National experts laud WSU’s role in security R&D

Nuclear stockpiles, national security and Washington State University’s newest building were the big issues on campus Wednesday as four national security experts stressed the importance of university research.

Hannelore Sudermann
Staff writer Spokesman Review

The key contribution universities make is training the future scientists and technology experts, they said, pointing to the success of WSU’s shock physics program, which has trained experts for the nation’s nuclear and energy laboratories.

"We need people who can handle impossible challenges," said David Crandall, assistant deputy administrator of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration. "Universities are required for us to get them."

Speaking to an audience of about 100, the experts said that universities provide other pieces important to the national security system, such as promoting scientific interaction, maintaining ties to the international community, guarding intellectual and political honesty and providing long-range perspective, said the experts.

"Almost no one has an opportunity to do things on a time scale the university has," said Jay Davis, former director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In Washington, D.C., most political appointments last four years. Nuclear stockpile maintenance and national security require decades of attention, he said.

"You folks should seize and hold the long term," he said.

Leonard Peters, director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, took the list of contributions further to include students who are not destined to become scientists.

"The universities have to help develop a scientific and technology literate society," he said. They also must produce the policy-makers and the international relations experts, he said.

National security used to be all about the Cold War, said Victor Reis, former assistant director of the DOE. Now it’s about many things, including climate change, radical Islam, distribution of wealth and energy and resources, terrorism, regional conflict, and the breakdown of nation states. "They’re all related," he said.

The university’s challenge now is to adapt to the post-Cold War environment and provide interdisciplinary research and learning, said Reis.

The speakers were all associates of WSU physicist Yogendra Gupta and had come to campus to celebrate the grand opening of the new Shock Physics building, a $12.4 million facility on Stadium Way near the main campus entrance.

During Gupta’s tenure as director, the Shock Physics Institute has garnered millions in defense funding, including a $10 million Department of Energy grant made in 1997 and a $18 million, five-year extension announced last year.

The shock wave research going on at WSU looks into how chemical and physical properties of substances change under rapid and intense pressure. The science helps nuclear scientists learn how the nuclear component of a weapon may be changing without having to actually test the weapon.

The new shock physics facility replaces the basement home for the institute in the Webster science building. Several people from the institute likened the old laboratory to a submarine.

"There’s no comparison," said engineer Kurt Zimmerman of his new workplace. "The other one was cramped and dark. This one is open, has outside light. Here we have so much more versatility."

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