Author: Amy Weldon

August’s devastating explosion in Beirut highlighted the importance of the newly established Materials Science in Extreme Environments Research Alliance managed by Tim Weihs. The consortium, comprising experts from 18 major research institutions, aims to enable researchers from across the country to effectively collaborate, produce faster results and “advance the fundamental understanding of materials and chemistries under conditions of extreme pressure, temperature, and radiation.”

While the consortium is focused on understanding and neutralizing weapons of mass destruction, such chemical agents or nuclear blasts, its expertise and knowledge gained can help in cases like the Beirut explosion, in piecing together what led to the explosion and what processes occurred throughout the disaster’s timeline. The Beirut disaster was largely avoidable, having been caused by years of negligence and ignored warnings about the thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, jugs of oil, kerosene, hydrochloric acid and 15 tons of fireworks stored haphazardly in a hangar. By studying the various stages of the explosion and knowing the materials involved, a lot can be learned about the surrounding devastation. Weihs says looking at the Beirut explosion reminded him of his work on another famous disaster, the HMS Titanic.

“In major disasters like both of these, multiple things went wrong. Changing almost any one element in the sequence of events (materials, timing, etc.) could have prevented what happened,” said Weihs.

Several weeks ago, the University Research Alliance was asked by New York Times reporter Jim Glanz to help interpret video of the Beirut explosion for a feature article about the event.

“I was proud that our consortium member, Nick Glumac, was called upon to help explain the events and that he did so very effectively,” said Weihs.

The consortium will address disasters like Beirut in the future, should the need arise, while focusing on eliminating stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and protecting strategic systems from nuclear explosions in space.

Weihs was selected to lead the alliance which includes over 30 technical experts, including DMSE’s own Todd Hufnagel, and has been awarded $30 million by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to establish the University Research Alliance and begin research over the next five years.

You can read more about the DTRA award on the HEMI website.