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Welcome to the January 2013 Communicator

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By Brian Boyer
INMM Communicator Editor
E-mail: bboyer@lanl.gov

It's winter in Los Alamos and I've been slow to get the Communicator out as I was gone on a lot of travel in the fall, which included the INMM Executive Committee Meeting in Indian Wells, Calif., in November. 

This issue needs a bit of inspiration because of the tough fiscal climate we are operating under and the looming difficulties in getting participants from the United States to conferences. I feel deeply that professional societies provide a huge service to their members in creating opportunities for sharing ideas, building alliances, shrinking the planet by bridging cultural and language gaps, and making friendships and relationships that make the careers we hold better and more exciting. We have been trying to nurture students and young professionals in INMM over the last few years and doing a good job of it.

My fear is that with the financial straits we are in both in the United States and abroad that they will be discouraged by their immediate career prospects. I think that this is where we as INMM members must work tirelessly to lead the next generation to keep them motivated. Certainly my own career was far from a linear ascent through glowing success after success. I had many false starts, failures, resets and reevaluations of where I was going. I only got into nuclear material management at 38 at the International Atomic Energy Agency and it had taken me 12 years of part-time and full-time graduate school to get my Ph.D. only five years before that. I only made it to where I am today by the help at key points in my career by people who saw something of worth in me and were willing to stake their name on my future performance. Can we do less for the next generation?

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Greetings from Los Alamos, New Mexico – Jan. 3, 2013 – Anderson Overlook viewing Sangre de Cristos decked in snow and clouds

I had a very illuminating conversation with one of my new colleagues in our new group, NEN-5 (NEN = Nuclear Engineering and Nonproliferation). Pat McClure is part of a team working to build a simple fission reactor prototype called Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF). DUFF is the first demonstration of a space nuclear reactor system to produce electricity in the United States since 1965. The experiment was taken from concept to completion in six months for less than $1 million, and was made possible through Los Alamos’s Laboratory-Directed Research and Development Program (LDRD), which is funded by a small percentage of the Laboratory’s overall budget to invest in new or cutting-edge research. (YouTube story: http://ow.ly/ggCsh and KRSN Radio http://www.krsnam1490.com/InterviewStreaming/McClure-121712.mp3). Pat told me they did this to do something exciting and inspiring and push the technology forward and give NASA more power for deep space missions. It would be something that gets young engineers and scientists excited about coming to work and being innovative and clever.

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INMM's own Charlie Harmon introducing New Mexico's own Dr. Harrison Schmidt,
former U.S. Senator from New Mexico and the 12th man to walk on
the moon in December 1972 at ANS Trinity Chapter meeting in November 1972

Pat and I talked about what inspired us to be engineers. I grew up watching the American moon program. Those under 50 may have a hard time imagining how the excitement about sending a man to the moon attracted many of us over 50 to want to be scientists and engineers. I turned on "Captain Kangaroo" one summer day in 1965 and found Walter Cronkite broadcasting the Gemini 5 launch. I was hooked at 7 on science and technology. It was the "New Frontier." We had a talk in 2008 at the ANS Trinity Chapter meeting in Santa Fe from Harrison Schmidt who was on the last Apollo mission to the moon now over just over forty years ago. Those of us kids from the ‘60s have yellowing scrapbooks from 1969 that talk about going to Mars in the 1980s optimally, in the 1990s if the funding climate got tough and around the millennium at worst. It is now 2013 and Mars seems farther away today than it did in 1969. The Apollo astronauts and Russian cosmonauts of that era are now old men and dying off. Not only did they not get a chance to go to Mars but probably will not see men again leave the orbit of the earth in their lifetimes. My picture this month shows me standing at the Kennedy Space Center on the beach with the launch sites of the Apollo moon missions behind me. This is the only spot on the planet where men have left the globe to touch the surface of an alien world – pretty heady stuff to ponder. They not only did that but took Pu-238 on RTGs to drive their experiments. Nuclear materials management by men on an alien world existed more than 40 years ago. Today RTGs still drive the Voyager space probes as they head outside the solar system more than 30 years after leaving our world and giving us stunning photos and data from the outer solar system. There will be challenges for nuclear materials management and engineering in the future.

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Apollo RTG driven experiments – Brian Boyer and son with Dr. Schmidt –
Voyager heading to the stars through the solar system

You may ask, "What is your point, old man?" My point is, where are the challenges for the next generation? What will inspire my son and his generation to stretch their minds the way Jack Kennedy challenged us at Rice in 1962: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

Science and engineering is hard. We do it because it is a challenge and we want to push ourselves and the bounds of what man can achieve. Pat McClure told me about this study he stumbled onto, "RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us,” which you can see in this video on YouTube:

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It turns out that reward and punishment work well at very mechanical tasks but drop off when cognitive skills are needed. If a person is paid well enough so as not to be obsessed with having enough to survive, then that person is motivated by the following:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

When we looked at the moon program, Pat and I noted that the NASA management gave the contractors and NASA employees enough leeway to go and attack the incredibly hard tasks of creating materials, computers and machines inconceivable of in the ‘50s with the goal of sending humans not only to the moon but bringing them back within a decade: Autonomy; mastery; purpose. What can we learn from that era? We – those of us in management and leadership – must provide autonomy, mastery and purpose to our staffs and especially our young people.

We all know that the push to micromanage has been a detriment but we must speak up and lead. As Kennedy said of the tasks of going to the moon and being a relevant nation on the planet, "... not because they are easy, but because they are hard." However, I see in INMM many people willing to push the envelope and give their all for the profession and the future going beyond their own work responsibilities and volunteering for the rest of us. Let's all go out this new year and inspire someone. Our profession has many challenges for the future in managing nuclear material stocks, creating new materials for detectors, creating a coherent safety, security, and safeguards culture, and forging realistic and dynamic policies for nuclear material management and the nonproliferation regime.

Our Southwest Chapter is doing its part in engaging the powers to be in our dinner meeting in Santa Fe on Friday January 11. We are having a panel discussion with key leadership from Los Alamos, Sandia and the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), all of which are in our chapter's territory:

  • Terry Wallace (LANL)
  • Rodney Wilson (SNL) and
  • Ray Juzaitis (NNSS managed by National Security Technologies [NSTec])

The panelists will respond to prepared questions on the future of the Nuclear Security Enterprise and issues of importance to Nuclear Material Management. We will also have time for audience questions. It was a major effort to have three high level people from the labs in our region join us but the kind of effort INMM needs to do to lead in the profession and our chapter has been doing.

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Secretary Chris Pickett, President Ken Sorenson, Vice President Larry Satkowiak, Immediate Past President Scott Vance, new Member at Large Mona Dreicer at the INMM Executive Committee Meeting in Indian Wells, Calif.

I would like to take a minute after that long pep talk and mention the EC meeting in Indian Wells, Calif., and where INMM is going in the next few months. I'd like to welcome Mark Schanfein and Ruth Duggan to the EC and Larry Satkowiak as the new vice president. New president Ken Sorenson, who just move up from vice president, is working hard to make sure that, even with the new restrictive conference attendance rules in place, we have good attendance at the annual meeting and we can show the U.S. Department of Energy just how important and relevant INMM is to nonproliferation and materials management.

Please note that we will be going to Indian Wells for the annual meeting in 2015 and 2017. This is a fine facility similar to the one in Palm Desert. This year we will be returning to Palm Desert, CA just down the road from the Esmeralda in Indian Wells.

Abstracts are due for the annual meeting on Feb. 1, 2013. All students should be aware that they need to get their abstracts in on time to be eligible for the student paper and poster contests.

In this issue we have features on the two of our technical divisions from Shirley Cox, chair of the Facilities Operations Technical Division, and Susan Pepper, a member of the International Safeguard Technical Division, describing their divisions’ activities. As in every issue of the Communicator, we have news about the Institute’s internal operations in a column by INMM Vice President Larry Satkowiak, Inside Insights.

Be sure to read about INMM Awards and the new award developed to recognize the achievement of our younger members: The New Early Career Award.

Also in this issue:

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. I especially want to involve the new generation in a task I have with the EC on improving the INMM website. Charlie Harmon, Chris Pickett and I met in Indian Wells to figure out how to better serve the members by our website. It would be great if we got more input on what you are doing around the world in nuclear materials management. If you have any other items you would like to have in the Communicator, please forward them to me. We are the Communications Committee!

Spreading the news of what is and what goes on in our profession is our mission!

Of course, the Communications Committee is still looking for volunteers. Drop me a line at bboyer@lanl.gov.Our members should be planning ahead for July 2013 and the 54th Annual Meeting back at Palm Desert, Calif., USA.