One look at the nightly news and it's clear that peace and freedom are threatened each day throughout our world.
With an extensive portfolio of scientific capabilities -- some dating back 50 years -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is leading the research and development of new tools and technologies to detect weapons of mass destruction and potential terrorist threats.
PNNL does more than $500 million in research, development and policy work in national security programs for the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies. While our growing national security portfolio represents an array of distinctive projects for several funding agencies, many can be summed up by just one word -- detection.
-- Sniffing out trouble
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Canines may be one of the most effective bomb-sniffing technologies, but researchers at PNNL set out to create a new method to identify minute amounts of explosives in the air. PNNL's vapor detection technology greatly advances our ability to detect hidden explosives simply by "sniffing" the air.
Researchers combined novel reaction chemistry with a commercial off-the-shelf spectrometer to develop a technology sensitive enough to detect commonly used military explosives that have almost no vapor component -- and to do so in real time.
The technology samples the air and converts a small number of explosives molecules to ions within a reaction tube. The ions move directly to a mass spectrometer, where they are detected and identified almost instantaneously.
PNNL's vapor detection technology is in the prototype stage, but could potentially revolutionize security operations including airport screening, port security and military applications.
-- Global and mobile
PNNL supports NNSA's Second Line of Defense Program (SLD), which is strengthening the capabilities and commitment of partner countries with fixed and mobile radiation detection systems to deter, detect and interdict illicit trafficking of special nuclear and other radiological material.
Technical detection systems at fixed locations are positioned at the most strategically important land border crossings, airports, shipping ports and other ports of entry.
Mobile radiation detection systems are a powerful nuclear security tool for border controls and law enforcement operations. SLD has accelerated the deployment of mobile detection systems to include 18 partner countries, involving 25 agencies, with several more in the pipeline for 2015, including Tajikistan, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Jordan and Azerbaijan.
This year, PNNL employees met with delegates from Yemen, Israel and Iraq to introduce and demonstrate the mobile systems. The mobile systems include vehicles, handheld devices and portable systems that resemble backpacks -- all could be used for discreet locations and special event venues such as major sporting events.
PNNL provides operators with hands-on training and "real-world" interdiction scenario training that is critical to the equipment deployment. Flight security
If you've flown lately, you've probably seen one of PNNL's most recognizable national security technologies -- the airport security scanners that can detect concealed objects including plastic weapons or explosives.
These devices are available commercially from L-3 Security and Detection Systems and have been installed in 250 airports across the country and around the world. At least one scanner is expected to be installed at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco by the end of its terminal expansion project, likely in late 2016, subject to the Transportation Security Administration's plans and budget.
The scanners are based on millimeter wave technology developed by researchers at PNNL and licensed to startup SafeView, which was later acquired by L-3.This demonstrates how PNNL continues to advance and leverage some of its earliest scientific capabilities. The technology's roots date back to the 1970s, when PNNL was a pioneer in the development of 3-D holograph imagery for the nondestructive evaluation of nuclear reactors.
Today, the same scanning technology also has been licensed for body measurement in the apparel industry.
-- Drawing from the past
Many of our current projects draw upon scientific capabilities used decades ago when the nation was producing plutonium during the Cold War, especially radiochemistry, nuclear materials analysis, low-level radiation counting, signatures science and post-detonation radionuclide detection.
As we look ahead, PNNL will continue to evolve and adapt its capabilities to deliver tools and technologies to detect and prevent threats to our safety and security -- even while those threats become more sophisticated and at the same time more diverse and discrete.
From leading nuclear nonproliferation efforts to verifying nuclear test ban treaties, developing advanced data analytics and visualization tools to improving ultra-trace detection technologies, PNNL advances solutions to help protect our great nation and the world.