Sandia LabNews

LDRD Day highlights new research directions


Martial arts masters in days of old were reputed to hold practices in difficult places to make sure only the most dedicated students would receive instruction.

So perhaps Sandia VP Rick Stulen (1000) revealed the Zen side of his nature when he chose Friday — a day when half the staff is absent — to hold the first-ever LDRD Day. “We wanted to see who would come,” he says. (LDRD is a Sandia National Laboratories program to use discretionary funds for cutting-edge R&D.)

One reason to attend would have been to see presentations selected to represent the new, more imaginative trend in LDRD’s direction.

“They’re beginning representations of the new direction,” says LDRD manager Hank Westrich (1011). Although the highlighted research projects were of LDRDs completed last year, “To be chosen, they had to map into the new investment areas.”

Sandia Fellow and presenter Jeff Brinker (1002) analyzed, “The direction seems to be to highlight LDRDs that can be explained to the outer world as having impact, rather than another widget.”

“One objective [of LDRD Day] is to enhance collaboration between staff,” Rick tells the Lab News. “Without a public show, there’s no visibility between investment areas. This way, staff can come and listen to talks and learn what is going on.”

“It’s critically important that Sandians learn about each other’s work,” says Wendy Cieslak, manager of ST&E Strategic Initiatives (1010). “Communication across technical and programmatic areas raises the impact.”

A fluctuating audience of approximately 200 Sandians did so learn, alternating among 10 presentations and 23 posters in the Steve Schiff Auditorium.

What were those presentations? The Lab News is limited in what it could cover in the few hours, but here were some to give a flavor of the desirable, chosen by happenstance:

  • A study of floating-point computing architecture by Keith Underwood and Scott Hemmert (both 1423) generated commercial interest by being the first to show that such architecture was feasible.
  • Ann Speed (6341) and her group compared a Sandia-developed method with a method widely used at universities to track a car driver’s reactions in terms of driver brain function and data from the car itself. She found the Sandia method able to handle far more data — a more useful characteristic in real-world domains than the simpler laboratory tests performed at universities.
  • Michael L. Bernard (also 6341) and his group created a model of how humans react in relatively unstructured situations, rather than the prevalent scripted behaviors that fall apart when scenarios change. The dynamic simulated environments allow for better virtual training environments.
  • Thomas Mattsson spoke on his work with Mike Desjarlais (both 1674) that changed the known range of electrical conductivity of water and rearranged its phase diagram.
  • Chris Apblett’s (1723) poster covered a 2-year grant to develop small, long-term alternatives to chemical batteries. His group developed one the size of three Lifesaver candies that will last 75 years.
  • Anuph Singh’s (8321) poster described how cells respond to being infected, using microfluidic tools and hyperspectral imaging to see how proteins move in cells. The group found previously unpredicted interactions that “would have taken legions of grad students years to collect data” without such capabilities, said Chris Apblett, monitoring the poster for Anuph, who was away.
  • Tom Friedmann (1112) created thin-film gauges intrinsically connected to target materials in shock physics experiments. They are designed to minimize intrusions by the measuring device on pressure readings, and allow for the first time an accurate, direct measurement of temperature.
  • Julia Hsu’s (1114) poster read that she had explored new approaches for nanomaterials assembly and demonstrated some success in using organic molecules to control surface energy.

Six awards for projects ending in the past three years were given across the self-evident LDRD themes of Discover, Create, and Prove. They were also shared equally across the two major LDRD program areas of Science, Technology & Engineering and Mission Technologies.