NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development Program drives the innovation of technical capabilities to detect, identify, and characterize foreign nuclear weapons development activities. To achieve this, NNSA leverages the unique capabilities of the national laboratories and the NNSA nuclear security enterprise to perform research, conduct technology demonstrations, and develop prototypes for operational scenarios.
As a critical element in nuclear weapons development, NNSA’s nonproliferation research and development improves U.S. national capabilities to detect, find, and characterize special nuclear material production activities by developing advanced in-place, near-field, and remote sensing technologies.
Nuclear reactors can be monitored by measuring the large number of antineutrinos they produce. Antineutrinos are subatomic particles that are impossible to shield and provide clues to a reactor’s current operating status and power level, potentially a long distance from the reactor. This gives the United States insight into a reactor’s plutonium production potential.
However, to monitor foreign reactors from a distance, these large detectors must be buried underground to avoid cosmic radiation, which contributes to background noise that interferes with the antineutrino signal. Still, some components of cosmic radiation affect even underground detectors and also potentially interfere with a range of other rare-event particle physics experiments.
NNSA researchers have recently designed and constructed a transportable high-energy neutron detection system to overcome this problem. The system is used to measure background noise from high-energy neutrons, allowing researchers to account for interference in measurements when monitoring nuclear reactors.
By making the spectrometer transportable, researchers can use the same detector repeatedly to measure high-energy neutrons at many different locations. Through this measurement the background noise to the antineutrino reactor signal can be more accurately estimated, potentially improving the determination of the reactor operating status and power level.
Yesterday Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz hosted a special ceremony honoring DOE’s 13 recipients of the 2016 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), among which were three researchers nominated by NNSA. PECASE recipients are selected for the award by the White House for showing exceptional potential for leadership early in their research careers at the frontiers of scientific knowledge.
“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Obama said in announcing the awards. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”
Three of the PECASE researchers were nominated for the award by NNSA:
Jonathan Hopkins of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a former post-doctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, worked to design and fabricate a new class of micro-engineered materials that achieved targeted thermos-mechanical properties.
Tammy Ma, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was recognized for her innovation and leadership in work with the National Ignition Facility as well as her broad educational outreach and service to the scientific community.
David Mascareñas is a structural engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, working to improve the safety and reliability of infrastructure, innovate human-computer interfaces, develop robotic sensing systems, and help detect nuclear materials.
The researchers selected for PECASE are recognized not only for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology but for their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
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.
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.
During the last week of March, researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) demonstrated new flexibility in collecting data for stockpile stewardship by conducting a record 17 shots.
Researchers at NIF have traditionally aimed some or all of the 192 high-power lasers at a single target, then waited for the amplifiers to cool before the lasers were realigned and fired on a new target. The target experiments on NIF enable the study of matter at ultra-high temperatures and densities, which is a vital capability for the national labs to continue to certify that the U.S. nuclear stockpile remains safe, secure, and reliable.
For some experiments, scientists need only a fraction of NIF’s beams. The NIF team greatly reduced setup and laser alignment time through a new mode of operation. They aligned all 192 NIF beams at the same time, then fired subsets of eight-beam bundles at different targets in rapid succession, known as “Gatling gun” shots.
The Gatling gun shots enable researchers to use many different experimental configurations in a single day, significantly reducing the time it takes to explore the many aspects of high energy density science.
For example, the record-breaking week of activities included backlighter spectral experiments. When struck by NIF lasers, a backlighter lights up with a burst of x-rays that allows researchers to see through materials with incredible detail, like a camera flashbulb. The flashbulbs “light up” differently, depending on the type of material in the backlighter. The only way to discover how they’ll light up is to fire a test shot at each flashbulb. NIF researchers used the new multi-shot capability to test two sets of four kinds of materials each in rapid succession.
This change is among a wide variety of efficiency improvements to NIF equipment and procedures, leading to reduced time and effort for fielding experiments. Each of two sets of 4 shots was completed in about 14 hours.
“This record shot week produced a wealth of new data,” said NIF Operations Manager Bruno Van Wonterghem. “This new operational mode will allow scientists to maximize the data return from their time on NIF. It was great work by the entire NIF organization to pull this off.”
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.”