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Vol. 56, No. 5           March 5, 2004
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Sandia sensor has potential to help US military eliminate 'friendly fire' deaths during combat Site hears latest news on four key R&D projects, including hydrogen storage National Geographic has nothing on Sandian

Sandia sensor has potential to help US military eliminate 'friendly fire' deaths during combat

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By Michael Padilla

A device to help eliminate "friendly fire" during military combat has been created by Sandia engineers.

Building on more than 10 years of research and development, Sandia engineers have created a radar tag sensor that is mounted on military vehicles and which is recognizable to an attack aircraft as a "friendly." The device, tracked via aircraft radar, can be used to identify both US and coalition forces during combat to avoid fratricide. During war, fratricide is the act of killing one's own soldiers.

Lars Wells (2344) and a team of Sandia engineers have completed numerous tests and identified partners and potential customers for the sensor, which will be tested by the Army this fall.

One of the selling points is that the researchers have shown the sensor can work with multiple radars and multiple aircraft, says Lars.

"It is mature enough to consider as a fratricide and situational awareness solution now and for the long term," he says.

Radar echoes

The sensor, dubbed by the Army "Athena" -- protector of the troops -- is not a radio transmitter that broadcasts a signal for the aircraft to receive. Instead, the sensor creates synthetic radar echoes, so that the radar picks up the sensor signal in the same way it picks up radar echoes from tanks, trucks, or other objects.

In general, the radar transmits a pulse of energy then looks for the reflections of that energy from objects on the ground. The tag sees the radar's transmitted pulse and sends it back to the radar, except it adds a little bit of data to the reflection (or echo).

As the radar picks up (or receives) all of the reflections from the ground, it looks for that unique data signal. Once the radar sees that data on an echo it knows it is looking at a tag, and places an alert icon on the pilot's screen. The project has good system integration between tag and radar, Lars says, which is key to making it usable.

"Generally the radar will be nearly as accurate in locating a moving tag as it would be in locating any other moving object," he says.

Eliminating fratricide

According to the Department of Defense, 24 percent of the 146 American battle deaths during Operation Desert Storm were by friendly fire. A further 15 percent of the 480 wounded were also by friendly fire. Historically, fratricide accounts for 10-15 percent of wartime casualties.

"Blue-on-blue" incidents have long been a problem during war, says Lars. "Developing the capability to identify 'friendly' vehicles in battle will bring about a great reduction of fratricide."

The sensor has shown the potential to truly save lives on the battlefield, "but it can also assist battlefield situational awareness," he says. "Many times during combat the military has to pull back from an attack plan because they don't know who is on the ground."

Lars says a future path of the project is to include tags on every soldier.

Keeping costs down

Mike Murphy (2346), Sandia's longtime tag expert, says one way of keeping costs down is by making the tag work easily with existing systems.

"The aim of affordability is a big factor of the project," says Mike. "By adding tagging to existing radars, we don't need to build new equipment for the aircraft."

Costs can also be kept to a minimum by partnering with industry and with various military agencies.

"Our industrial partners will be able to take this technology and drive the cost down quickly so that it is affordable for every Army vehicle and Air Force fighter jet," says Mike.

Technological support

Recent underlying development has been supported by DOE's Nonproliferation Office, which has an eye toward using the technology to track proliferants. In fact, this application was how Sandia started to create what became Athena, says Lars.

The current project is sponsored by the Army's Communication Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC), which is staging a large exercise this fall that will demonstrate the tag system for high-ranking officers and regular soldiers alike.

"Sandia was the only developer that could ready a tag to support their short deadline," says project leader Rick Ormesher (2344). "We were able to do an initial demonstration for the Army in January 2003 with only a few months worth of effort."

The success of that initial demonstration helped lead to the current effort, says Rick.

"We are really excited about the prospect of deploying this technology and seeing it make an impact," says Lars.

-- Michael Padilla

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Site hears latest news on four key R&D projects, including hydrogen storage

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By Nancy Garcia

Some late-breaking news came during the latest R&D Focus Symposium showcasing work by researchers at the California site. A nuclear reactor where Sandia is testing a radiation monitor just entered a maintenance shutdown, and Jim Lund (8232) learned during his talk from a team member in the back of the audience that the change was picked up, confirming the monitor works as planned.

Jim described the ongoing work on this antineutrino detector at the San Onofre Nuclear Reactor and also the development of a small neutron generator for use in probing the presence of nearby nuclear materials. He was among four researchers who described their projects during the symposium, the third since the series began about two years ago. Organized by a committee of Distinguished Members of Technical Staff, the series is open to the site as a whole.

Calling the collection of talks "very, very interesting and very exciting," California Laboratory VP Mim John thanked the entire committee for bringing the series to the site.

First up were Jay Keller (8367) and Weifang Luo (8773), describing hydrogen energy research, particularly work at the California site to investigate storage of the volatile gas in powdered metal hydrides, where it is absorbed like water in a sponge. The hydrogen is nonflammable on the hydride bed, and can be drawn off as needed to power a fuel cell to operate a vehicle without creating greenhouse-gas-generating tailpipe emissions.

DOE would like to find a way to store at least 6 weight-percent of hydrogen onboard a vehicle where weight and volume constraints are important. Weifang described a promising compound hydride that may achieve that goal, which is being studied to optimize its operating temperature and pressure.

Jay and Jim Wang (8773) have proposed for Sandia to be a DOE "Center of Excellence" in hydrogen storage, and is also working with Chris Moen (8752) on safety codes and standards, carrying out hydrogen-release studies with SRI.

Next Jim described how a detector the size of a small room installed near the core of the Southern California nuclear reactor is being investigated for its utility in determining whether any fissionable material is being diverted. The monitor detects about one-fourth of the antineutrino flux predicted from the radioactive material that powers the reactor.

Sandia has also developed a meter-tall neutron generator that could interrogate nuclear material by "pinging" it with neutrons that would incite the release of secondary particles that can be detected. The next iteration should be smaller, he says, and a prototype will be tested soon.

Another talk described a new foray for Sandia into a collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and Cornell University on engineering the MicroChemLab to detect markers of periodontal disease in saliva. The hand-held device potentially allows better, faster, potentially cheaper analysis of components in liquid samples, and has demonstrated separation of six proteins in less than 30 seconds in a microchannel measuring just 1 millimeter.

Periodontal disease affects more than half of US adults, 20 million to 45 million of them severely, and may be an initiating cofactor in serious systemic illness that costs $5-6 billion annually. The goal is to be able to screen for a bacterial infection, gingivitis, which causes inflammation of the gum that leads to bone loss if unchecked.

Anup Singh (8130), who is leading the project with Victoria VanderNoot (8130), said patients conceivably will be screened during routine appointments by collecting saliva on a strip of paper inserted between the tooth and gum. The saliva would be subjected to an immunoassay on the microchip while the patient waits. Future improvements to the hand-held chemical analysis device might include changing the detection system (which currently employs a light source) to rely on chemiluminescence.

Wrapping up the symposium, Dahv Kliner (8356) talked about his breakthrough in a collaboration with the Naval Research Laboratory to amplify the power in fiber-optic lasers and change the wavelength to usable visible or ultraviolet light.

Dahv said their year-old record still stands of showing the highest levels ever extracted from a fiber light source of peak power, pulse power, and average power.

By selectively bending the fiber, they were able to direct the energy toward a stable beam that has 20 to 30 times the power of a typical fiber laser. The fiber is doped for optical gain, and the strategic coiling selectively eliminates unwanted modes without any loss of efficiency.

A series of three crystals converts the infrared light to visible or ultraviolet, which is particularly useful in the $500 million annual materials-processing market, among other applications. The invention fits in a box measuring 4.5 by 3.5 inches, which is two orders of magnitude less than the competing technology, and can deliver watts or tens of watts of power with no substantial additional breakthrough, Dahv said, commenting, "we've really just scraped the surface." -- Nancy Garcia

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National Geographic has nothing on Sandian: Debora Ley, Sandia team bring renewable energy help to people in rural communities in Central America and Mexico

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By Iris Aboytes

Running down a mountain screaming to escape from a snake or staying in a remote (but picturesque) hotel where cucarachas (cockroaches) hold their own rodeos is probably not how the average Sandia newcomer would imagine spending their first year and a half on the job. Neither did Debora Ley (6233). During her short time at Sandia, she has traveled to the rural areas of Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. She also has traveled to Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica.

Debora is assigned to the International Sustainable Engineering Group (ISEG). She is part of a team that works mainly in Mexico and Central and South America. The program has provided energy in a sustainable manner for applications such as televised education, agriculture, protected-areas management, and electrification. The goal is to increase the quality of life for the various communities.

DOE and the US Agency for International Development are sponsors of the work. "They make it possible to provide sustainable energy resources to people who really need and appreciate it," says Margie Tatro (6200).


In Guatemala's protected areas, ISEG is trying to combine conservation and development. Reaching Waxabaja, in the Biosphere Reserve of Sierra de las Minas, was quite an adventure. From Guatemala City, it is about a three-hour drive to the nearest hotel. From there, it is another two-hour drive, followed by a four-hour hike up and down and around mountains. Parts of the road/trail are very steep and treacherous, even ledge-like. "It is from about two feet wide to parts where you have to put one foot in front of another and don't look down. As treacherous as some parts are, there are parts that are beautiful -- waterfalls, wild flowers, and lush green vegetation," says Debora.

Forty-five minutes into the ISEG members' hike, the steeple of Waxabaja's church came into view. Each village in these mountains has its own school, church -- in some cases, it's the same building -- and a little tiendita (store). The comunidad (community) is spread out so much that neighbors are a hike apart. Addresses are their cell phone numbers painted on the entrance of the cinder block or wood homes.

"We were panting as we were reaching the top," says Debora. "Little children ran up and down the mountain to see us. They laughed jokingly, as they are used to running up and down the mountain with ease.

The residents in this community are of Mayan decent (Pocomchí). At first glance you notice their shiny teeth, which are a source of pride. Their teeth are inlaid with stars, moons, etc. Their speech is deliberate so as to show their teeth. Waxabaja's main sources of income are cardamom and coffee, grown on the mountain sides.

There is a central area 15 kilometers from Waxabaja where the mercado (market) and Purulhá -- the cabecera municipal (county municipality) are located. Waxabaja is the community furthest away.

"Todo lo que sube tiene que bajar" (everything that goes up has to come down), says Debora, "and so did we. The fact that it rained while we were there made me wonder how we were going to do it. I had visions of sliding down the muddy mountain. Getting back was uneventful until I spotted a snake. Hysteria kicking in, I reached the truck 20 to 30 minutes ahead of everyone. Adrenalin works."

Debora has gotten less squeamish since that trip. When she spotted a masacuata (boa) on her most recent trip to Guatemala, she calmly swallowed hard, moved to the other side of the boat, and looked at it with binoculars, while thinking to herself, "Víbora maleducada - su mamá nunca le enseñó a no sacar la lengua" (Ill-mannered snake, your mother obviously never taught you not to stick your tongue out).

Back at the picturesque hotel, her fellow travelers searched her room for unwelcome visitors. Crawling little creatures, spiders, scorpions, and beetles

sometimes enter rooms through the opening below the doors.


"In Honduras we [ISEG] are working to integrate energy, productive uses, irrigation, and watershed protection. The advantage of going to Los Suncuyos, Honduras, was that there was a road most of the way to the community. We still had to hike -- but not for four hours!" Debora explains.

All electrical connections had been installed in the village buildings, as the residents were waiting for the turbine that would enable the 2 kW pico-hydro system to bring electrical power. "We took the turbine with us, and residents of the village carried it down the mountain," says Debora. "About a month after we were there, the villagers completed the final connections and the village had power. We found out via e-mail a big announcement: 'Por primera vez se vio luz en Los Suncuyos!' " (For the first time, there is light in Los Suncuyos!)

The people from the different comunidades are eagerly awaiting the benefits of having electricity. Some, however, are concerned about how their lives will change. Will they still meet in the center of the village after dark to share cool water or will their evening be taken over by telenovelas (soap operas)?


"In Nicaragua we [ISEG] are trying to have the people use solar cookers. We also visited a photovoltaic battery charging station," says Debora.

One of ISEG's goals is to provide residents there with more efficient stoves. The cook stoves they are using currently have a small exhaust or chimney, causing the whole house to be covered with soot. "Their lungs might look the same," says Debora. "While cooking they inhale a lot of carbon monoxide. One of their staples, frijoles [beans], for example, requires a long time to cook, so imagine all the carbon monoxide they are inhaling."

Nicaragua has not yet recuperated from an earthquake that hit about 30 years ago and from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. "During our visit there, we had to cross several rivers," says Debora. "The bridges have not been rebuilt since Hurricane Mitch. The deeper parts of river crossings are marked by rocks. When driving, it is better to go with someone familiar with the crossings, because when you ask residents about the deepest parts and where to cross, they just answer por allá -- donde está aquella roca" (that way, where that rock is).


In Mexico ISEG is beginning to integrate Central American activities to Southern/Southeastern Mexico. The region shares Mayan cultures and the Selva Maya (the jungle) with Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. That area also is very rich in Mayan archaeology.

During the last 10 years, more than 400 cost-shared pilot or demonstration solar/wind energy systems have been installed throughout Mexico, promoting awareness and catalyzing market growth of renewable energy technologies. Local training and capacity building have been an integral component of pilot system implementations (workshops, training, monitoring).


Back at Sandia, Debora helped write Sandia's presentation for the recent New Mexico visit of Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Retiree Max Harcourt, project leader when Debora first came to Sandia, says, "I really enjoyed working with Debora because of her energy, enthusiasm, and persistence. She is a good mix of technical competence with human empathy. I took a city girl and turned her into a campo [country] girl."

"Debora has a unique ability to connect with the people and their cultures in Latin America because of her knowledge of the language and her family background," says Warren Cox (6233).

Debora's desire for adventure could have come from her dad, who also worked on renewable energy development in rural Mexico, for example, in the Chiapas jungle. She is working in this same jungle, but on the Guatemalan side of the border. Now they get together and share their experiences. "I wondered why my dad liked a job like that," says Debora. "Now here I am doing the same."

"There is a great amount of personal satisfaction in doing this work," says Debora. "It is not only in providing the energy to the communities, but in teaching and working with the people as they learn to adjust, manage, and adopt this new means to accomplish their daily activities. It's the technical effort teamed with the human element that makes this whole endeavor sustainable."

Debora was not always an adventurer. As a student intern she supported Sandia's Mexico Renewable Energy Program and worked with the solar energy group. She got accepted into the one-year-on-campus program and earned her graduate degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder. For her master's final report she did an energy and water assessment of the Galápagos Islands, off Ecuador's coast. "The animals -- iguanas, birds, giant turtles or galápagos -- are true residents," says Debora. "They don't hide behind bushes. Instead they act like friendly pets, looking at you with curiosidad [curiosity] and introducing themselves by casually nudging you."

Debora cannot sit still, even for a minute. She offers some advice for Sandia travelers: "If you go hiking in a place where there are snakes, make sure you are not the third person in line. I have been told that if there is a snake lying there, the first person will wake it up, the second startles it, and by the time the third person arrives, the snake is ready to attack. I was the third person in line."

For more technical information on Sandia's Mexico Renewable Energy Program go here. -- Iris Aboytes

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