Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The Laser Induced compression for Grain scale with High Throughput (LIGHT) laboratory enables cost-effective investigations of laser-shocked materials. Researcher Paulius Grivickas and his team train staff to use the LIGHT system.

Upgrading Facilities and Experiences

The rapidly evolving global political climate has changed the trajectory of strategic deterrence for the nation and expedited the timelines of projects and programs across the Laboratory. Lawrence Livermore’s Materials Science Division (MSD) provides specialized research that supports multiple mission areas. “Materials enable everything we do at the Laboratory,” says Ibo Matthews, division leader. “From targets for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and clean energy materials to high explosives and actinide materials, you name it.”

Recognizing MSD’s critical role, the Laboratory has completed a major renovation of Building 235 (B235), MSD’s headquarters building. New signs and freshly painted hallways in B235—the hub of Livermore materials science research for 40 years—open to refurbished laboratory areas and reimagined workspaces with functional upgrades supporting staff across Livermore’s Strategic Deterrence, Global Security, Engineering, and other organizations as well as academic and industry partners. Matthews started encouraging refurbishment plans in 2021, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing an increased demand for MSD’s unique characterization and diagnostic capabilities. Among improved common areas and upgraded equipment, new facilities of note include the Laser Induced compression for Grain scale with High Throughput (LIGHT) laboratory, a hydride–dehydride (HDH) project, and the ultra-high temperature Gleeble thermomechanical simulator system.

Heading Toward the LIGHT

The new LIGHT laboratory is home to what materials scientist Paulius Grivickas refers to as Livermore’s highest energy, commercially produced laser. A fraction of the size of NIF’s lasers, LIGHT can fire one shot every minute, enabling rapid, cost-effective investigations of laser-shocked materials. The LIGHT platform is part of a broader Direct Light Impulse (DLI) testing strategy dedicated to assessing responses of laser-generated mechanical impulses in different materials and material assemblies. At NIF, two of its 192 beams, measuring 35 by 35 centimeters, can be diverted for this purpose into a separate NIF DLI facility for ride-along ablation experiments on large-scale objects. LIGHT can produce the same conditions as NIF DLI on a 1-centimeter scale. Combined with its ability to take multiple shots rapidly and built-in spectroscopy and imaging diagnostics, LIGHT significantly increases testing pace enabling researchers to downselect from a large space of variables to refine experiments.

Current LIGHT developments are tailored to support the W87-1 Modernization Program, (see S&TR, December 2022, W87-1 The Modification that Invigorated an Enterprise) evaluating impulse propagation of materials used in assemblies of complex shapes to assess survivability of weapon systems. LIGHT also works in concert with the W87-1 Survivability Lab, which enables testing and development of advanced diagnostics tools. In the future, Grivickas says LIGHT will be available not only to Livermore researchers but to external collaborators as well, including academic partners.

LIGHT is supported by a dedicated technical team familiar with available capabilities such as the ability to study material strength and phase transition, chemical reactions in material synthesis, and impulse dynamics. “LIGHT fills what had been a critical gap,” says Grivickas. “Livermore weapon designers who may not have the experience needed to run complex laser ablation experiments hands-on can model system responses under extreme conditions. We will help users leverage what the laser and multiple diagnostics techniques developed to support LIGHT can do.”

Accelerating Powder Feedstock Production

Down the hall from LIGHT, the HDH project, led by Kevin Huang, seeks to develop disruptive processes for custom powder feedstock production. Capable of producing metal powders used for additive manufacturing and other applications, the HDH project is MSD’s answer to challenges such as the lack of available custom powders or long timelines to procure them. “I think everyone can appreciate the potential for functionalizing and enabling certain applications using 3D printing,” says Huang. “Some objects cannot be produced any other way, and having HDH produce powders that are not always readily available is a big deal,” says Huang.

HDH can produce powders with exacting requirements but operates at a much smaller, more agile, and more versatile scale than other in-complex facilities. The tools create a consistent and reliable output for established needs, such as powder size distribution, alloy composition, and surface passivation, and those same tools are also used for new, tailored powders destined for a variety of testing including powder waste recycling and minimization at the gram-scale. The HDH system’s agility and responsiveness enable new materials and new designs for additive manufacturing, making it a unique capability and asset to the Laboratory.

Left: Two scientists working with equipment in a laboratory; Right: small, spherical objects
Left: Staff scientists Logan Winston (left) and Evan Clarke (right) manipulate samples inside the Hydride–Dehydride (HDH) powder machine; Right: The HDH project offers the capability to transform a raw slab of uranium alloy into rough flakes before a spheroidization produces a fine sand-like substrate for use in the development of dynamic shapes.

HDH also supports Lawrence Livermore partners including the Y-12 National Security Complex as part of the uranium modernization program under the Laboratory’s Strategic Deterrence organization. Jason Jeffries, a former HDH team member and current advisor to the project, notes the versatility of the HDH process as an important corollary to atomization. Whereas the atomizer excels in a highly efficient, large-volume, single-batch mode of operation, the HDH process comprises several independent steps that offer flexibility, individual optimization, and small-scale opportunities. “Dr. Huang’s team has built an infrastructure that can quickly collaborate with others across the DOE complex,” says Jeffries. “The HDH team has helped to drive spheroidization, passivation, alloying, and even component fabrication for focused studies, and these works have impacted disparate fields from next-generation nuclear fuels to real-world powder specifications for a production agency.”

The HDH team has published a manuscript on the ways process conditions affect powder microstructure and presented findings at actinide technology conferences at the Colorado School of Mines and in Lille, France. Huang has hired more staff for the HDH capability and related projects in MSD and looks forward to additional interest from potential new staff, interns, and research partners fostered by B235’s upgrades.

Simulating Extremes

Across the hall from the HDH space is the Gleeble thermomechanical simulator system. Using Gleeble, MSD researchers can simulate procedures relevant to advanced processing and novel material development for ultra-high temperature applications, including new, high-melting-point metal alloys such as refractories. This research supports the Laboratory’s investments in new metal materials for hypersonics, casting, additive manufacturing, oxidizing or corrosive atmospheres, and other extreme environments.

In the machine’s 2-cubic-feet test chamber, MSD researchers simulate the conditions of much larger industrial forges. Gleeble applies resistive heating, running an electrical current through the center of a sample and enabling test temperatures up to 3,000°C—well in excess of typical furnace-based, high-temperature testing equipment—and heating/cooling rate changes of up to 10,000°C per second. By limiting the heat to the sample rather than the entire apparatus, researchers observe in situ the properties and characteristics of materials in extreme conditions and under massive loads in a manner not typically achievable. The monitoring capabilities and simulated environments use one sample to produce the same amount of information typically produced by hundreds of samples in bulk testing at actual scale, enabling rapid process optimization and high-throughput screening of newly developed alloys.

Scientist working with laboratory equipment

Kaila Bertsch adjusts the Gleeble thermomechanical simulator system’s sample chamber where she and her fellow materials science researchers can simulate processes relevant to developing materials for ultra-high temperature applications.

Of particular importance to Livermore is Gleeble’s ability to apply loads at strain rates up to 102 per second (s-1)—greater than that produced by typical lab-scale tensile testers—to simulate dynamic conditions. Anticipated capabilities include operation in toxic or hazardous atmospheres and on radiological materials. While Gleeble’s capabilities primarily inform Livermore’s Strategic Deterrence programs, MSD scientist Kaila Bertsch notes that Gleeble has been used in several Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) projects, including work in the study of ceramics, and cited as a component in future LDRD research. “New hires and collaborators would not have expected to see Gleeble outside an industry setting,” says Bertsch. “Now, we can train staff on this highly specialized system and hone capabilities relevant to the Laboratory’s investments in emerging material technologies.”

Fostering Capabilities and Collaboration

In addition to providing a more modern workspace for the critical materials science research performed at Lawrence Livermore, B235’s upgrades showcase to guests and new employees how teams can seamlessly go from the research laboratory to spaces that foster cooperation and opportunities to follow up on new ideas. Working with Livermore designer Alii Diaz, Matthews, deputy division leader Harry Radousky, and the project’s team reimagined the building’s large lobby with an updated color palette, eye-catching wall graphics, and modern furniture. What was already used as an impromptu meeting space was opened up with the removal of bookcases and the addition of what Matthews calls “collaboration stations.” Each of the two stations feature large monitors to which collaborators can connect laptops for presentations and large tables with adjustable heights for brainstorming sessions or follow-up conversations.

people in conversation at tables

Renovations to Livermore’s Materials Science Division headquarters have expanded research capabilities and enhanced the collaborative work environment for both staff and research partners.

Radousky says more updates are planned for B235 with the priority being to upgrade the experience of everyone who works there. “Even with all the science and capabilities, we needed the full package, which includes an updated, modern, and comfortable space for existing staff as well as new hires,” says Radousky.

Since the initial planning meetings for the renovation of B235, the MSD staff has grown by over 130 people, a phenomenon Matthews attributes to Livermore’s recognition of the value added by materials research. He says, “There is nowhere at the Laboratory that isn’t touched by what we do. The investment made at B235 shows the real interest in materials.”

—Amy Weldon

Key Words: 3D printing, custom powder feedstock, Laser Induced compression for Grain scale with High Throughput (LIGHT) laboratory, hydride–dehydride (HDH) project, materials research, Materials Science Division (MSD), research partners, ultra-high temperature Gleeble thermomechanical simulator system

For further information contact Harry Radousky (925) 422-4478 (