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SwRI offers new configurable lab facility

A new, configurable lab facility available in the Signal Exploitation and Geolocation Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will allow for fabrication and testing of a wide variety of engineering models, prototypes and hardware.

The flexible facility, termed “Probay,” is a 3,000-square-foot workspace designed to be easily reconfigured to accommodate a variety of production and testing requirements. All work benches, assembly and test equipment, storage cabinets and shelving, partitions, network and communication lines, and electrical power can easily be moved and reconfigured in less than 30 minutes to meet specific project needs.

“Our core competencies traditionally have been in the area of specialized, low-volume electronics, and production of direction-finding antennas,” said Robert Grover, assistant director of the Production and Operations Department at SwRI. “This new facility allows us to take that expertise and adapt it to other types of work for a broader client base.”

SwRI clients are increasingly asking for delivery of field-ready hardware as opposed to simply delivering prototypes or engineering models. “Having manufacturing facilities, equipment, staff and processes in place to transition SwRI designs into deployable equipment offers our clients a ‘one-stop shop’ to meet their needs,” Grover said. “Providing end-item units also allows us to maintain contact with our clients by providing field support, spares, repairs and upgrades.”

Technology transfer services include the transition from design to production as well as to multiple quantity production including mechanical fabrication, printed circuit board population, electronics assembly, protective packaging, final surface coatings, specialized testing and performance validation.

The Signal Exploitation and Geolocation Division at SwRI is certified to ISO 9001:2000, “Quality Systems-Model for Quality Assurance in Design, Development, Production, Installation and Servicing,” for all phases of project work. In addition, the division is in the process of attaining a Level 3 Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) rating.

Contact Grover at (210) 522-2996 or

SwRI's Redfield named IEEE Region V Member of the Year

Joe B. Redfield, manager of the Advanced Vehicle Technology Section in the Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), has been named Member of the Year of Region V of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Redfield, an IEEE member for 29 years, was chosen from more than 55,000 members in Region V, which includes the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and parts of Illinois, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming. He currently serves on the Central Texas Section Executive Committee.

Redfield specializes in advanced vehicle propulsion design and energy systems engineering. At SwRI he leads a team of researchers involved in the development , testing and hardware integration of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains; powertrain modeling and simulation; energy storage and fuel cell systems.

A registered professional engineer in Texas, Redfield also is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Solar Energy Society, American Wind Energy Association and the National Space Society.

Burch awarded COSPAR's inaugural Jeoujang Jaw award

The international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) awarded Dr. James L. Burch, vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), its 2008 Jeoujang Jaw Award, bestowed jointly by COSPAR and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The award recognizes scientists who have “made distinguished pioneering contributions to promoting space research, establishing new space science research branches and founding new exploration programs.” It was named in honor of Professor Jeoujang Jaw (1907Ð1968), a pioneer in advocating physics and new technologies in earth science, who made significant contributions to the development of atmospheric science, geophysics and space science.

Burch is the first recipient of the award, given in recognition of his leadership on the NASA Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) mission, which provided the first global images of the Earth's magnetosphere and demonstrated how the transport of charged particles in the Earth's space environment responds to variations in the solar wind.

In addition to directing a variety of space science activities at SwRI, Burch has served as principal investigator on the IMAGE, Rosetta, Dynamics Explorer 1, and ATLAS-1 space science missions. He currently serves as principal investigator of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, scheduled to launch in 2014, and a proposed Mars Scout mission called The Great Escape.

Burch is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). He is a former chair of the Committee on Public Affairs, president of the Space Physics and Aeronomy section, and editor-in-chief of the AGU publication Geophysical Research Letters.

Burch has also served on advisory committees for NASA, the European Space Agency, the National Science Foundation and other organizations. He is a former chair of the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, which advises the National Research Council Space Studies Board. Burch is also a lifetime national associate of the National Academies.

Contact Burch at (210) 522-2526 or

SwRI receives $1.3 million grant for chemical weapon antidote development

Southwest Research Institute has been awarded a one-year, $1.3-million grant by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command to develop and test nerve agent antidote formulations that can be administered as an intramuscular injection.

Chemical warfare agents attack the central nervous system inhibiting acetocholinesterase (AChE) ultimately with fatal consequence. Thus better antidotes, AChE reacativators, need to be used to reactivate swiftly to reverse effects of exposure to agents. The Institute is currently in the fourth year of a six-year contract to develop and test the stability of an AChE reactivator, which reverses symptoms caused by exposure to a chemical warfare agent. Under this recently awarded grant, SwRI will investigate novel formulations of a promising new antidote called MMB4, which can swiftly counteract exposure to a nerve agent.

“The goal of this study is to develop an operationally stable formulation of MMB4 that is able to be absorbed quickly by the body, that will not hinder atropine, which is used in combination to effectively treat the effects of a chemical nerve agent,” said Dr. Joe McDonough, principal investigator and director of the Microencapsulation, Nanomaterials and Process Engineering Department in SwRI's Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. “From our previous work, we developed a new formulation of MMB4 that has increased stability. We now have to overcome issues that would normally restrict absorption of both of the atropine and MMB4.”

The research grant will look at improving the effectiveness of several operationally stable formulations of MMB4.

For 60 years, SwRI has been a leader in the development of products for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, consumer goods, and food industries and has pioneered the development of new microencapsulation and particle formation techniques.

Contact McDonough at (210) 522-3670 or

SwRI-developed compressor valve exceeding expectations in field trials

A production beta version of a compressor plate valve developed at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is demonstrating long operating life in real-time field conditions. The SwRI Semi-Active Compressor Valve, developed in 2006, is currently installed in a high-speed compressor at a natural gas production site for a long-term field performance test.

The single largest maintenance cost for a reciprocating compressor is compressor valves. These machines typically use passive compressor valves, which experience high plate impact velocities that often result in fatigue failures and a short operating life, leading to frequent replacement.

The SwRI Semi-Active Compressor Valve increases plate life by drastically reducing plate impact velocities. Rather than springs, the design uses electromagnets to actively control impact velocities. The valve plate starting motion is sensed using an electric inductive motion sensor controlled by the electromagnets, thus eliminating the need for pressure transducers or shaft encoders to control plate motion.

“Four production version valves were installed in a high-speed compressor in early April 2008 and have been performing with no valve failure to date, far exceeding the performance of conventional valves in place at the same location,” said Dr. Klaus Brun, manager of the Rotating Machinery Section in SwRI’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division and principal developer of the valve.

The valve, which earned a 2007 R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine, was one of several technologies developed during the Advanced Reciprocating Compression Technology program, conducted at SwRI and jointly funded by the Gas Machinery Research Council, BP, and the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory. The latest version of the valve is being manufactured by SwRI and Cook Compression.

Contact Brun at (210) 522-2249 or

Miller receives DOE award for hydrogen storage technologies

Michael A. Miller, a staff scientist in SwRI's Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division, has received the 2008 Hydrogen Program R&D Award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Miller, along with Ralph Yang of the University of Michigan and Boris Yakobson of Rice University, received the award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to hydrogen storage technologies.”

The award, one of four given this year by DOE, was presented to the researchers in ceremonies during June in Washington D.C.

Miller and his colleagues have been collaborating for three years on a phenomenon called “hydrogen spillover.” The research is part of the Institute's National Testing Laboratory for Solid-state Hydrogen Storage Technologies, a DOE-sponsored program aimed at evaluating novel solid-state materials and full-scale systems for hydrogen storage.

“If we start with nanostructure materials, such as metal organic frameworks (MOFs) or carbon nanotubes, and Ôdope' them with small clusters of a metal catalyst such as platinum, we see a tremendously enhanced uptake of hydrogen into the structures,” Miller explained. “We call this process hydrogen spillover because we believe that hydrogen molecules (H2) are split by the metal clusters, then spilled over onto the nanostructure, where the hydrogen is bound as atomic hydrogen (H). Think of it as a sponge that stores hydrogen atoms. If you lower the pressure surrounding this sponge or heat it slightly, hydrogen molecules are formed again and are released from the material.”

The development potentially could eliminate the high pressures normally required to store hydrogen in compressed-gas cylinders for automotive fuel cell applications.

Miller said the proposed technology for solid-state storage involves storage tanks filled with a solid, lightweight material. For this technology to work in vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells, a large quantity of hydrogen, at least five kilograms, must be stored in the material at reasonable pressures (less than 3,000 pounds per square inch) and released at near-ambient conditions to deliver hydrogen to the fuel cell. This technology will rely on the waste heat generated by the fuel cell to release hydrogen from the material.

“Most metal hydrides, for example, won’t release hydrogen unless the temperature is really high,” Miller said. “That’s not the case here. We’re observing the highest reversible uptake of hydrogen ever observed at room temperature in the nanostructured materials we are using.”

Miller and his team are pursuing a clear understanding of the spillover phenomenon by employing advanced experimental methods and theoretical models in hope of finding some other practical uses for the technology.

“We're also looking at other materials that may perform better and are of a lower cost than platinum,” Miller said.

Contact Miller at (210) 522-2189 or

Published in the Summer 2008 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

Summer 2008 Technology Today
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