Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > FBI unveils science of anthrax investigation: Sandia’s work demonstrated anthrax letters contained non-weaponized form

bacillus anthracis spores as viewed in SEM (left) and TEM (right). (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)
bacillus anthracis spores as viewed in SEM (left) and TEM (right). (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

Abstract:
They have worked for almost seven years in secret.

Most people did not know that the work in Ray Goehner's materials characterization department at Sandia National Laboratories was contributing important information to the FBI's investigation of letters containing bacillus anthracis, the spores that cause the disease anthrax. The spores were mailed in the fall of 2001 to several news media offices and to two U.S. senators. Five people were killed.

Sandia's work demonstrated to the FBI that the form of bacillus anthracis contained in those letters was not a weaponized form, a form of the bacteria prepared to disperse more readily. The possibility of a weaponized form was of great concern to investigators, says Joseph Michael, the principal investigator for the project. This information was crucial in ruling out state-sponsored terrorism.

FBI unveils science of anthrax investigation: Sandia’s work demonstrated anthrax letters contained non-weaponized form

ALBUQUERQUE, NM | Posted on August 21st, 2008

In fall of 2001, the FBI considered how to best investigate the anthrax letters. The agency convened two blue ribbon exploratory panels, and Sandia's name came up during both panels for its expertise in electron and ion microscopies and microanalysis over the range of length scales from millimeters down to nanometers. The first spore material from the letters arrived at Sandia in February of 2002.

Sandia faced some uncertainty in working on this type of investigation. Researchers signed nondisclosure agreements and agreed to make themselves available to government agencies on short notice when called to give information.

Joseph Michael, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) lab owner Paul Kotula, and a team of roughly a dozen others examined more than 200 samples in those six and a half years. They received samples from the letter delivered to the New York Post, to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The samples looked different, in part because of how the samples were prepared, which made examination initially difficult.

When bacillus anthracis spores are weaponized, the spores are coated with silica nanoparticles that look almost like lint under the microscope. The "lint" makes the particles "bouncier" and less likely to clump and fall to the ground. That makes the spores more respirable and able to do more damage, says Michael. Weaponization of the spores would be an indicator of state sponsored terrorism.

"Initially, scanning electron microscopy [SEM] conducted at another laboratory, showed high silicon and oxygen signals that led them to conclude that the spores were a weaponized form, says Kotula. "The possible misinterpretation of the SEM results arose because microanalysis in the SEM is not a surface-sensitive tool," says Kotula. "Because a spore body can be 1.5 to 2 microns wide by 1 micron long, a SEM cannot localize the elemental signal from whole spore bodies."

Using more sensitive transmission electron microscopy (TEM), Kotula and Michael's research indicated that the silica in the spore samples was not added artificially, but was incorporated as a natural part of the spore formation process. "The spores we examined," Kotula says, "lacked that fuzzy outer coating that would indicate that they'd been weaponized."

Sandia's work was the first to actually link the spore material in the New York Post, the Daschle and the Leahy letters. The elemental signatures and the locations of these signatures, while not indicating intentional weaponization, did show that the spores were indistinguishable and therefore likely came from the same source. That conclusion was corroborated a few years later by the DNA studies.

The materials characterization lab serves as a materials analysis resource for a diverse collection of projects. The lab plays an important role in stockpile surveillance, supporting Sandia's nuclear weapons mission.

Michael was recently released from his nondisclosure agreement and flown to Washington, D.C., to participate in press conferences at FBI Headquarters along with several members of research teams who'd been asked to examine other aspects of the anthrax case.

The FBI was pleased with Sandia's work, says Michael.

####

About Sandia National Laboratories
Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Stephanie Holinka

(505) 284-9227

Copyright © Sandia National Laboratories

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Artificial photosynthesis steps into the light: Rice University lab turns transition metals into practical catalyst for solar, other applications March 23rd, 2017

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Caught on camera -- chemical reactions 'filmed' at the single-molecule level March 22nd, 2017

Rare-earths become water-repellent only as they age March 22nd, 2017

Laboratories

Researchers develop groundbreaking process for creating ultra-selective separation membranes: Discovery could greatly improve energy-efficiency of separation and purification processes in the chemical and petrochemical industries March 15th, 2017

Discovery in new material raises questions about theoretical models of superconductivity March 13th, 2017

Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance: Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs March 10th, 2017

Imaging the inner workings of a sodium-metal sulfide battery for first time: Understanding how the structural and chemical makeup of the material changes during the charge/discharge process could help scientists advance battery design for future energy storage needs March 9th, 2017

Tweaking electrolyte makes better lithium-metal batteries: A pinch of electrolyte additive gives rechargeable battery stability, longer life March 2nd, 2017

Law enforcement/Anti-Counterfeiting/Security/Loss prevention

Leti Announces Backside Shield that Protects Microchips from Physical Attacks March 8th, 2017

NUS engineers develop low-cost, flexible terahertz radiation source for fast, non-invasive screening: Novel invention presents promising applications in spectroscopy, safety surveillance, cancer diagnosis, imaging and communication February 1st, 2017

Strength of hair inspires new materials for body armor January 18th, 2017

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Artificial photosynthesis steps into the light: Rice University lab turns transition metals into practical catalyst for solar, other applications March 23rd, 2017

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Electro-optical switch transmits data at record-low temperatures: Operating at temperatures near absolute zero, switch could enable significantly faster data processing with lower power consumption March 20th, 2017

AIM Photonics Welcomes Coventor as Newest Member: US-Backed Initiative Taps Process Modeling Specialist to Enable Manufacturing of High-Yield, High-Performance Integrated Photonic Designs March 16th, 2017

Announcements

Artificial photosynthesis steps into the light: Rice University lab turns transition metals into practical catalyst for solar, other applications March 23rd, 2017

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Caught on camera -- chemical reactions 'filmed' at the single-molecule level March 22nd, 2017

Rare-earths become water-repellent only as they age March 22nd, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project