Friday, February 15, 2019

NASA's new nuclear reactor could change space exploration

The Kilopower reactor assembly. NASA Image.

Want to start a space colony? Even if you don’t, space agencies across the globe do. Whether it’s a moon base now, à la the Trump administration’s plans for NASA, or a Mars landing later, such a colony will need a lot of power. And given the possibility of light-obscuring dust storms on the Red Planet and the moon seeing an uneven amount of sunlight, solar panels may not cut it. But don’t worry — Los Alamos National Lab has a plan.

It hinges on nuclear power, which, at its most basic, consists of harnessing energy from radioactive elements. (Full story)

World’s finest gold specimen probed with LANL neutrons

The Ram’s Horn, from the Mineralogical
and Geological Museum at Harvard
University. Harvard photo.

Using neutron characterization techniques a team of scientists have peered inside one of the most unique examples of wire gold, understanding for the first time the specimen’s structure and possible formation process. The 263 gram, 12 centimeter tall specimen, known as the Ram’s Horn, belongs to the collection of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum Harvard University (MGMH). (Full story

Watch the video

Also from the LA Reporter this week:

NNSA approves ‘Critical Decision 1’ for Advanced Sources And Detectors project

Illustration shows a portion of the ASD accelerator
and target vessel. LANL Graphic.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has approved Critical Decision-1 (CD-1) for the Advanced Sources and Detectors Project (ASD), a cornerstone of the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments portfolio (ECSE). ASD is a proposed 20-million electron volt (MeV) accelerator that will generate X-ray images, or radiographs, of subcritical implosion experiments for the nuclear weapons program.

“The ECSE portfolio is designed to better understand plutonium when it is subjected to extreme pressure from explosively driven shocks, a central mission need for NNSA’s science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program,” said Thom Mason, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

Squashed quantum dots can possibly emit more stable light

Some of the amazing features of the squashed dots are that the spectrally narrow light emitted has a highly stable intensity plus non-fluctuating emission energy. According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s new research, the stressed colloidal quantum dots signify a practicable substitute for the current in use nanoscale light sources. Additionally, they earn the title nanoscale, single-particle light sources for further application in medical diagnostics, optical quantum circuits, and ultrasensitive sensors.

In comparison to the conventional dots, the newly produced squashed dots offer great flexibility for bringing about manipulation in the emission color along with the exceptional subthermal, narrow linewidth. (Full story)

Nineteen Northern New Mexico students receive $28,500 In scholarships

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation recently awarded $1,500 Scholarships to 19 nontraditional students from Northern New Mexico.

Regional College/Returning Student (RCRS) Scholarships support individuals seeking a certification or two-year degree from a local accredited college, university or trade school after a gap in formal education.

The RCRS program is part of the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund (LAESF), the largest scholarship pool in Northern New Mexico with funding primarily contributed by LANL employees, contractors and retirees. (Full story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

2019 Summer physics camp for young women

One day [of the a two-week Summer Physics Camp] will be dedicated to visiting Los Alamos National Laboratory research facilities, which may include the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, CINT, and the NMC Biolab.

The camp will focus on boosting your understanding of the physics of the Sun, Earth, and everything in between and also introduce you to how to write your resume, interview for a job, and how to make some tasks fun by learning the basics of computer programming. (full story)

Ex-LANL biologist says he has an allergy solution

Cliff Han shows off two of his AllerPops,
Journal photo.

A retired Los Alamos National Laboratory biologist thinks he has found the solution to long-term allergy relief.

It’s a lollipop. Specifically, a lollipop that Cliff Han says tackles what he believes is the root cause of environmental allergies, rather than the symptoms. By stabilizing levels of “good” oral bacteria, he says, his product helps “switch off” an overworking immune system that makes people sneeze or cough. (Full story)

Friday, February 8, 2019

Magnetic north just changed. Here's what that means.

Magnetic north has never sat still. In the last hundred years or so, the direction in which our compasses steadfastly point has lumbered ever northward, driven by Earth's churning liquid outer core some 1,800 miles beneath the surface.

“We know that the pole now is moving faster than it has for decades, but how often does that happen in the long historical record?” inquires Geoff Reeves, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Lab. “We don't have any idea. What we know is what it's doing now is different, and that's always exciting scientifically.” (Full Story)

Research team creates bacterial sensor modeled after the immune system

Left to right: Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland, Harshini Mukundan and Aaron Anderson accept their R&D 100 Award, from R&D.

The human innate immune system is capable of detecting all pathogens quickly, sensitively and effectively. It does this by selectively recognizing and binding to pathogen-specific biomarkers—or bacterial calling cards—via a suite of immune receptors.

A team at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has created a possible solution. They’ve designed a Universal Bacterial Sensor—modeled after the human innate immune system—that mimics the biological recognition of all categories of bacterial pathogens. Requiring less than a drop of blood, it detects all pathogens without prior knowledge of what they might be, before symptom onset and within 15 to 30 minutes. (Full Story)

We need more powerful nuclear engines to explore farther and faster into space

NASA engineers working on the Kilopower reactor system, NASA photo.

NASA has also investigated making more efficient RTGs called eMMRTGs, or enhanced multi-mission RTGs. But to really take a bigger step forward, we have to look at something new. “Eventually we will need higher-power systems. Only fission can supply that in any type of near-term scenario,” says Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher David Poston.

Poston is the chief reactor designer for Kilopower, a prototype fission reactor that NASA successfully testedlast year. It could provide power over the course of long missions, possibly even for human planetary outposts. “The way we evolved it to being feasible was simplifying things,” says Poston. “We’ve had plenty of space reactor programs over the past 30 years, but they’ve all failed. Mostly because they became too expensive.”  (Full Story)

Los Alamos pursues technology for more affordable FCEVs

Yu Seung Kim, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with five institutions, including Toyota, to create polymer fuel cells designed to make electric cars less expensive.

Yu Seung Kim and his team’s job is to create a fuel cell that will allow an electric car to run without having to keep the engine cool or using water. “I proposed to make a fuel cell that will work above 100 degrees Celsius, up to 230 degrees Celsius (446 degrees Fahrenheit) without using water,” Kim explained. (Full Story)

In the lab: Asking the right questions


Tanmoy Bhattacharya reduces challenges in science and other disciplines to a puzzle of patterns. LANL photo.

In 1980s Kharagpur, India, the patterns dotted on the punch cards caught Tanmoy Bhattacharya’s eye.

Decades later, Bhattacharya, of Los Alamos’ Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology group, now helps maintain and program computers at Los Alamos that crunch complex data to design computational models for vaccines that can predict and possibly prevent HIV — one of the most enduring, complicated and devastating bloodborne diseases on the planet. (Full Story)

Sharp turns cause rivers to meander, migrate

According to new research by geologists, current river migration models are unnecessarily complicated. The latest analysis, published this week in the journal Geology, showed that a river's rate of migration is closely correlated with the sharpness of its bends.

"The authors' method for relating curvature to migration rate provides a very nice framework for determining where a simple migration model is appropriate," said Jonathan Schwenk, a postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Lab who studies river behavior. "I would love to see this analysis extended to rivers flowing through different environments to really get a sense of the factors that make simple models and the theory diverge from observed migration patterns." (Full Story)

How air conditioners could advance a renewable power grid

UM illustration.

More strategic control of air conditioners could improve the overall efficiency and reliability of the power grid and make it easier to transition to renewable energy, and that’s the goal of a $2.9 million grant University of Michigan researchers have received from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

In the experimentation stage, the team will build a small distribution feeder of air conditioners in a warehouse at Los Alamos National Laboratory. With this setup, the team will test the load balancing system to its breaking point, and therefore learn how to prevent such issues from occurring in real life. (Full Story)

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Friday, February 1, 2019

Doing work that matters at Los Alamos

From the moment Los Alamos first invented the atomic bomb, the scientists who worked on it knew that its enormous destructive power posed a unique danger to the world and were immediately concerned with how to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The laboratory’s nuclear nonproliferation work has focused primarily on detection: How will the United States and our allies know if another country is developing or testing nuclear weapons? How will we know if someone is smuggling nuclear material into or out of the country? (Full story)

LANL Director Thom Mason reflects on first 90 days

Thom Mason, Daily Post photo.

“During these first 90 days one thing that has really struck me as I’ve visited the various areas of the Laboratory is the total commitment to the Laboratory’s mission by all Lab staff that I’ve met,” Mason said. “They clearly have a sense that their efforts really matter.”

Mason describes the most enjoyable aspect of his job. “The thing I really like is the variety that comes from the breadth of the institution. I can touch in the course of a day the science, the technology, the operations, the community engagement ... that variety really keeps me engaged,” he said. (Full story)

Celebrate the women behind the periodic table

Darleane Hoffman, from Nature.

Here we spotlight some of the women who revolutionized our understanding of the elements. Marie Curie is the most celebrated, for her double Nobel-prizewinning research on radioactivity and for discovering polonium and radium1. Stories of other women’s roles are scarce.

US chemist Darleane Hoffman made a monumental leap in the early 1970s. She showed that the isotope fermium-257 could split spontaneously — not only after being bombarded with neutrons. The first woman to lead a scientific division at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Hoffman also uncovered plutonium-244 in nature. She trained generations of female scientists. (Full story)

World’s largest digital sky survey issues biggest astronomical data release ever

Pan-STARRS Observatory Maui, Hawaii.
From PhysOrg

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, in conjunction with the University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy (IfA), is releasing the second edition of data from Pan-STARRS—the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System—the world’s largest digital sky survey. The Pan-STARRS1 Surveys and its science archive have been made possible through contributions including the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

US Military bosses plan to use tiny nuclear reactors to give troops power on the battlefield

Truck-sized small reactor design, LANL image.             

US Military bosses are developing truck-sized nuclear reactors that could power basecamps in remote areas. It is hoped the reactors, which will fit on a truck, could be deployed to the hard to reach bases – such as the hillside forward bases U.S. troops set up in places like Afghanistan.  Currently, Idaho National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab are working toward new designs for modular nuclear power. (Full story)

Watch the video on YouTube

Los Alamos wants to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid

Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is famous for its work on the Manhattan Project and other ventures related to national security, intends to work with NASA to test asteroid deflection strategies. According to the YouTube video they just uploaded, the organizations want to hit Didymoon, a small asteroid orbiting a larger one, with a probe, and see what happens. "DART" is expected to launch in 2020, and reach the asteroid sometime in 2022. Check out the plan in the video below: (Full story)

Watch the video on YouTube

Los Alamos National Laboratory issues RFP for Crossroads supercomputer

The next big supercomputer is out for bid. A “request for proposal,” or RFP, for Crossroads, a high-performance computer that will support the nation’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, was released today.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory is proud to serve as the home of Crossroads. This high-performance computer will continue the Laboratory’s tradition of deploying unique capabilities to achieve our mission of national security science,” said Thom Mason, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

Also from HPCwire this week:

LANL deploys DataWarp Tech to speed simulations on Trinity

One of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s central missions is guarding the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile as part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship program. Computer simulation, of course, is key tool in the effort, and LANL uses its Trinity supercomputer (Cray XC40) to run simulations and to explore new technology that could be used to speed simulations.

As LANL points in a description of the issue, “The application runs for extended periods of time — often several months on end. As a result, data flushing to the Lustre file system creates inefficiencies because the application stops completely during the flushing process.” (Full story)

Friday, January 25, 2019

US military eyes tiny nuclear reactors for deployed troops

A truck-sized mini reactor design, LANL image.

Los Alamos National Lab is working toward new designs for modular nuclear power. Andy Erickson, the deputy principal associate director of Global Security at Los Alamos, recently forecast that microreactors could be ready for deployment in “less than five years.”

Last October, the U.S. Army declared that small, mobile nuclear reactors present “a classic example of disruptive innovation,” their study said, “The return of nuclear power to the Army and DOD will have a significant impact on the Army, our allies, the international community, commercial power industry, and the nation.” (Full Story)

Watch the video here!

Flu forecasting models consistently more accurate than historical baseline models

The influenza A virus.

In a multi-institution collaboration assessing 22 distinct influenza forecasting models across 7 flu seasons, investigators have found that the majority of models consistently showed higher accuracy than historical baseline models.

A team of investigators from that includes the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Carnegie Mellon University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Centers for Disease Control and many others collaborated on the project, which compared the accuracy of weekly real-time forecasts assembled between 2010 and 2017 to a historical baseline seasonal average.

"The field of infectious disease forecasting is in its infancy and we expect that innovation will spur improvements in forecasting in the coming years," the authors write in their report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Full Story)

Los Alamos physicist Michelle Thomsen wins the 2019 Arctowski Medal

Michelle Thomsen, PSI photo.

Michelle F. Thomsen, Planetary Science Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory, will receive the 2019 Arctowski Medal.

Over the past 40 years, Thomsen has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the relationships between the sun and its planetary bodies, with a particular emphasis on the physics of collisionless shocks and the dynamics of the planetary magnetospheres of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Beginning with her graduate work, Thomsen analyzed data from the early planetary missions Pioneer 10 and 11 and made some of the initial discoveries of the characteristics of the magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn that became the foundation for later missions and analyses. (Full Story)

Federal labs an essential part of New Mexico's economy

Laboratory Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory is a key economic driver in the region, and we are committed to both growing the local workforce and strengthening the local companies that are crucial in supporting the work we do," said Los Alamos Director Thom Mason

There’s a lot of cool science and research going on at the national laboratories based in New Mexico. It ranges from Los Alamos National Lab’s role in ushering in the nuclear age to the hypersonic vehicle Sandia National Labs is pioneering. (Full Story)

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