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Geek-Up[09.17.2010] -- Water Blades, Biomass Conversion and Antineutrino Detection

September 17, 2010 - 6:10pm


Airman 1st Class Patrick Connolly demonstrates the placement and detonation of a water disruptor developed at Sandia Natl Lab.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have engineered a blade of water that’s strong enough and fast enough to penetrate through steel. This device is now on its way to Afghanistan to help U.S. soldiers disable deadly improvised explosives devices (IEDs). Sandia recently licensed this technology to Albuquerque-based TEAM technologies, which made its first shipment of 3,000 water disruptors to Afghanistan this summer.

Steve Todd, one the inventors of this tool, explained: the portable plastic device is filled with water and an explosive material is placed in it that, when detonated, creates a shock wave that travels through the water and accelerates it inward into a concave opening. And it all happens in a matter of microseconds.

In fact, the process is so fast it can’t be captured by the human eye. Researchers used computer simulations and high-speed flash X-rays to test the device. Soldiers rotating out of Afghanistan and Iran also offered their suggestions on how to fine tune the technology.

Watch footage of the water disruptor in action above.

Did you know that before any biomass can be converted into a biofuel it must undergo an acid pretreatment? This step is critical to extracting cellulose which is then converted into sugars and eventually a biofuel. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Georgia Tech used small-angle neutron scattering to probe the structural impact of this pretreatment on switchgrass. ORNL researchers hope to use these findings to help identify the most effective pretreatment strategy and lower the cost of biomass conversion.

Read about how neutrons can help make the biomass-to-biofuel process more cost effective.

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories in California are currently testing an aboveground water-based antineutrino detector to improve monitoring capabilities at nuclear facilities. Traditionally, antineutrino detectors must be located underground near a reactor’s core. While effective, this limits the number of sites where these detectors can be deployed.

The Livermore-Sandia team has installed a prototype aboveground detector at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. If successful, this technology could be used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to improve nuclear reactor monitoring.

Adam Bernstein, the Livermore physicist who leads the project team, explains, “We’ll need three to six months to demonstrate that we have a stable, antineutrinolike signal. Ironically, the best evidence for the existence of that signal is when the reactor is shut down, which should reduce the antineutrinolike event rate. If the signal drops by a statistically significant amount, we can have high confidence that we are actually registering reactor antineutrinos.”

The next reactor shutdown at San Onofre is scheduled for the end of 2010.

Learn more on how the Livermore-Sandia team developed this antineutrino detector.