Friday, May 19, 2017

Trying to bring down cancer

Behind leaded glass, robotic arms quality-test isotope production, Popular Mechanics photo.

Eva Birnbaum, the isotope production facility's program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, asks me if I know what a decay chain is. She points in the direction of an expanded periodic table that, despite a year of college chemistry, means about as much to me as a list of shipbuilding supplies from the 1600s.

As for what a decay chain is: When radioactive isotopes release radiation, they usually turn into another radioactive isotope, which releases radiation until it turns into another radioactive isotope, and so on, until it hits on something stable. (Full Story)

Insight into enzyme's 3D structure could cut biofuel costs

Structure of an enzyme that helps bacteria break down cellulose, LANL image.

Using neutron crystallography, a Los Alamos research team has mapped the three-dimensional structure of a protein that breaks down polysaccharides, such as the fibrous cellulose of grasses and woody plants, a finding that could help bring down the cost of creating biofuels. The research focused on a class of copper-dependent enzymes called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs), which bacteria and fungi use to naturally break down cellulose and closely related chitin biopolymers. (Full Story)

Nerses ‘Krik’ Krikorian reflects on his career as a scientist and intelligence analyst

Krik Kerkorian, LANL photo.

Today, at age 96, Krikorian lives in a brightly lit condominium in Los Alamos, surrounded by his vast art collection and family photos, marveling at his good fortune. When he started kindergarten in Niagara Falls, he barely spoke English. Sixteen years later, he graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and began a job at Union Carbide, working in a lab that made highly enriched uranium. For what purpose, Krikorian wasn’t sure.

“I’d read a book somewhere that speculated that uranium was a fission thing. But I didn’t know what ‘fission’ meant. I’m a chemist, not a physicist,” he said with a laugh. It was 1943 and, unbeknownst to him, Krikorian was knee-deep in the Manhattan Project. (Full Story)

Rethinking the dreaded Siberian elm

Siberian elms line East Alameda Street in Santa Fe, from the New Mexican.

Sanna Sevanto, a tree physiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, called the elms “a double-edged sword” because they grow quickly, use a lot of water but also provide lush, shade canopies.

Because of their wide leaves, they also “release more water vapor into the atmosphere than areas like grasslands, and that basically maintains the patterns of local rainfall better — that is the part where they are good,” she said.

“It is a new world we live in, and elms are succeeding,” said Nate McDowell, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist who led a Southwestern tree study that found that climate change could leave the high-desert mountains of New Mexico nearly bald. (Full Story)

Quasars defy models of black hole formation

Artists' impression of a quasar, from IBT.

In March, researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used computer simulations to calculate the rate of evolution of supermassive black holes if their growth is fed by cold and dense accretion streams.

The simulated black holes created by the researchers were also seen to be interacting with galaxies in the same way that is observed in nature, mimicking star formation rates, galaxy density profiles, and thermal and ionization rates of gases. (Full Story)

Six Northern New Mexico businesses awarded funds to boost growth

The Venture Acceleration Fund awarded a round of funding to six diverse northern New Mexico businesses. The VAF is a collaborative investment administered by the Regional Development Corporation.

“The Laboratory wants to support the region’s small businesses as much as possible, and the VAF plays a critical role in helping companies on a growth trajectory expand and contribute to the broader economy,” said David Pesiri, director of the Richard P. Feynman Center for Innovation at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is responsible for the Lab’s technology transfer initiatives. (Full Story)

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Perry tours, praises LANL
U.S Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, left, with Lab Director Charlie McMillan, center, and Jeff Yarbrough, LANL photo.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, speaking at what he called “one of the most interesting sites in the world,” said the United States “no longer can continue to kick the can down the road” when it comes to cleaning up long-term radioactive and hazardous waste at the nation’s nuclear labs.

After getting a private tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory and speaking to its employees, Perry – who once vowed to eliminate the Department of Energy – was effusive in his praise of LANL and its sister DOE labs around the country.
“I suggest every country in the world would love to just have one like Los Alamos,” he told reporters. (Full story)

US energy chief touts nuclear energy, vows cleanup progress
Perry at a Los Alamos news conference, AP photo.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Wednesday vowed to advocate for nuclear power as the nation looks for ways to fuel its economy and limit the effects of electricity generation on the environment.

Perry made the comments during a visit to Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, where nuclear research has been among the main focuses since the lab's founding years during World War II. Los Alamos played a key role in the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb.

Current work at the lab centers on nuclear deterrence, nonproliferation and the modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. (Full story)

Scientists strike back at mysteries of lightning
As part of the global security mission at Los Alamos, scientists use lightning to help develop better instruments for nuclear test-ban treaty monitoring and, in the process, have learned a lot about lightning itself.

For example, how is lightning initiated? Think about that: it happens up to 100 times per second, but we don’t quite know how. In a thunderstorm, electric charge separates into layers. A lightning discharge is a flow of electrons from one layer to another (or to the ground) that slightly relieves the imbalance. (Full story)

Plutonium chemistry a boon for nuclear waste management
Handling radioactive substances has come
a long way since the 1950s. From Cosmos.

Understanding plutonium chemistry may pave the way for cleaner nuclear power with less toxic waste. David Clark, a leading chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has written that a “zero effluent” nuclear facility using “molecularly engineered plutonium compounds and total recycle of environmentally benign designer solvents” may not be far away. (Full story)

Google moves in and wants to pump 1.5 million gallons of water per day
Water recycling facility at Los Alamos National
Laboratory, LANL photo.   

A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Energy noted that as the industry expands, the data center sector is using an increasing amount of water for cooling and electricity generation.

Monica Witt is a sustainability program manager at the federal Los Alamos National Laboratory, which operates several large data centers in New Mexico. Witt says the lab has to share its water with residents of the city of Los Alamos.
"We know that supercomputers and data centers are just going to use more and more water, so communicating to the community how much we're going to use in the next 10 years and planning with them has been really helpful," she said. (Full story)

Data analysis could trigger new shale gas revolution
Extensive data mining and analysis of 20,000 shale gas wells has revealed how “refracturing” existing wells with new technology could transform them from diminished producers into high-performers long after their initial peak production period has ended.

“Our analysis could potentially aid in reducing the number of new wells to be drilled,” said Richard Middleton, lead author of the study by a team of Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists. “In addition, through better fracturing techniques and alternative working fluids such as supercritical carbon dioxide, we see ways to both increase shale gas recovery and minimize environmental impacts through carbon sequestration,” he said. (Full story)

Santa Fe startup has its mark on the world
Anyone can explore the far reaches of earth using Google Earth, but Santa Fe company Descartes Labs has created innovative technology. They’re zooming in on things you’ve probably never looked at on Google Earth.

“Our goal was to better understand the planet by looking at the images that are taken every day by satellites,” said CEO Mark Johnson.

In the summer of 2014, Johnson met a team of scientists at Los Alamos National Lab working on deep learning artificial intelligence to better understand large data sets. (Full story)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Unraveling the mysteries of lightning

Tess Light writes about the Laboratory’s study of lightning. Because lightning produces optical and radio frequency signals similar to those from a nuclear explosion, it’s important to be able to distinguish whether such signals are caused by lightning or a nuclear event. As part of the global security mission at Los Alamos, scientists use lightning to help develop better instruments for nuclear test-ban treaty monitoring and, in the process, have learned a lot about lightning itself. (Full Story)

Why this company's scanning technology is a smugglers' nightmare

Decision Sciences nuclear material/contraband scanning system, DSI illustration.

Last week, Decision Sciences said it received a contract with the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs to install one of its next-generation cargo scanning systems at its main port.

Though a pilot project, Decision Sciences is betting it will lead to further deployments of its technology, which is licensed from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and has been refined for more than a decade.

“In terms of total volume, Singapore is the second-largest port in the world,” said Johnson. “So this is a very important event for Decision Sciences.” (Full Story)

Scientists search for evidence of life on Mars in Babbitt Ranches rock varnish

Nina Lanza, LANL photo.

Nina Lanza, a Los Alamos National Laboratory planetary geologist who has been involved in NASA’s Desert RATS (Desert Research and Technology Studies) astronaut training projects, spacesuit tests and rover excursions on Babbitt Ranches in the past, says the relationship between microbes and rock varnish has been a source of long-standing controversy.

Lanza is an expert in laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, a technique using light and heat to understand the composition of rocks. Through instruments on the Mars Curiosity Rover, she is currently gathering data about the Martian surface. (Full Story)

A safer rocket motor designed for CubeSats

CubeSat motor test firing, LANL image.

Engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory developed a six-motor array that fits beneath a CubeSat and keeps the solid fuel and oxidizer separate inside the rocket.

The motors use a new type of solid-based chemical fuel called a segregated fuel oxidizer. It keeps the solid fuel and oxidizer separate inside the rocket. Mixed fuel-and-oxidizer motors are much more common but much more unstable. (Full Story)

New director tapped for DOE Nanotechnology Center

Andreas Roelofs, LANL photo.

Physicist Andreas Roelofs is the new director of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT), a Department of Energy-funded nano research facility that has a core center at Sandia National Laboratories and a gateway research site at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the agency announced May 2.

"We are extremely pleased to have Andreas join CINT as center director and in the Experimental Physical Sciences Directorate at Los Alamos as group leader of the CINT technical organization," said Mary Hockaday, associate director of Experimental Physical Sciences. (Full Story)

Trio of NM startups working with national labs to advance next-generation technologies

UbiQD solar window prototype, from UbiQD.

Pajarito Powder manufactures materials allowing fuel cell electric vehicles to work better and has been working with Los Alamos National Laboratory since last August to help commercialize such technologies developed by the lab and by Pajarito.

iBeam Materials, a Santa Fe-based company, spun out from Los Alamos National Lab in 2011. And UbiQD is the third New Mexico startup participating in the DOE’s small business vouchers program.  The Los Alamos company was paired with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in August. (Full Story)

LANL Foundation Awards $53,000 In Education And Community Grants

The LANL Foundation awarded 21 grants totaling $53,000 to support education and community programs in Northern New Mexico during the first-quarter grantmaking period.

Twelve programs received Education Outreach funding that directly supports K–12 public school children. An additional nine Community Outreach Grants were awarded to programs aligned with the LANL Foundation’s mission and vision. (Full Story)

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Antarctica has a network of meltwater rivers that is much larger than previously thought

Reuters image.     

The effects of warming global temperatures are already being felt in the Antarctic, says Stephen Price, a meltwater researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"Ice shelves are very flat, and essentially lie at sea level. So a small increase in temperature at sea level can translate to an increase in temperature over a very large area of an ice shelf," Dr. Price tells the Monitor via email. "If temperatures at sea level are already near the melting point, then small increases in temperature could lead to huge areas of the surface of ice shelves that were previously frozen becoming melted, for at least part of the year." (Full story

Seven amazing women in tech you need to know

Sara Del Valle, LANL image.

Sara Del Valle, Computational Epidemiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory – We use mathematical equations to describe how diseases spread. Then we use computer science to create simulations like what you see in computer and video games. We can ask, “What happens if there’s a virus in an airport? Or in a school?” then simulate how the virus spreads. Usually we rely on code from existing packages, but sometimes we write our own from scratch.

Even though I'm a mathematician, I lead a team of computer scientists, software developers, and statisticians. The software developers build the simulations and add new capabilities to the code.  (Full story)

Evidence that dark matter emits gamma rays weakened

Cluster of galaxies EMSS 1358+6245 about 4 billion light years from Earth, NASA image.      

New evidence shows that radiation of gamma rays from dark matter is less convincing, as other parts of galaxies also emit excessive gamma ray. This leaves the dark matter to remain the biggest mystery.

“What I see in the control regions looks just like what I see in the galactic center,” Astrophysicist Andrea Albert of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico who also participated in the analysis said. “That's a bummer.”

Gamma rays radiation was previously believed was emitted by dark matter as its signature of activities. However, this finding has weakened the case of dark matter. (Full story)

Researchers hope breakthrough will lead to better test for bovine TB

Scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory say they have made a breakthrough that could lead to a quick blood test for bovine tuberculosis. Harshini Mukundan, leader of the lab’s biomedical applications team, said they came up with the idea after speaking with local ranchers.

"It is kind of incredible that when one cow is potentially infected the whole herd may have to be culled," she said. "If you could have a process that you could run on all of the animals and say, 'yes, this one has been infected' and 'no, this has not,' then obviously a lot of that time and economic burden could be reduced." (Full story)

Managing disease spread through accessible modeling

Influenza A.           

A new computer modeling study from Los Alamos National Laboratory is aimed at making epidemiological models more accessible and useful for public-health collaborators and improving disease-related decision making.

"In a real-world outbreak, the time is often too short and the data too limited to build a really accurate model to map disease progression or guide public-health decisions," said Ashlynn R. Daughton, a graduate research assistant at Los Alamos and doctoral student at University of Colorado, Boulder. She is lead author on a paper out last week in Scientific Reports, a Nature journal. (Full story)

Jaqueline L. Kiplinger to receive award for pioneering contributions to chemistry

Jaqueline Kiplinger, LANL photo.       

Jaqueline Kiplinger, Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow within the Inorganic, Isotope and Actinide Chemistry Group, is the recipient of the 2017 Violet Diller Professional Excellence Award given triennially by Iota Sigma Pi (the National Honor Society of Women in Chemistry). The award recognizes contributions to chemistry that have had widespread significance to the scientific community or society on a national level.

Kiplinger is an internationally recognized leader in f-element chemistry, the study of lanthanides and actinides.  Kiplinger came to Los Alamos as the first Frederick Reines Postdoctoral Fellow in 1999.  (Full story)