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Photo of Bruce T. Goodwin
Bruce T. Goodwin
Principal Associate Director for Weapons and Complex Integration

Energetic Materials Research Finds an Enduring Home and Mission

FEW centers of applied research have responded to the shifting needs and requirements of national security with as much agility as Livermore’s Energetic Materials Center (EMC). The center’s formation dates to the early 1990s, around the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This historic geopolitical shift was due in part to the significant contributions of America’s nuclear weapons complex.

When EMC was founded, the way forward to sustain the nation’s nuclear deterrent forces was unknown—science-based stockpile stewardship would not be launched for several years, and prospects for a significant “peace dividend” drove down defense budgets. However, a national need to preserve and advance understanding in energetic (nonnuclear, high-explosive) materials, which are fundamental components of nuclear weapons, clearly had to be sustained. As the article A Home for Energetic Materials and Their Experts describes, Lawrence Livermore leaders, in response, created EMC to manage, integrate, and advance the Laboratory’s energetic materials activities.

The unusually broad support for the formation of EMC was spearheaded by three Laboratory associate directors: George Miller of Defense and Nuclear Technologies, Larry Woodruff of Military Applications, and Chris Gatrousis of Chemistry and Materials Science. Another champion of EMC was Mike Anastasio, a top deputy of Miller’s, who preceded Miller as director of Livermore and later became director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The associate directors founded EMC with the following goals: integrate Livermore’s energetic materials efforts and facilities to meet our responsibilities to the nuclear weapons enterprise and to lead the entire complex in this important technology; strengthen and build new ties to the Department of Defense (DoD), with “spin back” to the nuclear weapons complex; transition new technologies developed here to industry; and develop the next generation of energetic materials scientists through partnerships with academia. A final goal is to perform world-class science in energetic materials, including creating new formulations, testing and fabricating these materials, and developing powerful simulation software and methods. The physical home for EMC seemed obvious: the newly constructed High Explosives Applications Facility, which still houses some of the best-equipped high-explosives research and testing laboratories in the world and complements energetic materials facilities at Site 300.

EMC quickly forged new partnerships with DoD agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Secret Service, and U.S. intelligence organizations. In 1993, the FBI tasked EMC with synthesizing the same explosives that were used by terrorists in the World Trade Center truck bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000. Following 9/11, EMC began to receive important assignments from the newly established Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including conducting research activities for its Transportation Security Administration. During the two Gulf Wars, EMC also was called on by DoD agencies to enhance understanding of improvised explosive devices.

In recognition of EMC’s unmatched capabilities and expertise, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) named Lawrence Livermore its High Explosives R&D Center of Excellence in 2008. Today, EMC is meeting the needs of NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program as well as leading a growing number of research efforts for DHS, DoD, and other federal agencies. What’s more, the center also meets the needs of other major research programs at the Laboratory. For example, EMC supports the National Ignition Facility in femtosecond machining, directed energy projects, and tackling thermal-mechanical-chemical-hydrodynamic problems using Livermore’s ALE3D supercomputer codes.

Meanwhile, EMC personnel help edit the international journal Propellants, Explosives, Pyrotechnics. They also maintain and augment the online High Explosives Reference Guide, which has hundreds of government users. The reference guide reflects the results of an important EMC activity: discovering and characterizing those everyday chemicals that could be fashioned into explosives and used in a terrorist attack.

EMC’s graduate student program is flourishing. Two stellar graduates are currently professors at Texas Tech and Stanford universities. The center also leads the tri-laboratory effort for the National Explosives Engineering Sciences Security (NEXESS) Center, a program funded by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Explosives Division to assess threats from explosives and evaluates countermeasures. The NEXESS Center is one more example of how this Laboratory and the people of EMC are effectively responding to changing national security needs.


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