The latest in fashion for bees this summer—a high-tech tracking backpack—also may help find millions of landmines scattered throughout the world.
If honeybees can be trained to seek the chemical components of explosives, the ability to track bees and analyze their hives could help pinpoint landmines or unexploded ammunition on firing ranges or old battlefields.
Engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have modified commercially available radio-frequency tags for bees to "wear" so they can be identified. Special electronics and software also designed by Pacific Northwest are mounted on man-made beehives to "read" the identification of each bee from the tiny tags.
Researchers hope that while bees are out foraging for pollen they'll also pick up traces of the chemicals found in explosives that leak from landmines into soil and water.
"Bees are like flying dust mops. Wherever they go, they pick up dust, airborne chemicals and other samples," said Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, an entomologist at the University of Montana, who is coordinating this project. Bromenshenk has pooled resources from three federal agencies and three national laboratories to conduct this research, which is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense.
In a field test in May, several bees were outfitted with the tags, each weighing less than a grain of rice. Pacific Northwest engineers determined that the radio-frequency fields didn't interfere with bee activity, but that the tags should be made smaller to lessen the impact on bees' flight. Sokymat of Switzerland and its U.S. representative, North American Research Inc., are working to reduce the size of the tags.
A second field test at Sandia National Laboratories will study 50 tagged bees to determine the greatest distance bees can forage and how long it would take them to reach the landmines. In that test, a reader will track each time a bee leaves the hive, which way it is heading and when it returns. A system of analysis tools being developed by Sandia, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Environmental Protection Agency will be installed in the hives to scan for chemicals such as TNT.
Schools want to buy more books but are short on funds. Cities would like to hire additional police officers when there's no money in the budget. For the last five years, a national program has helped communities overcome financial obstacles like these by assisting with projects that result in lower utility bills.
The U.S. Department of Energy created Rebuild America to establish self-sustaining community partnerships that pursue opportunities to save energy. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory provides technical assistance and coordinates the products and services for the $7 million national program.
"The focus is communities. They have the resources but often lack the technical knowledge or coordination to make it happen," said Chip Larson of Pacific Northwest who serves as Rebuild America's nationwide product and services manager and as a program representative for several partnerships.
A school district, an assisted housing development, a city or even an entire state can form a partnership. Some of the 220 partnerships in place include the city of Portland, Ore., the state of Nebraska and the University of Idaho.
Portland's partnership brings together the two private electric utilities and the gas company that serve the city, the Portland Public School District, the Oregon Department of Energy and the local chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association.
"It gives us an opportunity to work together and we're seeing results," said Curt Nichols of the city of Portland's energy office. Focusing primarily on commercial buildings and multifamily dwellings, more than 47.5 million square feet of building space have been improved, helping businesses save $3.6 million a year.
Partnerships choose which buildings to renovate, how much energy they should try to save and the best technologies to use—whatever best meets local needs. As the umbrella organization, Rebuild America provides a nationwide network of support and technical assistance, bringing together laboratory resources, subcontractors and other partnerships in the program.
Pacific Northwest developed two tools that have proven extremely useful to the Rebuild America program. The Information Management System provides partnerships a system for web-based information exchange with library and reporting features. The Facility Energy Decision System software quickly and easily determines the optimum energy-efficiency improvements for a building or set of buildings.
Would replacing a building's heating system save enough in energy costs to be worthwhile? Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created a tool to help answer how to make a building more energy efficient and whether it's worth the cost.
Windows-based and user-friendly, the Facility Energy Decision System software quickly and objectively identifies the energy improvements that offer maximum savings. The software creates a building prototype from simple information such as the building's size, location and the year it was built. From there, users can review and edit all of the inferred engineering inputs if they desire.
Whether assessing a single office building or every school in an education district, the program can identify the best retrofits based on minimum life cycle costs and economic opportunity. It develops an optimum set of retrofits from a database of thousands of proven technologies in heating, cooling, lighting, motors, building shell and water heating.
The software even can provide information about how projects will impact carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions.
DOE is funding the software package specifically for use on federal and state projects and programs. Pacific Northwest is interested in licensing the software to a commercial partner so that private companies can use it as well.
In the age of the Internet, the theft or manipulation of critical information poses a much more serious problem than vandalism or the mysterious disappearance of physical goods—and it's much harder to detect or prevent.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is creating a unique facility to conduct comprehensive research on detecting and defending cyber attacks. The main feature of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Analysis Laboratory is a completely isolated network for simulated attacks without the potential of harming real-world applications.
"When it comes to hacking, you can't test your system while its working," said Wayne Meitzler of Pacific Northwest's information science and engineering organization. "Imagine an airline learning about a security problem by bringing down the entire reservation system during a test."
Meitzler and his colleagues are pulling together a representative sample of the various types of computers, operating systems and even simulated remote monitoring and control systems, and putting them all in one place. "The different versions of Windows, UNIX, different architectures and different kinds of chips—we'll have one of everything," Meitzler said.
The facility is being developed to support Pacific Northwest's national security and counterterrorism efforts. It will serve as a safe test-bed for evaluating existing technology, for research and development and for independent verification and validation of cyber systems. Eventually it also will be a training tool. The system will feign cyber attacks, creating unique scenarios every time, so people can learn how to defend their systems and test what they've learned.
In addition to using the facility to meet internal needs, Pacific Northwest is looking for clients who are interested in technology, capabilities, services or collaboration to protect national critical infrastructure and in the broader area of information assurance.