA had expired and Sandia was unable to provide the sensors. Jim recognized this as a business opportunity, but “I realized my PhD left me clueless about business.”

He decided to enroll in UNM’s two-year Executive MBA program and the first business plan for what was to become his new company resulted. After forming SenSolve and licensing the sensor intellectual property from Sandia, Jim left the Labs in early 1997.

Bad timing

Initially housed in his garage, SenSolve’s future seemed promising. The robotics industry was growing rapidly, the company was doing contracting work for several small business clients, had attracted $800,000 in venture capital through the New Mexico Equity Capital Symposium, and had six employees. In May 2000 SenSolve launched its first product.

However, by this time the dot-com collapse was well underway. Markets for manufacturing automation equipment dried up. SenSolve struggled but endured through the summer of 2001, but the decision was made to shut down the company in September 2001. Jim says he remembers working to sell off the company’s assets while watching the events of 9/11 unfold on TV. In a painful “twisting of the knife,” work with a major auto manufacturer involving welding aluminum in a new SUV model came through shortly after 9/11 but the equipment needed to support the work had already been liquidated.

He was rehired at Sandia in 2003.

“Launching a company when all the dot-coms were crashing was really bad timing,” he says. But he realizes the outcome was a combination of many factors, some within and some outside of SenSolve’s control.

His talks to potential entrepreneurs through Technology Ventures Corp.’s Center for the Commercialization and Entrepreneurial Training seminar series focus on major issues that must be managed properly to ensure success — and especially the need to recognize the existence of problems in the first place.

Jim says he’s excited about applying lessons learned from his entrepreneurial stint here at Sandia. As manager of the Systems Technologies Department, part of his job involves generating “work for others” contracts from agencies other than DOE. “The business background helps me see where they’re coming from,” he said. “They want to see a business that’s delivering a product and it’s my job to assure them that Sandia can do that.” -- Julie Hall

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Honoring our engineers: National Engineers Week 2010

By Robin M. Jones, P.E.

Robin Jones (4826) is president of the Albuquerque chapter of the New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers. She joined Sandia National Laboratories in 2009 and is project lead in Building Operations — Area 1 North at Sandia.

A California native, Robin earned a BS in environmental engineering at New Mexico Tech and received her MS in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford. From 1999 to 2001, Robin worked for the Los Angeles, Calif., County Sanitation Districts in a field office based out of Compton. Her area of responsibility was the California coastline from Redondo Beach to Long Beach. Robin moved to Albuquerque in 2001 and worked for Daniel B. Stephens & Associates for a year before joining the international environmental engineering company CDM. While there, she designed, constructed, and operated groundwater remediation systems in New Mexico and California.

Robin is a licensed professional engineer in New Mexico and California.
She wrote the following essay at the request of the
Lab News.

While having lunch with a friend, who I hadn’t seen since high school, she asked me a question that made me reflect on my career. At the time she was working in the marketing department of a law firm. She was not enjoying the job. She asked me if I found my work personally fulfilling, was I proud of what I did.

At age 25 I found myself crawling on hands and knees, up to my elbows in sewage, through a 27-inch sewer line to determine if an opening in a join between the pipe sections was within tolerances. Though not my most glamorous day as an engineer, the task was necessary because not only is a leaking sewer pipe a risk to human health, but because this sewer pipe traversed an active landslide area, excess soil moisture could activate the landslide causing millions of dollars in property damage. I was doing my part to protect human health and welfare. Several years later I was working in groundwater remediation, designing treatment systems that removed carcinogenic chemicals and made the water suitable for human consumption. I was one of a large team providing people with an essential element of life: drinking water. I now find myself working in Facilities Building Operations for Sandia National Laboratories. I am part of a team that ensures our nation’s top scientists and engineers have the laboratories and facilities necessary to perform cutting edge research to advance technology and provide a secure future for our nation.

Has my choice of career provided personal fulfillment? Am I proud of the work I have done as an engineer? YES!

I think most engineers will have stories similar to mine about why they are proud of the work they do and why they find it personally gratifying. This is because the nature of engineering work is to help people. The car, the road, the traffic lights, the drainage system are all provided by engineers to get people safely to where they need to go. The heavy equipment that clears the rubble, the ships, helicopters, and trucks that bring supplies, and the knowledge to rebuild stronger are all the work of engineers helping after a disaster. Whether people realize it or not everyone is surrounded by engineering everyday and for the most part they take it for granted

Engineering is not a highly publicized profession. It has been called the “invisible” or “stealth” profession. We don’t have hit TV shows dramatizing the work of engineers. This may be because when engineering is done right it can be invisible. In the sanitary sewer business we knew we were doing a good job when people were unaware of their sewer system. However, potable water and sanitary sewers probably do more for public health than the public health profession (which has lots of hit TV shows).

National Engineers Week (Feb. 14-20) is celebrated during the third week in February in honor of “America’s first engineer,” George Washington, whose birthday is Feb. 22. The purpose of Engineers Week is to promote awareness of engineering as a profession and the contributions of engineers. Would you like to see engineering get the recognition it deserves? Consider joining and actively participating in one of the many engineering professional societies. These societies work to raise awareness and preserve the integrity and professionalism of engineering. Are you a licensed professional engineer? Though you may never be called on to “stamp” anything, licensure is the mark of your dedication and skill as professional. Would you trust an unlicensed doctor or lawyer? Licensed engineers assure the public and remind them that engineering is a profession to be respected. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) adopted the following creed in 1954:

As a Professional Engineer, I dedicate my professional knowledge and skill to the advancement and betterment of human welfare. I pledge: To give the utmost of performance; To participate in none but honest enterprise; To live and work according to the laws of man and the highest standards of professional conduct; To place service before profit, the honor and standing of the profession before personal advantage, and the public welfare above all other considerations. In humility and with the need for Divine Guidance, I make this pledge.

Celebrate being an engineer this week! Congratulate yourself for the work you do every day for the betterment of humanity and be proud. Then take that pride and share it with a young person. Show them how they can make a difference in the world and give them the gift of knowing in their hearts, “I helped humankind today.” - Robin M. Jones, P.E.

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