NNSS News (April - June 2020)

Security in cyberspace: Nevada National Security Site invests in partnership with University of Nevada, Reno

NNSS UNR partnership

The U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is proud to partner with the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) Cybersecurity Center for new research and collaborative opportunities.

During the NNSS’ initial funding of $170,000, the UNR Cybersecurity Center will conduct vulnerability research assessments that support the NNSS’ digital infrastructure. NNSS Cyber Technology Program Director Mike Buglewicz, who has managed the NNSS’ Emergency Communications Network, came into contact with UNR following a presentation from UNR Cybersecurity Center Executive Director Dr. Shamik Sengupta’s students in 2019.

“The students did a presentation that blew me away,” said Buglewicz. “They were doing things that the NNSA and NNSS could use. We saw what they could do.”

The NNSS and UNR then established opportunities for those students to evaluate vulnerabilities in a software package the NNSS was considering.

“The UNR task team assessed vulnerabilities, and they turned out a top-notch report,” said Buglewicz. “We were so impressed with what they did that there are five more software packages with a task order that will be analyzed for the vulnerability network. They do terrific work. They do it much faster than we could and have a fresh set of eyes on it.”

The NNSS and UNR are now partnering for three proposals to the U.S. Special Operations Command and two proposals to the Site-Directed Research and Development Program. The mutually beneficial relationship gives undergraduate and graduate students hands-on exposure to cybersecurity career development while allowing the NNSS to collaborate with future industry leaders and introduce them to a career supporting the NNSS’ national security mission.

“We hire from these universities because we invest in their students,” said Buglewicz, who has served as the keynote speaker at UNR’s annual cybersecurity conference. “Once students understand as much as they can about our missions, it’s not a matter of will they want to come to work at the NNSS—it’s when. They believe in the mission that we’re part of, which is really powerful. Working with universities has huge benefits. It is our pleasure to offer students positions and an even greater pleasure when they accept.”


sites at TTR
The DOE Office of Legacy Management is set to assume long-term stewardship responsibility for 70 sites — represented by the yellow dots in this map — on the Nevada Test and Training Range where the EM Nevada Program completed environmental corrective actions in accordance with the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order.

EM Nevada Program transfer of 70 sites to Office of Legacy Management nearly complete

The Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program and U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management (LM) are nearing completion of a transfer of long-term stewardship responsibilities for 70 sites on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), including the Tonopah Test Range (TTR). The transfer from EM to LM is expected to occur by Sept. 30.

“In partnership with the Office of Legacy Management and our lead environmental program services contractor, Navarro Research and Engineering, the EM Nevada Program is proud to be advancing the transfer of these sites,” EM Nevada Program Manager Rob Boehlecke said. “We fully expect to complete the transfer on time and on budget. This progress supports our federal cleanup mission and shows firsthand what can be accomplished when a dedicated team works together to accomplish a goal.”

The transfer process also involves the review and transmission of more than 7,200 documents and records from the EM Nevada Program to LM. Once the transfer is complete, LM will assume responsibility for long-term surveillance and maintenance of the sites in perpetuity.

In accordance with the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order (FFACO), the EM Nevada Program recently completed cleanup at sites on NTTR where contaminated soil and debris resulted from historic nuclear weapons testing and support activities. FFACO is a legally-binding agreement signed in 1996 that outlines a schedule of cleanup and monitoring commitments.

In the 1960s, sites at the NTTR were used to test nuclear weapons to determine if they could be accidentally set off and produce a nuclear yield. These experiments resulted in the contamination of soil and debris. During recently completed cleanup of these sites, contaminated soil and debris were transported to the Nevada National Security Site for permanent disposal.

For more information on EM Nevada’s environmental restoration activities, please visit https://www.nnss.gov/pages/programs/em/Restoration.html.


records transfer
The EM Nevada Program team completed the first shipment of records to LM in early February 2020.
LM overview
Nevada Offsites Site Manager, Ken Kreie, provided an LM overview briefing that included information on the transition of the Nevada sites during a Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board meeting in mid-May 2020.

Years in the making

diagnostics systems engineer
An NNSS systems engineer operates a camera prototype at the Los Alamos Operations laboratory.

Behind the scenes of every subcritical experiment (SCE) executed at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is years of collaborative development between scientists at the NNSS and NNSA National Laboratories.

Components of comprehensive SCEs are developed and produced at various centers of diagnostic expertise. To name a few, shock-wave diagnostics and instrumentation development take place at the NNSS’ Special Technologies Laboratory (STL) in Santa Barbara, California; calibration for optical, X-ray and laser systems occur at the NNSS’ Livermore Operations in Livermore, California; electronic imaging, optical systems and instrumentation happen at the NNSS’ Los Alamos Operations in Los Alamos, New Mexico; and electro-optics, fiber and control systems are provided at the NNSS’ Nevada Operations in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

SCEs performed at the NNSS’ U1a Complex, the underground laboratory used to acquire data for the NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, derived from the 1992 nuclear testing moratorium.

“For every SCE that we execute, each series is a significant hurdle,” said NNSS Detectors and Instruments Project Manager Amy Lewis. “Diagnostics are imagined to answer the questions posed by laboratory scientists. Our developers design the hardware to take the data to validate weapons models.”

The process can take years. Lewis has served the NNSS for 21 years and has had the unique perspective of working onsite at the U1a Complex during SCE execution as well as supporting diagnostic development in New Mexico. Though SCE experiment development can take a long time in the context of one’s career, the historical progression is colossal.

“When we think about where we are in weapons experiments, the low-hanging fruit is done,” said Lewis. “Stockpile Stewardship drove diagnostic development precision from the 10 percent regime to the one percent. It’s not unusual for experimental capabilities to take 10 years for development.”

As reference to how far imaging alone has come in several decades, Lewis, whose current work focuses on a new field camera prototype, points to Harold Edgerton’s famous 1957 “Milk Drop Coronet,” a stop-motion photograph capturing the moment a drop of milk makes contact with a table. Edgerton’s work was a landmark moment in photography, demonstrating how stills can impact human understanding of physical events.

“Edgerton led the diagnostic conception of this contract in the 1950s, and his mark is still evident in our contribution,” said Lewis. “Diagnostic imaging and optical system development remains a core competence for us.”

In a career that’s a marathon, not a sprint, Lewis says their diagnostic data validates and sometimes contradicts current laboratory weapons models.

“When data doesn’t align with the physics model, that’s the real win,” said Lewis.

Diagnostic development

diagnostics imager
Lewis (right) and her co-worker look over a new imager at Sandia National Laboratories.

Senior Principal Scientist Jason Scharff, who has a shock and detonation physics background, came to the NNSS in 2017 after spending 11 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). His first work with the Site began with solving scientific technological problems related to the stockpile and primary physics, including developing optical velocimetry probes for Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research Facility experiments. As his tenure grew with LANL, he began to work with STL scientists who were developing temperature diagnostics, now his current work.

Scharff examines crystal plasticity, looking at the state and strength of a metal as it is compressed. He collaborates with LANL and Sandia National Laboratories to obtain experimental data for plasticity of single crystal materials.

“The mission, fundamentally, is very specialized,” said Scharff. “Weapons designers reply on inputs to code to simulate the system. Inputs to those models are state of material, pressure, volume and temperature.”

Now in the research phase, his team will design experiments that diagnose the physics of plastic deformation. The diagnostic is then brought to the laboratory, which may design a subcritical experiment around it.

“It takes a lot of trial and experiment,” said Scharff. “There are a lot of bits and pieces that go into that development—a lot of development. The labs will come to us and say we want to do x, y and z, and we have teams that do those things.”

Fueling the future

Lewis and Scharff also play roles in introducing the NNSS to newer faces, from first-year summer interns to post-doctoral researchers.

“We certainly need early-career folks to bring energy and bravery to solving the tech problems we face,” said Lewis. “I’m excited that the early-career workforce challenges us to explain the broader perspective. The next generation will solve problems with a more top-down perspective.”

Diagnostic development continues to advance not only through enhanced technological capabilities, but also to meet the demands posed by evolving national security challenges.

“Having worked in multiple locations, I have a unique perspective when I’m planning diagnostics,” said Lewis. “I understand the environment where the equipment has to perform. Diagnostics of the future are going to adapt to data streams while employing telecom-imagined user interfaces and control methodologies. The world’s hazards are rapidly changing; our core competencies will help us adapt to those changes while acquiring better data for our sponsors and colleagues.”


NNSS employee 3D prints Darth Vader masks for hospital workers

Dutra family with masks
Dutra and his family with their Darth Vader masks.

When NNSS Principal Scientist Eric Dutra settled into his at-home office, which was occupied by two 3D printers, he decided to transform a hobby into a project: printing Darth Vader–style masks for his wife and friends who work in health care.

Dutra had used his printers for minimal prototyping work, but he says that his interest is mostly in creating models and paintings. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dutra learned that a nearby university was trying to rapid prototype N95 masks to meet demand and reduce the shortage. Dutra was able to download the file and print one of the masks, and said, “Well that’s cool, but…” Then his friend, who works at Kaiser Permanente Hospital, sent him a picture of a respirator-style mask with a Darth Vader twist. Dutra needed no further prompting. Long a Star Wars fan, Dutra immediately downloaded a file and began to print his first set of two masks, which he delivered to his friend and friend’s girlfriend who wore them to work. He also made one for his wife, Heather, and a scaled-down version for his daughter, Jillian. The reaction was positive.

“Then all of a sudden a lot of people wanted them,” said Dutra. “It was right at the time that everyone was told they needed to wear a mask. It's a stressful time, and the masks could at least be fun or a little goofy to lessen the tension.”

Dutra 3D printers
Dutra’s Ender 3 Pro 3D printers in the process of making masks.

Dutra has many friends who work for other Bay Area hospitals, including the Stanford Medical Center, Sutter Hospital, and Kaiser Permanente, who are now donning his Darth Vader mask with their own N95 filters tucked behind.

The Darth Vader mask consists of three parts that print at the same time. It takes a little more than 12 hours to print one mask. Dutra originally altered the layer height setting from other projects to reduce print time and resolution, and he thinks he can cut print time in half if he were to make more adjustments. Dutra commented that most hobbyist 3D printers are not really plug-and-play devices, unlike those used in commercial ventures.

“There is a lot of fine-tuning you have to do in the slicer software, which has numerous settings, all of which need to be optimized for good quality print,” said Dutra. But once that is done, the time it takes for Dutra to get a print going and assemble a mask is only about five minutes. Each mask costs less than $2.50 to print. One drawback is the printer motors emit a high-pitched whine, so Dutra often uses an ear bud in his left ear if he’s working, though most of the printing occurs in non-working hours.

prototype Bane mask
The prototype Bane mask.

Not surprisingly, Dutra’s favorite Star Wars character is Darth Vader. “He’s my favorite,” he chuckled. And he can’t stop quoting his lines from the films (“No, I am your father!”) when he puts on his mask.

With the popularity of the Vader mask growing, requests for other famous character masks started coming in. Dutra is excited about the prototype he developed to create a Bane, a DC Comics/Batman character, mask.

Full masks are not the only thing Dutra has printed. He relates that he has also been “making these thin mask holders that work with the typical masks that all nurses and doctors wear that have straps that go behind the ears.” With this flexible plastic piece, the straps hook on the tabs, which gives overworked ears a break. “I make about a dozen of these a week,” Dutra said. His wife and friends hand them out to hospital workers.

To date, Dutra has printed more than two dozen masks for friends and their family members. Dutra doesn’t accept any money for the masks, supplying them on request. Besides being fun, he says making the masks gives him a feeling of accomplishment.


Small UAS radiological survey flights at the NNSS

small UAS
The sUAS and radiation detector.

In December 2019, a team led by scientists from the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Special Technologies Laboratory and Remote Sensing Laboratory-Nellis demonstrated a radiation detection, measurement and mapping mission using a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS). Using a sUAS equipped with a high-efficiency radiation detector, the team successfully performed radiation scans over two Yucca Flat test locations and successfully demonstrated how UAS technology can be leveraged in support of national security and public health and safety missions, particularly in the area of emergency response and consequence management. The flyover mission was sponsored by the Site-Directed Research and Development UAS initiative and led by Rusty Trainham, a senior principal scientist from the NNSS Special Technologies Laboratory, and Paul Guss, a distinguished scientist from the NNSS Remote Sensing Laboratory-Nellis.

A sUAS can be used in conjunction with existing capabilities from manned aircraft to provide more detailed follow-on surveys of radiation and contamination following a radiological emergency. The team is planning more field work to further explore the ability of a sUAS to fly into and assess difficult areas, such as tunnels and other GPS-denied environments, during national emergency situations. Additionally, the team is moving closer to achieving their goal of developing hardware, methods and expertise to provide critical information that helps protect emergency responders and the public in the event of a radiological emergency.

small UAS
The sUAS radiological survey flight team (from left): Alan Horzewski, Todd Bagley, Manny Manard, Rusty Trainham, Hovig Yaralian and Paul Guss.

Aerial radiological surveys have been conducted at the NNSS since the 1960s; what was unusual about this mission was that the team conducted aerial radiological surveys using a sUAS, commonly known as a drone, and a lightweight yet sturdy radiation detector. The use of unmanned aircraft can augment existing aerial radiation detection capabilities because an unmanned aircraft can fly much lower and slower than a manned aircraft, enabling the team to collect more detailed radiation measurements and geographical information. A sUAS can also maneuver into an area that would be unthinkable for a manned aircraft to access and collect data.

The gamma imager was attached to the hexacopter and flown over the Sedan and Baneberry nuclear test craters. (The Sedan test was conducted on July 6, 1962, and the Baneberry test took place on December 18, 1970.) The gamma imager weighs about 10 pounds, and it fits into a volume of 18 by 3 by 4 inches. The hexacopter is about the size of a card table, and the gross weight is about 50 pounds with the payload and fuel. At sea level, it can fly for up to two hours at a time, but at the altitude of the NNSS, the time is limited to approximately 30 to 40 minutes. The sUAS flew over a distance of a few kilometers to complete the surveys. Data collected during the surveys demonstrated that greater sensitivity and geographical resolution can be achieved with UAS technology.

In early 2020, the team revisited the Sedan and Baneberry craters to obtain more measurements. During this visit, the team also traveled to the Palanquin nuclear test crater (the Palanquin test took place on April 14, 1965) to collect additional survey and imaging data. Watch the small UAS in action in this YouTube video.


The M in STEM: Mathematics at the NNSS

Marylesa Howard Mathematics at NNSS
Principal Scientist Marylesa Howard (front row, second from left) serves as a Ph.D. advisor to students from universities across the nation who are pursuing their mathematics research at the NNSS.

National security may not be the first career field that comes to mind for mathematics students. However, mathematicians play a vital role in experiment design and analysis at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), and they’re working to ensure younger generations know how their skillset can influence work within the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Applied mathematics is exercised at the NNSS in multiple facets, including radiography; multimodal sensing, which utilizes multiple layers of detection techniques to grid activity (in this case, radiological activity); experimental and optical diagnostics; and MIE scattering, which uses light lasers to make determinations about elements used in experiments. Data from these methods are used to make decisions for the Stockpile Stewardship program, which ensures the nation’s nuclear stockpile remains safe, reliable and secure through subcritical science experiments. Data are also used for Nuclear Nonproliferation programs, which work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapon technologies.

“There’s always someone needing something analyzed,” said Marylesa Howard, NNSS signal processing and applied mathematics scientist. “We find math in every place we look. There’s a lot coming down the pipeline that we can start getting involved in by spreading our bandwidth and our depth of knowledge.”

Since 2015, Howard has served with the Mathematical Association of America’s Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences program. As an industrial liaison, she educates university students and faculty about research opportunities at the NNSS. One challenge is breaking down perceptions that pursing statistics automatically means a career in actuary work at places like insurance companies or Wall Street. Another is recruiting younger generations quickly enough to have crossover time with careered NNSS scientists and mathematicians.

“It’s essential to capture as much existing knowledge now to pass on to the younger workforce,” said Howard. “We are in such a specialized field of nuclear science where most people don’t have that breadth of knowledge when they come in from school. You have to start training the next generation now to glean as much knowledge and wisdom from the senior employees before they retire.”

The NNSS works to recruit candidates from across the nation for progressive internship opportunities that are the foundation for a career. These include undergraduate, cooperative education (enabling students to earn academic credit through their work at the NNSS), post-baccalaureate, graduate research assistant and post-doctoral programs.

Maggie Lund Mathematics at NNSS
NNSS Senior Scientist Maggie Lund speaks to the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada about her work as a radiographer analyst at the NNSS’ U1a Complex underground laboratory, where experiments using Cygnus (pictured, right) are conducted. “We do so many things at the Site and collaborate with so many laboratories,” says Lund. “I love it here in Nevada. I can’t see myself ever leaving.”

Former intern Maggie Lund began her journey in mathematics with the Site in 2014 while between undergraduate and graduate school; she is now a senior scientist at the NNSS and conducts radiography analysis using Cygnus, a dual-axis flash X-ray radiography system located at the NNSS’ U1a Complex. By compiling series of images produced from Cygnus, Lund is able to reconstruct what occurs during subcritical experiments and use statistical models to compute material densities.

“My plan for life was not at all to go in this route,” said Lund. “It was serendipitous, really. I hadn’t even heard of the NNSS until one of my computer science professors announced the NNSS was looking for interns. It was my first taste of real research. It was so cool to work on one of these projects with a team of mathematicians. To see a team of people create new methods and understand the physics in order to find solutions was entirely new to me. I knew I needed to be a part of this—I need to be out in the field doing these experiments.”

Lund returned to the NNSS during summers as she continued her education with her masters in statistics and doctorate in applied mathematics. During that time, she had her doctoral research funded by the NNSS and became a published author in the Journal of Applied Physics and Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ Journal on Computational Science and Engineering. Outside of the NNSS, Lund is working to inspire some of the community’s youngest leaders-to-be about possibilities through STEM. She recently spoke with the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada about the influential roles that women have at the NNSS.

“I think girls are now exposed to so many more new things than I was,” said Lund. “Young women today are exposed to people in the field who can help encourage them on the path that they’re already interested in. Mathematicians can do something other than teach.”

For students interested in pursuing an internship or career with the NNSS, Howard says key qualifications are having strong programming and linear algebra skills. She’s also looking for individuals who can speak about their discipline to various levels of an organization and make connections about how work integrates with other subject matter experts. Information for Student Programs at the NNSS can be found at https://www.nnss.gov/pages/NFO/MSTSStudentPrograms.html.

“Working at the NNSS has introduced me to so many different fields of science and engineering,” said Lund. “It has challenged me as a mathematician and professional scientist in so many ways. It is something that I would recommend to anyone.”


Connecting through COVID-19: NNSS M&O contractor donates $40,000 for Clark County students’ computer access

PEF donation thank you note
A note of thanks from a Clark County School District student who received a Google Chromebook. MSTS’ donation will support students who do not have access to the necessary technology required for distance learning.

As thousands of students face a new reality for the end of the academic year, Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) management and operating contractor Mission Support & Test Services (MSTS) is proud to make a donation of $40,000 to The Public Education Foundation in Nevada.

“It is amazing to see members of the community stepping up to help bridge the digital divide in such a critical moment for education,” said Clark County School District Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara. “The Nevada National Security Site is a tremendous partner to the Clark County School District as well as the entire community.”

An estimated one-third of Clark County School District’s 320,000 students do not have access to computers or the internet while at home. MSTS’ contribution will be used to purchase Google Chromebooks for students to be able to continue their education during the COVID-19 distance learning period, which began March 16. Other organizations, such as Cox Communications, have joined the effort by providing low-cost internet service to families in need.

“This is how communities come together,” said MSTS President Mark Martinez. “The NNSS and MSTS invest in our local students year-round and are highly interested in advancing STEM in our community. Donating Chromebooks to help Clark County students keep current during the pandemic was an easy decision.”

For more information about the NNSS’ support to Nevada, visit https://www.nnss.gov/docs/fact_sheets/DOENV_0491.pdf.


NNSS scientists represent at NNSA’s premier science council

Defense Programs Science Council
The NNSA Defense Programs Science Council
(Howard Bender is pictured second from left).

Following four years of service as the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) representative for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs Science Council, Distinguished Scientist Howard Bender is passing the torch to Principal Scientist Marylesa Howard.

Created to explore science, technology and engineering opportunities for the NNSA, the Defense Programs Science Council is comprised of one representative from each NNSA production site and laboratory. Together, the team pursues science and technology best practices throughout the enterprise, analyzes stockpile planning and hedge strategies, and supports the development of the NNSA Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.

Bender was appointed to the role in 2016 as the first-ever NNSS representative.

“I’d like to think of the science council as more of a scientific and technical working group that advises the head of Defense Programs,” said Bender. “The group is tasked with looking at significant current and future challenges to the weapons program. Each of us has our own part in the weapons program, and we would tackle those as a think tank. Each of us brought our own perspective and knowledge base to the issue we were asked to look at.”

The council also supports NNSA’s nonproliferation and counterintelligence missions, and it collaborates with the Department of Defense and other federal agencies that have a role in NNSA’s Defense Programs activities.

“I see the group as helping to transform the complex and stockpile stewardship in the future,” said Bender. “I think it’s going to be instrumental in architecture for future stockpile efforts and other national security matters revolving around the weapons program.”

Marylesa Howard joining Defense Programs Science Council
Marylesa Howard, recipient of PECASE.

The council, which meets monthly in addition to twice a year at NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., was re-established in 2010 to investigate and explore cross-cutting science, technology and engineering issues and opportunities that have an impact across the NNSA.

“I think it’s one of the most phenomenal working groups I’ve been a part of in my career,” said Bender, who worked with NNSA and NNSS leadership to recommend Howard as his successor. “Someone else needs a chance at this.”

Howard, a signal processing and applied mathematics scientist, comes to the NNSA Defense Programs Science Council after receiving the United States government’s highest honor for scientists who demonstrate exceptional leadership in independent research careers – the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) – in July 2019.

“I would like to bring access and visibility to NNSS resources and capabilities, as well as some of our less-visible talents,” said Howard. “If the science council has a need that could utilize our resources and knowledge, I would love to connect the dots.”

Having already cultivated a network of peers in the NNSA through her career and PECASE, Howard says she looks forward to continuing to build opportunities throughout the enterprise.

“We have been putting together plans for how our NNSS analysis team can expand our role in future subcritical experimental needs at the labs. I’m really excited to see the doors that open up for our team and the new collaborative relationships we build with the laboratories.”

For more information about Defense Programs, see https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/missions/maintaining-stockpile.