NNSA Blog

What do you want to be when you grow up, the NNSA scientists asked. "An astrophysicist!"

NNSA employees' children joined the team for the day at NNSA's office in Germantown, Md. The NNSA team got a lot bigger, and younger – at least for one day – as employees’ 5th- to 12th-grade children accompanied them to work for “Take your Daughters and Sons to Work Day” on April 28.

NNSA team members and their offspring participated in hands-on workshops, an energy emergency response scenario, career talks, energy technology demos, health and wellness breaks, and a children's menu from the headquarters cafeteria. The day included open invitations for employees and their children to meet and visit with top leadership, including Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz.

The events support the President’s drive to give young people work-based learning experiences to help make a connection between what they learn in the classroom and their future careers.

Students also descended upon NNSA’s laboratory campuses this week for job shadowing and accompanying their parents on tours of NNSA’s nuclear enterprise facilities and tech-centered activities including a scavenger hunt, competitive trivia, and a “Spaghetti Challenge.”

See photos of this week’s events at #ITJobShadowDay, and #TakeYourChildToWorkDay. Throughout the year, NNSA offers a variety of student opportunities and STEM outreach.

 

NNSA and DOE employees’ 5th- to 12th-grade children accompanied them to work for “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.”

Parents and children learned about everything from circuits to bioenergy to future STEM careers.

The kids got to see a fuel-cell-powered car.

Apr 29, 2016 at 3:00 pm

NNSA Blog

As NNSA verifies and maintains the U.S. nuclear deterrent without underground explosive nuclear testing, computer simulation has become a key capability and a vital part of the nuclear security enterprise. By modeling the extreme physics that make up nuclear reactions, scientists can ensure our stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable. The simulation science developed through pursuit of NNSA’s missions has also enabled models to help explain and predict non-nuclear phenomena from weather to effects of asteroid impact, and even human social behavior.

One such project from Sandia National Laboratories used computer simulation to study recruitment and group formation, such as in inner-city gangs and terrorist groups. The Seldon tool, named after a fictional social scientist, aims to provide a unique environment where researchers can evaluate the effectiveness of intervention strategies on the emergence and persistence of these groups.

The Seldon project meshes sociology, psychology, agent-based technology, modeling, simulation, and cognitive science to develop software to model recruitment and group formation. The tool is unique because it portrays cliques, gangs, schools, and houses of worship through social conceptualization and not just as physical or economical institutions. Specifically, the researchers showed how recruitment occurs through the formation of cliques; terrorist organizations build their ranks this way.

Because Seldon also specifically models Middle Eastern terrorist recruitment in a European setting, the project is especially relevant to current events. Before Sandia’s creation of the toolkit, there had not been a computational tool for analyzing the interdependence between individuals and society. The highly sophisticated simulation science enabled by the nuclear security enterprise has been helping world leaders in the effort to crack the code of terrorist recruitment and stop the spread of extremism.

Learn more about NNSA’s advanced computing initiatives and work at the labs.

Apr 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

NNSA Blog

As headlines highlight the threat of viruses like Ebola and Zika, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have teamed up to discover and uncover the viral mechanisms of infection by creating screening libraries based on CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) genome-editing technology.

“CRISPR technology allows researchers to easily knock out or remove specific genes from a host cell,” said Sandia researcher Oscar Negrete, who is spearheading the project for Sandia to develop the libraries that will be used to screen Zika and many other viruses. “CRISPR libraries are built to target large sets of genes simultaneously.”

Using these libraries, researchers can rapidly understand how removal of these genes affects virus infection. By discovering host genes essential for infection through CRISPR library screening, researchers can begin to design anti-viral treatments using those identified gene or gene products as targets.

Negrete is co-leading the project with Robert Damoiseaux, director of the Molecular Screening Shared Resource at UCLA. Sandia researchers Joe Schoeniger, Sara Bird and Edwin Saada also are working on the yearlong project, “Development of Arrayed CRISPR-based Libraries for Functional Genomics Screening.” The work is part of the first-ever Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between Sandia and UCLA.

Read more.

Apr 29, 2016 at 10:00 am

Students from Farragut High School work on their entry for the FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) robotics competition.

Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC, which runs the Y-12 National Security Complex and the Pantex Plant, plays an active role in strengthening the quality of FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) robotics competitions for individual high school–aged teams in Tennessee and Texas. The teams compete head to head on a special playing field with robots they have designed, built and programmed. FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire students’ interest and participation in science and technology.

In Tennessee, CNS sponsors the Smoky Mountains Regional competition as well as individual teams at: Robertsville Middle; L & N STEM; and Austin East, Bearden, Bushland, Caprock, Farragut, Hardin Valley, Oak Ridge, Roane and Webb high schools.

In addition to the company’s sponsorship, CNS engineers work as volunteer mentors on local teams to educate and support tomorrow’s scientists, engineers and mathematicians. “This is exactly the type of activity CNS wants to support,” said Keith Kitzke, a CNS engineer. “This is one of the best activities I have seen for developing team-building and problem-solving skills in high school students.”

Read more about how CNS supports science, technology, engineering and math through robotics on the Y-12 website.

Apr 27, 2016 at 9:00 am

As part of NNSA’s commitment to protecting and preserving the nation’s nuclear deterrent, NNSA collaborates with the Department of Defense (DOD) in the Joint Munitions Program (JMP). This year marks more than 30 years of partnership through the JMP to improve and invest in innovative technology in pursuit of mutual long-term national security objectives.

A memorandum of understanding signed in 1985 by DOD and DOE provides the basis for the JMP—a cooperative, applied research and development program in munitions-related technology. The JMP aims to solve emerging problems and create advanced technologies of interest to both DOE and DOD under a jointly funded program.  

While most of the research is performed at NNSA’s national laboratories—Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia—all experimental endeavors are planned, monitored, and executed by laboratory representatives from both departments. Mutual collaboration improves the effectiveness, stability, affordability, and efficiency of munitions for the armed services, while at the same time benefiting NNSA’s research objectives.

As national laboratory scientists pair their understanding of physics related to weapons components with access to DOD experimental data, they enhance NNSA’s modeling and simulation capabilities for verifying the nation’s nuclear stockpile. The JMP work also aids NNSA lab recruitment efforts by offering numerous opportunities for technical staff through collaborative professional development.

The JMP supports the President’s commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons by supporting the increased role of conventional weapons to deter and respond to non-nuclear attack, as described in the Nuclear Posture Review report.

Projects in the JMP are organized in five focus areas: Initiation, Fuzing, and Sensors; Energetic Materials; Computational Mechanics and Material Modeling; Warhead & Penetration Technology; and Munitions Lifecycle Technologies. Learn more about the JMP on NNSA’s website and from the Department of Defense.

Apr 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

Building 9204-2E is one of the Y¬12 buildings that the Extended Life Program would help.

The challenge is this: Preserve two key processing facilities at Y-12 National Security Complex. These two facilities will house all nuclear material processing activities not incorporated into the Uranium Processing Facility design.

To better understand what it takes to keep an older, large facility going, a team at Y­12 conducted two workshops. The invitees included other DOE/NNSA sites and outside experts to share knowledge and experience dealing with aging infrastructure.

To read more about the challenge, see the Y-12 website.

Apr 26, 2016 at 10:00 am

Kathleen Alexander is the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation in NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs. She previously held posts at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Dr. Kathleen Alexander

You’re a materials scientist. What about that subject interested you?

When I was in high school in Pittsburgh I was looking at different disciplines to pursue in college, primarily engineering. I had talked to a local (materials science) society, ASM International, and won a college fellowship. When I began studying materials science, I liked the crosscutting nature of the discipline. It touched on physics, engineering, math, and had broad applications to real-world problems. Look around you – materials are everywhere.

You have a long title. Just what is your job?

I oversee the portfolio in NNSA Defense Programs that has to do with experimental and computational sciences. Our NNSA facilities conduct experiments and tests, and we perform analysis and evaluation of those tests for stockpile stewardship. We are the core research, development, test and evaluation program that develops and validates these tools, which often are computer-based models and simulations. We also validate the computer models that go into these tools and validate how well the computer simulations perform compared to reality. We have a variety of experimental facilities that validate those simulations in appropriate conditions, which often involve extremes of pressure, temperature, strain rate, etc.

In the future, what will be the main science drivers in certifying the stockpile?

Primarily, they’re questions related to materials aging, safety and security. The bottom line is we’re regularly assuring the safety, security and reliability of the stockpile.

What areas most need new researchers and scientists?

I mentioned materials aging, so obviously materials scientists, but also computational scientists. Distinct from that are computer scientists, in terms of ensuring that the high-performance computing hardware is appropriate for the kinds of codes we need to run. The technology of available computing hardware is evolving. Other key disciplines include high energy density physics, statistics, nuclear physics – it runs the gamut. We cross all disciplines.

Where do programs like the DOE NNSA Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship fit into this?

They’re key to the pipeline of researchers the program requires. These programs encourage developing the next generation of stockpile stewards. We train leaders in areas relevant to stockpile stewardship – high energy density physics, nuclear science, materials in extremes, hydrodynamics – and not necessarily on our problems per se. Fellows also get exposure to our national labs through a 12-week practicum, so they get to see the important work that’s done, and they get to visit the NNSA national laboratories.

What’s your advice for graduate students who are interested in stewardship science careers?

I always encourage people to ask questions – that’s the best way to learn – but also to work across disciplines. Our problems are crosscutting and learning to work across disciplines is very important. I think that’s what also keeps our technical staff honed and fresh.

You’re involved in efforts to cut across departments and disciplines. What motivates that?

Some of it is my background in materials science, which crosscuts physics and engineering. Another element is that the nature of challenges we have for stockpile stewardship is cross-disciplinary. The cross-disciplinary focus I have stems from both those factors.

You’ve also studied the future of national laboratory facilities and infrastructure. What changes do you see ahead for them?

I think a renewed understanding of the role of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). Our national labs are FFRDCs. It’s important to the nation that we maintain laboratory capabilities for the long term. I also see more discussions across agencies, especially since budgets are constrained, on how to best utilize the capabilities of all the national security laboratories.

You were a lab researcher and manager for 24 years. How do feel about no longer working at a lab or doing research?

Being a laboratory researcher and manager has been my identity for a long time, but I think it’s important to have federal staff who understand the labs and understand how they really work. I tell people it takes a village to do the science we do and that involves having scientists in federal positions as well. I spent half of those years in a (DOE) Office of Science lab coordinating on crosscutting programs with federal staff

A version of this Q&A appeared in the 2015/2016 edition of Stewardship Science, the annual magazine of NNSA’s Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship. For more information or to apply for the fellowship, visit online

Apr 25, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Stuart Rawlinson, left, of the Nevada National Security Site, explains the layout of the “P” Tunnel complex to Ambassador Henry Ensher, center, Chargé d’Affaires U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna and others. The “P” Tunnel was used during underground nuclear explosive testing, which ended in 1992, by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to understand the effects of radiation on military hardware and equipment.

Ambassador Ensher visits Y-12 National Security Complex.Ambassador Henry S. Ensher, the top U.S. diplomat at the United States Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, Austria, recently visited two facilities to understand NNSA’s mission better: the Y-12 National Security Complex and the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

At Y-12, he got an up-close look at the nuclear operations that help provide the backbone of U.S. national security policy.  “Seeing firsthand Y-12’s infrastructure and activities in support of stockpile stewardship, I can say categorically to the public and to our foreign colleagues in Vienna that when we say our nuclear weapons stockpile is safe, secure and effective, we really mean it,” said Ensher, who assumed his post as the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Vienna in July 2015.

While at NNSS, Ambassador Ensher visited additional stockpile stewardship support facilities and those used for NNSA’s nonproliferation missions, including a facility once used for underground nuclear explosive testing – the “P” Tunnel complex. The United States discontinued such testing in 1992. The work NNSA’s nonproliferation programs perform at NNSS helps strengthen the nonproliferation regime, including  the work of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ambassador Ensher, left, sits next to Jim Holt, President, National Security Technologies, as they and others travel by railcar into the “P” tunnel at the Nevada National Security Site. Ambassador Ensher visited the site to gain a better understanding of the role and mission of the site in science-based stockpile stewardship and nonproliferation activities.  “P” tunnel was once the site of underground nuclear explosive testing. The United States has not conducted an underground nuclear explosive test since 1992.Ambassador Ensher stands inside a line-of-sight-pipe used for the Distant Zenith underground nuclear explosive test in 1991, in the “P” Tunnel at Nevada National Security Site. The pipe is 12-feet in diameter where Ambassador Ensher is standing. Military hardware and equipment were, at one time, located inside the pipe and were exposed to a prompt burst of radiation.

Apr 25, 2016 at 12:00 am

The groundbreaking science and technology capabilities that are a part of the NNSA enterprise impact more than just national security and energy. Developments at NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) literally give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Efforts at LLNL may one day help recover lost memories.

LLNL has a long history in bioengineering technology. Last year, a neural engineer at LLNL took public questions about her work on implantable devices to restore sight, hearing, and movement. The lab helped develop the first FDA-approved bionic eye. LLNL created electrode arrays that power power cochlear implants

LLNL has devised a hybrid biological and electronic platform that could help advance neural prosthetics and increase the efficiency of future computers. LLNL researchers have also been able to 3D-print living, working structures such as blood vessels. LLNL researchers are working on neural interfaces that someday may provide bladder control for people with spinal cord injury. The lab’s scientists also contributed to the world’s first neural system for feeling and movement in prosthetic hands

Most recently, NNSA’s LLNL is working on devices to understand, stop, and recover from memory loss. Researchers hope to create an implantable neural device with the ability to record and stimulate neurons in the brain to help restore memory.

Learn more about how the unique science and technology capabilities in NNSA’s enterprise contribute to medical advances at LLNL’s website

Apr 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Each of the five wind turbines at the Pantex Plant is 400 feet tall. They have generated 3 percent more electricity than was expected.

The Texas Panhandle has some of the world’s best winds for creating renewable energy, and the Wind Farm at the Pantex Plant is taking advantage of those winds, generating up to 60% of the energy needs of the plant in an inaugural program, mandated by the White House.

Back in 2013, construction on the one-of-a-kind wind farm began under a unique finance model, known as an Energy Savings Performance Contract. The five turbines, each 400 feet tall, were built on 1,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the main Pantex Plant. The Pantex Renewable Energy Project (PREP) was designed to generate more than 47 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, which is enough to power nearly 3,500 homes.

In the first 10 months of operation, the Pantex Wind Farm has produced more than 43,043,000 kWh of electricity; enough energy to satisfy approximately 63% of the Pantex Plant’s power needs… 3% more than expected. To date, more than 73,000,000 kWh’s have been produced and the project is also estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by over 35,000 metric tons per year, the equivalent of removing 7,200 cars from the road each year or planting 850,000 trees. The wind farm will play a key role in helping Pantex achieve President Obama’s directive that the federal government lead the way in clean energy and energy efficiency, with his administration’s goal of obtaining 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.

In addition to providing electricity for Pantex operations, PREP serves as the keystone for an ongoing collaboration with Texas Tech University (TTU) to make Pantex a leader in innovation within the wind energy sector. TTU and the NNSA Production Office (NPO) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that would combine resources to study the wind farm located adjacent to the Pantex plant.

Construction on the one-of-a-kind turbines began in 2013.

Apr 22, 2016 at 12:00 am