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Paul Kotula or Joe Michael - Microanalysis and the Amerithrax Investigation

Microanalysis and the FBI's Amerithrax Investigation of the 2001 Anthrax Attacks


Paul Kotula

Paul G. Kotula
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, NM

Joe Michael

Joseph R. Michael
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, NM


The Anthrax attacks of 2001 in the US killed 5, sickened 22 others and caused a significant disruption of mail and other government facilities. Although the attack materials were for the most part recovered (Bacillus Anthracis) in powder form in sealed envelopes, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was unprepared to perform the needed forensic analyses on these bio-weapon materials. In particular, it was identified that microanalysis from the micro- to nano-scale was a key missing piece of their capabilities. As a result, Sandia was asked to analyze the materials from the attacks by early 2002 and we reached our general conclusions within a few months. We also analyzed over 200 samples of B. anthracis between 2002 and 2008 in an attempt to discern the method of manufacture of the attack materials.

This talk will describe Sandia's involvement in the FBI's investigation and in particular the power of microanalysis in answering several critical questions: Was the Bacillus Anthracis intentionally weaponized (i.e., contain an additive to make it disperse predictably) and were the materials from the attacks from the same source? In particular x-ray spectral imaging (in the SEM and STEM) combined with multivariate statistical analysis were used to answer these questions. Specimen preparation was both by conventional microtomy and focused ion beam (FIB) sectioning of spore preparations. In addition, significant advances in analytical throughput were achieved by modification of a FE-SEM with an annular Si-drift detector with a solid angle of over 1 steradian. STEM in SEM was then performed with this new hybrid instrument in order to analyze large numbers of spores in a short time.

Paul Kotula is a Principal Member of Technical Staff in the Materials Characterization Department at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. Paul received his B.S. from Cornell University and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, both in Materials Science and Engineering. Before joining Sandia, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His work at Sandia includes analytical electron microscopy support for microelectronic and micro-electromechanical device development, welding, brazing, soldering, forensics, process feedback, failure analysis, and 3D materials characterization and microanalysis. He has helped build a research program on spectral imaging and automated multivariate statistical analysis. The software developed from this work for x-ray microanalysis is commercially available from Thermo Fisher Scientific and is now in over 500-labs worldwide. It is also in research-form in over 25-labs worldwide. Paul’s work has also garnered several awards over the years, among them an R&D 100 Award in 2002, two Best Analytical Techniques paper of the year in the journal Microscopy and Microanalysis (2003, 2006) and the Heinrich Award for outstanding young scientist from MAS in 2008.

Paul has been an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University since 2001 and has authored or co-authored over 70 journal articles on a wide variety of topics involving electron microscopy and microanalysis as well as two patents and two book chapters. He was also a Director of MAS (2002-2004), a Tour Speaker (2003-2004) and President of the Society (2006-2007).

Joe Michael is a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. He currently works in the Materials Characterization Department of the Materials Science Center where he develops and applies electron and ion microscopy to the characterization of materials. Prior to coming to Sandia in 1990, Joe worked as a Senior Research Engineer in the Homer Research Laboratories of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. He received his BS, MS and PhD. in Materials Science and Engineering from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. Notable awards for Dr. Michael include the Microscopy Society of America Burton Medal, an R&D 100 Award, the International Center for Diffraction Data’s Hanawalt Award, the Microbeam Analysis Society’s Heinrich and Presidential Science Awards, and the ASM’s Grossman Award. Joe is a Fellow of the Microscopy Society of America. He is a co-author of the leading textbook on Scanning Electron Microscopy. Joe has authored many book chapters and has published over 100 papers in the areas of materials science and electron microscopy.

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