Trending News
Home / Technology / Material / U.S. DOD developing Materials for Extreme Environments through MSEE URA Research Alliance for National Security against rising WMD and HAND threat

U.S. DOD developing Materials for Extreme Environments through MSEE URA Research Alliance for National Security against rising WMD and HAND threat

The threat posed by the use and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is rising, a Defense Department official told a House Armed Services Committee panel. China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations have, or are pursuing, WMD capabilities that could threaten the United States or U.S. interests, Theresa Whelan, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, said at a Feb. 2020 hearing of the subcommittee on intelligence and emerging threats and capabilities. “[The] WMD threat landscape is continuously changing,” Whelan told the panel. “Rapid biotechnology advances are increasing the potential, variety and ease of access to biological weapons.”


The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) states, “Nevertheless, global threat conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent, 2010 NPR. There now exist an unprecedented range and mix of threats, including major conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space, and cyber threats, and violent non-state actors. International relations are volatile. Russia and China are contesting the international norms and order we have worked with our allies, partners, and members of the international community to build and sustain. Some regions are marked by persistent disorder that appears likely to continue and possibly intensify. These developments have produced increased uncertainty and risk, demanding a renewed seriousness of purpose in deterring threats and assuring allies and partners.”


In 2017, Kim  succeeded in  developing  an ICBM operational capability through which it can  deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere in the United States, according to analysis based on Images released by North Korea. North Korea released dozens of photos and a video after 29 Nov launch of the new Hwasong-15 missile, and leader Kim Jong Un declared the country had “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force”. In an analysis for the Washington-based 38 North think tank, missile expert Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said the North Korean photos showed a missile considerably larger than its predecessor. “Initial calculations indicate the new missile could deliver a moderately sized nuclear weapon to any city on the US mainland,” Elleman said.  Elleman said the missile was large and powerful enough to carry simple decoys or other countermeasures to challenge US missile defences.


These Nuclear weapons will cause  extreme high strength  electromagnetic pulse commonly abbreviated as EMP,  caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles, which could cause  widespread destruction of electronics. The research will develop multifunctional shielding materials that incorporate electromagnetic pulse (EMP) shielding. The project collateral effect of such high altitude nuclear detonation, will be loss of  hundreds of  vital military  LEO satellites. Such a HAND event shall result in intense radiation in VAN ALLEN BELTS, elimination of low radiation slot in between them or creation of new artificial radiation belts. The contract, which could extend to nine years, also includes an effort to devise materials capable of protecting communication satellites from being rendered inoperable by a nuclear explosion in space.


Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)’s  Materials Science in Extreme Environments University Research Alliance (MSEE URA)

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) safeguards America and its allies from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and provides capabilities to reduce, eliminate, and counter the threat and effects from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives. DTRA seeks to identify, adopt, and adapt emerging, existing and revolutionary sciences that may demonstrate high payoff potential to Counter-WMD (C-WMD) threats. As a combat support agency, DTRA provides both operational support and specialized capabilities in science and technology (S&T). The Agency is the premier Department of Defense (DoD) source of science-based WMD expertise and a sponsor of basic research focused exclusively on WMD threat reduction. Overcoming the most difficult technical challenges for combatting WMD requires revolutionary advancements in S&T. Only strategic investment in basic research will lead to the scientific breakthroughs needed for future WMD threat reduction.


DTRA is seeking to develop the capability to understand material properties and associated mechanisms in various extreme environments that may lead to future exploitation. The approach is to realize a materials and properties capability by establishing a new University Research Alliance (URA) focused on Materials Science in Extreme Environments (MSEE). The focus of the MSEE-URA will be to advance the fundamental understanding of various material properties and mechanisms in non-equilibrium high pressure, high temperature, and high photon number regimes.DTRA seeks to develop an increased understanding of effects of WMD and C-WMD events on materials and the effects of those materials on the events. This includes both the testing, characterizing, and modeling of material as well as control and manipulation of materials to achieve the desired results. An enhanced understanding of fundamental properties may lead to significant advances for the warfighter.


A wide range of WMD-relevant environments are of interest including: conventional fireballs, nuclear fireballs, photon-induced blow-off, plasmas, and warm dense matter. These environments are challenging not only due to the temperatures, pressures, and energies involved, but also the rapid evolution of the environments and the need to model across multiple time, energy, and physical time scales. Limited experimental testing opportunities and diagnostics adds to the challenge of understanding material responses in these extreme environments. A comprehensive integrated and collaborative approach is required to make progress on these challenges.


Fundamental studies of materials in harsh, WMD relevant environments including physical properties of several material classes, materials engineering, and high temperature (plasma) chemistry, are vital to understanding material-WMD interactions in relevant environments. A successful program will demonstrate a comprehensive capability to address materials and their associated physical and engineering properties, as well as chemical mechanisms within relevant and harsh regimes.


The  MSEE-URA program

The foundational problem to be addressed by the MSEE-URA is the lack of knowledge and predictive modeling capability for various material classes and their associated formation/decomposition mechanisms within harsh Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-related environments. That lack of knowledge poses a challenge in the ability to control and exploit future material-WMD interactions. To address this problem, the MSEE-URA seeks proposals focusing on understanding, controlling, characterizing, and predicting interactions of materials in extreme pressure, temperature, and optical environments.


The University Research Alliance will “advance the fundamental understanding of materials and chemistries under extreme conditions of pressure, temperature, and radiation.” The consortium’s work will produce diagnostic tools, advanced materials, and models that the team will help transition into applied research programs at DTRA. “We cannot fully understand that which we cannot observe,” Hufnagel said.


The group will use and enhance “innovative experimental facilities and diagnostics that permit critical, as-yet-unachievable observations of materials under extreme conditions” common when countering weapons of mass destruction. Such facilities include the Johns Hopkins University’s Hypervelocity Facility for Impact Research Experiments (HyFIRE) with x-ray, laser, hyperspectral, and video diagnostics; the University of Rochester’s Omega Laser Facility with x-ray and particle diagnostics tools; and the University of Illinois’ blast chamber with high-resolution infrared transmission spectroscopy.


“We aim to understand and predict how materials behave in two extreme environments of relevance to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s mission: an explosive fireball intended to defeat chemical and biological warfare agents and a mid-phase nuclear fireball interacting with its surroundings,” Weihs said.

The four research areas for the MSEE-URA are as follows and include possible desired research outcomes within those four research areas.

• Material Properties and Failure – (a) Produce materials constitutive models and failure models applicable at fast rates (102 – 106 s-1) for hard rock and cementitious materials,; (b) Experimentally identify material properties contributing to sensitivity of energetics and composite materials (including reactives and additively manufactured materials); (c) Identify material property/numerical sources of uncertainty and sensitivities for nuclear models.


• Materials Development and Manufacturing for Synergistic Effects – (a) Develop structure-function-property relationships of additively manufactured reactive materials, additive manufacturing of multifunctional nanocomposites, ignition/combustion, dynamic imaging of post combustion fields; (b) Fabricate multifunctional shielding materials that incorporate electromagnetic pulse (EMP) shielding while maintaining other requirements such as weight, cost, ballistic protection, ionizing radiation protection; (c) Identify combinations of energetics/non-energetic materials that produce synergistic effects and/or identify material properties that may lend well to tailored performance.


• Chemistry in Extreme Environments – (a) Construct validation models that predict nuclear fireball behavior in complex urban environments and identify fundamental experimental measurements that could improve models. (b) Develop high temperature/high heating rate chemical mechanisms and associated Arrhenius kinetic models for low vapor pressure organophosphorous species.


• Photon-Material Interactions – (a) Improve understanding and predictive models of X-ray energy deposition, material blow-off, and plasma generation and evolution for ensuring the survivability of space solar arrays and strategic systems; (b) Improve models, materials, and approaches for utilizing direct laser impulse testing to simulate blow-off impulse of strategic systems.


X-ray Induced Blow-off and Plasma

The majority of the energy in an exo-atmospheric nuclear explosion is released as an X-ray pulse. X-ray induced thermo-mechanical shock (TMS) from exo-atmospheric nuclear explosions can be a threat to DoD systems.


Due to the short penetration depth of X-rays in most materials, this X-ray pulse can cause the surface layers of a material to rapidly ablate, blow-off, and form a plasma. In addition to material surface damage and damage to exposed optics and sensors, this pulse can impart a shock wave on systems and potentially generate conductive plasmas on the surfaces of sensors or solar arrays. System level testing for X-ray effects is limited by source availability, vacuum requirements, and additionally complicated by fast moving debris. Research in this area is expected to be predominately modeling and simulation informed by experiments, as available and appropriate.


Testing for TMS using X-rays is complicated by source availability, vacuum requirements, debris, and uniformity limits. Testing using explosives or magnet flyer plates is complicated by complex system shapes and limited availability. Pulsed laser based techniques have the potential to simulate X-ray blow-off and TMS.

The MSEE-URA is seeking basic research on the fundamental interactions of x-rays with matter including: transport, penetration, blow-off, ionization and shock wave generation. Of particular interest is the time evolution and time dependence of X-ray interactions with matter. For example, the initial blow-off and plasma formation will change the opacities and energy absorption properties for the rest of the pulse duration. Time evolution is also critical to understanding and modeling shock generation, intensity, and timing/waveform.


RA2—FA3: Characterize and Predict Physical/Chemical Effects in Turbulent Environments

Novel energetic materials with thermal and chemical/catalytic neutralization mechanisms are being investigated for future defeat/denial scenarios. Reducing collateral effects, using these novel materials, requires accurate simulation of the relevant species and reactions followed by turbulent mixing and plume evolution. Recent advances by researchers have developed simulation models to describe some of the mechanistic phenomena. However, there is still a lack of understanding across the field as to how detonation/combustion products and key species interact in turbulent conditions with elevated temperature, pressure, and numerous species. Further, predicting where and when the fireball or detonation products are hot (thermal profile) enough to neutralize agents, requires modeling the shock and detonation-induced instabilities that lead to turbulent mixing. However, it is difficult to accurately characterize the highly-heterogeneous and dynamic post-blast environment due to the lack of reliable experimental data, and computational and simulation models.


WMD are encountered in environments/areas with various geometrical shapes and level of accessibility such as inside bunkers, open air, large processing buildings with multiple or single rooms. The performance of C-WMD materials in these would varying accordingly, hence, the MSEE-URA seeks to understand the turbulent mixing of aerosolized biological and chemical simulants in atmospheres with high temperature, reactive gases, and catalytic particles. Research in computational fluid dynamics is needed to develop a novel approach to describe the mixing phenomena, and ultimately neutralization, of aerosolized biological and chemical simulants. Investigation on functions that describe turbulence and experiments on small scale mixing are needed in time scales of 10-5000 ms. For future decision making purposes, the MSEE-URA seeks models describing turbulence and mixing dynamics in an extreme environment and includes quantification of measurement and model uncertainties.


RA2—FA1: Multimodal Shielding

Nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) including aircrafts, ground vehicles, ships and transportable mission critical systems must be hardened against high altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP). HEMP is generated by a high altitude nuclear detonation primarily by gamma ray’s Compton interaction with air molecules. HEMP travels at the speed of light and is picked up by electrical conductors and antennas by the electromagnetic coupling.


There are several phases of HEMP which are distinguished by the time of arrival. Firstly, the early time component (E1) of HEMP has a short duration of 1 μs, with a high rise time of a few nanoseconds, and can reach the intensity of several tens of kV/m. This is the most critical portion of the HEMP waveform, with a high frequency of over several hundreds of megahertz dominated by the prompt gamma rays. Secondly, the intermediate time component (E2) of HEMP has an intermediate duration of 1 μs to 1 s from the effect of secondary gamma rays. Finally, the late time component (E3) of HEMP has a long duration of 1 s, to several hundreds of seconds, with a decaying waveform emanating from the interaction of Compton electrons with the Earth’s magnetic field, which has similarities with a geomagnetic storm. The high frequency and amplitude of HEMP induce high current and voltage that can cause severe damage to electronic systems.


To protect against HEMP, Faraday cage principles are applied to form a continuous shielding enclosure that provides good electrical and magnetic conductive planes. Metal wires with good ferromagnetic properties are usually chosen to design a Faraday cage. However, these wires can be embedded in other materials to develop a composite material such as conductive concrete. Nanometals and nanofoams with better electrical and magnetic properties that are embedded in the composite matrix to create metal enclosure, could also be considered for HEMP shielding. Another potential option is the use of conductive polymer composites for HEMP shielding. In addition to HEMP protection, the goal of a shielding material is to provide protection against shock and penetration from conventional weapons.
The MSEE-URA seeks basic research in innovative multimodal shielding materials that provide protection from EMP, in addition to blast, shock, and penetration. Nanoscale composites and networks, as well as higher order structures, are also potentially of interest. However, simply adding conductive material to known shielding materials is not generally of interest.


The MSEE-URA also seeks basic research on innovative approaches for the fabrication and manufacture of multimodal shielding. Additive manufacturing could be a viable method of fabricating reinforced composite shielding materials. Methods to align and integrate a carbon nanotube network or other novel materials would also be of potential interest. The MSEE-URA further seeks basic research in novel EMP shielding concepts. This could include directional EMP shielding that is, or can be made, transparent to desired electromagnetic signals without losing its functionality against EMP.


RA2—FA2: Tailoring Chemistry via Materials

Chemical and Biological agents used as WMD are delivered as part of weapon payload systems. These agents exist in the form of solids (particulates), gases, liquids, mist (liquid droplets), etc., and are typically located in hostile or non-permissive areas in a wide variety of containers and facilities. Materials that will mitigate the above concern by utilizing multiple and synergistic mechanisms, which lend themselves to performance control by tailoring energy/species output is preferred. Materials which produce combustion products with late time effects, along with pyrophoric characteristics, are of interest (e.g., firebranding).


Prior efforts have focused on materials development for neutralizing biological agents in an ideal (standard pressure and temperature) environment. Efforts geared towards chemical agent pyrolysis and combustion have been limited and focused mainly on thermally driven decomposition pathways of several simulants with physical properties similar to a real agent. Within this FA, the MSEE-URA seeks basic research for identifying energetic and non-energetic material combinations capable of simultaneously neutralizing both biological and chemical agents in extreme environments and which utilize scalable manufacturing processes. As an example, employing additive processes techniques to explore the effect of geometry and composition on chemistry, kinetics, and control energy/species release is of great interest. The MSEE-URA seeks research into the development of novel materials with synergistic effects producing simultaneous neutralization of chemical and biological weapon agents along with their precursors by multi-mechanistic means and understanding of the decomposition chemistry in extreme environments. These environments include significant variations in pressure, temperature, moisture content, and key species concentrations (oxygen rich vs. oxygen deficient). Producing information on decomposition products, to populate thermochemical/kinetic models, is also of interest.


The MSEE-URA is intended to create a collaborative environment that enables an Alliance to advance the state of the art and assist with the transition of research to enhance and predict with confidence the performance of materials of interest to DTRA. DTRA believes that the establishment of the MSEE-URA in conjunction with robust internal mission programs, provides the optimum path to success. Such cooperative efforts enable researchers from across the nation to collaborate more effectively, to deliver results faster, and “to train, mentor, and inspire a new generation of students, many of whom will go on to work at federal laboratories and agencies,” Weihs said.

Internal Collaboration | MSEE URA - Materials Science in Extreme  Environments University Reseach AllianceMSEE URA – Materials Science in Extreme  Environments University Reseach Alliance


MSEE Awards

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is awarding nearly $30 million over five years to establish the Materials Science in Extreme Environments University Research Alliance (MSEE URA), a center directed by Tim Weihs, a professor of materials science and engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering. Weihs is an expert in developing novel materials to defeat chemical warfare agents such as sarin gas and biological agents such as Bacillus anthracis that causes anthrax. The research is expected to advance the types of materials that are capable of eliminating stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons while limiting the collateral damage of such defensive actions. The urgency of developing more efficient materials to defeat such weapons has been amplified by the worldwide health and economic damage inflicted in just a few weeks by COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Defense has selected Johns Hopkins University to lead an alliance of major research institutions in an effort to understand, predict, and control the behavior of materials in extreme conditions caused by weapons of mass destruction. The research is expected to advance the types of materials that are capable of eliminating stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons while limiting the collateral damage of such defensive actions. The urgency of developing more efficient materials to defeat such weapons has been amplified by the worldwide health and economic damage inflicted in just a few weeks by COVID-19.


The award creates the second major university consortium based at Johns Hopkins and funded by the Department of Defense in recent years. The University Research Alliance will be a center within the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI), an institute which bridges the Whiting School of Engineering, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Such cooperative efforts enable researchers from across the nation to collaborate more effectively, to deliver results faster, and “to train, mentor, and inspire a new generation of students, many of whom will go on to work at federal laboratories and agencies,” Weihs said. The University Research Alliance will “advance the fundamental understanding of materials and chemistries under extreme conditions of pressure, temperature, and radiation.” The consortium’s work will produce diagnostic tools, advanced materials, and models that the team will help transition into applied research programs at DTRA.


The alliance of 18 institutions includes four permanent universities, each with a technical expert who will work collaboratively with Weihs to manage the consortium. They include Todd Hufnagel, also from Johns Hopkins, an expert in material properties and failure; Michael Zachariah a leader in materials synthesis from the University of California at Riverside; Nick Glumac, an authority in the chemistry of combustion events from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Farhat Beg, an expert in photon-material interactions from the University of California at San Diego.


In May 2020, The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded cooperative agreements to establish two new University Research Alliances (URAs); these alliances are part of the countering-weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) and improvised threat networks mission. With a combined value of $51.5 million, the alliances will advance CWMD basic research and workforce development and spur new scientific discoveries with the potential to improve current and future warfighter technology. DTRA Research and Development’s (RD) Enabling Capabilities Department will coordinate agency collaboration. “We are excited to begin these new university alliances,” said Dr. Rhys Williams, DTRA’s director for RD. “They mark the beginning of a new era of CWMD basic research for DTRA.”


The two alliances include research leaders in the field of CWMD at large and small universities, historically black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, and smaller institutions in the public and private sector. “Through active collaboration with our new partners, we will have more flexibility to respond to changes in priorities and emerging technical areas,” Williams said.


The first award, the Materials Science in Extreme Environments University Research Alliance (MSEE-URA), will be led by Johns Hopkins University. This alliance is composed of 18 institutions that will collaborate with DTRA personnel to advance the fundamental understanding of material properties and mechanisms in non-equilibrium, high-pressure, high-temperature and high-photon-number regimes.


The MSEE collaboration will focus on a diverse collection of crosscutting research areas. These include material properties and failure, materials manufacturing process compatibility, chemistry in extreme environments, and interaction between photons and other matter. “Building up the nation’s capabilities in the area of scientific research and education has never been more important,” stated U.S. Air Force Colonel Benjamin Ward, chief of DTRA’s Enabling Capabilities Research Division. “By having more scientific minds working on our projects, we can increase our ability to provide solutions to the warfighter.”


The second award, the Interaction of Ionizing Radiation with Matter University Research Alliance (IIRM-URA), will be led by Pennsylvania State University and includes 14 partner institutions. The IIRM-URA will focus on research concerning radiation interacting with materials for detection and electronics; devices and integration; and nuclear survival, response, modeling, and simulation. The IIRM-URA consortium will complement its research activities with a robust outreach program that will connect local high school students with real-world scientists and engineers for mentoring opportunities. IIRM members will spark student interest through a hands-on approach to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and contribute to the growth of the next-generation STEM workforce. “I, for one, believe that it is crucial to our national security that we reach out to students as early as possible during their scientific studies,” remarked Ward.


The alliances will provide support for up to 79 principal investigators, 22 post-doctoral scholars and 60 graduate students. The URAs are expected to produce major scientific breakthroughs that will ultimately contribute to national security, graduate 28 individuals in STEM majors relevant to CWMD and yield 220 peer-reviewed journal articles annually. “The new alliances will address our most important mission challenges by applying cutting-edge science,” said Williams.



References and Resources also include:




About Rajesh Uppal

Check Also

Aluminum alloys are still valuable for aerospace, Russia leader in development

In aerospace applications, materials with high strength to weight ratios along with properties such as …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!