Sandia conducts first faster-than-sound sled track tests since 2008

IMPACT TEST — A rocket sled (entering the frame from the right side of photo) slams into a stationary B61-12 mock weapon at the end of Sandia’s 10,000-foot sled track during a successful test last month. Tests in July and August marked the return of supersonic testing to the Rocket Sled Track.           (Photo courtesy of Ed Bystrom, Dept. 1535)

by Sue Major Holmes

Sandia has conducted the first supersonic tests on its 10,000-foot Rocket Sled Track for the B61 modernization program since major renovations at the facility.

The two tests in late July and early August were part of a series for the B61-12 Life Extension Program that included five sled track tests this summer. The first three were conducted on Holloman Air Force Base’s sled track at slower speeds than the tests performed on Sandia’s track, says test director Jason Petti (1534).

Matt Brewer (2159/6512), test engineer for the B61-12 program, says the successful Sandia sled track tests mark another achievement in the revitalization of an important capability. The B61-12 Systems Org. 2150 and Validation and Qualification Org. 1530 performed the tests to characterize impact fuze performance and gather model validation data, with test conditions representing both the steepest impact angle and fastest velocities predicted for normal environments, he says.

The tests will lead to a similar series with two full B61-12 systems tests next fiscal year. The sled track plays an important role in overall weapon system design and qualification not only by verifying weapon performance, but also by validating system models generated by Solid Mechanics Dept. 1554.

Jason says it’s been a long process to get a sled track team put together and trained since a 2008 accident that shut down the facility after a motor ignited prematurely while employees were preparing for a test.

Most test team members have joined in last few years

Most current Org. 1530 staff members transferred in or were hired after 2009. Separate departments had to learn to work together to coordinate activities, develop trust, and feel comfortable conducting tests at ultra-high speeds, Jason says.

Test planning emphasized safety, including procedures to ensure no one was within a defined hazard area during the tests. Several years of work also went into the firing system design for the rocket motors, with several layers of safety built in to ensure the rockets go off only when intended, Jason says.

“We’ve had to learn about facilities, learn how to conduct tests under the new Work Planning and

Control Criteria for Safe Design and Operations with a lot more scrutiny for safety and the rigor that we go through to prove that a test is safe, that things are going to work as intended,” he says.

The supersonic test on July 22 was the third sled track test since early 2013 when significant changes to sled track operations and equipment designs were implemented at the 10,000- and 2,000-foot sled tracks. “So it’s a big milestone for everybody out here that we’ve been able to get to this point,” Jason says.

The team has taken gradual steps to resume testing in supersonic conditions, Jason says. Its first two tests last year after the track resumed normal operations were below the speed of sound. Conducting tests at supersonic speeds leads to additional challenges and considerations such as the weather, since poor weather can refocus a sonic boom, increasing the sound hazard in the test area or even potentially causing the pressure wave to break windows.

Major upgrades

At the same time the team was being reconstituted, the sled track underwent a major upgrade as part of a Test Capabilities Revitalization program. Among other things, that work replaced the wiring systems for test control and instrumentation — some 120 miles of new wire along the track.

Renovations meant the team had to test new equipment to make sure it operated as expected, as well as ensure older equipment remained in working order. “It’s been an additional challenge for the team,” Jason says.

“Having to pull the team together in a few years and get to the point where we could get these tests conducted says a lot about their professionalism, their ability to come together and work together to develop the infrastructure and the capabilities we needed to get the tests off,” Jason says. “There are a number of people who probably doubted we could get back to this point as quickly as we have. The team takes pride in the fact that we’ve been able to do that and do it safely.”


-- Sue Major Holmes

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Forward Thinking: Women-led team plans for national labs’ future

Cynthia Nitta, left, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wendy Baca, center, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sheryl Hingorani, from Sandia, lead a team that is developing plans and options for future strategy.   (Photo by Stephanie Blackwell)

by Jennifer Awe

Note: This article first appeared on DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity blog (, as part of DOE’s Women in STEM initiative. 

DOE’s 17 national laboratories employ brilliant minds, addressing the greatest science and technology issues facing our planet — from climate change and energy solutions to space exploration to national security.

Amid these are three nuclear weapons laboratories that share the critical responsibilities of ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of the US nuclear deterrent.

Collaboration between these labs, and throughout the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear security enterprise, is crucial to delivering on this multifaceted mission.

One “tri-lab” team cutting across lab boundaries is led by three female engineers — from Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia national laboratories. Together, Wendy Baca (Los Alamos), Sheryl Hingorani (Sandia), and Cynthia Nitta (Lawrence Livermore) lead a newly formed team that is developing plans and options for future strategy.

Toward a cohesive vision

 “Our collective perspective looks far beyond what we’re doing today,” says Sheryl. “We anticipate and plan for what we may need 10, 20 years down the road, even into the middle of the century.”

The team works toward a cohesive vision for the future of the US nuclear deterrent from a laboratories’ point of view. As Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, the labs are trusted government partners structured to meet special long-term research and development needs, to operate autonomously in the public interest, and to attract personnel with the highest level of expertise.

 “At a national lab we’re able to tackle huge global problems — intricate, long-term, multidisciplinary problems that no one else can,” says Nitta. “I work around world-class minds, people who’ve had a significant impact on history . . . and they’re humble and ready to help wherever it’s needed.”

 “It’s like working for Elvis,” Baca adds.

 “We’re standing on the shoulders of giants here,” Sheryl agrees. “And that sense of duty is powerful.”

The team meets regularly to anticipate needs for 21st century nuclear deterrence and to help inform priorities so that the most essential activities are accomplished within the labs’ available budgets. They collaborate on approaches with the entire US nuclear weapons community and advocate for collective action in the best interests of the nation.

 “This team has been very valuable,” says Sheryl.

“It helps us better understand and explore interdependencies across the laboratories. None of us works in a vacuum.”

With nearly 30 years apiece in national security roles, each of these women has dedicated her career to serving the nation in an incredibly unique niche. As leaders in the predominantly male industries of engineering and nuclear weapons, the group welcomes the challenge.

Actions speak louder than gender

 “There were so few women when I started,” Nitta recalls. “That has changed over time. I’ve tried to learn continuously, and to be known as someone who gets things done.”

The women explain that throughout their careers their actions have spoken louder than gender — that if you deliver quality projects, people will want to work with you based on your merits.

Executive leadership from each lab initiated the directive for the tri-lab team, with mutual recognition for the power of a shared collective on crucial issues. The women agree that edict has been critical to the team’s success.

 “The team’s formation wasn’t about being women; it was about the skills and knowledge we have, the experience we brought to the role,” says Baca. “We knew the three of us could make it work.”

 “We approached this with a perspective of collaboration, rather than competition,” says Nitta.

They draw expertise in from a variety of areas across the laboratories, uniting disciplines that may otherwise rarely interact. In addition to broad expertise, diversity adds value to the team, but not necessarily gender diversity.

 “It’s a diversity of ideas,” Nitta stresses. “It’s important to have someone in the room with a different view than yours; that’s some of the most valuable input I ever receive.”

What advice would Sheryl, Baca, and Nitta share with women pursuing STEM careers?

 “Don’t get so myopic in finishing your degree that you miss opportunities along the way,” says Baca. “No matter what it may feel like at the time, keep learning. I had three different majors before I became an industrial engineer.”

 “I had four,” says Nitta.

Sheryl changed her major six times: “Although it took me longer, I was exposed to a breadth of experiences, and was able to enjoy the journey.”

As they meet deadlines and milestones, the group agrees they are chiefly focused on building strong relationships and making sure the team is solid — on enjoying the journey, not just the destination.


-- Jennifer Awe

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Carbon sequestration research continues under DOE contract

CARBON SEQUESTRATION — The Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security is studying the basic science of carbon sequestration, the injection of carbon dioxide in the deep subsurface as a way of controlling greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. This image depicts the multiscale, multidisciplinary complexity of carbon sequestration.  (Graphic courtesy of Mona Aragon (6920))

by Sue Major Holmes

Sandia researchers are sharing a four-year, $12 million DOE contract that continues funding into research on the long-term geologic sequestration of carbon, considered a key element in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

The Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) contract from the department’s Office of Science, which went into effect Aug. 1, funds research by the Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security, a joint carbon sequestration program between The University of Texas, Austin, the lead partner, and Sandia. Sandia researchers will get $5.6 million of the total, which renews a five-year, $7 million contract awarded in 2009. The latest award was one of 32 EFRCs chosen from more than 200 proposals.

Upcoming work focuses on three technical challenges: sustaining large storage rates for decades; increasing efficient use of pore space in the geologic formations, or reservoirs, where carbon dioxide (CO2) would be stored; and making sure it doesn’t leak from the reservoir, says Sandia geochemistry researcher and assistant center director Susan Altman (6915).

“We’re not going to solve all these problems; they’re huge,” she says. “But we’re doing the basic science behind them so that we can inform decisions and move forward. We want to make sure our science will have impact on those three challenges.”

Marianne Walck (6900), associate director for the joint center, who also heads Sandia’s Geosciences Research Foundation, says the contract renewal validates the work done by Sandia and the university in the program’s first five years and positions the center to have major impact in subsurface storage research and development. “We are proud to be among the 22 EFRCs that DOE chose to continue for another four years,” she says. “The technical and programmatic reviews of our proposal with UT were superb; they speak to the quality of research at both institutions.”

Multidisciplinary effort centers on studies in deep saline aquifers

The effort concentrates on deep saline reservoirs, studying problems from the atomic to the full reservoir scale in a multidisciplinary approach that brings in chemistry, microbiology, geomechanics, geophysics, and computer sciences. The team includes researchers from Sandia and The University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering and Jackson School of Geosciences.

The program so far has published 80 papers, including the featured article in the July 17 issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry, “Chemical and Hydrodynamic Mechanisms for Long-Term Geologic Carbon Storage.”

The original EFRC focused on multiscale, multiphysics processes to ensure safe storage of CO2 without harming the environment. Researchers now will work to integrate physics across length scales. For example, they will look at the integrity of the caprock, the low-permeability mudstone that helps keep buoyant CO2 underground, Susan says. They will work at the atomic scale to see if there is significant storage space in the clay layers. They will work at the core scale to measure the caprock’s mechanical properties to better understand how the rock could fracture under pressure. Then team members will integrate knowledge and measurements from the core scale to model the caprock itself — the reservoir scale — to understand how fractures develop in the reservoir.

The center also studies how CO2 dissolves into resident brines over time. During injection, CO2 is trapped by the caprock, which is critically important but the least secure of four trapping mechanisms. After that comes residual trapping, in which CO2 bubbles are caught in pore space; solubility trapping, when CO2 dissolves in the brine or other fluids underground; and finally, mineral trapping, where carbon becomes a solid, such as calcite, the most secure mechanism but the one that takes longest.

Researchers also are working in the field at northeastern New Mexico’s Bravo Dome, a natural reservoir of CO2 trapped underground. They’re trying to calculate long-term dissolution rates at the site to understand how important solubility is to CO2 trapping, Susan says.


-- Sue Major Holmes

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Triplets push each other to academic success and Lockheed Martin scholarships

The Williams triplets, from left, Alicia, Megan — on Skype from Los Angeles — and Stephanie, are flanked by their parents Steve (5954) and Jayne. “I’m trying not to think about our empty nest after they’re gone,” Jayne says. “I’m excited for them that they’re heading off and getting settled in their new lives.”     (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Nancy Salerm

Stephanie, Alicia, and Megan Williams share more than a birthday. They each speak a second language, excel in a sport, give back to the community, and carried higher than a 4.0 grade-point average at Albuquerque Academy.

Being triplets fueled a lot of that success. “We have a competitive edge. We’re tiger sisters. We push each other forward,” Stephanie says. “It’s always been that way. We support and are proud of each other, but we feel compelled to get on the same level.”

All three Academy seniors applied for Lockheed Martin Foundation scholarships in the 2014 National Merit Scholarship program. All three got a letter back in July and all three got a yes.

“I was very proud and grateful,” says their dad, Steve Williams (5954). “I know how hard they’ve worked and how well they’ve done.”

The Williams family is changing fast. Steve and his wife Jayne, a former Sandian, will have an instant empty nest when their triplets leave New Mexico for colleges in California, Illinois, and New York, and the girls will live away from each other for the first time in their lives.

“I’m trying not to think about our empty nest after they’re gone,” Jayne says. “I’m excited for them that they’re heading off and getting settled in their new lives.”

Steve says he and Jayne wanted their daughters to make their own choices and go to the colleges that best fit their interests. The girls say they briefly considered attending the same school, the University of California Los Angeles, but really wanted to head in different directions.

“We talked and it was a hard decision,” Alicia says. “But our interests are not the same.”

Stephanie will attend the University of Chicago majoring in genetics and philosophy. Alicia is going to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, to study statistics. And Megan is already settled in at UCLA studying computer science like her mom and dad.

An ultrasound surprise

Steve, a Virginia native, came to Sandia in 1980 with a master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University. He has worked in different departments but always in computing. Jayne, of Missouri, joined the Labs in 1984 with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and computer science and a master’s in computer science from the University of Missouri Rolla. They met in 1986 and married three years later. Jayne was promoted to manager of Secure Communications (SECOM) not long after.

The triplets were born in 1996. “In an early ultrasound they saw one baby, then another, then said there was a third. I said, ‘Wait, let me see that screen!’” Jayne says. “We were very excited about it. I worked up to the last month, and the girls were each over 5 pounds and healthy. We were very blessed.”

Jayne left Sandia to be a stay-at-home mom. She went to work in administration and community outreach at Albuquerque Academy after the girls started middle school there. They attended Albuquerque Public Schools through fifth grade.

“Raising triplets is all we know,” Jayne says. “It was wonderful. They were their own little play group, and they had so much fun.” Steve says when the girls were up late studying calculus or other tough subjects in high school, “we’d hear them cracking up laughing. They could enjoy themselves even under pressure.”

Megan says conflicts were few. “We were very close,” she says. “It was nice to have people around at all times who knew what was going on and what you were going through.”

Sports, art, and music

The girls all gravitated to science and math but developed different activities. Alicia and Stephanie played club volleyball, and Megan captained varsity golf, making all-state the past two years. Megan and Alicia studied Chinese and went on a class trip to China, and Alicia is teaching herself Korean. Stephanie studied Spanish and visited Spain with Alicia. Alicia is an artist, Stephanie excels in writing, and Megan plays guitar.

They did summer internships at Sandia and the University of New Mexico in materials, biomedical engineering, and nanoparticles. They heard about the Lockheed Martin scholarship from Steve, and say they are thrilled to have won it. “We all went, ‘Yes!’” Stephanie says. “We were very happy about it, and very grateful.”

About a month ago, Jayne, Stephanie, and Alicia drove Megan to Los Angeles. “It was sad,” Alicia says. “We spent so much time together growing up. It’s been hard. We FaceTime every single night.”

Steve stayed home, where he said it was “quiet and eerie.” “You realize how much you will miss them,” he says. “But I know the excitement that lies ahead for them.”

The family is already planning reunions at Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Oh, we plan to see a lot of each other,” Jayne says. “I’m already watching the airline specials. And thank goodness for Skype.”


-- Nancy Salerm

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