Wednesday, September 9, 2009

they come and go

Does anybody here remember Veradyne?

Vera! Vera!
What has become of you?
Does anybody else in here
Feel the way I do?


Okay, so I couldn't quite get the Pink Floyd lyrics to work.

Some time around 1976 or so, a guy named David Platts (and presumably at least one or two other researchers) working at Los Alamos National Laboratories developed a miniaturized Marx Generator which exhibited very high performance. Mr. Platts wrote it up in an internal paper (of which I happen to possess a copy) titled "10-Joule 200 kV Mini Marx". As far as I know, it was never published outside of Los Alamos National Labs. I found it in a public-facing web directory of technical papers that disappeared from the web after 9-11.

The work was performed under the auspices of the DOE. (duh)

In 1978, a company called Veradyne was formed in Burbank California to produce this pulse generator commercially. David Platts was not involved as far as I can tell, and no patent was ever applied for by either David Platts or Veradyne.  (Veradyne does have one patent assigned to it, for a weird little coaxial spark gap switch of a geometry I've never seen used anywhere, for reasons I can easily understand - it is a silly and impractical design).

Since that time, EVERYONE has copied (and here and there, even improved upon) that original design. Companies like Physics International (no longer extant), Applied Pulsed Power Inc, R.E. Beverly III & Associates, and Applied Physical Electronics have made many millions of dollars of profit from Marx pulsers based upon Mr. Platts' and Veradyne's generator.

I often wonder what becomes of these little (sometimes not so little) companies which are formed to fulfill the contract requirements of some shadowy government program (BTW, most of this stuff has to do with either nuclear weapons research or high energy RF developments for EMP simulation, broadband radar or EM weapons) and then dissolved after the program is over.

Most of the more successful ventures got bought up by larger and older government contractors. Ferinstance, Physics International, who developed a switch design that has been used EVERYWHERE, by the hundreds, in a whole raft of huge pulsed power machines, was bought by Primex Technologies, who later sold that division to Maxwell Laboratories, which eventually divested it to Titan Corporation, a once-huge defense corporation, some of whose employees were implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal (!).

Eventually, Titan was purchased by the immensely powerful defense contractor L3 Communications, its various divisions redistributed among L3's existing products and services. Titan's pulsed power division remains as a small L3 shop called the Pulse Sciences Division. The sole product which has remained essentially unchanged through all of this is the T-508 Switch.

That switch was developed in the 1950s by Physics International for one of the early nuclear weapons effects (NWE) gamma ray simulators. You can see an ass-load of T-508s here. It is still sold today, with a few physical changes designed to make it even cheaper to produce, but essentially unchanged in terms of how it works, size, shape, capacity, performance, etc. The model number remains the same.

Meanwhile, the scientists who invented and developed these devices, which have made other people so much money... soldier on for $65,000 - $75,000 a year.


pete llarena said...

My father worked there in the mid 70's His name was Pedro Llarena. As a kid,I can remember things mentioned like Boeing, missiles and guidance systems.

pete llarena said...

My father worked there in the mid 70's His name was Pedro Llarena. As a kid,I can remember things mentioned like Boeing, missiles and guidance systems.