NNSA’s National Center of Excellence for High Explosives Research and Development


Aerial View of HEAF

HEAF has seven large fully contained firing tanks for testing explosives and can safely detonate experiments with up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of chemical high explosives analyzed with state-of-the-art diagnostics.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been involved in high explosives (HE) research and development (R&D) since its inception in 1952. During its first several decades of HE R&D integrated teams of chemists, physicists, engineers, and technicians were formed to address issues of national importance. In most cases the various technical disciplines were housed in different office buildings, and the teams conducted work in various laboratories, shops, and explosive firing sites separated by significant geographical distances.

In the 1970s it was recognized that efficiency and productivity could be improved if all of the disciplines and all of their work areas could be synergistically co-located in single facility dedicated to HE R&D. This vision of HEAF became a reality in 1988 when construction was completed. The facility was fully operational by 1990. The concept worked and, after two decades of important contributions to national security, HEAF is still the only facility of its kind in the world. In recognition of this fact, DOE/NNSA designated HEAF as a Center of Excellence for HE R&D. HEAF serves as a DOE Complex consolidation site for HE R&D serving multiple government agencies including DOE, DoD, TSA, and Homeland Security.

HEAF is a three-story 120,000 square-foot facility that includes 45,000 square feet of shops and laboratories and 28,000 square feet of office space and meeting rooms. Approximately 120 personnel reside in the facility, which has an onsite facility management infrastructure including administrative, engineering, and industrial and high explosive safety personnel. The main entrance to HEAF is the second floor which is dedicated to offices and meeting rooms. These offices house the experimentalists who work in the downstairs areas. Also housed in this same area are the computer code developers and analysts who use the experimental results to develop and use computational computer codes to model and simulate the complex geometries of energetic material systems.

Experimental Facilities

HEAF's expansive first floor houses the many laboratories and facilities that make HEAF unique in the world. Chemistry laboratories exist for the synthesis, formulation, characterization, and testing of high explosives and other energetic materials. The firing operations area of HEAF includes seven fully contained firing vessels with sizes and explosive weight ratings that vary from gram quantities up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) net explosive weight. The facility also has a 100-mm research gun that fires into a specially designed tank for high-velocity-impact studies.

HEAF is equipped with extensive, high-fidelity, high-speed diagnostics including x-ray radiography, x-ray tomography, high-speed photography, laser velocimetry, and embedded particle velocity/pressure measurements. Many of these diagnostics are integrated into the firing tanks to provide abundant dynamic data return. The combination of cutting-edge computational analysis and highly diagnosed experiments provides the required approach to achieve rapid and efficient advances in energetic material research.