Friday, June 21, 2019

“The Death Star” event that ejected life into the solar system

Asteroid impact model. LANL image.

A few years ago, reports Douglas Preston in The Day the Dinosaurs Died, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact, creating a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event:

“Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. (Full story)

NASA concept for generating power in deep space a little KRUSTY

Photo from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

NASA and NNSA engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY). The vacuum chamber is later evacuated to simulate the conditions of space when KRUSTY operates.

Prospects of establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon have taken a step forward with the test of a system known as Kilopower, a lightweight fission reactor which could provide ten kilowatts of power for at least a decade.

KRUSTY was developed by NNSA’s [Los Alamos National Laboratory]. Last week, the team won a Gears of Government President’s Award for their achievement. (Full story)

Simulating ice at the bottom of the world: Modeling the Antarctic ice sheets

Antarctic surface velocities simulated by MALI. LANL image.

The collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in the West Antarctic Peninsula shattered more than ice — it shattered scientists’ prevailing view of ice sheets and their floating shelves. Simulating these erratic and complex changes requires scientists to have a high level of detail — called resolution — in their models. 

MALI — a collaboration between DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories — puts resolution only where it’s needed. It can focus high resolution on fast-moving ice streams and low resolution in the slow-moving interior. The model changes the resolution by changing the shape and size of the blocks it splits the world into.

Results have been good so far. At a test of one-kilometer (0.6-mile) resolution, MALI simulated the thickness of certain ice accurately down to the meter. Other tests have showed that it’s correctly mimicking under different circumstances how the grounding line moves. (Full story)

Petaflop systems now dominate the supercomputer landscape

Trinity supercomputer at Los Alamos, LANL photo.

Petaflop capabilities now dominate the supercomputer landscape with all of this year's entries in the TOP500 now delivering these levels of performance or more.

In seventh place Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories' Trinity at 20.2 petaflops.

The TOP500 project is a bi-annual report on supercomputers around the world based on the High-Performance Linpack (HPL) benchmark. For the first time since its inception in 1993, only petaflop systems have made the TOP500 computers list. (Full story)

Friday, June 14, 2019

The problem with quantum computers

Illustration from SciAm.

The trouble is, quantum mechanics challenges our intuition. So we struggle to figure out the best algorithms for performing meaningful tasks. To help overcome these problems, our team at Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing a method to invent and optimize algorithms that perform useful tasks on noisy quantum computers.

Algorithms are the lists of operations that tell a computer to do something, analogous to a cooking recipe. Compared to classical algorithms, the quantum kind are best kept as short as possible and, we have found, best tailored to the particular defects and noise regime of a given hardware device. (Full Story)

Reaping the unexpected dividends of space exploration

Vela satellite undergoing testing at Los Alamos in the 1960s, LANL photo.

Space science has likewise yielded unexpected discoveries and unintended applications — some at Los Alamos National Laboratory. For example, in the early 1960s, Los Alamos developed technology for detecting space-based nuclear detonations when the United States signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

One week after the treaty went into effect, the laboratory began its nascent treaty monitoring role when its sensors rode into space on the first of the Vela satellite series. From the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, a series of 12 Vela satellites were sent into space—each with a suite of Los Alamos instruments. (Full Story)

How scientists discovered a new way to produce a rare medical isotope

A single patient with end-stage prostate cancer before treatment (A) after three doses of
actinium-225 (B) and after an additional dose (C).    

Inside a narrow glass tube sits a substance that can harm or cure, depending on how you use it. It gives off a faint blue glow, a sign of its radioactivity. While the energy and subatomic particles it emits can damage human cells, they can also kill some of our most stubborn cancers. This substance is actinium-225.

"There is no residual impact of the prostate cancer. It's remarkable," said Kevin John, a researcher at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Actinium-225 and treatments derived from it have also been used in early trials for leukemia, melanoma, and glioma. (Full Story)

All-woman team commands rock-zapping laser on Mars


From left to right: Suzi Montano, Adriana Reyes-Newell, Roberta Beal, Lisa Danielson, Nina Lanza and Cindy Little (not pictured: Margie Root). LANL photo.

The laser that zaps rocks on Mars is commanded by a talented group of engineers and scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory—who also happen to all be women, a rarity in the engineering field.

“It’s unusual, simply because engineering still tends to be male-dominated,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist on the team who has helped recruit some other team members. “Typically on teams like this you’ll have a few women, but a majority are men. I don’t know of any other instruments on the Mars Curiosity Rover that has an all-female engineering team.” (Full Story)

Thin-film breakthrough to give quantum technologies a boost

A multi-institution research team led by Los Alamos scientists report they have developed a thin film to control the generation of single photons at a precise location. This thin film, made from two 2D materials, tungsten and selenium, pave the way “for beyond-lab-scale quantum materials.”

"While more research is needed to fully understand the role of mechanical deformation in creating these quantum emission sites, we may enable a route to control quantum optical properties by using strain," said Michael Pettes, a Los Alamos National Laboratory materials scientist. (Full Story)

A bubbly new way to detect the magnetic fields of nanometer-scale particles

Image from NIST.

As if they were bubbles expanding in a just-opened bottle of champagne, tiny circular regions of magnetism can be rapidly enlarged to provide a precise method of measuring the magnetic properties of nanoparticles.  The technique provides a deeper understanding of the magnetic behavior of nanoparticles.

Samuel M. Stavis of NIST and Andrew L. Balk, who conducted most of his research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and NIST, along with colleagues at NIST and the Johns Hopkins University, described their findings in a recent issue of Physical Review Applied. (Full Story)

Faces of innovation: Cristian Pantea, acoustic scientist

Cristian Pantea, LANL photo.

When bomb squads are called to check out a potential bomb, they need answers to critical questions. Is the bomb a fake? If it’s real, is it stable enough to be defused, or could it explode at any second?

A Los Alamos–invented acoustic imaging device, called ACCObeam, is being repurposed to remove much of that uncertainty. Using ACCObeam’s sound waves, bomb techs of the future may be able to build 3D images of bombs without physically looking inside them. (Full Story)
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Friday, June 7, 2019

Over 400 earthquakes have hit Southern California in the past few days

Micro-quake data, LANL image.

In the period between 2008 and 2017, scientists found that Southern California was hit by 1.8 million more tiny earthquakes than had previously been recorded, according to a study recently published in the journal Science, highlighting the significant levels of geological activity in the region. Again, most of these were imperceptible on the surface.

"You don't feel them happening all the time, but they're happening all the time," Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of the study, told National Public Radio. (Full story)


Podcast: Irene Qualters from LANL shares life lessons on HPC and diversity

Qualters, LANL photo.        

In this Big Compute Podcast, Gabriel Broner interviews Irene Qualters from Los Alamos National Lab about her career and the evolution of HPC. Irene, an HPC pioneer, went from being a young, inexperienced female engineer working with Seymour Cray to becoming president of Cray Research. After 20 years at Cray Research, she decided it was time for a change and went into the pharma space and eventually the National Science Foundation. She was awarded the 2018 HPCwire Readers’ Award for Outstanding Leadership in HPC.  (Full story)

You can’t see it, but it’s 200+ times stronger than steel

Hisato Yamaguchi examines a material for
night vision goggles that is coated with
atomic armor, LANL photo.

The evolution of armor has been a constant struggle between protection and performance.

It was this struggle between keeping some things (bullets) out, while letting others (heat and perspiration) out that inspired scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a radical new type of coating dubbed “atomic armor.” Made from two-dimensional, ultrathin crystal materials, atomic armor can be applied in a skin-like layer to a particularly sensitive device without hindering its performance. So, for instance, night-vision goggles can be coated with atomic armor to protect against corrosive gases without hindering their ability to turn darkness into light. (Full story)

Community leaders briefed on safety, workforce development

Director Mason, LANL photo.

LANL Director Thom Mason and DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Steve Goodrum discuss safety and workforce development during the LANL Community Conversation event Thursday morning at Buffalo Thunder Resort.

Director Mason told the audience that the TA55 Division will add 1,500 employees in the near future. In answer to a question from Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus about diverse careers at LANL, Mason said, “The Lab is a broad enough place that anyone can match their skills and passion to a career at LANL”. (Full story)

LANL Faces of Innovation: Katie Mussack, physicist

Mussack, LANL photo.

In 1945, the U.S. Navy had a question: Could its ships survive a nuclear blast? It turned to Los Alamos, which provided an answer after the 1946 Crossroads test series in the Pacific. In 2018, the Navy had another question—a classified one—this time about nuclear weapons. Once again, it turned to Los Alamos for an answer.

“To answer the question, we started brainstorming,” says physicist Katie Mussack, who partnered with colleagues Omar Wooten and Guillermo Terrones on what she calls “thought experiments.” (Full story)

Friday, May 31, 2019

100 years ago, Einstein and an eclipse changed physics forever

Einstein, from the Washington Post.

Inside a black hole, Einstein's equations suggest that matter and energy become so compressed they reach infinite density. But what does that mean? The theorists suspect it means they need a better theory.

"You can't calculate anything beyond that point, once the numbers become infinite. You've lost all control," says Emil Mottola, a theoretical physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"That doesn't tell you that nature can't do that, but it's very suspicious." (Full Story)

Startups strive to recycle emissions for 'new carbon economy'

Oil pipeline, image from WPR.

With captured CO2 most sought after by oil operations, a nationwide network of pipelines more than 4,500 miles (7,240 km) long carries it to wells, according to a 2017 study by the Great Plains Institute.

But pipelines could also one day be plugged into manufacturing hubs that use recycled CO2 to make chemicals and building materials - if those industries really take off, said Richard Middleton with the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Middleton is one of a group of scientists mapping an expansive grid of pipelines that, if built out, would maximize the amount of CO2 taken from sources like energy plants and heavy industry to sites where demand is highest. (Full Story)

Quantum information gets a boost from thin-film breakthrough

Controlling single-photon emission for specific locations in 2D materials, LANL graphic.

Efforts to create reliable light-based quantum computing, quantum key distribution for cybersecurity, and other technologies got a boost from a new study demonstrating an innovative method for creating thin films to control the emission of single photons.

"Efficiently controlling certain thin-film materials so they emit single photons at precise locations—what's known as deterministic quantum emission—paves the way for beyond-lab-scale quantum materials," said Michael Pettes, a Los Alamos National Laboratory materials scientist and leader of the multi-institution research team. (Full Story)

Earth notes: Pajarito Plateau birds

Common Nighthawk, All About Birds photo.

After the Cerro Grande Fire burned through in the year 2000, foresters decided to thin trees to reduce wildfire danger. Ecologists at Los Alamos National Laboratory wanted to survey birds in thinned and unthinned areas, to find how they responded to this management technique.

Then something unexpected happened. Almost all the pinyon pines in the study sites died—left vulnerable to bark beetle attacks. Only juniper was left.

Over the next decade, bird populations on the Pajarito Plateau plummeted by 73 percent, on both thinned and unthinned sites. Eight species disappeared—including the common nighthawk, band-tailed pigeon, hairy woodpecker, and pygmy nuthatch—cutting the region’s diversity almost in half. (Full Story)

Mary Anne With receives 2019 NPS distinguished service award

Mary Anne With, LANL photo.

Mary Anne With of the Office of Partnerships and Pipeline, PPO, at Los Alamos National Laboratory is the recipient of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA)’s 2019 Distinguished Service Award.

The community is invited to join the Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows in a celebration of With's incomparable contributions to the Laboratory since she joined the Postdoc program in 1991. (Full Story)

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