Monday, July 18, 2011

Awesome article on explosives research

From today's Chemical and Engineering News, an article by Jyllian Kemsley on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories' High Explosive Applications Facility:
When working hands-on with explosives, safety is a paramount concern, and safety features are obvious in the warren of hallways of the HEAF laboratories. To start, hallway floors are painted with a white path in the middle. If an explosive detonates next to a concrete wall, it will send a shock wave through the concrete and blow off the far side, Maienschein explains. People carrying samples through the hall must stay on the white path, so that if something happens, it won’t affect an adjacent lab. 
Lab entrances are also color-coded: blue for no explosives, green for up to 100 g, orange for 1 kg, and yellow for 10 kg. Labs designed for larger amounts have thicker walls and mazelike entrance halls meant to allow a pressure wave from an explosion to dissipate before it gets out of the room. Whiteboards state how many people can enter a lab and are used to keep track of who’s there. The corridor rated for 10 kg has a system of warning lights to ensure that multiple people don’t enter at the same time and exceed the limit. [snip] 
A separate gun tank also enables researchers to do “insult” tests to see what would happen when a bullet or some other projectile hits an explosive or other material. “If you want to know what happens to the fuselage of a B-52 bomber if an AK-47 shoots at it, we can do that,” firing operations manager Cracchiola says. Also, if someone has an idea for how to disable roadside bombs by shooting at them, HEAF can test the approach.
Go over there to read the whole thing and (if that's your bag) check out the interesting synthetic challenge that they were tackling. [ACS login required.] You know, that sounds like a pretty cool place to work.

The safety details about these places is pretty fascinating; I'm always curious to know how well the rules are enforced. (I assume they're enforced quite rigidly, and folks aren't tempted to break them.)

For those who think they might be interested in explosives research, the postings from the different places that perform such work pop up in ACS Careers listings now and again. From what I understand, there are a variety of places around the country that perform research into energetic materials; once you have clearance to work in the field, it's a lot easier to move from job to job, I suspect. 


  1. I remember reading about explosives research and conversing with my lecture class when I was a grad student. All I kept thinking was 'gosh... how terrifying would it be to be a lowly grad student in a high-explosives lab?' Can you imagine group meetings:

    boss: 'uhh.... no, that's not explosive enough. Go spend another week on it and report back at next group meeting.'
    me: :-<

  2. Unstable IsotopeJuly 18, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    I get to break things in my job but not blow things up.

  3. The *smallest* lab is rated to 100g? How big is the one for 20 kg? A freakin' football pitch??

  4. When I was a kid, about fifty years ago, I made and tested many of the traditional explosives, pyrotechnic mixtures and rocket fuels in my back yard lab. It was the most fun I ever had with chemicals. Today such home lab studies are impossible as they are now quite illegal.

    I actually looked for such a job back in the 70's but those guys were laying off people back then because the war and space race were ending, so I went into drug research instead.

    This area is still a facinating bit of chemistry with some really nifty new high energy compounds being published from time to time. Wiley has published a couple new books over the past several years covering the modern chemistry of explosives/high energy compounds. They are excellent reads if one is curious about this chemistry.

  5. Unstable IsotopeJuly 18, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    There is some fascinating synthesis associated with explosive compounds.

  6. I suppose now is as good as a time as any to plug Dynamite Chemistry, a blog by an energetics researcher.

  7. I have recently started a blog as well as an energetics researcher


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