Three researchers named Sandia Fellows

SANDIA researchers, left to right, Jerry Simmons (1120), Ed Cole (1755), and John Rowe (5550) are Sandia’s newest Fellows, joining six others who have earned the distinction since it was instituted in 1986. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Neal Singer

Labs recognizes career accomplishments, reputations of Ed Cole, Jerry Simmons, John Rowe

Sandia researchers Jerry Simmons (1120), Ed Cole (1755), and John Rowe (5550) have been named Sandia Fellows. 

That status — stellar at Sandia and nearly as rare as hen’s teeth — is reserved for those who are nationally or internationally recognized pioneers in their fields. It is considered a promotion to the highest level of Research and Development staff, equivalent to the level of management immediately below Sandia’s vice presidents, says Julia Phillips, vice president and Sandia chief technology officer (7000).

There have been only six previous Fellows in Sandia’s history. Of them, Jeff Brinker (1002) alone is still active at Sandia.

“The three new Fellows have histories of sustained and equally distinguished accomplishments in their fields,” said Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert in announcing the appointments.

Jerry made notable discoveries in the physics that examines electron tunneling — how an electron can turn up where by rights it shouldn’t be. He is well-known for linking fundamental scientific understanding with engineering impact, and has demonstrated leadership in helping to advance solid-state lighting, terahertz sources, and detectors and quantum qubits.

Says Jerry, “I’m honored to be recognized and thank colleagues I’ve worked with over the years. Almost everything I’ve done has been a team effort with very talented people. As a Fellow I hope to spend more time working with others to explore new ideas, and then build new teams to bring those ideas closer to reality.”

Ed is internationally recognized for his widely used work in failure analysis and reliability physics. His pioneering work and leadership in applying failure analysis techniques to the most challenging national security problems has led to methods for finding almost entirely hidden defects.

 Says Ed, “I am honored and excited by the Sandia Fellow appointment and the opportunity it affords to work with staff, leadership, and external partners in Sandia’s national security mission.”

John’s expertise and technical leadership in space-based multispectral remote sensing systems have helped shape US capabilities and are widely recognized in national security fields. His deep technical understanding of national sensing and detection systems makes him a highly regarded and sought-after expert in the Department of Defense and intelligence communities.

Says John, “It is a huge honor to be appointed a Sandia Fellow and I look forward to continued collaboration with my colleagues and Labs leadership as we work to address current and future challenges to our national security.”

Fellows are chosen from fields that coincide with areas in which Sandia intends to maintain or grow its presence. Fellows are expected to bring the very best science and engineering to Sandia and the US, shape the future of Sandia’s science and engineering enterprise, expand the breadth of their influence, mentor others, and maintain extensive professional networks.

Sandia’s last promotions to Fellow took place in 2002 and 2003, when Gordon Osbourn (retired), Jeff Brinker, and Jim Gosler (retired) were selected for their pioneering work in strained layer superlattices; sol-gel processing of ceramics and self-assembling nanostructures; and information security, respectively.

The first Fellow appointment was made in 1986.

Jeff Brinker says, “We’re planning a meeting in a few weeks to see what we could do together for the improvement of the Labs. Together, the Fellows could work to identify new opportunities and lead initiatives to further increase the quality, visibility, and impact of Sandia science and technology.”

John Rowe

John Rowe, lead Senior Engineer in Sandia’s Space Mission Program, hired on to Sandia 35 years ago as a technician in a materials testing group. He was grateful for support offered by Sandia management that allowed him to complete his master’s degree in computer science from the University of New Mexico. From there, he transferred to the Satellite Systems area and has worked in space- and ground-based sensing systems for most of the last 30 years.

 “These fields are critically important for our national security interests, environmental monitoring, and possibly for analyzing climate changes,” he says.

Of particular importance to John has been development of methods to exploit the growing flood of data provided by satellites, and concomitantly, help design at a high level the characteristics of the sensing systems.

John and his colleagues have pioneered the use of space-based multispectral systems that provide information by analyzing an area or target of interest through use of multiple frequencies of light. More recently, he has focused on persistent sensing systems — “devices that sense what you want, where you want, whenever you want,” is all he says on that subject.

For the last several years, John has spent a good part of his time directing or contributing to major studies for space-based systems for the Labs and government customers.  He has also supported multiagency studies that “are shaping the future of our space sensing capabilities,” he says.

The gravitas of being selected a Fellow, he says, “is a recognition by the institution of the importance of this area of work and of our intent to increase our engagement in this area.” He believes it will provide him opportunities to more broadly engage with other elements of Sandia, including senior technical personnel and Labs leadership, to better position the Labs to face national security challenges.

“We could do a better job by interacting with other programs and capabilities across the Labs, such as with cyber, integrated military systems, and others. There are potential ties with all these communities that are not being leveraged to their fullest. My new position may offer opportunities to help knit these together.”

Jerry Simmons

When Jerry Simmons was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2002, he was cited for experiments on the physics of low-temperature electron tunneling in never-before-seen double quantum-well transistor structures. But the Princeton electrical engineering PhD (whose adviser was 1998 physics Nobel laureate Dan Tsui) found himself as fascinated in creating his research program as in the work itself. “What was exciting was building the team that could grow quantum layers of semiconductor materials with very high purity and atomic layer precision, process them into nanoelectronic devices, and perform delicate electrical measurements at low temperatures,” he says. “I hired a lot of people that work in that area; now Sandia has a world-leading program in quantum electronics.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science cited Jerry for his research and leadership in semiconductor lighting (AAAS Fellow, 2008). But again, he says, “Solid state lighting at Sandia has been a real team effort. My contribution was in having a vision.” When his solid-state-lighting team was selected for an Laboratory Directed Research and Development Grand Challenge, he set about helping to raise the technology’s visibility.

“When we started, solid state lighting was less efficient than incandescent bulbs. We advised Senator Bingaman’s office of potentially enormous energy savings; he ended up authoring a national Next-Generation Lighting Initiative, which started a DOE research program on solid state lighting, which funded research and product development throughout the US.”

The national push added to understanding of III-V LEDs [light-emitting devices that use compounds involving gallium and nitrogen rather than silicon], enabled more accurately controlled crystal growth, and showed industry how to save on costs. “Now LED lights are on the market,” Jerry says.

As a Fellow, Jerry says he will look for science and technology ideas that meet several pressing needs of Sandia mission areas. He’s now particularly interested in wide band gap power electronics, a smart technology that more efficiently converts electricity from one voltage to another. Advances in the technology would mean that any device using electricity would need less cooling, as well as lower weight, volume, complexity, and therefore expense. Such work could aid Army front lines, Navy magnetic catapult launches, airplanes, electric cars, telephones, televisions, power company electrical transformers, photovoltaics, and more.

“A Fellow has more freedom and time to build new technology programs,” says Jerry. “What gets me excited is coming up with new ideas and turning them into reality.”

Ed Cole

Ed Cole takes pride that his three daughters — now in their 20s — love going for week-long vacations each year with their mom and dad to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That’s the state in which Ed achieved his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in solid-state physics. In his doctoral work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he used non-destructive, low-energy electron beam techniques to analyze integrated circuits. This made it only a small jump for him to join Sandia’s Failure Analysis Department in 1987, where he has improved and devised new nondestructive investigatory techniques to determine the presence and locality of nanometer-sized circuit failures in chips with hundreds of millions of circuits, trivializing any comparison to finding needles in haystacks.

Ramifications of these investigations impact today’s technologies and change future products, he says, in both the military and commercial world. His work has helped determine reliability risks for components that haven’t failed yet, and found “soft” defects of components that limit the performance of devices that otherwise would operate better.  Among his tools are electron and laser beam probes, the latter for optical and heating purposes. In one technique, he originated serially heating “floors” of vertically connected layers 0.2 microns thick with a tight beam to see if expanding the interconnects improves their performance; the result locates the flaw.

Two teams led by Ed have won R&D 100 awards in failure analysis. He has served on the executive and management committees of a variety of conferences and on the editorial board of several journals.

He has been a major contributor to the development of scanning electron and optical and microscopy techniques as well as light emission and atomic force microscopy applications. His 11 patents have been cited by more than 60 other patents and have generated approximately $1.6 million in royalties for Sandia.

Despite security limitations over much of the last decade — “I straddle two worlds,” he says — he is the author of more than 25 journal articles and conference presentations in the area of integrated circuit reliability and failure analysis that collectively have been cited nearly 150 times in the international technical literature, and have won numerous “best” and “outstanding” paper awards. In November 2012 at the International Symposium on Testing and Failure Analysis, about 20 percent of the conference was based on techniques developed at Sandia and its industry partners to localize defects in integrated circuits.

As a Fellow, Ed expects to stay hands-on “but not to the extent I’ve been doing,” he says.  “As Fellow, your impact and sphere of influence are expected to grow and I will be pursuing this. If someone told me an IBM Fellow was coming, I would hold an expectation about that person’s knowledge and influence. I expect the same to be true of the Sandia Fellows.”


-- Neal Singer

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Concentrating on sunshine to advance hydrogen economy

Ivan Ermanoski works on a room temperature prototype of the packed particle bed reactor for solar-thermochemical hydrogen production. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Holly Larsen

Researchers around the world are pursuing the goal of harnessing the vast amounts of energy available from the sun to address climate change and other impacts of the world’s growing dependence on carbon-based fuels. Myriad technologies for capturing and storing the sun’s power are maturing — but large-scale commercially viable and economically competitive processes based on these technologies are likely still years away.

Nonetheless, by building on other efforts, notably the findings of Sandia’s Sunshine to Petrol (S2P) Grand Challenge Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project, a Sandia team of S2P veterans that includes principal investigator Tony McDaniel (8367) and Ivan Ermanoski (6124), has taken significant steps toward an intriguing possibility: creating hydrogen fuel using a two-step thermochemical process powered by the sun. Hydrogen fuel for transportation is widely viewed as an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline, natural gas, and other carbon-based fossil fuels — especially if the hydrogen can be generated without using fossil fuels in the process.

Broad outline of concept is simple

“If the concept can be validated and scaled up, it could lead to an economically viable means of creating hydrogen from water and sunlight — two very abundant resources,” says Tony.

Collaborators from the University of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines, and Bucknell University are also contributing to this project, which is funded by DOE’s Fuel Cell Technology Office under the Solar ThermoChemical Hydrogen Production (STCH) program.

The broad outline of the team’s concept is fairly simple: use sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The concept uses a second-generation version of the

Sandia-developed CR5 receiver reactor for converting solar energy into an easily storable form: a chemical fuel, such as hydrogen. The reactor is placed at the top of a tower centered within a large field of heliostats (flat mirrors that track the sun). Together, the tower and heliostats form a concentrating solar power plant. Such plants — which commonly store solar energy in the form of molten salt that can be used to generate steam, and thus electricity — already exist in many parts of the world, including Spain and the United States.

The reactor being developed by Sandia uses metal-oxide particles sized a few tens of microns in diameter as the working “fluid.” The particles are transported between two isolated reaction zones: an upper chamber illuminated and heated by concentrated solar energy and a lower chamber exposed to steam. Using gravity feed and a unique particle elevator concept patented by the team (based on an Olds Elevator™), particles are lifted from the lower to the upper chamber.

Here, concentrated sunlight heats the particles to temperatures as high as 1,600 C, providing sufficient energy to remove oxygen from the oxide particle. The oxygen is continuously pumped away, and the oxygen-reduced particles (designed not to melt or sinter at such high temperatures) flow to the lower chamber.

In the lower chamber, the particles are exposed to water in the form of steam. Strongly attracted to the oxygen-reduced particle, the oxygen breaks away from the water molecule to deposit in the metal oxide, creating hydrogen in the process. The re-oxidized particles are then ready to be elevated to the upper chamber and repeat the cycle. It is expected that these particles will be cycled hundreds of thousands of times before replacement.

Project goes farther

“In part, this concept draws on past work to generate hydrogen by splitting water,” says Tony. “But this project goes farther by exploring several novel aspects that hold a lot of promise.”

For example, meeting the project goal of developing a process that requires only two steps, as opposed to the numerous steps (up to nine) required for many of the other thermochemical processes under development, will allow for greater process efficiencies. Efficiency is further enhanced by incorporating key features of the earlier Sandia CR5 reactor — such as recuperation of thermal energy, continuous on-sun operation, and direct absorption of sunlight by the working metal-oxide — coupled with new features developed in the second-generation design. The most significant of these is the intrinsic gas and pressure separation between the two chambers made possible by the moving packed bed of particles.

“From what we’ve seen in the literature thus far, one or more of these attributes is missing from other systems. Yet all are critical to achieving economic viability because of the high capital costs associated with building solar concentrators and the direct tie between efficiency and cost. Using particles as the working fluid enables the high efficiency, mechanical simplicity, scalability, and material and operational flexibility of the Sandia reactor concept,” says Tony.

Equally important, the team has identified a novel material chemistry for the metal oxide particles. Researchers to date have focused on two chemistries, ferrite and ceria, the current state of the art. Both ferrite and ceria have issues and, at best, have demonstrated efficiencies of less than a few percent.

“By leveraging Sandia efforts to understand these materials and their limitations, and working closely with a separate Sandia project led by Andrea Ambrosini (6124) that is developing new thermochemical materials, we have identified a different chemistry based on perovskite materials that opens the door to some interesting possibilities,” Tony says.

As reported in a recent paper (“Sr- and Mn-doped LaAlO3−δ for solar thermochemical H2 and CO production,” Energy and Environmental Science), the perovskite chemistry produces significantly more hydrogen per reduction/oxidation cycle than ceria while maintaining rapid reaction kinetics, a principal advantage of ceria. In addition, the perovskites can be cycled effectively at temperatures below 1,350 C, as opposed to the 1,500 C minimum temperature required for ceria. Operating at a lower temperature range allows for use of less exotic, and therefore less expensive, materials for constructing the reactor.

In fact, the team believes perovskites have the potential to meet or exceed the 26 percent solar conversion efficiency targeted by the DOE STCH program, whereas it is almost certain that ceria and ferrite chemistries will not. In addition, because perovskites have highly tunable properties and because an overwhelmingly large number of compounds can be formed in the perovskite crystal structure, it’s highly likely that a metal-oxide material can be discovered that will efficiently and economically produce hydrogen fuel.

To evaluate and refine their reactor design concept, the project team is building a small (1 kW) engineering test stand. At the moment, the team is testing the particle conveyance and pressure separation concepts at room temperature and plans in the near future to retrofit the stand to test these features simultaneously and at high temperature.

“By studying how this unit operates and doing extensive modeling, we’re working to gain a deeper understanding of reactor function and how to create a viable system at a much larger operating scale,” says Tony. “In particular, we’re looking hard at how the particle elevator works and at how to improve efficiencies.” In this endeavor, the STCH program will benefit from work being conducted in Sandia’s Materials, Devices, and Energy Technologies Dept. 6124 and supported by an early career LDRD that is examining the complexities of solid-solid heat exchange for particle systems.

Though aware of the work ahead, the team is optimistic about the prospects for their reactor design. “Ultimately, this effort could contribute to a new transportation infrastructure based on hydrogen or enable carbon-neutral, renewable-based synthetic liquid fuels that could be inserted directly into the existing infrastructure. Either way, it could smooth the transition away from fossil fuels,” Tony states.


-- Holly Larsen

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SWiFT — the DOE/Sandia Scaled Wind Farm Technology facility commissioned in Lubbock, Texas

DOE, Sandia, and Texas Tech University hosted the commissioning of the DOE/Sandia Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) facility on Tuesday, July 9, at the Reese Technology Center in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by Lloyd Wilson)

by Stephanie Holinka

DOE, Sandia, and Texas Tech University hosted the commissioning of the DOE/Sandia Scaled Wind Farm Technology  (SWiFT) facility on Tuesday, July 9, at the Reese Technology Center in Lubbock, Texas.

The event featured speakers from DOE’s Wind Program, Vestas Wind Systems, Sandia, and Texas Tech University.

Speakers discussed the importance of increasing performance to reduce the cost of wind power. In addition, speakers addressed the SWiFT facility’s objectives of reducing power losses and damage caused by turbine-turbine interaction, enhancing energy capture and damage-mitigation potential of advanced rotors, and improving the validity of aerodynamic, aero-elastic, and aero-acoustic simulations used to develop innovative technologies.

The SWiFT is the first public facility of its kind to use multiple wind turbines to measure how wind turbines interact with one another in a wind farm.

In a news release announcing the commissioning of the new facility, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson said, “The Energy Department’s wind testing facilities, including the Scaled Wind Farm Technology site in Texas, support the continued growth of our nation’s clean energy economy while helping to speed the deployment of next generation energy technologies and bring more clean, affordable, renewable power to American homes and businesses.”

Jon White of Wind Energy Technologies Dept. 6121, technical lead for the project, says this is the first moderate-scale facility — allowing up to 10 wind turbines — specifically designed for the investigation, testing, and development of technology for wind plants.

“Some estimates show that 10 to 40 percent of wind energy production and revenue is lost due to complex wind plant interaction,” he says.

 Jon says the three-year process of bringing SWiFT online has been rewarding and challenging.

“It has been a phenomenal experience to work with a diverse team to complete the often underappreciated process of turbine construction. We also had a 1980s-era, smaller turbine rebuilt to perform analogously to a much larger machine,” Jon says

The project was designed and built from the ground up.

“The project was a complete green-field construction so there was tremendous complexity in scheduling and managing all of the agreements and contracts to ensure access to the facility, verify there wouldn’t be an adverse environmental impact, procure the equipment, and contract numerous specialized labor resources. We succeeded primarily because we have a dedicated and competent team and a steadfast DOE customer,” Jon says.

Researchers have begun planning the site’s first research projects.

Jon says the two primary research projects for the next year will be testing and evaluating Sandia’s new National Rotor Testbed Project and collecting baseline data for turbine-turbine interaction that can be used by the international community to improve wind plant performance.

The National Rotor Testbed Project will provide a public, open-source complete rotor design that the wind energy community can work on collaboratively to bring the best technology to market as rapidly and cost-efficiently as possible, Jon says.

SWiFT will host both open-source and proprietary research as the result of a partnership among Sandia, Vestas, Texas Tech University’s National Wind Institute at Reese Technology Center, and Group NIRE, a renewable energy development company.

Funding for the work comes from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

For more information on SWiFT, see previous news releases or visit the SWiFT website.

-- Stephanie Holinka

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