skip to: onlinetools | mainnavigation | content | footer



Lab News --September 10, 2010

September 10, 2010

LabNews09/10/2010PDF (2.3 Mb)

Sandia device helps US troops in Afghanistan disable deadly improvised explosive devices

By Heather Clark

A device developed by Sandia researchers that shoots a blade of water capable of penetrating steel is headed to US troops in Afghanistan to help them disable deadly improvised explosive devices, or IEDs — the No. 1 killer and threat to troops in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.

Airman 1st Class Patrick Connolly of Dayton, Ohio, demonstrates the placement of a water disruptor developed at Sandia near its target in a simulated village used to train soldiers heading overseas. Click image for a brief video clip.

Sandia licensed the patent-pending technology to a small minority-owned business, TEAM Technologies Inc. The Albuquerque-based company made its first shipment of about 3,000 new water disruptors to Afghanistan this summer.

“The fluid blade disablement tool will be extremely useful to defeat IEDs because it penetrates the IED extremely effectively,” says Greg Scharrer, manager of the Energetic Systems Research Dept. 5916. “It’s like having a much stronger and much sharper knife.”

Soldiers who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq field-tested the device during training at Sandia and suggested improvements while the product was being developed.

The fluid blade disablement tool was invented by Steve Todd, a mechanical and materials engineer with extensive Navy experience fighting IEDs, Chance Hughs, a retired Navy SEAL explosives expert on contract to Sandia, and mechanical engineer Juan Carlos Jakaboski (now in 5917), who at the time worked in the Energetic Systems Research department, for an NNSA sponsor.

The portable clear plastic device is filled with water and an explosive material is placed in it that, when detonated, creates a shock wave that travels through the water and accelerates it inward into a concave opening, Todd says. Therefore, when the water collides, it produces a thin blade.

“That allows you to have a high-speed, very precise water blade to go through and do precision-type destruction on whatever improvised explosive device it’s going up against. Immediately behind the precision water blade is a water slug, which performs a general disruption that tears everything apart,” Todd says.

Unlike traditional explosives, which release energy equally in all directions when they go off, researchers use shaped-charge technology to deliberately manipulate the explosives so that they create a certain shape when they explode, allowing the operator to focus the energy precisely where it’s needed. The inventors of the fluid blade disablement tool took a different track. Rather than changing the shape of the explosive, Todd, Hughs, and Juan Carlos used an explosive modeling tool to figure out how to change the shape of the water when designing the water disruptors.

“We’re putting the explosive in a flat tray and we’re shaping the water,” Greg says.

Process happens in microseconds

The process happens in microseconds and can’t be captured by the human eye, so researchers used computer simulation and high-speed flash X-rays, which can view the interior of imploding high-explosive devices and record the motion of materials moving at ultrahigh speeds, to fine tune the design.

They also used another approach. Soldiers rotating out of Afghanistan and Iraq worked hand-in-hand with researchers and developers to test the device for several months in the New Mexico desert.

Paul Reynolds, TEAM Technologies’ program manager, says the company improved the tool based on the soldiers’ input after it was exposed to dust, water, and banging around by the troops. The improvements included providing a better seal and redesigning the water plug so it is easier to insert.

 “The soldiers helped on the design to make it more ruggedized and small enough,” Todd says. “It was a very good collaboration.”

US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Brady, who has served in Iraq on three separate tours and recently was shown how the device works, says he likes several features, including its size.
“Anything we use, we have to carry, so the smaller and lighter, the better,” he says. “You never know when you could be out in the boonies or have to go up and down mountains.”
TEAM Technologies is a small business of 75 employees based in the Sandia Science & Technology Park adjacent to the Labs.

“The first year we moved into the park here our business just exploded. We grew 70 percent that year,” says Bob Sachs, president and CEO of TEAM Technologies.

Jackie Kerby Moore (1933), the park’s executive director, says one reason businesses move to the park is so that they can better engage with Sandia.

“This is a real-life example of how the research park helps make companies aware of technology transfer opportunities and helps fulfill Sandia’s mission to license technologies to private companies,” Jackie says.

The business of saving lives

The company’s first priority is to get the device to troops in Afghanistan, but eventually they would like to sell it to law enforcement and airport security agencies. The device also could be used for forced entry into buildings.

“We saw the opportunity to move into a product line and we jumped on it,” Sachs says. “We’re very excited about it. We see it as a whole product line.”

Reynolds says the tool can be placed almost in contact with the target or a distance away without losing its effectiveness. It uses minimal explosive material, its plastic legs can be attached in various configurations so that it can be placed in different positions to disable bombs, and it’s built so that robots can easily place it near a target, he says.

“This is a giant leap forward in technology,” Reynolds says.

Those researching and developing the fluid blade disablement tool say they felt a sense of urgency to get it into the hands of soldiers as they read nearly daily media reports about deaths of US troops from IED attacks.

 “When I look back on how this all took place, the thing that comes through to me was that people were motivated to get a lifesaving technology onto the battlefield,” Reynolds says. “This is a lifesaving technology.” -- Heather Clark

Top of page
Return to Lab News home page

LEDs promise brighter future, not necessarily ‘greener’

By Neal Singer

 Solid-state lighting pioneers long have held that replacing the inefficient Edison light bulb with more efficient solid-state light-emitting devices (LEDs) would lower electrical usage worldwide, not only decreasing the need for new power plants but even permit some to be decommissioned.

But in a paper published Aug. 19 in the Journal of Physics D, a band of leading Sandia LED researchers argue for a wider view.

LEDs will change the way we light our world. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

 “Presented with the availability of cheaper light, humans may use more of it, as has happened over recent centuries with remarkable consistency following other lighting innovations,” says lead researcher Jeff Tsao (1120).

 More light — the ability to work past sunset, indoors or outdoors — has clearly increased personal and societal outputs.
 Jeff says, “That is, rather than functioning as an instrument of decreased energy use, LEDs may be instead the next step in increasing human productivity and quality of life.”

The assumption that energy production for lighting will decline as the efficiency of lighting increases is contraindicated by data starting with the year 1700 C.E. Those figures show light use has remained a constant fraction of per capita gross domestic product as humanity moved from candle to oil to gas to electrical lighting. Thus the societal response to more efficient light production has been a preference to enjoy more light, rather than saving money and energy by keeping the amount of light produced a constant.

“Over the past three centuries, according to well-accepted studies from a range of sources, the world has spent about 0.72 percent of the world’s per capita gross domestic product on artificial lighting,” says Jeff. “This is so for England in 1700, in the underdeveloped world not on the grid, and in the developed world using the most advanced lighting technologies. There may be little reason to expect a different future response from our species.”

Far from an example of light gluttony, Jeff says, by increasing the amount of lit work space and bright time, individuals would enjoy the desirable outcome of increasing their creativity and the productivity of their society.

On the other hand, societal controls that increased the price of electricity by small, fine-tuned amounts could reduce the amount of energy used, while allowing smaller but still hefty increases in lighting because of the increased efficiencies of LEDs.

To the question of how much light is enough, says Jeff, no one yet has produced a gold standard for light saturation levels.

While artificial illumination is considerably better now than decades ago, the researchers write, “People might well choose higher illuminances than they do today, particularly to help mitigate losses in visual acuity in an aging world population.” More easily available light also may help reduce seasonal depression brought on by the shorter darker days of winter, and help synchronize biological rhythms, called circadian, that affect human behavior day and night.

As for problems that could occur with too much light — from so-called ‘light pollution’ that bedevils astronomers to biological enzymes that operate better in darkness — Jeff has this to say: “This new generation of solid-state lighting, with our ability to digitally control it much more precisely in time and space, should enable us to preserve dark when we need it.” There is no reason to fear, Tsao says, that advancing capabilities “will keep us perpetually bathed in light.”

Jerry Simmons (1120), another paper author, points out, “More fuel-efficient cars don’t necessarily mean we drive less; we may drive more. It’s a tension between supply and demand. So, improvements in light-efficient technologies may not be enough to affect energy shortages and climate change. Enlightened policy decisions may be necessary to partner with the technologies to have big impacts.”

Other authors of this paper are Randy Creighton and Mike Coltrin (both 1126), and Harry Saunders of Decision Processes Inc., of Danville, Calif.

The work was supported by Sandia’s Solid-State Lighting Science Energy Frontier Research Center, funded by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
The paper is available for a month, according to the journal, at -- Neal Singer

Top of page
Return to Lab News home page

DARPA selects Sandia to design new supercomputer prototype

By Stephanie Hobby

Sandia has been selected as one of four institutions to develop new supercomputer prototype systems for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). To meet the increasing advanced computing needs for DoD, DARPA launched the Ubiquitous High Performance Computing (UHPC) program.

This is the notional design of an X-caliber compute node. This design features two processors (Ps) that handle high temporal locality processing. Each P is supported by eight stacked memory cubes (Ms) that also include embedded memory units (EMUs) that handle low temporal locality processing. Finally, each node also includes a pair of network interface card / routers for inter-node communications. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

The goal of the UHPC program is to overcome current limiting factors, such as power consumption and architectural and programming complexity, by developing entirely new computer architectures and programming models. The aim is to produce a more energy-efficient computer that delivers 100 to 1,000 times more performance and is easier to program than current systems.

 “We are thrilled that our team was chosen for this important work,” says James Ang, manager of Scalable Computer Architectures Dept. 1422. “We are interested in designing a high-performance computing system that we will want to use to address our mission objectives, and we look forward to meeting this challenge.”

To accomplish the mission, Sandia is leading a team of industry partners, including Micron Technology Inc. and LexisNexis Special Services Inc. Academic partners include Louisiana State University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Notre Dame, University of Southern California, University of Maryland, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and North Carolina State University.

Sandia will provide technical expertise and leadership to all aspects of the project, including high-performance computer architecture, algorithms development, supercomputing, system software, programming methods, applications, microelectronics in 3-D packaging, and silicon photonics.

For the past 30 years, advances in computing capabilities have followed Moore’s Law, which states that every two years, the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit will double. Smaller feature sizes can be driven at faster clock speeds, albeit at the cost of increased energy and power usage. About five years ago, the microprocessor industry ran into many of the practical limits of electrical power that can be consumed on a single processor socket. This led to the introduction of multicore processors, driven at constant clock speeds. While the theoretical peak performance of multicore processors is still improving in accordance with Moore’s Law, the realized real application performance is not keeping pace, and is in fact lagging further and further behind. The goal of the UHPC program is to maintain the performance potential indicated by Moore’s Law by addressing the technical challenges of power and energy, programmability, and dependability.

 “Today’s computational paradigm is approaching hard energy and power limits,” says Richard Murphy (1422), the project’s principal investigator. “UHPC is the only program intended to solve the problem by fundamentally enabling a new model of computation that will not only be more energy efficient, but will improve system scalability, resilience, programmability, and security. This is a chance for Sandia to help revolutionize the entire field of computing, and we are honored to lead a team of powerful industry partners and distinguished researchers in academia to address these challenges.”

Sandia researchers say they expect their prototype to be complete by 2018. The other performers selected to develop the UHPC prototypes include Intel Corp., NVIDIA Corp., and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. -- Stephanie Hobby

Top of page
Return to Lab News home page