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National Security Directorate

Collaborations/Work with us

Researchers in NSD are collaborating with industry, universities and other laboratories to address the nation's most challenging problems while promoting scientific discovery and education. Our philosophy is that by working together, we will progress faster in tackling challenges while at the same time building PNNL's long-term research capabilities and providing excellent service to our clients.


Our researchers have invented and commercialized a number of technologies for a variety of industries. The following is a sampling of our innovations:

  • Radio Frequency Identification Tags

    PNNL's active radio frequency (RF) tags are true transmitters of information. Powered by a battery, these miniature electronic “tags” can initiate communication with monitoring networks and interfaces. Active RF tags can be read and updated from up to hundreds of meters away. In addition to helping locate items, these systems can be used to monitor temperature, humidity, pressure, shock, leakage and other data that could help determine the physical condition of the items being tracked or monitored.

    PNNL developed semi-passive RF Tags for the Army to detect and locate night-vision goggles in a cluttered battlefield. PNNL's semi-passive tags have been proven in real-world conditions to read and write from distances up to 100 meters. With power from small batteries similar to those found in watches, semi-passive tags can be used to monitor inputs from sensors—even when the tags aren't in the presence of a radio frequency field. As a result, our semi-passive RF tags also can control outputs. These systems can be used to monitor and activate or deactivate items remotely, making them ideal for applications such as alarms, seals or thermostats.

  • 3-D Holographic Body Scanner

    The versatile scanner, using millimeter wave technology, is being used to protect people and property as well as provide body measurements. Imagine the ability to go to the airport and quickly proceed through an accurate and safe security check, without removing your shoes, jewelry or jacket. Or, picture yourself walking into your favorite department store, stepping into a specialized fitting room for a moment, and then stepping out to retrieve a print out that provides the "best fit" for your clothing—from style to size to brand. These and many more applications are possible with this technology.

  • Acoustic Inspection Device (AID)

    This portable, battery-operated, hand-held device uses sound waves to rapidly and reliably "look" into sealed containers. This small, versatile, and affordable tool is being used to rapidly screen bulk containers in the field, checking for materials that can be used to build weapons of mass destruction, containers concealing contraband or illegal substances and/or fraudulently labeled containers. It significantly reduces the amount of time required to screen such shipments, while increasing the accuracy of the screenings.

  • BetaScint

    This fiber optic sensor uses innovative technology to detect short-lived radioisotope daughters of uranium and strontium-90, two of the most prevalent contaminants left over from nuclear power generation and weapons development. Before the development of this novel radiation sensor technology, data on uranium and strontium contamination could only be obtained by expensive and time-consuming laboratory analysis of samples taken from a site.

  • Neutron Spectrometer

    This spectrometer can be used by arms control and nonproliferation agents to passively characterize neutron sources in sealed containers. The portable system, weighing ~35 kg, is highly efficient, requiring less than 5 minutes to collect data from mixed neutron and gamma ray sources (~200,000 neutron detection events are required). It distinguishes between different energy spectra sources with a high degree of statistical confidence. The design is optimized for good energy separation in the 0.1- to 10-MeV range, a common need in arms control applications.

  • Starlight Information Visualization System

    This innovative, versatile software quickly visualizes common themes in large disparate data, enabling organizations to access and interpret information about cyber security data, current events, business intelligence, consumer trends and medical records; and to enhance their operations by exploiting the data to their competitive advantage. Starlight performs high-speed, high-efficiency analysis and displays the results graphically so that the relationships among the data and their implications can be quickly and easily understood. While other commercial software products support only a few predefined data types, Starlight supports the concurrent analysis of an unlimited variety of information types. Furthermore, the software combines multiple visualization techniques allowing many different aspects of large information collections to be analyzed simultaneously. With this built-in flexibility, Starlight offers insight into and the ability to address a wide range of problems that previously were difficult or impossible to interpret.

Universities and Internships

Researchers in NSD collaborate with universities and other institutions across the country to enhance education and lay the foundation for the growth of NSD and PNNL. We have partnerships through a number of programs, including:

  • The Institute for Global and Regional Security Studies (IGRSS) was jointly launched in September 2000 by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the University of Washington (UW). The Institute works to enhance international security education at UW by expanding the University's teaching, research and public outreach programs on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related international security issues. It also forms the basis for the interaction between the PNNL science and engineering staff and academic students involved in international studies. Also: Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Department of Political Science.

  • The National Visualization and Analytics Center™at PNNL was established in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The center provides leadership and coordination among the academic community, industry, national laboratories and government to create and deploy visual analytics technologies to help counter future terrorist attacks in the United States and around the globe. Visual analytics tools and techniques will become the 21st century's answer to information overload. In the fight against terrorism, analysts are bombarded with enormous volumes of data from a variety of sources, including documents, images, video and audio. Recognizing that humans have a keen ability to process visual information, researchers are creating visual analytics tools to analyze and interpret huge volumes of data.

  • The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) involves Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oregon's three largest public research universities (Oregon State University, Portland State University and the University of Oregon), the state of Oregon and the world-leading high-technology industry cluster of Oregon and southwest Washington. This partnership in the Pacific Northwest forms a vibrant network of nanoscience and microtechnology expertise that is moving nanoscience and microtechnology innovations from basic research to application to help solve challenging problems in national security, energy security and the environment.

  • The National Security Internship Program (NSIP) offers academically superior undergraduate and graduate students the chance to take part in national security-related science. In addition to serving students, NSIP benefits PNNL and the nation by developing talented, creative researchers—the national security experts of tomorrow—who will augment the Laboratory's capabilities in key areas that include nuclear science, electrical engineering, computer science, physics and chemistry.

  • The National Nuclear Security Administration Graduate Program (NGP) provides exceptional training and hands-on experience to prepare outstanding graduate students for careers in nuclear nonproliferation and national security. The NGP offers salary with benefits and unmatched opportunities for networking and career development. Applications are accepted through late October.

National Laboratories

Scientists in NSD conduct a multitude of research with colleagues at other national laboratories, with the specific goal to develop technologies to prevent and counter acts of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have ongoing research relationships with researchers at:

Work with us

PNNL can apply its resources and skills to the specific needs of other federal agencies and non-federal organizations through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Strategic Partnership Projects (SPP) program. Under various statutes, international agreements and common federal policies, DOE has a mission to provide technical assistance to other federal agencies, commercial companies, local and state governments and foreign governments. The DOE laboratories and technology centers have developed world-class core technical capabilities in a variety of technologies, and they are uniquely qualified to provide immediate research and development support to other federal agencies and non-federal organizations.

National Security Directorate