John Cummings (BS '69)

Dr. John Cummings received his BS (1969), MS (1970), and PhD (1973) degrees from Caltech. His PhD research involved the development of a cryogenic shock tube and the study of strong shock waves in gaseous and liquid helium. His advisor was Prof. Hans W. Liepmann – who became his life-long friend. Dr. Cummings married Ellen Curtin in 1968.  John and Ellen have two grown sons and eight grandchildren.  They split their time between Colorado and Washington where they are involved in church and volunteer activities.

Dr. Cummings is the Chief Scientist for the Center for Understanding Change (C4UC), a non-profit organization.  He worked at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, for 32 years in a wide variety of technical staff and management positions and retired in March 2008. In June 2005, he returned to Sandia after three years on assignment in Washington DC as the Director of the R&D program for critical infrastructure protection for the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (this followed an assignment with the White House Homeland Security Transition Planning Office). Before his position with DHS, he was the Deputy to the Chief Technology Officer at Sandia National Laboratories.

His technical work included research in experimental fluid mechanics, combustion, and the use of laser-based instrumentation. He was the project leader in charge of the Hydrogen Behavior and Control Program (related to the accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant). His work contributed significant new understanding of flame acceleration and transition to detonation in confined regions, the development of the hydrogen assessment computer code HECTR, and new combustion-mitigation schemes. He also conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for Flow Research (Gottingen, Germany) on liquid helium second-sound shock waves.

In 1983 he was promoted to Supervisor of the Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer Division. His work on energetic materials (explosives and propellants) led to his appointment as Chairman of the JANNAF (Joint Army Navy NASA Air Force) “Shock to Detonation Transition” Panel for the Propulsion Systems Hazards Subcommittee. He joined the Yucca Mountain Project as Supervisor of System Performance Assessment Division. In 1990 Dr. Cummings was promoted to Manager of the Fluid and Thermal Sciences Department. In 1992 he was selected as the Deputy to the Vice President of the Laboratory Development Division.

Dr. Cummings served on the Science Advisory Committee of the Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) located at the University of Southern California and on a panel of the Defense Science Board. He is a member of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics and served as a member of the Executive Committee. He was the U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency working on the mitigation of hydrogen combustion hazards in nuclear power plants. He was a member of the DOE Committee on Hydrogen at Three Mile Island and the Hydrogen Subgroup on Containment Integrity.  He served as a consultant for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the Electric Power Research Institute hydrogen combustion tests at Nevada Test Site and the Mark III Boiling Water Reactor Owner’s Group combustion tests. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Xi. Before coming to Sandia, Dr. Cummings was employed for two years by the Engineering Sciences Department at TRW Systems, Inc., where he conducted research on HF and DF chemical lasers.

In Their Own Words