Tag: Industry Insights

Southern Research neuroscience lab wins grant for Parkinson’s, ALS research

Southern Research neuroscience
Rita Cowell is chair of Southern Research’s Neuroscience Department.

A Southern Research neuroscience lab has received new federal grants totaling almost $3.9 million to advance its study of Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological diseases.

The grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke include $3.3 million to study Parkinson’s and $594,000 for research related to frontotemporal dementia, a disease that is similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Both grants will support a lab led by Rita Cowell, Ph.D., fellow and chair of the Department of Neuroscience in Southern Research’s Drug Discovery Division.

“These grants are a reflection of the excellence and dedication of our neuroscience team,” said Josh Carpenter, president and CEO at Southern Research. “They work every day to fight diseases that have devastated the lives of so many families. They are an asset to Southern Research and to our community.”

Cowell’s lab has worked for 15 years to study why brain cells die and lead to neurological diseases that cause an ongoing and often devastating decline in a person’s physical and mental abilities.

“If we can understand why these cells die, then we may be able to find drugs to interfere with that and stop the progression of these diseases,” she said.

For Parkinson’s, the lab received a five-year grant to advance its research on a molecule that may keep brain cells alive. The length and amount of the federal grant reflects the strong preliminary data that Southern Research has compiled in past research supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Southern Research Change Campaign and the Meyer Foundation.

The second grant will support two years of additional exploratory research about how neurons stop functioning in frontotemporal dementia and ALS, and will be led by Cowell and Kazutoshi Nakazawa, also at Southern Research.

Cowell is particularly proud that this exploratory grant builds on initial work at Southern Research that was supported by the Alabama Power Foundation. “That investment from our own community created the base that is allowing us to go to the next level,” Cowell said.

Southern Research is leading the research on both grants. Co-investigators on these grants are located at UAB, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan.

Birmingham’s Southern Research appoints CEO, EVP

Southern Research, the groundbreaking scientific discovery and research institution headquartered in Birmingham, on Thursday announced that its board of directors has appointed Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., as its new president and CEO, and Allen Bolton as its new executive vice president for Strategy and Finance.

Both appointments are effective June 1.

Founded in the Magic City in 1941, Southern Research is an independent, non-profit scientific research organization where more than 400 scientists and engineers work across three divisions: Life Sciences, Engineering, and Energy & Environment. Southern Research has attracted national research partnerships with leading industries in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, the environment and energy.i

“Josh and Allen are forward-thinking leaders who are ready to chart a bold new course for Southern Research,” stated University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray L. Watts, who is chairman of the Southern Research board of directors. “They have the full support of the Board as they begin to lead an amazing team of scientists, engineers and innovators who are working to solve problems and change the world for the better.”

Southern Research generates over $150 million in annual economic impact and supports more than 1,000 Alabama jobs.

“The work of Southern Research results in life-changing advancements and innovative solutions,” said Southern Research board member Mark Crosswhite, who also serves as the chairman, president and CEO of Alabama Power Company. “Josh and Allen’s vision and expertise will play an important role in leading this institution forward as a continued center of excellence.”

Carpenter most recently served as director of Innovation and Economic Opportunity for the City of Birmingham, where he led the City’s efforts in workforce development, COVID recovery and business expansion. Previously, he served as the director of External Affairs at UAB. He earned his doctorate in political economy from the University of Oxford where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship.

“I am truly honored to take the helm of Southern Research and lead this incredible team that is finding solutions to improve people’s lives around the world. Southern Research has had 80 successful years, but I know the best is yet to come,” commented Carpenter.

Bolton most recently served as senior vice president for Finance and Administration at UAB, where he was also a member of the board for Southern Research. He was previously an executive in finance and strategy at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and was senior associate dean for Administration and Finance at the UAB School of Medicine as well as executive administrator at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the largest research center in the University of Alabama System.

“Discoveries made at Southern Research have provided breakthroughs in cancer research, pushed the boundaries of science and saved lives. I am grateful for this opportunity to work alongside dedicated and talented people who have an unmatched passion for science and discovery,” concluded Bolton.


Birmingham’s Southern Research under new leadership

Josh Carpenter, PhD, has been appointed president and CEO and Allen Bolton executive vice president for strategy and finance at Birmingham-based Southern Research.

The scientific discovery and research institution employs more than 400 scientists and engineers.

“Josh and Allen are forward-thinking leaders who are ready to chart a bold new course for the company,” said University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts, chairman of the Southern Research board of directors and interim CEO since the departure of Art Tipton in 2019.

“They have the full support of the board as they begin to lead an amazing team of scientists, engineers and innovators who are working to solve problems and change the world for the better.”

Carpenter served as director of innovation and economic

opportunity for the City of Birmingham before coming to Southern Research. Previously, he was director of external affairs at UAB. He holds a doctorate in political economy from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

“I am truly honored to take the helm of Southern Research and lead this incredible team that is finding solutions to improve people’s lives around the world,” Carpenter said.

Bolton most recently served as senior vice president for

finance and administration at UAB.
Founded in Birmingham in 1941, Southern Research is an independent, nonprofit scientific

research organization where scientists and engineers work across three divisions: life sciences, engineering and energy & environment.

Southern Research Appoints Josh Carpenter as President and CEO and Allen Bolton as Executive VP for Strategy and Finance

Two prominent Birmingham leaders have been named to leadership posts at Southern Research – the scientific discovery and research institution headquartered on Birmingham’s Southside.

Josh Carpenter has been named president and CEO, and Allen Bolton has been named executive vice president for strategy and finance. They begin the new roles on June 1.

They’ll be taking the reins at an organization with vast potential for shaping the future of Birmingham’s economy and its innovation ecosystem.

Carpenter, a Rhodes Scholar, most recently served as director of innovation and economic opportunity for the city of Birmingham. He previously worked at UAB.

Bolton most recently was senior vice president for finance and administration at UAB where he also served on the board of Southern Research.

“I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about what’s in front of us because of the people who are there,” Carpenter said.

In addition to the expertise of the people and the legacy of Southern Research, Carpenter said he was attracted to the role because of the organization’s potential to transform the region’s economy.

Historically, he said Birmingham has been home to many islands of innovation. One of his goals is to create a better through-line to connect those pockets of R&D excellence in the community and raise their collective impact.

“Southern Research, perhaps better than any other organization, is specifically geared toward playing the role of that translational bridge – translating ideas to innovation and economic opportunity,” Carpenter said. “If we can create the storefront to access those immense capabilities, we can present ourselves as the next frontier market in biotech.”

Carpenter said Birmingham is well-positioned for growth in life sciences, precision medicine and related fields, and he said Southern Research, with expertise in those fields and others, can play a critical role in that innovation economy.

With the way the medical sector is trending, Carpenter sees a growing need for the type of capability expertise that can be found on the campus of Southern Research, which has 400 employees.

He’s also excited about the role the organization can play in building the local innovation ecosystem – an effort with vast implications for Birmingham’s economy.

There have been numerous examples of successful biotech companies that have originated from research conducted in Birmingham but ultimately moved elsewhere. One of his goals at Southern Research is to help build an environment that keeps those companies – and the jobs they create – in metro Birmingham.

“Southern Research is at it’s finest when the halls are brimming with first-rate intellect that come up with a novel discovery that becomes a commercial enterprise and creates jobs right here in Birmingham,” he said.

Carpenter said there will be a focus on having a deeper and more profound relationship with UAB, which is located adjacent to Southern Research’s campus.

“We have not tapped the potential of working to integrate our approach,” he said.

Carpenter also said a priority will be adapting Southern Research’s business model to capitalize on the opportunities at hand. What that will entail is likely to become more clear with a strategic plan that could be released later this year to coincide with Southern Research’s 80th anniversary.

He said he’s happy to have a veteran leader like Bolton joining him at Southern Research.

“No one has better experience navigating not just the UAB ecosystem, but a labyrinth of medical systems,” Carpenter said. “He’s going to be a really effective arbiter of our strategic and financial interests.”


Southern Research selects new president and CEO

Birmingham’s Southern Research announced today that Josh Carpenter will be its new president and CEO, effective June 1.

Allen Bolton will also serve as its new executive vice president for strategy and finance.

Carpenter recently served as the City of Birmingham’s director of innovation and economic opportunity, where he led the city’s efforts in workforce development, COVID recovery and business expansion. He will lead the independent, non-profit scientific research organization which employs more than 400 engineers and scientists.

UAB President Ray Watts, who chairs the Southern Research Board of Directors, said Carpenter and Bolton are “forward-thinking leaders who are ready to chart a bold new course for Southern Research.” Alabama Power President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, a board member, said the two men’s “vision and expertise will play an important role in leading this institution forward as a continued center of excellence.”

Carpenter also previously served as UAB’s director of external affairs and earned a doctorate in political economy from the University of Oxford, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship.

“I am truly honored to take the helm of Southern Research and lead this incredible team that is finding solutions to improve people’s lives around the world,” he said. “Southern Research has had 80 successful years, but I know the best is yet to come.”

Bolton most recently served as UAB’s senior vice president for finance and administration and served as a Southern Research board member. He was also executive administrator at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the largest research center in the University of Alabama System.

“Discoveries made at Southern Research have provided breakthroughs in cancer research, pushed the boundaries of science and saved lives,” Bolton said. “I am grateful for this opportunity to work alongside dedicated and talented people who have an unmatched passion for science and discovery.”

Southern Research generates more than $150 million in annual economic impact and supports more than 1,000 Alabama jobs.


Southern Research and Tonix Pharmaceuticals Reports Positive COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy Results

Vaccine Candidate TNX-1800 Protected Both Upper and Lower Airways After Challenge with SARS-CoV-2, Suggesting an Ability to Block Forward Transmission


TNX-1800 is Based on a Proprietary Vaccine Platform Designed to Stimulate Long Term T cell Immunity


CHATHAM, NJ, March 25, 2021 – Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: TNXP) (Tonix or the Company), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, today announced preliminary results following vaccination of non-human primates with TNX-1800 (modified horsepox virus, live vaccine), a live attenuated COVID-19 vaccine candidate engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 (CoV-2) spike protein.  Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of single-dose TNX-1800 were assessed at two dose levels (n=4 per group). At Day 41 after the vaccination, animals were challenged with live SARS-CoV-2 through intra-nasal and intra-tracheal routes.  Protection was assessed at Day 47 or six days after challenge. The research is part of an ongoing collaboration between Southern Research, the University of Alberta and Tonix.


“We are pleased that all eight animals vaccinated with TNX-1800 had undetectable SARS-CoV-2 in their upper and lower airways 6 days after challenge with SARS-CoV-2,” said Seth Lederman, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Tonix Pharmaceuticals.  “Today’s results are from the second phase of a study, in which TNX-1800 vaccinated and control animals were challenged with SARS-CoV-2. Last Fall, we reported that all eight of the animals manifested ‘takes’, a skin reaction to horsepox vaccination which is a validated biomarker of functional T cell immunity, and that vaccination was associated with neutralizing antibodies in each case.  The positive results of the protection from live CoV-2 challenge that we are reporting today validate the capacity for TNX-1800 to protect against COVID-19, and also validate the ‘take’ after TNX-1800 vaccination as a biomarker for functional T cell immunity.”


Dr. Lederman continued, “’Take‘ is considered important because it is otherwise difficult and costly to measure the T cell response to a vaccine.  Vaccines that elicit a strong T cell response, like horsepox and closely related vaccinia, have been established to provide long-term, durable immunity and to block forward transmission.  Single dose horsepox and vaccinia vaccination led to the eradication of smallpox, which, like CoV-2 is transmitted by the respiratory route. In the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox, ‘take’ was used as a biomarker for protective immunity.  We believe the absence of detectable CoV-2 in the upper or lower airways shows the potential for TNX-1800 to decrease shedding of virus and is consistent with decreased transmission.”


Dr. Lederman continued, “Although many successful vaccines have been put into use around the world, much remains unknown about COVID-19, its emerging variants, and the durability of current vaccines. We designed TNX-1800 as a single dose vaccine using a vector known to provide long term T cell immunity. This was originally demonstrated by the vector’s use as the backbone of Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine which typically provided lifetime immunity with a single dose.  Moreover, by preventing forward transmission of the smallpox virus, it became a defining force in establishing herd immunity.”  Dr. Lederman continued, Like Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, TNX-1800 can be scaled up for manufacturing and will not require a costly and cumbersome cold chain for distribution and storage. It will also be glass-sparing, with 100 doses filled per vial. These features, coupled with the results announced today, encourage us to advance TNX-1800 to human Phase 1 trials in the second half of 2021 when we expect to have Good Manufacturing Practice or cGMP quality TNX-1800 available.”


The Company believes the findings also demonstrate the flexibility of the horsepox vaccine platform and its capability to be tailored to other diseases of interest in military and civilian populations.



Key features and results:


  • STUDY DESIGN: This study of non-human primates compared TNX-1800 (modified horsepox virus encoding CoV-2 spike protein) to TNX-801 (horsepox virus, live vaccine) at two doses. Also a control group received a placebo.  Each of these five groups (TNX-1800 high and low dose; TNX-801 high and low dose and placebo) included four animals.
  • CoV-2 CHALLENGE: At day 41 after vaccination (or placebo), each animal was exposed to SARS-COV-2 by intra-tracheal (1 x 106 TCID50) and intra-nasal (1 x 106 TCID50) administration.
  • DETECTION OF SARS-COV-2 in Upper and Lower Airway: Upper airway virus was studied by oropharyngeal swabs and lower airway virus by tracheal lavage using qRT-PCR to determine the number of genome copies of SARS-CoV-2 present in the samples. Six days after challenge, no (0/8) samples taken from animals vaccinated with TNX-1800 had detectable SARS-CoV-2 in either upper or lower airway samples. In contrast, all (8/8) animals vaccinated with the control vaccine TNX-801 showed infection (more than 1,000 genome copies) as did three of four monkeys vaccinated with vehicle control.
  • NEUTRALIZING ANTI-CoV-2 ANTIBODIES: At day 14 after a single vaccination, all eight of the TNX-1800 vaccinated animals made anti-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies (≥1:40 titer) and, as expected, none of the eight TNX-801 vaccinated control animals, or any of the four animals in the placebo group made anti-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies (≤1:10 titer). At 6 days after CoV-2 challenge, TNX-1800 vaccinated animals showed neutralizing antibody titers of (≥1:1280 titer). The level of neutralizing anti-CoV-2 antibody production was similar between the low and high dose TNX-1800 groups (1 x 106 Plaque Forming Units [PFU] and 3 x 106 PFU, (respectively). For unvaccinated animals challenged with SARS-CoV-2, neutralizing antibodies were measurable after vaccination (≥1:40 titer) that were lower and appeared later than neutralizing antibodies in TNX-1800 vaccinated animals.
  • TOLERABILITY: TNX-1800 and TNX-801 were well tolerated at both doses.
  • SKIN TAKE BIOMARKER: Further, as an expected additional outcome, all 16 animals vaccinated with either dose of TNX-1800 or the control TNX-801 manifested a “take”, or cutaneous response, signaling that the horsepox vector elicits a strong T cell immune response.
  • DOSE: These results support the expectation that TNX-1800 at the low dose of 1 x 106 PFU is an appropriate dose for a one-shot vaccine in humans and indicate that 100 doses per vial is the target format for commercialization, which is well suited to manufacturing and distribution at large scale.
  • CONCLUSIONS: Together, these data show that TNX-1800 induces protection against SARS-COV-2 infection in non-human primates. These data confirm that “take” is a biomarker of protection of upper and lower airways from SARS-CoV-2 challenge, and a biomarker of immunological response to TNX-1800’s cargo COVID-19 antigen, which is the CoV-2 spike protein.
  • NEXT PHASE: Phase 1 human study targeted to start in the second half of 2021, following IND clearance by the FDA and the production of GMP material.



Anthony Macaluso, Ph.D., Executive Vice President, Strategic Development at Tonix Pharmaceuticals said, “In addition to their impact on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, these data also demonstrate the utility of horsepox as a vaccine platform that can be used to address many other diseases of interest to the military and the general public. The horsepox platform has the following attributes favorable for vaccine development: strong induction of both B- and T-cell immunity; amenability to genetic modification; and the ability to express multiple genes, either alone or in combination. In addition, the horsepox vaccine platform allows for rapid scalability of manufacturing, which is a key advantage of HPXV over other platforms such as non-replicating viruses, DNA/RNA, or protein subunit vaccines.”



About TNX-1800

TNX-1800 is a live modified horsepox virus vaccine for percutaneous administration that is designed to express the Spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to elicit a predominant T cell response.  Horsepox and vaccinia are closely related orthopoxviruses that are believed to share a common ancestor.  Tonix’s TNX-1800 vaccine candidate is administered percutaneously using a two-pronged, or “bifurcated” needle.  TNX-1800 is based on a horsepox vector, which is a live replicating, attenuated virus that elicits a strong immune response.  The major cutaneous reaction or “take” to vaccinia vaccine was described by Dr. Edward Jenner in 1796 and has been used since then as a biomarker for protective immunity to smallpox, including in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) accelerated smallpox eradication program that successfully eradicated smallpox in the 1960’s.  The “take” is a measure of functional T cell immunity validated by the eradication of smallpox, a respiratory-transmitted disease caused by variola.  Tonix’s proprietary horsepox vector is believed to be more closely related to Jenner’s vaccinia vaccine than modern vaccinia vaccines, which appear to have evolved by deletions and mutations to a phenotype of larger plaque size in tissue culture and greater virulence in mice. Live replicating orthopoxviruses, like vaccinia or horsepox, can be engineered to express foreign genes and have been explored as platforms for vaccine development because they possess; (1) large packaging capacity for exogenous DNA inserts, (2) precise virus-specific control of exogenous gene insert expression, (3) lack of persistence or genomic integration in the host, (4) strong immunogenicity as a vaccine, (5) ability to rapidly generate vector/insert constructs, (6) readily manufacturable at scale, and (7) ability to provide direct antigen presentation. Relative to vaccinia, horsepox has substantially decreased virulence in mice1.  Horsepox-based vaccines are designed to be single dose, vial-sparing vaccines, that can be manufactured using conventional cell culture systems, with the potential for mass scale production and packaging in multi-dose vials.


1Noyce RS, et al. (2018) PLoS One. 13(1):e0188453


About Southern Research

Founded in 1941, Southern Research (SR) is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit, scientific research organization with more than 400 scientists and engineers working across three divisions: Drug Discovery, Drug Development, and Engineering. SR has supported the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental, and energy industries. SR works on behalf of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA and other major aerospace firms, utility companies, and other external academic, industry and government agencies. SR pursues entrepreneurial and collaborative initiatives to develop and maintain a pipeline of intellectual property and innovative technologies that positively impact real-world problems. SR has numerous ongoing drug discovery programs, which encompass drug discovery programs to combat various forms of cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, opioid use disorder, human immunodeficiency virus, disease, Parkinson’s, tuberculosis, influenza, and others.  SR’s strong history, which includes over 75 years of successful collaborations to solve complex problems, has led to the discovery of seven FDA-approved cancer drugs—a number rivaling any other U.S. research institute. Furthermore, experts at SR are well-equipped to assist with the challenging landscapes of drug design and development technologies and market viability. SR is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama with additional laboratories and offices in Frederick, Maryland.


Further information about SR can be found at https://southernresearch.org/


About Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp.

Tonix is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, licensing, acquiring and developing small molecules and biologics to treat and prevent human disease and alleviate suffering. Tonix’s portfolio is primarily composed of central nervous system (CNS) and immunology product candidates. The CNS portfolio includes both small molecules and biologics to treat pain, neurologic, psychiatric and addiction conditions. Tonix’s lead CNS candidate, TNX-102 SL1, is in mid-Phase 3 development for the management of fibromyalgia, and positive data on the RELIEF Phase 3 trial were recently reported. The Company expects interim data from a second Phase 3 study, RALLY, in the third quarter of 20212 and topline data in the fourth quarter of 2021. The immunology portfolio includes vaccines to prevent infectious diseases and biologics to address immunosuppression, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Tonix’s lead vaccine candidate, TNX-18003, is a live replicating vaccine based on the horsepox viral vector platform to protect against COVID-19, primarily by eliciting a T cell response. Tonix reported positive efficacy data from animal studies of TNX-1800 in the first quarter of 2021. TNX-8013, live horsepox virus vaccine for percutaneous administration, is in development to protect against smallpox and monkeypox.


1TNX-102 SL is an investigational new drug and has not been approved for any indication.

2Pending submission and agreement from FDA on statistical analysis plan.

3TNX-1800 and TNX-801 are investigational new biologics and have not been approved for any indication.


This press release and further information about Tonix can be found at www.tonixpharma.com.


Forward Looking Statements

Certain statements in this press release are forward-looking within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements may be identified by the use of forward-looking words such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “forecast,” “estimate,” “expect,” and “intend,” among others. These forward-looking statements are based on Tonix’s current expectations and actual results could differ materially. There are a number of factors that could cause actual events to differ materially from those indicated by such forward-looking statements. These factors include, but are not limited to, risks related to failure to obtain FDA clearances or approvals and noncompliance with FDA regulations; delays and uncertainties caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic; risks related to the timing and progress of clinical development of our product candidates; our need for additional financing; uncertainties of patent protection and litigation; uncertainties of government or third party payor reimbursement; limited research and development efforts and dependence upon third parties; and substantial competition. As with any pharmaceutical under development, there are significant risks in the development, regulatory approval and commercialization of new products. Tonix does not undertake an obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statement. Investors should read the risk factors set forth in the Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2019, as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on March 24, 2020, and periodic reports filed with the SEC on or after the date thereof. All of Tonix’s forward-looking statements are expressly qualified by all such risk factors and other cautionary statements. The information set forth herein speaks only as of the date thereof.

Southern Research Welcomes Dr. Mark Opeka to the Engineering Team

Southern Research is pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. Mark Opeka to our Engineering team at Southern Research as a Materials Engineering Fellow.

Dr. Mark Opeka
Dr. Mark Opeka, Materials Engineering Fellow

He previously served as a Subject Matter Expert for high temperature materials at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Opeka re-visited ultra-high-temperature ceramics (UHTCs) materials, that had been explored in the 1960s, to base the development of the propulsion components for a new Navy hypersonic scramjet-propelled missile, the Advanced Wide Area Missile (AWAM), supported by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).  His materials selection approach provided direction for the integration of UHTCs into then recently developed high temperature carbon-carbon (C-C) materials.  This activity was integral in bringing UHTCs back into play and led to the development of UHTC-coated C-C.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Opeka led materials selection analyses and advanced coatings materials fabrication activities to significantly increase the weapons-resistance capabilities of carbon-carbon composite space structures over state-of-the-art materials. Through the 1990s, Dr. Opeka led the ONR development of UHTCs tailored for missile solid-propellant propulsion components and then subsequently verified by successful ground testing.  In the early 2000s this expertise in solid propulsion materials selection and development resulted in his being supported by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and to lead propulsion UHTC and refractory metals materials maturation and property characterization efforts.  In addition, he was also supported by the Air Force (AF) to provide guidance for a new initiative in hypersonic materials research and development.  These activities led to formalizing and publishing a systematic materials selection approach for high temperature materials applications which broadly addressed (and continues to address) propulsion systems (solid, liquid, and other propellants) and hypersonic vehicle thermal protection systems.

Most recently, from 2000 to the present, his materials selection approach and knowledge of UHTCs and refractory metals has placed him as Subject Matter Expert for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) propulsion and hypersonic materials developments effort.  For the MDA and other DoD services he continues to provide focused direction on the highest performing materials, enabling development along the most rapid and cost-effective paths.

Michael Johns, Vice President of Engineering at Southern Research adds, “With all of this expertise in the field of high-temperature materials, we are glad to have Mark join our other engineers at Southern Research.  We are excited to have such an expert in their field help us provide unparalleled understanding of materials in extreme environments.”

Southern Research and the future of nuclear energy

Southern Research, through the ARPAe program, has been installing robotic systems in some of our labs. They are currently being used for our research into autonomous maintenance of nuclear energy systems. The research with these robots is being done to support a more sustainable and affordable future for nuclear reactors and nuclear power.

The future of nuclear energy can be found in molten salt reactors (MSRs), as they tend to be safer and more efficient than the larger reactors. They operate largely in the same way as the large reactors, but they operate at high temperatures with a liquid nuclear fuel that allows for the reactor to self-regulate if it ever reaches a critical state. This self-regulation raises a problem however, what happens when the reactors need to be maintained? This is where Southern Research steps in with robotics to run autonomous maintenance.

We will be training robots, but there are currently no MSRs built and so the barrier comes with them not being able to train in the real world. With our program partners, Southern Research have built virtual worlds, where we’ll be able to run simulations and train them to accomplish various maintenance tasks so that they can be operated in the real world when MSRs are built. The training will start out generalized with our robot, FANUC, and we have partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who also has a robot. With this generalized training, it is our hope that we can expand the machine learning training to other tasks that robotics could be used for like exploration in more extreme environments.


Southern Research Testing New Cost-Effective Methods for System Performance in Extreme Cold Conditions

When the Southern Research Engineering Division talks about testing materials in extreme environments, it usually is referring to measuring properties at very high temperatures up to 5500 °F.  However,  going hot isn’t the only extreme environment that modern materials experience.  Space exploration often results in the need for systems that perform at incredibly cold temperatures.  Applications include things like fuel tanks for propulsion systems that hold liquid oxygen at -423 °F and space telescopes that orbit far from the earth where they are shaded from the sun and can reach temperatures of -442 °F.

Mechanical testing at very low temperatures, or cryogenic temperatures, has historically been done by cooling materials using liquid cryogens such as liquid nitrogen (LN2) and liquid helium (LHe).  That process involves getting liquid cryogens in big vacuum flasks and spraying the cryogen on the test setup.  A single experiment can take a lot of cryogen to cool the material.  LN2 is inexpensive and readily available.  It can cool down to -320 °F and for tests at and above that temperature, cooling with LN2 remains a good choice.  However, for temperature below -320 °F, LHe is required.  There is a limited world-wide supply of LHe and in recent years it has quadrupled in price and become difficult to source.  A single mechanical test at -423 °F can take as much as two or three thousand dollars’ worth of LHe.  The combination of cost and availability of LHe has made testing below -320 °F difficult and expensive.

The difficulties in testing with LHe has led Southern Research to conduct an Internal Research and Development (IR&D) project to consider alternatives to using LHe liquid cryogen to conduct super-cold material tests.  The approach that has been developed uses a unique device known as a cryo-cooler.  A cryo-cooler is a mechanical compressor device that can cool the tip of a cold head down to -453 °F.  They have become much more common in recent years since they are used to cool the superconducting magnets in MRI units at almost every hospital.  At -453 °F, the cryo-cooler doesn’t have much cooling capacity, meaning that it cannot overcome much heat load.  Thus, the challenge to use a cryo-cooler to conduct tests at extremely cold temperatures is to design a system that thermally attaches the cold head to the material while minimizing the heat conducted into the test setup.

To reduce the heat load from convection, the test must be conducted in a vacuum.  Loads that are applied to the material must be through fixtures made of extremely low thermal conductivity material so as not to conduct heat from outside the vacuum chamber.  Finally, the test setup must be wrapped in multiple layer insulation (MLI) to prevent heating the material by radiation from the surroundings.  MLI is typically made of aluminum or silver coated thin film to reflect radiant energy.  Those that have seen or remember the lunar Landing Module from the Apollo missions will recall that it was wrapped in MLI, in that case to keep the cold of the Moon away from the astronauts. Most people are familiar with MLI type aluminized film from its use in Pop-Tart wrappers!

Southern Research has conducted demonstration tests that have shown that the cryo-cooler is capable of cooling materials down to -423 °F.  Southern Research is now focused on developing best practice for thermal strapping, MLI wrapping, and load fixture design.  Southern Research is actively proposing work using the cryo-cooler approach at better cost and schedule assurance to our clients.

Commercial Labs: Factors to consider when selecting commercial analytical chemistry labs

If your operation doesn’t have in-house lab capabilities — and most industrial operations don’t — it’s necessary to entrust your environmental sampling and analysis needs to a commercial lab. But not all labs are made the same. Some labs don’t have the capabilities to analyze complex samples with low level hard-to-measure species like selenium and arsenic. Some aren’t able to provide actionable recommendations in addition to measurements, or to fully participate in all phases of a given project.

Here are three crucial qualities to look for as you’re choosing a lab to analyze your environmental samples.

Technological Capabilities

Labs don’t invest in high-end technology for bragging rights — they do it because that kind of power and complexity is an absolute necessity for measuring some potential contaminants. Southern Research (SR) couples HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography) with an industry-leading Agilent 8800 Triple Quad ICP-MS to analyze many elements and their species. This allows our engineers to measure substances like selenium in even the tiniest amounts, accounting for interferences (as well as the occasional error in the sampling process).

Deep and Broad Expertise

Many labs can provide basic measurements of contaminants in a given sample. Accurate and actionable analysis, however, requires a deeper understanding of the process. If a test results in measurements that are in doubt, given the parameters of the test, an experienced engineer can recognize that fact, determine possible reasons for the faulty results, re-run tests and investigate as necessary. If results are accurate and reveal, for instance, significant contamination of the water source, an experienced engineer can provide both figures and recommendations for the client about possible ways to begin treating it. Working with an inexperienced lab can lead to time lost to back-and-forth communication as both parties try to figure out questionable results.

“We have a wide variety of chemists and engineers, from a variety of different backgrounds,” said Abhijit Bhagavatula, a research engineer at SR. “That gives us experience and perspectives from different backgrounds to inform the work we do.”

Field Experience

Not all labs — even high-tech and expert labs — have the opportunity to cross-train engineers and chemists, or to hire employees who already have that kind of experience. But it can make a huge difference in a lab’s ability to really understand the sampling and analysis processes and the impact they can have on results.

“It’s about continuous training and education,” said Young Chul Choi, industrial water practice lead at SR. “We’ll put the chemists in a truck and take them out to the site so they can better understand what’s going on. Sometimes the engineers work in the lab — doing very simple tasks — to better understand what’s behind all the analysis.”

The chemists then know what mistakes can be made in the sampling process, how they could interfere with accurate analysis, and what factors to account for. The engineers understand what happens once the samples are handed off and what that means for the final outcome. The technology is robust, and the engineers and chemists are experts in their fields. By the time the results are delivered to the client, the analysis itself has been analyzed to make sure every figure is accurate, nothing has been missed, and the client is receiving the high-quality report they should be able to expect from the lab they rely on.