The National Security Directorate staff working at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is tackling some of the most difficult problems facing the nation and the world by building upon a strong foundation of fundamentals. From basic research to full-fledged fielding, the scientists run the gamut of project development, serving clients in a variety of disciplines—even some that may not typically come to mind as associated with an energy laboratory. The man in charge of it all sees good times ahead for the projects, whether they are conventional or offbeat.
Scientists are pushing sensing to the theoretical limit by applying new methodology to established technology. A developmental sensor can help locate and identify chemical, biological and other dangers, but the real breakthrough is the ability to detect nanoscopic amounts of material without requiring sophisticated software or fancy equipment. Instead, humans will be able to see the readings with the naked eye. The advancement means that users in the field will be able to employ the sensor to save lives.
Researchers from national laboratories and universities are working together through military funding in an attempt to control and even reverse a force that could lead to a whole new class of nanoelectromechanical systems. Known as the Casimir force, the focus of this research is a quantum mechanical force that has a strong modification effect on the behavior of nanometer-scale objects. It is responsible for the Casimir effect, which pushes two objects together when they are separated by a few nanometers. It also imposes boundary conditions on the electromagnetic waves existing in the free space around objects.
A prototype virtual operating system will allow researchers to load experiments into supercomputers quickly without having to modify their programs substantially to operate on a specific platform. The software uses a technique called virtualization to enable a machine to run multiple operating systems, something current supercomputers cannot do. This capability would allow high-performance computers to operate a wider range of software, from highly specialized modeling and simulation programs to commercial applications.
To meet a bold presidential mandate for space exploration, NASA scientists are developing new power and propulsion systems for future generations of manned and unmanned missions. These applications will allow spacecraft to travel efficiently far into the outer solar system, preparing the way for a manned return to the moon and eventually a manned flight to Mars. And new technologies to stay in touch with these distant missions may revolutionize near-earth communications as well.
Researchers in the long quest for battlefield laser weapons are closing on their objective with the development of a new type of solid-state laser system at a U.S. government laboratory. This laser can be mounted in a small vehicle and can draw from battery power to shoot down difficult-to-hit projectiles such as mortar rounds, or it can be aimed downward to neutralize the threat of buried mines and other explosive devices.
A new research center is helping scientists to better understand the realm of the very small and to integrate discoveries into existing technologies. Devoted to nonclassified work, the facility is administered by two U.S. national science laboratories and geared toward providing researchers with open access to specialized tools and expertise. Although the main building is still under construction, a number of programs already are underway through special funding.
Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory are crafting the building blocks for future technologies that will increase computing speeds, enhance collaboration and advance the fields of materials science and biology. Today, the facility that produced the first sustained nuclear chain reaction in 1942 continues to develop cutting-edge capabilities through its work with academia and industry. At the same time, it is employing some of the latest technologies to refine its modeling and simulations work that will affect advancements in energy, the environment and national security.