Brief notes about the world of science and technology at Southwest Research Institute     image of PDF button

image of PSPD logo

SwRI launches Particle Sensor Performance and Durability consortium

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has launched a cooperative research consortium to investigate the performance and durability of particle sensors designed for onboard diagnostics and diesel engine emissions control.

Sensors that trigger an engine malfunction illumination light (MIL) or a fault code when particle emissions exceed a certain threshold downstream of an exhaust diesel particle filter (DPF) will soon be required to meet California Air Resources Board and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency onboard diagnostics regulations. Particle sensors assess how well particle filters keep particulate matter from being emitted to the atmosphere, in compliance with emissions regulations.

While many potentially usable sensors available in the marketplace today target onboard diagnostics and engine-control applications, more knowledge is needed about how these particle sensors perform in engine-exhaust applications where temperature, flow and particle characteristics change under different engine operating conditions.

The Particle Sensor Performance and Durability (PSPD) consortium will investigate how particle sensors perform under different exhaust parameters, including temperature, velocity, size distribution, number and mass concentration. Particle sensors are expected to become a critical onboard diagnostic (OBD) component for detecting particle emissions failure from downstream of an exhaust DPF. However, it is equally critical that these sensors prove they can perform their tasks before they are launched on a commercial scale. SwRI will capitalize on its knowledge and expertise in the area of engine and particle science and technology to conduct this work.

“Before particle sensors are installed on vehicles in large numbers, we need to get a great deal more information on how effective they are in measuring particulate matter,” said Dr. Imad A. Khalek, a senior program manager in SwRI’s Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division who leads the newly formed consortium. “This consortium will help the industry determine whether certain particle sensors are sensitive to changes in particle size, number, surface area, volume, mass, charge and morphology. It will also help determine how durable and repeatable they are in the harsh exhaust environment.” Test data produced by the consortium will free resources of orignal equipment manufacturers, allowing them to concentrate on product development rather than performing particle-sensor assessments.

Contact Khalek at (210) 522-2536 or


image of PSPD logo

Marty named vice president of SwRI’s Fuels and Lubricants Research Division

Steven D. Marty has been promoted to vice president of the Fuels and Lubricants Research Division at Southwest Research Institute. He was previously director of the Fuels and Lubricants Technology Department.

Marty became an SwRI staff member in 1991 after receiving his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering.

During his more than 20 years at SwRI, he has been involved in lubricants research for gear, automatic transmission and hydraulics, as well as fuels research and fleet testing for both commercial and military applications.

He became manager of the Specialty Fluids Section in 1999 and assistant director of the Fuels and Lubricants Technology Department in 2001. He was named department director in 2003.

As director, his responsibilities included the U.S. Army Tank Automotive, Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility, a government-owned, contractor-operated facility responsible for supporting the warfighter’s needs as regards present and future fuels and lubricants.

In his new role as vice president, he will oversee a staff of more than 400 employees in four departments responsible for one of the Institute’s long-established programs, serving clients worldwide.

Marty holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Texas at San Antonio. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas.

Marty is a member of the Association of the United States Army, the National Defense Industrial Association, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the American Society for Testing and Materials, and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society.

Contact Marty at (210) 522-5929 or


image of IBEX data

New IBEX data show heliosphere’s long-theorized bow shock is missing

New results from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) reveal that the bow shock, widely accepted by researchers to precede the heliosphere as it plows through tenuous gas and dust from the galaxy, does not exist.

According to a paper published in the journal Science online, the latest refinements in relative speed and local interstellar magnetic field strength prevent the heliosphere, the magnetic “bubble” that cocoons Earth and the other planets, from developing a bow shock. The bow shock would consist of ionized gas or plasma that abruptly and discontinuously changes in density in the region of space that lies straight ahead of the heliosphere.

“The sonic boom made by a jet breaking the sound barrier is an earthly example of a bow shock,” said Dr. David McComas, principal investigator of the IBEX mission and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “As the jet reaches supersonic speeds, the air ahead of it can’t get out of the way fast enough. Once the aircraft hits the speed of sound, the interaction changes instantaneously, resulting in a shock wave.”

For about a quarter century, researchers believed that the heliosphere moved through the interstellar medium at a speed fast enough to form a bow shock. IBEX data have shown that the heliosphere actually moves through the local interstellar cloud at about 52,000 miles per hour, roughly 7,000 miles per hour slower than previously thought — slow enough to create more of a bow “wave” than a shock.

“While bow shocks certainly exist ahead of many other stars, we’re finding that our Sun’s interaction doesn’t reach the critical threshold to form a shock, so a wave is a more accurate depiction of what’s happening ahead of our heliosphere — much like the wave made by the bow of a boat as it glides through the water,” said McComas.

Another influence is the magnetic pressure in the interstellar medium. IBEX data, as well as earlier Voyager observations, show that the magnetic field is stronger in the interstellar medium requiring even faster speeds to produce a bow shock. Combined, both factors now point to the conclusion that a bow shock is highly unlikely.

The IBEX team combined its data with analytical calculations and modeling and simulations to determine the conditions necessary for creating a bow shock. Two independent global models — one from a group in Huntsville, Ala., and another from Moscow — correlated with the analytical findings.

“It’s too early to say exactly what this new data means for our heliosphere. Decades of research have explored scenarios that included a bow shock. That research now has to be redone using the latest data,” says McComas. “Already, we know there are likely implications for how galactic cosmic rays propagate around and enter the solar system, which is relevant for human space travel.”

IBEX’s primary mission has been to image and map the invisible interactions occurring at the outer reaches of the solar system. Since its launch in October 2008, the spacecraft has also shed new light on the complex structure and dynamics occurring around Earth and discovered neutral atoms coming off the Moon.

Scientists from SwRI; Moscow State University; the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences; University of Bonn, Germany; University of Alabama, Huntsville; and University of New Hampshire were all involved in this study. The paper, “The Heliosphere’s Interstellar Interaction: No Bow Shock,” was published May 10 in the journal Science online, at the Science Express website.

IBEX is the latest in NASA’s series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorer space missions. Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio leads the IBEX mission with teams of national and international partners. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Explorers Program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Contact McComas at (210) 522-5983 or


SwRI joins international technology innovation alliance in China

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has signed an agreement to join Weichai’s International Technology Innovation Alliance for Internal Combustion Engine Reliability, organized by Weichai Power Co. Ltd., of China.

The alliance will serve as a communications platform on innovative technology to improve engine reliability and related research and development capabilities.

“Joining the alliance is a great opportunity to expand our presence in China with one of the largest engine manufacturers in the country,” said Bruce Bykowski, vice president of SwRI’s Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division. “Engine and vehicle development in China is growing at a rapid pace. This alliance should help Weichai address issues in engine development to better serve their market needs.”

Weichai’s main product line comprises 10- and 12-liter heavy-duty engines. Weichai also has divisions that make truck transmissions and heavy-duty trucks. To fuel international expansion plans, the company is currently building a technology center near Chicago.

SwRI uses a multidisciplinary approach to engine design and development. It conducts research and development in areas including combustion, engines, emissions, transmissions and vehicles. It is internationally known for its fuels and lubricants activities, including components and fluids for on-road, off-road, rail and water-borne transportation systems as well as recreational vehicles and stationary power equipment.

Contact Bykowski at (210) 522-2937 or


photo of Robin Canup

Southwest Research Institute’s Canup elected member of National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Robin Canup, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and head of SwRI’s Boulder, Colo. office, was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences for her excellence in original scientific research. Membership in the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Canup will be inducted into the Academy next April during its 150th annual meeting in Washington.

Canup was elected along with 83 others. Currently, there are 2,152 active NAS members. Notable members have included Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and Orville Wright. Nearly 200 living Academy members have won Nobel Prizes.

“This is a great honor for Robin and a great honor for Southwest Research Institute,” said Dr. Jim Burch, vice president of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “Robin’s research has contributed vastly to a better understanding of the formation of our solar system.”

Canup, who joined SwRI in 1998, is well known for her significant contributions to planetary sciences, most notably her studies concerning the formation of planets and their satellites, including her research that demonstrated a single impact from a Mars-sized object could have produced the Earth-Moon system.

Currently, she is a principal investigator for NASA’s Origins of Solar Systems and Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research Programs, and is a co-investigator in the SwRI-led Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution, one of seven teams of NASA’s Lunar Science Institute.

She has received several honors during her career, including the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences’ Harold Urey Prize (2003) and the American Geophysical Union’s Macelwane Medal (2004).

Canup holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Duke University and a master’s degree and doctorate in astrophysical, planetary and atmospheric sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit honor society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to furthering science and technology for the general welfare. Established in 1863, NAS has served to “Investigate, examine, experiment and report upon any subject of science or art” whenever called upon to do so by the government. For more information, visit

Contact Canup at (303) 546-9670 or


photo of Dr. William R. Ward

Ward named Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Dr. William R. Ward, an Institute scientist in the Planetary Science Directorate at Southwest Research Institute, has been named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The 2012 class of inductees includes leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts. Academy members contribute to Academy publications and studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, the humanities and culture, and education. As a theoretical dynamicist, Ward has a long history in developing the theory of planet/disk interactions and the resulting migration of planetary orbits, as well as in the formation and dynamical evolution of planetary and satellite systems. He has published more than 100 papers on these and related topics.

Ward is particularly known for helping to formulate the giant impact theory of lunar formation, discovering the oscillations in Mars’ polar axis that drive strong martian climate variation over time, and discovering numerous aspects of the complex and subtle dynamical interactions between young planetary objects and gaseous or particle disks.

“William Ward has made many fundamental contributions to our understanding of how planets and satellites form and dynamically evolve,” says Dr. Robin Canup, associate vice president of the Planetary Science Directorate. “Multiple aspects of planetary science would be very different today were it not for his groundbreaking research.”

Other inductees of the Academy’s class of 2012 include Robert P. Colwell, chief architect of Intel’s Pentium microprocessors; George F. Bass, a pioneer in underwater archeology; film icons Clint Eastwood and Mel Brooks; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Ward holds bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Missouri (Kansas City) and a doctorate in planetary sciences from the California Institute of Technology. The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society awarded him the prestigious Kuiper Prize in planetary sciences in 2011. He also received the Brouwer Award from the AAS Division on Dynamical Astronomy in 2004. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ward will be inducted Oct. 6, 2012, at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

Contact Ward at (303) 546-9670 or

Benefiting government, industry and the public through innovative science and technology
Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 9 technical divisions.