Friday, January 19, 2018

Nuclear reactors the size of wastebaskets could power our Martian settlements

Artist's illustration of the umbrella-like heat radiators of
four Kilopower nuclear reactors casting shadows
on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA  

The cylinder of uranium is the size of a coffee can. Even with its shielding and detectors, the device is still no larger than a wastepaper basket. But this little prototype, soon to be tested in the Nevada desert, fuels a dream of an off-world future for humanity.

The Kilopower project, a joint venture between NASA and the Department of Energy, is set to be the first nuclear fission reactor to reach space since the SNAP 10A project in the 1960s. A prototype is in testing, which makes it closer to launch than any of the other projects that popped up in the intervening decades.

“Your toaster uses about a kilowatt,” Pat McClure, Kilopower project lead at Los Alamos, says with a laugh. “In your average household, you use about 5 KW on average a day, at any given time. Realize, though, that this is a lot of energy for NASA. At NASA, they’re used to tens to hundreds of watts. So, to have a kilowatt or 10 kilowatts is a lot of electricity.” (Full story
Also in

U.S. tests nuclear power system to sustain astronauts on Mars

Mars fission power system concept in the Kilopower project
Courtesy NASA

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA’s Kilopower project. (Full story)

Double-Paned Solar Windows Crank Up Efficiency

A new design for windows that can harvest solar electricity

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, led by OSA Fellow Victor Klimov, have devised a prototype large-area solar window that cleverly combines a double-paned architecture and cheap-to-manufacture quantum dots to boost solar energy collection efficiency compared with single-pane models. The key to the scheme: engineering the QDs embedded in the upper and lower panes to capture and rechannel photons from different parts of the solar spectrum—and to keep re-absorption of photons to a minimum. (Full story)

Glacial moulin formation triggered by rapid lake drainage

A moulin on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
Credit: Halorache

Scientists are uncovering the mystery of how, where and when important glacial features called moulins form on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Moulins, vertical conduits that penetrate through the half-mile-deep ice, efficiently funnel the majority of summer meltwater from the ice surface to the base of the ice sheet. The lubricating effects of the draining water can lead to faster sliding of the ice sheet. A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, finds meltwater lakes that form on the ice surface can drain through moulins in a matter of hours.

"Forming a moulin in Greenland requires a crack on the ice surface, which becomes filled with water that eventually drives the crack through the ice," said Matthew Hoffman, a glaciologist and computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico and lead author of the new study. "But there's a mystery here: A large fraction of the moulins in Greenland form some distance away from the ice sheet's existing crevasse fields." (Full story)

Learn more about Venture Acceleration Fund

Early stage businesses, or even those that are more established, often find it hard to land the right cash infusion, especially when traditional bank financing can be elusive. Under this common scenario, funding through the Venture Acceleration Fund could be the needed boost.

The Venture Acceleration Fund was launched by Los Alamos National Security LLC, the partnership that manages Los Alamos National Laboratory, and it provides most of the money that make up the fund. In recent years, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties, the city of Santa Fe and New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership have also contributed. (Full story)

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Los Alamos boss insists US national security remains top focus for the lab

Terry Wallace, LANL photo.

Geophysicist Terry Wallace has become the 11th director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. With a budget of $2.5bn, Los Alamos currently has almost 12,000 employees and contractors. Taking up office on 1 January, he succeeds nuclear physicist Charles McMillan, who announced his plan to retire last September.

Wallace, 61, completed a BSc in geophysics and mathematics at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology before doing a PhD in geophysics from California Institute of Technology. (Full Story)

Supercomputers tackle antibiotic resistance

Gnana Gnanakaran and the efflux pump model, LANL photo.

Understanding antibiotic resistance starts with understanding bacteria. Bacteria have evolved ways to keep out harmful foreign substances. Many so-called Gram-negative bacteria, which have two cellular membranes, have evolved protein structures called efflux pumps that are lodged between the membranes and expel toxins out of the cell.

One type of efflux pump, which until recently had only been studied piecemeal, was modeled in its entirety and simulated using supercomputers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The work harnessed the laboratory’s extensive modeling and supercomputing simulation capabilities developed in support of its national security mission. (Full Story)

Astronomers are using AI to study the vast universe — fast

Axios illustration. 

The next generation of powerful telescopes will scan millions of stars and generate massive amounts of data that astronomers will be tasked with analyzing. That’s way too much data for people to sift through and model themselves — so astronomers are turning to AI to help them do it.

The large telescopes that will survey the sky will be looking for transient events — new signals or sources that "go bump in the night," says Los Alamos National Laboratory's Tom Vestrand. (Full Story)

Engineered quantum dots could help lower solar power cost

Double pane solar window, LANL image.

A team at Los Alamos National Laboratory began by incorporating ions of manganese into quantum dots. The ions served as highly emissive impurities and were activated by the light absorbed by the quantum dots. Following activation, the manganese ions emitted light at energies below the quantum-dot absorption onset. This allowed for almost complete elimination of losses due to self-absorption by the quantum dots.

To transform a window into a tandem LSC, the researchers deposited a layer of highly emissive manganese-doped quantum dots onto the surface of the front glass pane, and a layer of copper indium selenide quantum dots onto the surface of the back pane. The front layer absorbed the blue and UV portions of the solar spectrum, while the rest of the spectrum was absorbed by the back layer. (Full Story)

Momentum builds for US exascale

Trinity at Los Alamos, LANL photo.

An important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of the U.S. exascale program is the number of computing systems that are being procured, tested and optimized by the ASCR and ASC programs as part of the buildup to exascale.

The NNSA has the 14.1 petaflops Trinity system at Los Alamos National Lab (LANL). Up to 20 percent of these precursor machines will serve as testbeds to enable computing science R&D needed to ensure that the U.S. exascale systems will be able to productively address important national security and discovery science objectives. (Full Story)

An argument for space fission reactors

A 10-kilowatt Stirling Power Conversion Unit, NASA Glenn photo.

Critics had said it was impossible to perform an affordable, simple nuclear-powered test in today’s regulatory environment — but the Demonstration Using Flattop Fission experiment, conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with NASA in 2012, showed that it is possible.

The Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment, scheduled for completion in early 2018, will show that a flight-like space reactor can be designed, fabricated, and tested for only a few tens of millions of dollars. (Full Story)

Oregon's secret Manhattan Project physicist

Raemer Schreiber assembling an atomic bomb, from the Oregonian.

A key member of the Manhattan Project, Oregon native Raemer Schreiber was among only a handful of nuclear-weapons pioneers who could actually build the bombs being conceived by the top scientific minds in the world.

"Oppenheimer could conceive it," retired Los Alamos National Lab historian Roger Meade says in the documentary. "Teller could conceive it. Bethe could conceive it. But those guys couldn't build it. They couldn't put their hands on it. They couldn't assemble it." (Full Story)

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Los Alamos group hopes bacterial sensor will help doctors better treat infections

Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland demonstrates the process, New Mexican photo.     

Harshini Mukundan’s research team at Los Alamos is working to develop a bacterial sensor to allow doctors to quickly determine the type of infection that is ailing a patient. “Immediate diagnostics that can guide decision-making at that point are unavailable,” Mukundan said.

Because different classes of bacteria are best treated with different types of antibiotics, she added, such a device could ensure speedier and more effective treatment of diseases. “I think we can actually make an impact on health care,” she said. (Full Story)

New double-pane quantum dot solar windows generate power with better efficiency

Double-pane solar windows that generate electricity, LANL image.

Double-pane quantum dot solar window research could lower the cost of solar power, according to lead researcher Victor Klimov, who said in a statement, “Because of the strong performance we can achieve with low-cost, solution processable materials, these quantum-dot-based double-pane windows and even more complex luminescent solar concentrators offer a new way to bring down the cost of solar electricity.” (Full Story)

Also from Daily Energy Insider

LANL year in review for 2017

This has been an eventful year for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Particularly of note was the announcement in September that Director Charlie McMillan would retire Dec. 31. Los Alamos National Security in early December appointed Terry Wallace to replace McMillan as LANL director and president of LANS, the company that manages and operates the Laboratory for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Wallace, 61, told the Los Alamos Daily Post that as a native of Los Alamos there is no greater honor. Wallace becomes the 11th director in the Laboratory’s nearly 75-year history when he takes over the reins Jan. 1. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post in the past two weeks

LANL giving campaign nets $3 million for nonprofits

Employee Giving Champion Mary Hockaday, left, and Kathy Keith of Community Partnerships raise the thermometer for the annual fundraising campaign, Daily Post photo.

In the 2018 Los Alamos Giving Campaign, 1,716 Laboratory employees—more than ever before—have pledged more money than ever before; $2.6 million of this year’s contributions will stay in New Mexico and benefit organizations that improve the quality of life in the state. (Full Story)

Mexican spotted owl population holds steady on LANL property

Mexican Spotted Owl, LANL photo.  

Los Alamos National Laboratory released it’s annual survey earlier this month of three endangered species that live within the 38-square-mile boundaries of its property. The species surveyed included the Mexican spotted owl and others.

The 2017 survey found that a pair of Mexican spotted owls is living and breeding in Threemile Canyon and there is at least one Mexican spotted owl in Mortandad Canyon. There may also be siblings living in Acid Canyon, according to the survey. (Full Story)

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Satellite ‘license plates’ could prevent a disaster in low earth orbit

Space junk, from ESA.           

As of a couple of years ago, more than 1,300 active satellites orbited Earth, in addition to tens of thousands of dead satellites, discarded rockets and other bits and pieces that have accumulated in space in the 60 years since Sputnik, ranging in size from softballs to school buses.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory our mission is to find scientific solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems—that includes keeping our satellites and spacecraft safe. So we’re developing an optical “license plate” that we hope will one day travel aboard every object that goes into outer space. (Full story)

Breathing new life into pulmonary research

The PuLMo artificial lung, LANL image

A team of scientists and bioengineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a tissue-engineered artificial lung called PuLMo, for Pulmonary Lung Model, that simulates the response of the human lung to drugs, toxins, particles and other agents. As an artificial organ that you can see inside, the laptop-sized device is a unique technological scaffold for building all kinds of life-improving research and technology.

Resembling an amped-up computer board sprouting tubes, wires, and clamps and using real human cells, PuLMo consists of a bronchiolar unit and an alveolar unit. They work the way a lung is supposed to work — PuLMo breathes. (Full story)

While Earthlings take a break, the Mars rover keeps working

Curiosity rover raised robotic arm with
drill pointed skyward, NASA image.

There’s no holiday on Mars. While many of us earthlings will spend the final days of 2017 taking a break from work and relaxing on couches or ski slopes, the ChemCam instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will keep busy—all on its own. Using its autonomous target-selection software, ChemCam will pick rocks to “zap” for chemical analysis.

“This is the first time ChemCam will operate over the holiday break,” said Steve Johnstone, operations lead of ChemCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The onboard software debuted in the summer of 2016, but recent upgrades have made it more capable of selecting different types of targets and different positions relative to the rover. (Full story)

From inner to outer space, Los Alamos science goes big in 2017

With a top-story list populated by breakthroughs in supercomputing, accelerator science, space missions, materials science, life science, and more, Los Alamos National Laboratory put its Big Science capabilities to wide, productive use in 2017.

“No discipline left untouched—that’s the story from Los Alamos in 2017,” said Alan Bishop, Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology and Engineering at Los Alamos. “In a remarkably productive year, Laboratory researchers have grabbed headlines for their research in everything from physics to explosives modeling to HIV vaccine developments. (Full story)

Nuclear fusion company says it will make carbon-free energy a reality

Scott Hsu.

"I think fusion is kind of the holy grail of energy," said Scott Hsu, a fusion researcher at the U.S. government's Los Alamos National Laboratory. On top of creating an immense amount of energy, Hsu noted that fusion also doesn't suffer from the many drawbacks of existing energy sources. Fusion runs on seawater (the source of hydrogen), doesn't leave behind radioactive fuel rods, and produces no carbon gases — the source of Earth's warming. (Full story)

LANL employees share big-hearted holiday spirit

Volunteers help pack more than 1,000 gifts
donated by Lab employees, Daily Post photo.    

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Motorcycle Safety Committee and members of the Los Alamos Fire Department gathered Friday afternoon at the LANL Community Partnerships Office at 15th Street and Central Avenue to help transport the more than 1,000 gifts donated by Lab employees to less fortunate children as part of their annual Holiday Gift Drive.  (Full story)

LANL Foundation pays for teacher certification

LaDonna Phillips is a teacher
participating in the certification.  RG Sun photo.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation is working with EspaƱola School District administrators to ensure the District has well-qualified educators by paying for several teachers to obtain their National Board Certification.

The Certification is offered by National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Certification, a nonprofit created by educators to help create accomplished teachers. It is considered by many, the top teaching credential in the country and is accepted nationwide. (Full story)