Access System Opens Doors to Ground-Breaking Laser Research

A smart card-based access control system allows Jefferson Lab, a government reserach facility in Newport News, VA to keep close tabs on its new laser research user labs, which utilize the Lab's new $34 million free-electron laser (FEL).

Installed in February, the system controls and monitors entrance to two special equipment rooms and six research labs (covering 6,600 square feet) that will utilize the laser for experiments in subjects ranging from photochemistry to microfabrication. Laser light, invisible to the eye, is directed to the labs from the facility's FEL, housed in a large basement "accelerator vault" with concrete walls and flooring. Possible manufacturing uses for a commercial laser, which is several years away, range from softening polyester (improved texture) to smoothing metal surfaces (reduced corrosion).

Cards indicate safety training

Mifare contactless smart cards from Philips Semiconductors that contain user's current safety training level are read by Productivity Enhancement Products' (PEP) card readers which run Smart Access 2000 software by CLI. The CLI Smart Access 2000 system's access control application runs on a PC-based Windows 95 operating system. If the safety training level is verified by the system, the host system opens the door's magnetic lock and records necessary information, such as lab name, time and date.

Networked PEPLock card readers immediately send the data to a Microsoft Access database on a stand-alone PC-based system, for use in custom reports, printing or transfer to another main server database. Users outside the facility can access the database through the Jefferson Lab Web page, first choosing a picture among currently authorized system personnel to then display current system information, such as a cardholder's last lab entrance, says Martha Harrell, president of CLI.

Biometric exits?

Adding biometrics to the access control system for exits from the rooms - by installing a separate thumbprint pattern recognition device within rooms - is currently under review. "It's less expensive than the card readers and would offer many of its benefits," says Kevin Jordan, staff electrical engineer, Jefferson Lab.

Currently there is one card reader outside each room. For exits, programmed "open door" time limits function as safety checks, says Jordan. Once opened, when a lock isn't engaged again by the time limit, the system sends a message to shut down any further transmission of FEL light into the room.

According to Jordan, the device would be networked and interfaced to the card reader, which would then check safety levels, identification, etc., from the system database.

Functionality helped sell system

Although a user lab access control system was required to address issues of safety and security, smart cards weren't the first or only option reviewed. "Systems based on bar codes, keypads and other Auto.ID were also looked at," says Harrell. What motivated Jefferson in part to include CLI's card-based system was the company's current partnership with Jefferson, its ability to offer competitive prices compared to other types of access control systems, and the system's functionality.

Functioning without any failures since its installation, the system has proven successful so far, says Harrell. Several beta tests run prior to installation worked out tricky system steps, such as interfacing smart card software and hardware to the magnetic door lock controller hardware.

Smart cards will be issued to about 50 of the company's 500 employees as well as representatives from high-tech companies, universities or governmental agencies using the research labs.

Laser outshines others

Initially measured at a record-breaking 155 watts in June, many thousands times more powerful than a supermarket scanner's laser, the FEL can produce as much as 2,000 watts. Lab scientists will attempt to generate another record-breaking beam, 1,000 watts this time, in the fall.

Owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, Jefferson Lab conducts research on the basic structure of the atom using particle acceleration technology.

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