AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXVIII, No. 2, Fall 1996


Sandia Laboratories Lore Videotaped in Knowledge Preservation Project

by Carmen Ward

Sandia National Laboratories began with the mission of nuclear weapon engineering; today we are also involved in maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile and monitoring arms control and nuclear weapons proliferation. As with any business that is 47 years old we find that many unique skills and knowledge_our corporate memory_is walking out the door with retirees and individuals who move on to other work. Therefore two years ago we started The Knowledge Preservation Project. Our goal is to record on video tape the knowledge, ideas, and experience of key nuclear weapon design engineers and scientists. The project attempts to capture all aspects of perishable, undocumented, nuclear weapon design, testing, and manufacturing information. The nature of the material naturally requires that it be security classified: the interviews are not available to anyone outside the nuclear weapons complex.

During the course of an interview, we attempt to define the state of technology and the technical challenges at a point in time. We probe into how problems were solved, including what solutions were proposed and why one was selected over the others. We explore the reasons that various solutions failed and elicit suggestions for the future. Of the 60 interviews conducted to date, 10 have been with physicists, who were involved in nuclear weapons underground testing, shock wave physics, and materials and component development.

Collecting the video is only half of the project. We also needed a way to access and retrieve information from the tapes quickly and easily. For this purpose Jim Borders developed a process called Relevant Point of Access Video (RePAV). The video tape is digitized and compressed according to the MPEG-one standard. The audio track is transcribed to a text document and full-text indexed by an information management system. The audio text is linked to the digital video files in one-minute time code intervals. When someone queries the system, VHS quality video is displayed immediately on the user's PC and the key search words are spoken within one minute. The full potential of this system will emerge as it is integrated into a central knowledge base with hyper-links to reports, memos, engineering drawings, other video, data, computer codes, etc.

For information contact the Project Leader, Carmen Ward, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM 87185; phone (505) 845-9824, e-mail; also Jim Borders, (505) 845-8315; Keith Johnstone, (505) 844-7633.

Photograph with Keith Johnstone an interview for the Sandia Project.

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