Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mobile Labs & Kits Lead Joins CBARR as Program Manager

George Noya talks customer-centered design

– In the years following 9/11, new services and capabilities were meeting the needs of an evolving defense market where mobile, on-the-go applications were replacing fixed, permanent solutions. ECBC’s CBRNE Mobile Laboratories & Kits Team partnered with federal agencies to design, fabricate, integrate and validate modular, mobile and semi-permanent analytical capabilities for customers with national and international missions that include the verification of the CWC and WMD countermeasures.

The Mobile Labs & Kits team has since integrated into various Center teams as shrinking budgets forced the unit to disband, but the capability remains an active service offering for customers like the Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who desire upgraded equipment for their mobile laboratories. Now, a former team lead of the group, George Noya, has joined CBARR as a program manager responsible for a mobile ground sensor project, an interagency agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, and the
design and fabrication of custom glove boxes to be used for new emerging threats.

Noya’s experience adds value to CBARR’s deployable laboratory services, which include near real time monitoring for the detection airborne contaminants to ensure worker safety, as well as on-site lab analysis of chemical warfare agents and their breakdown products.

“My approach has always been: let the science drive the engineering, not the engineering drive the science. There are a lot of factors that impact the customization of a mobile lab, including the infrastructure space, air flow and weight of equipment,” Noya explained. These transportable CBRNE analytical platforms require state-of-the-art, novel technologies designed to accurately perform under austere conditions. Robust engineering controls and technical risk assessments specially designed for chemical and biological threat materials significantly reduces the logistical burden while providing data that withstands the most  intensive and critical review.

“The biggest challenge is making sure the equipment is ruggedized enough to be deployed where the customer needs it. Mobile labs are designed to provide incident commanders with a level of accurate information to make quick decisions. Depending on the situation and location, there isn’t time to prepare samples for shipment to a fixed laboratory that can provide a thorough analysis of results. The equipment in the mobile labs can save time and cost while still providing an accurate assessment of the samples,” Noya said.

According to Noya, having the correct engineering controls reduce or eliminate personnel exposure to chemical or physical hazards, as well as ensure the equipment is performing  accurately. For example, Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems and diffusers are designed to mix the air so it remains turbulent, but this can create a disturbance in chemical fume hoods and BSCs. Additionally, some pieces of equipment use a lot of power or are sensitive to vibration and movement, such as electron microscopes.

“I’ve done a lot of work with glove boxes, fume hoods and customized equipment for scientists and research teams in order to work safely with new emerging threats. One of those projects is the new glove box that is going into the McNamara Building. Enrique Faure and I are in the process of fabricating the temperature and humidity control system that will be utilized for the inside chamber,” Noya said.

The McNamara Glove Box Facility recently won ECBC’s 2013 Excellence in Safety Award, which recognized David McCaskey and John Carpin, two scientists in the Research & Technology Directorate. Their design of the facility made significant contributions to existing safety management system initiatives for the “Little Mac” and “Big Mac” glove boxes. This equipment is used for the safe handling of non-traditional agent (NTA) materials at ECBC.

Noya’s experience and contributions across the Center will bolster CBARR’s mobile laboratory capabilities. Unlike the former Mobile Labs and Kits team that was limited to the design and distribution of the platforms, CBARR has the trained and specialized personnel to maintain, repair and sustain the offering for customers carrying out their mission in homeland defense.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Military/Civilian Collaboration at Forefront of Summer Internship

West Point Cadet Shadows CBARR Chemical Engineer on FDHS Project

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – When Sean Crain, a Cadet from the United States Military Academy at West Point, began his summer internship at ECBC, he had no idea he would be on the cutting edge of elimination technology for weapons of mass destruction.

“It’s pretty impressive to neutralize a really dangerous chemical and get it to a point where it is not harmful. It’s also a neat capability to be able to deploy the technology,” said Crain, who spent several weeks at ECBC assisting CBARR develop the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS).

Crain had a unique opportunity to assist on the project. He was one of 10 cadets selected to receive training at ECBC, giving up their summer vacation to received additional laboratory academic credit toward their education. Working alongside chemical and biological experts at the Center as part of the Academy’s Advanced Individual Academic Development (AIAD) program, the cadets were integrated into various ECBC teams, observed scientific processes and implemented concepts from their course work throughout the program. For Crain, he was immersed in the fast track acquisition of the FDHS, whose design-to-fabrication process has since been applauded by government partners and generated the interest of numerous stakeholders.

Crain had been assigned to shadow CBARR Chemical Engineer Adam Baker, who said the cadet’s most direct impact had been conducting calculations regarding the effluent of the system after the water has been evaporated from it. Dealing with mass and material balances in and out of a system is exactly where Crain had left off his learning at West Point prior to his summer internship. He was now putting it into practice.

“For some of our acidic effluent, that involves first neutralizing with sodium hydroxide, which leaves a salt and water byproduct. Sean’s been doing some calculations that determine how much sodium hydroxide you need to neutralize the hydrogen fluoride or hydrogen chloride. After evaporating the water, you can then determine the volume of the remaining salts,” Baker explained.

“You start with a huge amount of effluent, oftentimes thousands of liquid gallons, and once you evaporate the water, you’re left with a relatively small amount of solid remainder. So Sean’s been working on calculating what those amounts would be.”

Baker said Crain’s chemical engineering background has been just as helpful as his military experience, knowing that the FDHS was designed with the Warfighter in mind. Given the circumstance, the technology could transition from civilian-operated to soldier-operated. Because the system is transportable, it is self-sufficient with power generators and a mobile laboratory that needs only consumable materials such as water, reagents and fuel to operate. It can be set up within 10 days of arriving at an onsite location and is equipped with redundant critical systems that ensure maximum system availability. Should the FDHS be deployed, it is possible that CBARR personnel would serve as subject matter experts supporting an onsite crew of 15 trained personnel, who would be needed each shift to operate the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It’s neat to get a fresh set of eyes from someone in the military with a chemical engineering background. Being able to introduce him to the project and see what his thoughts were was a huge help, especially knowing that this system, in the long view, is expected to at first be soldier-assisted and eventually soldier-operated,” Baker said.

According to Crain, this civilian-military interaction is critical when earning higher leadership roles and moving up within a command. He got to witness the dynamic first-hand during his time at ECBC, something he does not often have the chance to do as a junior officer.

“For example, with the FDHS demonstrations, there were a lot of colonels and commanders of the chemical school in attendance. They interact a lot with the chemistry labs, and it’s very important because while the civilian side is designing it, the military side will eventually be the ones operating it. That’s why it’s important to understand that this system is capable of being run by both civilians and the military,” Crain said.

As for his biggest takeaway? “I think I’ll definitely be able to bring back the first-hand knowledge of the new technologies in the Army and how chemical engineering is truly operable to what we need. I’m also going to bring back the relationships and understanding the collaboration between Army personnel and civilians,” he said.

Crain is expected to graduate West Point in two years as a 2nd Lieutenant Officer. In five years he hopes to be serving in the Chemical Corps.