WSU Selected to Establish Shock Physics Institute

The U.S. Department of Energy plans to provide $10 million over the next five years to Washington State University (WSU) researchers to create an Institute for Shock Physics as part of DOE’s strategic investment in selected scientific disciplines important to science based stockpile stewardship.
President Clinton has directed the DOE laboratories to maintain scientific capabilities to sustain a safe and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile without conducting nuclear tests. Shock wave research explores very rapid compression of materials, shock-induced chemical changes, detonation science and the dynamic response of materials at large compressions and deformations. Research in shock physics, nuclear physics and radiation physics furthers understanding of the nation’s enduring and aging nuclear weapons.
“In the absence of testing, it is essential that innovative experiments, novel theoretical approaches, and computational advances be integrated to predict changes in aging nuclear weapons,” said Secretary of Energy Federico Peña. “Washington State University has been the home of some of the nation’s leading shock physics research, and we look forward to the important contributions they will make, working with the department’s laboratories for the nation’s stockpile stewardship program.”
Funding for the WSU institute was announced today by Dr. Victor Reis, the Energy Department’s Assistant Secretary for Defense Programs, who said that the WSU facility will conduct no experiments using nuclear materials and will focus purely on fundamental research.
DOE selected WSU because of its nearly four decades of scientific leadership in this field, state-of-the-art research undertakings, and the noteworthy achievements by WSU alumni at the DOE laboratories. The University’s Shock Dynamics Center is directed by physics Professor Yogendra Gupta, who came to WSU in 1981 and expanded the shock wave research pioneered by George Duvall and others in the 1960s. Besides defense-related research, a stronger and more diversified program in shock wave physics has the potential to address several other technical areas important to the Washington State region, such as aircraft safety questions concerning explosion and impact, environmental issues related to soil remediation, and the synthesis and development of novel materials.
WSU President Samuel Smith called it “an historic day” for the university. “Although a few laboratories conduct research on these fundamental questions, WSU is unique and the oldest among these university laboratories, and has been an important source of scientists for the Department of Energy,” Smith said. “Having the WSU Shock Physics Center become an Institute for Shock Physics in support of the Science Based Stockpile Stewardship program builds upon WSU’s continuing partnership with the Hanford National Engineering Laboratory, a partnership that has existed for nearly as long as the splitting of the atom. The leadership of Dr. Gupta ensures an institute of the highest caliber, advancing science in important ways.”
Gupta directs the research lab’s program, conducted in collaboration with other WSU faculty, visiting scientists, and a cadre of graduate students and postdoctoral research associates. Gupta’s laboratory is filled with computers and sophisticated optical, x-ray and electronic equipment. Its original “gun,” built in 1968, fires 4-inch diameter projectiles down a 40-foot long barrel at speeds in excess of 3,000 miles an hour. When it collides with the target, various sensors and recording equipment analyze the changes occurring at the molecular and atomic levels. Two other “guns,” one that can accelerate projectiles to speeds in excess of 5,000 miles an hour, are now part of the lab’s impact facilities. Measurements are made ranging from a millionth of a second to a trillionth of a second.
The federal funding will support experimental and theoretical work of WSU faculty, students and research associates in a broad range of areas covering physics, chemistry, and materials science. Gupta stressed that an important component of this grant will be WSU’s ability to attract the brightest undergraduate and graduate students to the program.