In Livermore’s Global Security Principal Directorate, our job is to apply core Laboratory capabilities to address complex national security problems. We achieve this goal by anticipating what problems are evolving and applying multidisciplinary science and technology to deliver innovative and responsive solutions.
The article Understanding Homemade Explosives to Enhance Aviation Security provides an example of our efforts. It describes work we are doing to protect the more than 600 million passengers who pass through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints each year. As the number of passengers traveling by air continues to grow, TSA has the daunting challenge of preventing the smuggling of weapons and explosives aboard, while allowing the freedom of movement for people and commerce.
The threats to passengers are evolving as terrorists move away from using military weapons to homemade explosives (HMEs). TSA is constantly challenged to find ways to detect a broad and growing range of HME formulations. Although some of these explosives are unstable and dangerous, they are simple enough to be mixed in a bathtub, using ingredients that could be bought in a grocery store.
Lawrence Livermore is the ideal place to address these threats because of our scientists’ deep knowledge of explosives. The Laboratory also has experimental facilities specifically designed to test explosives, computer codes to simulate explosions and mechanical deformation, and expertise in nondestructive evaluation.
At the High Explosives Applications Facility—the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Center of Excellence for Explosives—scientists can safely test a broad range of explosives that a terrorist might use. Those experiments help researchers understand x-ray signatures, material stability, and performance changes. Laboratory researchers use experimental results to validate computer simulation codes and to develop and update complex algorithms that are used in baggage scanners. Our simulations take into account a wide variety of HME formulations and locations where a device might be placed in a plane to determine the potential impact to a pressurized aircraft. Once the various options are simulated, specific testing is done to validate the results.
Lawrence Livermore partners with Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in conducting this work as a part of the National Explosives Engineering Sciences Security (NEXESS) Center, established in 2006 by the Department of Homeland Security. Bringing together the expertise of the three national weapons laboratories, NEXESS studies how HMEs are synthesized and formulated so that TSA can better understand risks to the traveling public.
This issue of Science & Technology Review also includes three highlights that demonstrate innovative ways the Laboratory conducts national security work, the range of work we do, and the breadth of our mission. The highlight Averting Impact: Modeling Solutions to Prevent Asteroid Collisions describes a collaboration that is developing computational models to evaluate potential methods for preventing large asteroids from hitting Earth. This work builds on the Laboratory’s expertise in simulations and knowledge of nuclear-explosives effects.
The second highlight Biological Mysteries Decoded with Radiocarbon Dating explores a novel application for radiocarbon bomb-pulse dating—a technique pioneered by Livermore researchers at the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, which was founded 25 years ago. Using this technique to determine the age of biological materials has become a valuable forensics tool for law enforcement and is helping to advance medical research.
The third highlight 2020 Vision for California’s Electric Grid focuses on energy security and helping California balance the state’s supply and demand for electricity. With funding from the California Energy Commission, the Laboratory is using its supercomputing resources to address grid optimization problems and determine whether new energy storage technologies and demand response initiatives might help balance the load on the state’s electricity generators.
As these articles show, the Laboratory works to make the world a safer place by leveraging our multidisciplinary capabilities to ensure national security—the driver behind all of our efforts.