Principal Engineer Michael Misch (background) continues build on unit cabinets at LLNL with Engineer Koby Sugihara (foreground).

Laboratory liaison: NNSS engineer Michael Misch coordinates components for next era of subcritical experiment capabilities

Principal Engineer Michael Misch (background) continues build on unit cabinets at LLNL with Engineer Koby Sugihara (foreground).
Principal Engineer Michael Misch (background) continues build on unit cabinets at LLNL with Engineer Koby Sugihara (foreground).

As the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) expands its diagnostic capabilities at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)’s U1a Complex, Principal Engineer Michael Misch is working as liaison between the Site, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to ensure elements of the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments (ECSE) portfolio come together.

Scheduled for completion in 2025, ECSE will provide scientists the necessary data required to support the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Making its debut to support the ongoing assessment and certification of the stockpile is Advanced Source and Detectors (ASD)-Scorpius, a new radiographic system that will study plutonium during the end stages of nuclear weapon implosion. The technology builds on Cygnus, U1a Complex’s current X-ray diagnostic machine, and the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility, which validates nuclear simulations at LANL.

“There’s a gap that Cygnus does not meet, and larger radiographic machines cannot do yet what we can underground,” said Misch. “The difference between Cygnus and DARHT is the scale of the machine. What Scorpius is doing is taking DARHT and putting it underground at that much higher energy level. It’s fulfilling a gap in the subcritical experiment world that nowhere else in the country is doing.”

Misch specializes in pulsed power. When energy is stored in capacitors and the pulse is shortened, it creates a high-density, high-power energy source for subcritical experiments. In an integrated effort between the NNSS and the laboratories, Misch is coordinating the pulser boards that are compiled into stacked units for Scorpius. The technology will undergo prototype testing at LLNL before the integrated test stand is built at the NNSS’ North Las Vegas location in early 2022.

“It’s all coming together in the NNSS’ backyard,” said Misch, who travels for weeks at a time between the Site, LLNL and SNL. “This will be a huge milestone with parts from LANL and Sandia built in different areas coming together.”

His rotation will soon include LANL as work for the U1a Complex Enhancements Project progresses. NNSA sites and laboratories have implemented enhanced safety protocols amid COVID-19 for work like Misch’s, which requires travel and in-person coordination with various engineering teams.

Approaching his seventh year with the NNSS, Misch first viewed the NNSS as a way to support the nation, in part because his family had an extensive military background. He began as an intern with the Multiplexed Photon Doppler Velocimetry team before moving to pulsed power with the Cygnus staff and then to diagnostics for subcritical experiments. Three years ago, he transitioned back to pulsed power. Misch notes that outside of national security, pulsed power is tied to only a few other fields like medical or agricultural, so the opportunity to apply its concepts to the NNSA enterprise is a unique one.

“Once you get in, it’s a very welcoming family—they invest in you,” said Misch, who is now pursuing his doctorate in environmental engineering. “They’re investing in you long term and want you to stick around. It gives you those opportunities you couldn’t otherwise find. This really is an exciting time to be working in this field. The technology here could set a new standard, and we’ll be some of the first to implement it on this scale.”