As the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent ages, one essential factor in making sure that the weapons will continue to perform as designed is understanding the fundamental properties of the high explosives that are part of a nuclear weapons system.
Dana Dattelbaum, a chemist in the LANL Laboratory's Shock and Detonation Physics group. "And that we are also continuing to improve on safety."
A new video below shows how researchers use scientific guns to induce shock waves into explosive materials to study their performance and properties.
As nuclear weapons go through life extension programs, some changes may be advantageous, particularly through the addition of what are known as "insensitive" high explosives that are much less likely to accidentally detonate than the already very safe "conventional" high explosives that are used in most weapons.
"We're very interested in understanding chemical dynamics in extreme conditions," said Dattelbaum.
"Chemical reactions are occurring in very extreme environments with very fast reaction rates, and we really don't fully understand the first bond-breaking steps and the subsequent bond-breaking steps as an explosive detonates."
The large-bore, two-stage gas gun at Los Alamos National Laboratory uses highly-compressed light gas to fire a projectile into a high-explosive sample to precisely measure shock waves as they travel through the material.
At Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) explosives research includes a wide variety of both large- and small-scale experiments that include small, contained detonations, gas and powder gun firings, larger outdoor detonations, large-scale hydrodynamic tests, and at the Nevada Nuclear Security Site, underground sub-critical experiments.