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SwRI to design pressure hull for new deep submergence research vehicle

The Institute has been awarded an 18-month, $1.5-million contract by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to design the crew pressure hull for a replacement human-occupied ocean research submersible.

The proposed submersible is the next-generation replacement for Alvin, which was originally designed and built more than 40 years ago. Today’s Alvin, with its titanium hull, can descend to depths of 4,500 meters, reaching approximately 63 percent of the ocean floor. The new vehicle will be capable of depths up to 6,500 meters (approximately 22,000 feet), allowing access to 99 percent of the ocean floor.

“This project was awarded to us based, in part, on a concept study completed at SwRI about a year ago,” said Project Manager B.K. Miller, a program manager in the Structural Engineering Department in SwRI’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division. “We are also highly experienced in the design, development and evaluation of marine systems. We tested the original Alvin pressure hull, and we are nearing completion of the design, fabrication and testing of a new submarine crew rescue hull for the U.S. Navy.”

The concept for the crew pressure hull is a spherical design with five viewports, a 20-inch hatch and penetrations for associated electronics. The hull will be designed to hold three people — a pilot and two scientists. Its spherical shape is the ideal design to withstand deep submergence pressures because there is a uniform force of compression.

The new submersible must be essentially the same weight and size of Alvin to be compatible with existing launch systems. These constraints have presented some unique material challenges.

“Obviously the hull material has to be strong so it can withstand the pressures of deep water. At the same time, it has to be light enough to meet the weight constraints. We plan to use a titanium alloy — Ti 6-4 ELI — and will contract with companies experienced with the forming, welding and testing of this material,” Miller added.

For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

SwRI-French team discovers potential link between iron meteorites and Earth’s original “building blocks”

Iron meteorites are probably the surviving fragments of the long-lost asteroid-like bodies that formed the Earth and other nearby rocky planets, according to researchers from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur in Nice, France. Their findings are described in the Feb.16 issue of Nature.

Iron meteorites, composed of iron and nickel alloys, represent some of the earliest material formed in the solar system, with most coming from the cores of small asteroids. According to Dr. William Bottke, a SwRI research scientist and leader of the joint U.S.-French team, iron-meteorite parent bodies probably emerged from the same disk of planetary debris that produced the Earth and other inner solar system planets.

“Small bodies that form quickly in the inner solar system end up melting and differentiating from the decay of short-lived radioactive elements,” explained Bottke. “Iron meteorites came from the molten material that sinks to the center of these objects, cools and solidifies.”

For these meteorites to arrive on Earth, they must have been extracted from their parent bodies and kept around for billions of years. The team’s computer simulations found that any asteroids managing to avoid being gobbled up by the planets were quickly demolished by impacts. Each breakup, however, produces millions of fragments, many in the form of iron meteorites. These leftovers were scattered across the solar system by gravitational interactions with protoplanetary bodies, with some reaching the relative safety of the asteroid belt. Over billions of years, a few of the survivors escaped their captivity in the asteroid belt and were delivered to Earth.

“This means that certain iron meteorites may tell us what the precursor material for the primordial Earth was like, while also helping us unlock several fundamental questions about the Earth’s origins,” said Bottke. “There’s also the possibility that larger versions of this material may still be hiding among the asteroids. The hunt for them is on.”

NASA’s Origins of Solar Systems and Planetary Geology and Geophysics programs funded the research of the SwRI investigators. The paper, “Iron Meteorites as Remnants of Planetesimals from the Terrestrial Planet Region,” by Bottke, Nesvorny, Grimm, Morbidelli, and O’Brien, appears in the Feb. 16 issue of Nature.

Contact Bottke at (303) 546-9670 or

SwRI receives DOE funding to improve CO2 compression technologies

Under a one-year, $175,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), SwRI engineers will perform Phase I of a project to improve the mechanics associated with compressing and liquefying carbon dioxide (CO2). produced by integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants.

The project is under the aegis of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy Turbine Technology R&D Program. Dresser Rand, a manufacturer of centrifugal compressors, is providing additional co-funding to support the project.

All power plants that burn fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide. However, because of the process used by IGCC power plants to produce energy, these plants offer the unique opportunity for carbon dioxide to be removed from the fuel stream rather than from the exhaust emissions, thereby reducing the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Sequestration, or taking the carbon dioxide and injecting it into the ground for permanent storage, requires significant compression power to boost the pressure to typical pipeline levels. The cost penalty for this increased power can be high — as much as an 8 to 12 percent reduction in overall efficiency. One way to reduce this penalty is to develop novel compression concepts that can be integrated with existing IGCC processes.

“The primary objective of this project is to boost the pressure of CO2 to pipeline pressures using as little energy as possible,” said Project Manager Dr. J. Jeffrey Moore, a principal engineer in the Mechanical and Fluids Engineering Department of SwRI’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division. “During this phase we hope to identify a number of promising concepts.”

Completion of the subsequent phases will lead to a full-scale compression train that will be fitted, designed and tested at an existing IGCC plant.

Contact Moore at (210) 522-5812 or

Jakab receives young author award from NACE

Dr. Marta Jakab, a research engineer in the SwRI Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division, has received the 2006 A.B. Campbell Award from NACE International.

The award is presented to an author or authors 35 years of age or younger in recognition of the most outstanding manuscript published in the NACE journals Corrosion or Materials Performance. Jakab earned the award for her paper “Critical Concentrations Associated with Cobalt, Cerium and Molybdenum Inhibition of AA2024-T3 Corrosion: Delivery from Al-Co-Ce(Mo) Alloys,” published in the March 2005 issue of Corrosion.

Jakab joined the SwRI staff in 2005. She is experienced in corrosion, electrochemistry, surface characterization and analytical chemistry. At SwRI, her work centers on a variety of programs related to environmental effects on materials, such as investigating the localized corrosion processes in copper-nickel alloys.

She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Debrecen in Debrecen, Hungary, and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia.

For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

Anderson named Fellow of American Physical Society

Dr. Charles E. Anderson Jr., director of the Engineering Dynamics Department in SwRI’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division, has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

The Fellow grade is conferred upon APS members who have made advances in knowledge through original research or made significant contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. Anderson was cited for “his leadership in combining numerical simulations with experimental data to develop advanced models of the response of materials to shock, impact and penetration.”

Anderson specializes in modifying and improving the predictive capabilities of large Eulerian and Lagrangian hydrocodes. He has applied these codes to analyses of warhead fragmentation effects, warhead concept development for ballistic missile defense, penetration mechanics, hypervelocity impact and armor/anti-armor impact interactions. More recently, he has been involved in developing and assessing advanced, lightweight armor concepts and weapons effects on next-generation U.S. Navy ships.

He is the 2000 recipient of the Hypervelocity Impact Symposium Distinguished Scientist Award. In 2002, Anderson was appointed to the National Academies’ Army Research Lab Technical Assessment Board’s Panel on Armor and Armaments. He is also a Senior Institute Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Technology of The University of Texas at Austin and is a regional editor of the International Journal of Impact Engineering.

Anderson holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and master’s and doctoral degrees in physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of numerous papers and government reports and holds one U.S. patent.

In addition to APS, Anderson is a member of Sigma Xi, the Association for the Advancement of Science, American Ceramics Society and Hypervelocity Impact Society.

MAICE Station™ analysis platform simulates crowd situations

A prototype software package developed by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) allows law enforcement, military and event management personnel to analyze, model and research the behaviors and actions of hundreds of individuals in a potentially volatile crowd. The Modeling of Aggregates of Individuals and Crowd Evaluation software, called MAICE Station™, is a prototype platform for examining the actions of individuals in group, or aggregate, situations.

In MAICE Station™, individuals make independent decisions, follow and lead, show aggression and resistance, communicate, interact with the environment, and otherwise respond distinctly, creating the overall group dynamics. In contrast, existing tools model aggregates as a whole rather than modeling the unique behavior of each individual.

“Understanding the behavior of aggregate collections of individuals is challenging, complicated by the fact that modeling systems must take into account the varying behaviors and actions of hundreds or thousands of individuals,” said Project Manager Thomas G. Glass, a senior research analyst in the SwRI Training, Simulation and Performance Improvement Division.

The prototype includes utilities for constructing aggregates and scenarios using extensive sets of attributes and behavior settings. It provides a variety of visualization tools and can be used as an analysis platform, as well as a briefing and training tool for event management or post-hoc incident evaluations.

MAICE Station™ aggregates are built from hundreds or thousands of unique individuals. Behaviors are easily customized, system resource requirements are low and routine upgrades are easily developed for the aggregate individuals.

Users can build scenarios from any map and populate it with customized aggregates, controlling the behaviors and appearance of the individuals. Users can pause, fast-forward, single-step or slow the speed of the scenario. A zoom window provides close-up views. Individuals can be monitored during operation or data can be logged for later study. Support for the introduction and analysis of lethal and non-lethal countermeasures is also addressed in the prototype. All stimuli are completely customizable.

SwRI internal research funds supported this development. A patent is pending.


SwRI, EPA evaluate fuel, air quality gains from big-rig modifications

In a project with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is evaluating low-drag tires and trailers on Class 8 trucks for improvements in fuel efficiency and pollutant emissions.

The project, which began in September 2005 and continued through March 2006, involved measuring reductions in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and improvements in fuel economy for trucks hauling specially modified Class 8, 53-foot box van trailers. The project is led by the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality’s SmartWay™ Transportation Partnership, a voluntary program aimed at reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

Highway line-haul trucks are integral to the nation’s freight delivery system, accounting for a significant portion of all freight-truck fuel usage because they typically travel more miles than other types. Most of these miles are driven at highway speeds, where the fuel demand to overcome aerodynamic and rolling resistance drag is the greatest. A number of fleets already equip their trucks with low-rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic roof fairings over the cab. More recent technologies, such as aerodynamic trailer fairings and single-wide tires to replace dual tires, offer additional opportunities to reduce drag and save fuel.

Preliminary tests last year indicated that reducing aerodynamic drag helped reduce engine loads, which in turn led to lower NOx emissions and higher fuel economy. In the current test, SwRI is helping the EPA to further research the link between saving fuel and reducing pollutant emissions.

“With rising fuel costs, the pay-back period for rig modifications that improve fuel economy becomes shorter and thus more attractive,” said Steven D. Marty, director of SwRI’s Fuels and Driveline Lubricants Research Department.

Contact Marty at (210) 522-5929 or

Published in the Spring 2006 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

Spring 2006 Technology Today
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