Sandia LabNews

Ground broken for new computational facility

Groundbreaking held for JCEL — the Joint Computational Engineering Laboratory

On an overcast day last week, in a tent surprisingly inconspicuous at one end of the large bare field that one day will be MESA, approximately 100 Sandians and outside workers celebrated with balloons, cookies, and brief speeches the ceremonial groundbreaking for Sandia’s long-awaited computational nerve center, the JCEL building.

JCEL — for Joint Computational Engineering Laboratory — will house 175 people, stand three stories high, contain 61,000 square feet of working space, and (from artist’s renderings) have glassed-in staircases at each end that give the pleasant impression the building has wings.

"It’s a very architecturally pleasing office facility," says project manager Jim Dawson (10824), "designed to attract and retain top researchers."

The $28.8 million building — the figure includes design, user equipment and project management — will consist of three towers composed of eight 20-person suites and a director’s suite, all access-controlled and sound-attenuated for top-secret work. The project, west of Bldg. 897, is funded by NNSA through the ASCI program.

Said Sandia President Paul Robinson, opening the ceremony, "Ten years ago, the US conducted its last nuclear test, and we were challenged: can you guarantee performance, reliability, and safety of US weapons without testing?" referring to the Stockpile Stewardship program. "This facility is a key oasis on that journey."

Glorying in "living in interesting times" — a condition generally mentioned as a problem — Paul said that "JCEL will involve science and computing at the highest level ever done in history, and raise the level of computing worldwide in the process."

Modeling and simulation codes will enable researchers "to fly like gnats" through mechanisms still in the design state, examining all the parts. When the supercomputers of NNSA are linked, he said, "JCEL will be a big node of that connection."

NNSA’s Bill Reed was "delighted we’re doing so much good for hardworking ASCI and stockpile people." He described — as an example of Sandia work ethic — how Nuclear Weapons Senior VP Tom Hunter (who missed the groundbreaking because of prior commitments) had cut short his July 4 vacation to travel to Washington to speak for the ASCI program. "On with the journey," Reed said.

Mike Zamorski, DOE’s Kirtland Site Area Director representing local federal staff, said, "It’s nice to be associated with a vibrant enterprise. I look forward, in not too long a time, to be present at the ribbon-cutting [at the opening of the building]."

Construction, by Hensel-Phelps out of Austin, is expected to be completed in 18 months.

Tom Bickel (9100) said he "looked forward to the opportunity to fundamentally change the way engineering design is done at Sandia and in the US."

Paul Yarrington (9230) praised the "shoulder-to-shoulder interactions that the JCEL facility will provide" among researchers.

Mike Vahle (9900) said that "great infrastructure enables talented people to do important work."

The architectural plan, by Atkins Benham Inc. out of Oklahoma City, is designed to meet DoD’s Antiterrorism Force Protection Construction Standard. Cynthia Figueroa-McInteer (10853) serves as planning and project development contact.

In accordance with DOE’s environmental awareness programs, the building is constructed of environmentally friendly materials. Some of the design features include semiporous pavers to absorb water instead of encouraging run-off, light-colored brick to decrease heat gain, the use of easily replenishable woods, and mastics that demonstrate low out-gassing.

John Zepper (9143), manager of production computing and host of the ceremony, says the modeling and simulation work in the ASCI program will be further enabled by JCEL. "It will pull together 9200 [computing science] and 9100 [engineering science], enable closer collaboration, and faster development of ASCI codes."