Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Featuring some of our top Engineering innovations

Enhanced Spectral Brightness from Laser Diode Arrays

Several high-profile defense missions for external customers require powerful laser sources, which are currently under development within the NIF & Photon Sciences PAD. The performance of these systems is critically dependent on pumping with light from laser diodes that exhibit high power, high efficiency, high spatial brightness, and high wavelength purity ("spectral brightness"). The high spectral brightness facilitates coupling of the pump energy to the primary laser gain medium, which results in high system output power and efficiency that is difficult to match with alternative technologies.

While these systems provide several unique advantages for specific applications, they have historically proved difficult to realize due to the lack of suitable pump sources. A team of LLNL engineers and scientists, working with an industrial partner, has recently removed this roadblock. The team has demonstrated large diode arrays exhibiting over six-fold increases in spectral brightness, and has delivered several arrays to the program for system integration and performance-scaling experiments. The performance enhancements resulted from a combination of novel optical design, application of unique LLNL device physics codes, and development of advanced metrology and diagnostic techniques. This work enabled a recent LLNL demonstration of record-breaking system performance.

Mike Runkel;

Advances in Argus System Utilize Embedded Microchips

Argus, the Laboratory's primary alarm and access control system, can now read and verify credentials from the microchips on federal badges as well as from the magnetic stripes used on existing DOE badges. This new capability allows Argus to automatically verify clearances and grant access to federal employees from other branches of government, as required by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12). This achievement is the result of multiple years of development that included hardware redesigns and upgrades of the Argus Field Processor and the Remote Access Panels, and the implementation of approximately 250,000 lines of code.

The first deployment of this new capability was completed at Y12. Despite the intense scrutiny to all DOE security systems, this important Argus upgrade was completed successfully by LLNL.

The Argus Program operates from within LLNL's Security Organization, and program leadership is provided through Engineering. Employees from Engineering and Computations make up the Argus Team. The team's combination of hardware and software development skills, human–machine interfaces, mass deployment in harsh environments, and detailed knowledge of physical security requirements for access control was key to the success of this project. Mike Mercer;

EleCent Enables World-class Data Analysis

Engineering's intelligence analysts are often asked to provide obscure information about the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) anywhere in the world. In many cases, requestors need the information within days or even hours of the request. Sophisticated algorithms and other software can help analysts extract what they need to make decisions fast. Consequently, these analysts worked with the Computation Directorate to create Element Centric (EleCent), an application that allows users store, update, retrieve, and export information from an enormous underlying database, which is continually growing and improving as pertinent data is added to the system.

Selecting the data to add requires vast knowledge related to the WMD production, and LLNL analysts are uniquely qualified to identify the types of data that could be of interest and the format and contexts needed to make it most useful. Once entered and verified, EleCent's unique data schema and powerful viewer (called EleCent Global) allows near real-time retrieval of highly targeted and pertinent information that can be used to answer a vast set of questions. EleCent has also been used to provide information pertinent to disaster recovery. In 2013, EleCent provided information to enhance recovery efforts from the Fukishima earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines.

EleCent has become part of the standard toolbox for intelligence analysts in LLNL's Z-Program and is being adopted by analysts from many other organizations.

Lucy Hair;

Enhanced Embedded Mesh Simulation Technology for Blast Simulation

A team from Engineering, PLS, and Computation has extended LDRD-initiated research to meet the needs of a major DoD Work-for-Others (WFO) effort. The DoD customer desires enhanced modeling and simulation capabilities in order to assess blast response on vehicles and their occupants. Embedded mesh formulation provides a basis for two codes to cooperatively solve a single simulation. In the context of the DoD's HPC Software Application Institute on Blast Protection for Platforms and Personnel (BP3I), this translates to using the ALE3D code to model blast while using ParaDyn to model the response of the vehicle and its occupants to that blast loading. Each code can thus focus its respective state-of-the-art numerical capabilities while also simplifying the total mesh generation effort for the analyst, since the same ALE3D mesh representing a particular blast scenario can be paired with different ParaDyn models for different occupant positions or even vehicles.

The project is currently at the midpoint of a six-year effort. Fully parallel implementation has been demonstrated and the first enhanced versions of ParaDyn and ALE3D have been provided to select DoD users for training and testing. The users are eager to try tools that go beyond the capabilities of available commercial offerings, and the project team is moving toward a demonstration drawn from current Live Fire Test & Evaluation efforts by the U.S. Army. This technology opens exciting possibilities both in other WFO venues and in LLNL programmatic efforts. Mike Puso;

High Performance at Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research (JASPER)

JASPER is a key scientific tool for investigating the physical properties of metals and actinides, specifically for studying plutonium at conditions relevant to the performance of nuclear weapons. The plutonium experiments are performed utilizing a two-stage light gas gun at the JASPER facility located at the Nevada National Security Site. Sixteen shots were successfully performed at the JASPER facility in FY2013 and the first quarter of FY2014, which included four encapsulated alpha plutonium experiments.

The new encapsulated alpha plutonium series is designed to improve understanding of the basic science of plutonium in support of stockpile stewardship. The purpose of this experimental series is to measure the shock Hugoniot of alpha plutonium to very high accuracy, which will provide a valuable constraint for equation-of-state models. Again, the data met (and possibly exceeded) the high standard that the LLNL JASPER Program has set for its experiments. That standard, "less than 1% error bar," requires the entire system to be precise, including the gas gun, propellant, projectile, plutonium target, and diagnostics. The encapsulated target design and operations have demonstrated the ability to fully contain alpha plutonium in the Primary Target Chamber.

The LLNL JASPER team from Engineering, PLS, and WCI has continued to provide experiments with cutting-edge science, high-performance precision engineering, and efficient operation. Additional precision target/impactor designs and high-performance diagnostics are being developed for experiments scheduled for FY14 and beyond to further explore additional plutonium shock behaviors. Albert Lee;

New Combustion Simulation Technique to Accelerate Advanced Engine Designs

LLNL researchers developed a new numerical technique that speeds the calculation of complex chemical reaction networks by a factor of 1000 over traditional methods. The work paves the way for the use of complex finite-rate chemistry in massively-parallel high-performance computing (HPC) simulations of complex reacting flows, which is needed to develop the next generation of efficient, environmentally-friendly engines for automobiles and aircraft.

Most combustion systems burning hydrocarbon fuels, like gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel, involve thousands of chemical species interacting in thousands of reaction pathways. Traditional methods to solve these systems use dense matrix solvers that are computationally expensive, requiring about a day of calculation for a typical reaction network. As a result, real-time finite-rate chemistry solvers cannot be used in computational fluid dynamics simulations of combustion systems, which require discretizing the domain into millions or billions of cells over hundreds of thousands of time-steps, with a separate solution required for each cell at each time-step. Previous research to address this bottleneck has focused principally on reducing the size of the kinetic mechanism in order to reduce the computing time. However, this approach can be difficult to implement without substantially degrading the fidelity of the calculation.

The new technique has already been licensed to a commercial software vendor, and LLNL is in discussions with several other commercial clients, including manufacturers of automobile and jet engines, to apply this approach to their development work. The research is funded through the DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Vehicle Technologies Office (EERE VTO) Advanced Combustion Engine subprogram (project ACE-076). Matt McNenly;

New Material with Novel Mechanical Properties Developed

Direct-ink writing (DIW) is an additive manufacturing technique capable of creating micro- and macro-scale structures with extreme precision. "Inks" (composed of structural materials) are deposited through one or more nozzles onto various substrates, creating a component layer by layer with a continuous filament. This technique works well with a variety of materials, and is capable of building void space within components during fabrication. In 2013, Engineering's architected material and additive manufacturing team developed a new mechanical energy absorbing cellular material using DIW. The new material is manufactured out of a siloxane constituent and forms a soft, compressive coupon. The team has been able to print and test two different material architectures: simple cubic and face-centered tetragonal. For the same volume fraction and constituent materials, the two architectures display radically different performance, with the simple cubic material being stiffer and exhibiting the remarkable property of negative stiffness when placed in compressive shear. This work not only represents the power of a new fabrication technique, but also allows us to achieve highly designed properties and the ability to decouple compressive and shear behaviors, a capability not previously demonstrated. Chris Spadaccini;

Adaptive Optics Breaks into New Realms of Precision

In late 2013, the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) completed two extremely successful test runs at the Gemini South Observatory at Cerro Pachon, Chile. GPI's adaptive optics (AO) subsystem, designed and developed by LLNL, uses computationally-efficient and self-adapting algorithms to correct atmospheric turbulence at nearly 1500 control points in the telescope's 8-meter aperture. Through use of sophisticated AO, along with a corongraph and spectrograph, GPI can detect a given extrasolar planet 70 times more rapidly than existing instruments. Verification and commissioning to further tune AO performance will occur in early 2014, with a three-year science campaign to follow.

Additionally, in 2013 the Laboratory made an important step along the path to bringing AO technology to the x-ray regime for light sources such as synchrotrons and x-ray free electron lasers (X-FELs). Working with Northrop-Grumman, Livermore built a 45-actuator, 45-cm x-ray deformable mirror (DM). Using high-precision visible metrology, the DM was "flattened" to better than a 1.5-nm RMS height error, surpassing its initial super-polished figure. Furthermore, this correction level is competitive with that of DMs developed in Europe and Japan, but on a length 2.5 times as long. Tests of the x-ray DM at Lawrence Berkeley's Advanced Light Source will commence in 2014. Lisa Poyneer;

Robotic Tenting Machine Enables Rapid Production of NIF Targets

In the construction of NIF target assemblies, extremely thin "tents" (45-nm and thinner membranes) are used to suspend a fuel capsule in the center of a hohlraum. Tenting target hohlraums is a demanding, multiple-step process. These steps include burning precision holes in the tent, applying adhesive to the hohlraum, aligning and mounting tents on hohlraum, curing adhesive with UV, and finally trimming off excess tenting material. Historically, only a few very skilled technicians could produce these tented hohlraums. Yield was low and throughput about one hohlraum every three hours, which created a production bottleneck.

The Robotic Tenting Machine (RTM) was developed to address this production issue. RTM employs a precision industrial robot coupled with LLNL-designed tooling and concept of operations. The resulting system has enabled a dramatic (20×) increase in throughput, with excellent repeatability and increased precision. Patterning a tent now takes about 3 minutes, while tenting a hohlraum takes 5 minutes. One of the key technologies developed for RTM is an innovative method of applying adhesive to hohlraums. A spherical dome applicator is spin-coated with a thin layer of adhesive and then placed gently on top of the hohlraum by the robot. This produces glue lines that are consistently between 50 and 70 μm wide. Another key technology is the tent hole burning process, which uses a narrow-angle heated cone to produce precisely located holes of specific size in the tent. The results are well within the stringent combined position and hole size tolerance of ±175 μm. The higher precision of RTM has enabled tents as thin as 15 nm to be developed. Additionally, RTM is equipped with sensors and interlocks to track parts movement and protect operators. Albert Wang;

Experimental Research on Plasmonic Black Metals

A research team in the Materials Engineering Division made breakthroughs experimenting with plasmonic black metals. Plasmons, electromagnetic waves propagating at metal dielectric interfaces, have a wide range of uses for refractive index-based biosensing, molecular specific surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), improvement of photovoltaic efficiency, and plasmonic laser devices. Plasmonic black nanostructured metals—which are not classic metals but can be thought of as an extension of the concept of black silicon—are designed to have low reflectivity and high absorption of visible and infrared light. When silicon is treated in a certain way, such as being roughened at the nanoscale, it traps light by multiple reflections, increasing its light absorption. This gives the silicon a black surface that is capable of trapping a broader wavelength spectrum. Black metals typically are produced by some sort of random nanostructuring, in either gold or silver, without guaranteeing a full, reliable, and repeatable light absorption. However, using nanopillar structures that trap and absorb all the relevant wavelengths, the team developed a method to improve and control the absorption efficiency and essentially turn the metals as black as desired on demand. The new LLNL technology could one day be used, for example, in the energy harvesting industry to increase the efficiency of photovoltaics, such as are used in solar cells. The team's research was featured on the cover of the June 24, 2013 issue of Applied Physics Letters. Tiziana Bond;

Artificial Retina Named a Top 2013 Innovation by TIME and CNN, Receives FDA Approval

A The Artificial Retina was selected as one of the "25 Best Inventions of 2013" by TIME Magazine, one of the "2013 Best of What's New" by Popular Science, and one of the "CNN 10: Inventions" by CNN. The Artificial Retina is the world's first and only retinal prosthesis, or bionic eye, to be approved in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and in Europe by the CE organization for blind individuals with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa. The device has been commercialized and is now developed and manufactured by Second Sight Medical Products Inc., of Sylmar, CA, as the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System.

LLNL engineers played a key role in the project by developing the microelectrode array for the epiretinal prosthesis. Expertise in biomedical microsystems at Lawrence Livermore's Center for Micro and Nano Technology was tapped to develop a "flexible microelectrode array" able to conform to the curved shape of the retina without damaging the delicate retinal tissue, and stimulate the healthy neural tissue in the retina. The LLNL team also contributed the biocompatible electronics package that contains the electronics for stimulating the retina, wireless power and communications, and an ocular surgical tool that will enable the replacement of the thin-film electrode array. In addition, Lawrence Livermore was responsible for the system integration and assembly of the next-generation Artificial Retina system.

The multi-institutional team that developed the Artificial Retina received the Director's Science and Technology Award in 2012, the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award in 2010, and an R&D 100 Award—including selection as the Editor's Choice—from R&D Magazine in 2009. Sat Pannu;

Cyber Security Testbed Developed in Partnership with Cisco Systems

Over the past two years, LLNL and Cisco Systems have worked together to establish a cyber security focused test range based on cutting-edge cloud computing technologies. In the spring of 2013, the range was deployed to the National Security Innovation Center (NSIC) to enable both LLNL researchers and external collaborators to create, operate, and study next-generation virtualized environments.

The NSIC Cyber Testbed is a dynamic, high-fidelity environment providing the capabilities necessary to carry out a range of cyber security architecture validations as well as system-level solutions testing. The testbed has been established to serve as a principle center for information exchange among the public sector, private sector, and academia, as well as to help build the future workforce for the purposes of increasing the nation's cyber security. The NSIC Cyber Testbed makes available the best tools from the public and private sectors to solve these large-scale problems. The goal of the NSIC Cyber Testbed is to establish a sustained partnership with industry and to use the test range resources to train a new generation of cyber security professionals to secure and defend large-scale, critically important, national infrastructure systems where direct experimental programs are impossible.

The NSIC Cyber Testbed environment focuses on creating a high-fidelity emulation of leading-edge corporate enterprise environments. The testbed can run the actual software products that would be deployed in real-world production enterprise environments. Two case studies conducted in 2013 established the effectiveness and efficacy of the NSIC Cyber Testbed approach. Domingo Colon;

The Shot Heard 'Round the Complex'

JASPER is a key scientific tool for investigating the physical properties of metals and actinides, specifically for studying plutonium at conditions relevant to the performance of nuclear weapons ( movie). The facility provides a much more cost-effective option for gathering data in comparison to underground testing. On September 25, 2012, Livermore researchers fired the gas gun's 100th shot in an experiment that further improved their understanding of plutonium's properties and ushered in the next era of plutonium-based research.

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Bringing Z-pinch into focus

Particle accelerators are a fundamental tool of modern science for advancing high-energy and nuclear physics, understanding the workings of stars, and creating new elements. The machines produce high electric fields that accelerate particles for use in applications such as cancer radiotherapy, nondestructive evaluation, industrial processing, and biomedical research. The steeper the change in voltage—that is, the more the voltage varies from one location to another—the more an accelerator can "push" particles to ever-higher energies in a short distance.

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Materials by design

Ever wonder why on hot days a door sticks in its jamb or a car's fuel gauge registers more gas than is actually in the tank? The answer is thermal expansion. Rises in temperature cause materials, including solids, liquids, and gases, to swell and grow in volume as the heat increases but pressure stays relatively constant. Thermal expansion is one of many properties scientists look for when adapting materials for new applications. Others include fracture toughness, strength, and thermal conductivity.

A material's properties and overall performance are determined by its chemical composition, crystalline state, and underlying microstructure—how the constituent elements within the material are arranged relative to one another. These characteristics force scientists to accept certain trade-offs when choosing a material for a specific application. British materials engineer M. F. Ashby developed charts that provide selection guidance by categorizing materials such as metals, ceramics, polymers, and foams based on their properties in bulk form. An example chart comparing a material's stiffness (Young's modulus) with its density illustrates how the two properties are coupled, or linked, so that typically the denser a material is, the stiffer it is.

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Neural implants come of age

The symbiotic union between man and machine has been a subject of great fascination to scientists and science fiction writers alike for generations. But for researchers such as Satinderpall Pannu of Livermore's Engineering Directorate, integrating nanometer-size devices with biological systems and studying the interface between them is a daily reality. In 2009, he and his team set the stage for a new generation of neural implants with the design and fabrication of an artificial retina. The device—the first high-density, fully implantable neural prosthetic ever produced—restores a sense of vision to people who have lost their sight because of ocular disease. Since then, Pannu and his team have continued to enhance the technology, which promises to dramatically improve the lives of patients with debilitating conditions caused by injury or neurological disease.

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Engineered solutions through simulation insights

When it comes to finding solutions to tough, national security challenges, scientists and engineers cannot always rely on experiments to ferret out the information they need. Many experiments would simply be too large, dangerous, or expensive to be feasible, leaving technical experts to reconcile knowledge gaps by other means.

Simulations have become an increasingly valuable tool, helping researchers better understand experimental results and bolstering confidence in solutions they develop for various problems. (See the box below.) Computational engineers at Lawrence Livermore focus most of their efforts on issues related to national security. Bob Ferencz, a group leader in Livermore's Engineering Directorate, says, "We use simulation to evaluate high-consequence scenarios that we cannot easily test because of experimental costs or other concerns."

For example, Laboratory engineers are applying the hydrostructural analysis codes ALE3D and ParaDyn to simulate physical events that last only a few microseconds to several hundred milliseconds and involve large material deformations, high strain rates, and strong shocks. ALE3D and ParaDyn can offer insight into the detonation process of high explosives and material collisions at hypervelocities, in which materials travel 2 kilometers or more per second. By continually developing and improving these computational methods, Laboratory scientists and engineers are providing decision makers with reliable data for evaluating national security efforts.

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Simulation and precision engineering lead to extraordinary results in experiment

A multidisciplinary international team, led by Livermore physicist Don Roberts, designed and conducted the first subscale integrated weapons experiment in the U.S. since the 1980s. What made this test truly remarkable was that the entire experiment was designed using an advanced, three-dimensional (3D) supercomputer software code.

The Laboratory conducts scores of hydrodynamics experiments, or hydrotests, such as integrated weapons experiments (IWEs), which re-create the exact specifications of a nuclear device except for the special nuclear material. Conducted as part of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which ensures the safety, security, and reliability of the nation's current weapons stockpile without nuclear testing, IWEs address performance- and safety-related questions and are also used to improve computer simulations.

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A new detector for analyzing NIF experiments

When the National Ignition Facility's (NIF's) 192 laser beams deliver an enormous jolt of energy and power to a fusion fuel capsule, extremely sensitive, fast, and high-resolution instruments record the data needed to analyze an experiment. A new detector, called RAGS (radiochemical analysis of gaseous samples), collects and analyzes gases produced during an experiment to characterize the results with new data and in greater detail than was previously possible.

The principle behind RAGS is "doping," or implanting, regions of the fuel capsule with a noble gas, a chemically nonreactive element such as xenon, krypton, or argon. During a NIF ignition experiment, atoms of tritium and deuterium (the heavy isotopes of hydrogen) fuse to form a helium nucleus—a reaction that has as a by-product a high-energy neutron. When an atom of a stable noble isotope absorbs an emitted fusion neutron, it transmutes to a different gaseous radioactive isotope. The transmutation can be studied and provides a signature of the fusion reactions in the fuel capsule.

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Glimpsing fusion with the world's fastest light deflector

Fusion, the world's great promise for a source of clean and virtually limitless energy, could replicate the very process that powers the stars to meet our most pressing needs on Earth. Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility (NIF) is conducting experiments aimed at achieving fusion ignition and energy gain, the process whereby more energy is released than is required to initiate the fusion reaction. To better understand the physics of fusion and determine the minimum laser input energy needed to start the fusion process, researchers need to acquire accurate details of the burning plasma inside fusion targets. Recording such data with both fine time resolution and high dynamic range, however, presents enormous challenges for existing instruments given the trillionths-of-a-second time frames at which these reactions will occur.

A novel solid-state optical device developed at the Laboratory by engineers John Heebner, Susan Haynes, and Chris Sarantos (formerly of Livermore) may provide a solution to the problem. The serrated light illumination for deflection-encoded recording (SLIDER), recently honored with an R&D 100 Award, is the world's fastest light deflector. When mated to an ordinary camera, it can record optical signals on picosecond (trillionth of a second) timescales. When combined with a high dynamic range camera, SLIDER can maintain this high temporal resolution and a high dynamic range—two performance parameters that are difficult to meet simultaneously.

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Training a new generation of research scientists

Achieving a Ph.D. in a scientific or engineering field symbolizes the pinnacle of higher education, but it rarely marks the end of training. The sheer amount of technical knowledge required and the myriad challenges involved in conducting pioneering research in many fields demand advanced training beyond the doctoral degree. Such training is particularly valuable when it is acquired under the mentorship of a senior researcher and offers access to advanced computational and experimental facilities such as those at Lawrence Livermore.

For the Laboratory, historically bent on attracting the nation's top talents in science and engineering, having a strong program that sponsors postdoctoral researchers, or "postdocs," for two to three years has proven invaluable. What began as a small, informal effort conducted independently by various research directorates has grown substantially during the past decade, especially in the last few years. Livermore's Postdoc Program now provides much greater coordination and oversight and operates with strong encouragement from Department of Energy and Lawrence Livermore senior managers.

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