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November 2001

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Hal Graboske

Welding Science:
A New Look at a
Fundamental
Technology

Probing the
Subsurface with
Electromagnetic
Fields

Probing the Liquid
Water Surface

New Targets for
Inertial Fusion

Patents

Awards

 

 

Hal graboske, Associate Director of Chemistry and Material Science

Hal Graboske
Associate Director,
Chemistry and Material Science

Fundamental Science Supports National Needs


EXPLORATORY, basic scientific research is key to the Laboratory’s success in fulfilling its missions. Our primary mission is to provide for national security in a changing world. At the same time, we must also respond to an array of enduring national needs. We are improving energy security and environmental management, advancing bioscience to improve human health, and pursuing breakthroughs in science and technology. In all of this work, we are pushing the frontiers of science and often must know the basics before we can proceed with the more complex.
Stockpile stewardship provides a particularly dramatic example of the need for basic science. Few other institutions are responsible for maintaining an aging nuclear stockpile, one for which no new weapons are being manufactured. When the weapons program started, no one knew what would happen to plutonium and other materials in the weapons as they age. Today, fundamental science plays a critical role in evaluating the effects of aging on plutonium.
The Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recognize the importance of fundamental research. In addition to the considerable funding that comes to the Laboratory through NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program each year, DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Science (BES) funds an array of projects, including two of the four research endeavors addressed in this issue.
The research described in the lead article on the science of welding, Welding Science: A New Look at a Fundamental Technology, was funded in part by BES, as was the work on hydrogen bonding in liquid water, described in the research highlight entitled Probing the Liquid Water Surface. The results of both projects have ramifications that extend far beyond the laboratories where the experiments took place.
Welding is critical to all aspects of national security. Virtually all systems used in the defense of our country are welded. And the fabric of the world’s civilian infrastructure, including highways and bridges, power generation and distribution, and high-rise construction, depends on effective, robust welds. Reliable welds also help protect the environment. The Alaska Pipeline, for example, delivers millions of barrels of oil a year across the fragile Alaskan tundra through welded pipes.
Welding dates back centuries to when humans first began to work with metal. Yet, only in recent years have scientists had the tools that allow them to take a close look at this technology in real time. Synchrotron radiation, a tool used to unlock the structure of proteins, is being applied to the science of welding with the goal of making welds safer and more reliable. Livermore experimental results indicate potential problems with existing welding technology. To counteract potential safety problems related to weld integrity, developers are incorporating Livermore data into the design of new welding electrodes to create more reliable welds.
Until recently, hydrogen bonding in liquid water has been difficult to examine experimentally. Livermore’s work on this basic problem also takes advantage of synchrotron radiation, using it to determine for the first time the distance between hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms at the surface of liquid water. Details of hydrogen bonding in liquids are important for almost all biological or environmental research. DNA is a double helix because of hydrogen bonding. The structure of proteins, which exist in the liquid water of our cells, is defined in part by hydrogen bonding. Any system that involves liquid water is affected by the way that hydrogen bonds. The research presented here is helping to unravel the secrets of hydrogen-bonded materials.
As long as Lawrence Livermore is performing science in the national interest, basic research will continue.

 



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UCRL-52000-01-11 | December 30, 2001