Friday, November 8, 2019

A new strain of HIV is recorded under group that caused pandemic

A virus sample from Abbott Laboratories. WSJ photo.

Scientists using advanced DNA sequencing technology have documented a previously unidentified strain of HIV under the group that is responsible for the vast majority of human infections.

Researchers and epidemiologists don’t expect the new Group M strain to change the way HIV is diagnosed or treated. Still, they say new strains can offer clues on how HIV evolved and spread.

“There’s a lot of mystery around why certain things happened. New strains can unravel some of that unknown history,” said Brian Foley, an HIV geneticist at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, which holds the largest HIV gene bank and sets the guidelines on classifying new strains. Dr. Foley wasn’t involved in Abbott’s research. (Full story)

Why U.S. must win race to build first practical quantum computers

Guest column author Thom Mason,
Laboratory Director, LANL photo.    

Today, Los Alamos and other Department of Energy national laboratories, working closely with industry, continuously push the farthest frontiers of computing and related technologies in support of scientific discovery. Many of those breakthroughs trickle down to everyday life.

That technological landscape may splinter as Moore’s law ends, threatening to undermine the broad-based economic growth and scientific advancement that has enabled U.S. global leadership for decades. Disruptions will reverberate from the economy to science to national security. (Full story)

Navigating a career in secret physics

Astrophysicist Chris Fryer and his family were driving back from a monthlong workshop on neutron-star mergers when he got word of a new gravitational-wave discovery. The fifth of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory’s catches, the August 2017 event appeared to be the first detected from two colliding neutron stars. “I recall vividly having my wife read me the email while I was driving and me telling her I didn’t believe her,” he says. His wife, Aimee Hungerford, is also an astrophysicist. A few days later, data started to become available. (Full story)

Between a varnished rock and a hard place

Nina Lanza (left) studying rock varnish
in California, photo from Nina Lanza.

In this episode, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers Nina Lanza and Chris Yeager discuss their investigations into rock varnish in New Mexico, which could help them understand whether life is present on Mars. Rock varnish is a mysterious coating found on rocks in some of the harshest and most Mars-like landscapes on Earth, but no one knows whether rock varnish is created by living things. If so, finding it on Mars would be a sign that Martian life exists now or has existed in the past. (Full story)

Voyager 2 reveals new details about interstellar space

Voyager test model at the Kennedy
Space Center in 1976, NASA photo.

Dan Reisenfeld, a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who was not involved in the research, says astronomers took bets on when they were going to make it through [the heliosphere]. “Voyager’s fame came from its exploration of the planets,” Reisenfeld tells Inverse. “Then it went quiet for years because it’s just traveling through the depths of space beyond the planets.”

The second set of data also gave a better idea of the shape of the heliosphere.

“When Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause, it showed us that our heliosphere is not perfectly round but that it’s asymmetric,” Reisenfeld says. (Full story)

Nine Los Alamos National Laboratory projects win R&D 100 Awards

Histato Yamaguchi holding a photosensitive
cell that has been coated with Atomic Armor,
a R&D 100 winning project. LANL photo.

“It’s an honor to have Los Alamos National Laboratory’s innovation recognized by the broader community with these nine R&D 100 awards,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “Behind all of these awards are people willing to take risks and think unconventionally about big problems in areas like national security, big data, and energy transmission. Their originality has brought the Laboratory to where we are today. Congratulations to the winners, special recognition awardees, and finalists for their outstanding achievements.” (Full story)

Tech startup FidelityEHR receives innovation grant

FidelityEHR developed an electronic health records system for behavioral health, funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, to provide care coordination for at-risk populations with complex needs.

FidelityEHR also is collaborating with the New Mexico Small Business Association and Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop artificial intelligence/machine learning technology to quickly identify factors for clients at risk for suicide or opioid overdose. (Full story)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Using quantum computers to test the fundamentals of physics

White crosses represent non-interfering quantum states that behave classically for a simple quantum problem, LANL image.

A quantum-computing algorithm, developed by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California, Davis — including Andrew Sornborger and Andreas Albrecht  — opens a new window on the connection between the quantum and classical worlds and the transition that must occur as we zoom out from the smallest scales.

To study the quantum-to-classical transition, physicists need to evaluate how close a quantum system is to acting classically. Among other effects, physicists must consider the fact that quantum objects are subject to wave-particle duality. (Full Story)

LANL protects milkweed to preserve monarchs

Makenzie Quintana, a student at Los Alamos National Laboratory, provides a perch for a monarch butterfly, LANL photo.

As part of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s environmental stewardship efforts, a Los Alamos team has been documenting the cycles and seasons of monarch butterflies, and the location of milkweed on laboratory property. These efforts will better inform management decisions if this species is listed under the Endangered Species Act. They were able to document eggs on milkweed in late June and caterpillars enjoying milkweed into September. (Full Story)

Weatherwatch: cloud 'x-rays' seek to reveal anatomy of a storm

GLM imagery of a convective storm over southern Brazil. LANL image.

Scientists have long used satellite cameras, such as the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), to count lightning flashes and monitor storms. Now Michael Peterson, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, is using the pulses of illumination to produce “fulminograms” showing clouds from inside.

“The output resembles an x-ray image of the storm,” Peterson says. “When light must penetrate thick convective cells, they stand out as dark spots in the image, while the brightest spots show us where lots of light can leak out of the cloud.” (Full Story)

VW to test quantum navigation app in real traffic

A quantum computer, D-Wave photo.

Volkswagen AG plans to test a quantum-computer-powered navigation app in Lisbon next week, part of a larger plan to include such a feature in its vehicles within the next few years.

“What’s exciting about this work is that it’s being applied in the real world,” said Scott Pakin, a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Other auto makers including Ford Motor Co. are experimenting with how quantum computing could quickly optimize driving routes and improve the structure of batteries for electric vehicles. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Lab wins CDC’s FluSight Challenge

“Accurately forecasting diseases is similar to weather forecasting in that you need to feed computer models large amounts of data so they can ‘learn’ trends,” Dave Osthus, a statistician at Los Alamos and developer of the computer model, Dante, said. “But it’s very different because disease spread depends on daily choices humans make in their behavior—such as travel, hand-washing, riding public transportation, interacting with the healthcare system, among other things. Those are very difficult to predict.” (Full Story)

LANL receives $5 billion to upgrade aging facilities

Some facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory — the nation’s foremost nuclear weapons research center — date to the 1950s, said Thom Mason, LANL director.

That reality, coupled with the lab’s evolving mission, is spurring a $5 billion upgrade to aging buildings and equipment still in use in the 21st century, Mason said in an interview this week. Though state of the art when built during the Cold War, some aging infrastructure is now outdated. (Full Story)

Five LANL scientists elected 2019 APS Fellows

Top row from left, Herrmann, Hsu and Hurd. Bottom row from left, Prestridge and Van de Water, LANL photo.

Five LANL scientists have been elected 2019 Fellows of the American Physical Society (APS). Hans Herrmann, Scott Hsu, Alan Hurd, Katherine Prestridge and Richard Van de Water and were chosen for their “exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise”.

Fewer than one half of one percent of APS members are elected as Fellows each year.
These five scientists represent the breadth of physics contributions made at the Laboratory. Van de Water said of the award, “The thrill of doing science is an award itself, an APS Fellowship honor makes it that much better.” (Full Story)

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Friday, October 25, 2019

American scientists are about to start shooting plasma guns in a bid to achieve controlled nuclear fusion

The Plasma Liner Experiment. LANL photo.

Scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are about to start experiments with "plasma guns" in the hope of achieving controlled nuclear fusion—a source of clean and near limitless energy.

Nuclear fusion is the way the sun generates power. It involves two small, lighter nuclei joining together to create one heavy nucleus. When they join together, energy is released. However, achieving this in a stable state, meaning the energy can be harnessed, is extremely difficult. High pressures and temperatures of around 150 million degrees Celsius are required. (Full story)

This Frankenstein's Monster is going to be a nuclear fusion reactor

Supersonic jets fired from 7 plasma guns collide
in PLX test firings, LANL image.

Engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico—birthplace of the Manhattan Project—are building a new machine that draws on two diverging methods of creating nuclear fusion. And the bulbous contraption looks like something straight out of a sci-fi novel.

The Plasma Liner Experiment has 36 plasma guns that surround the spherical chamber. These guns are designed to shoot plasma jets of ionized gas into the chamber, targeting, compressing, and heating a cloud of fusion fuel inside. The plasma guns are set back from the machine so they can fire rapidly and lower the chances of the sensitive machinery being damaged during the reaction. (Full story)

Also in PhysOrg

Scientists are building an “AccuWeather” for germs to predict your risk of getting the flu

Sara del Valle of Los Alamos is working to predict
and prevent epidemics using data and machine
learning. LANL photo.

Predicting (and, ideally, preventing) such epidemics is Sara del Valle’s passion. She hopes to develop an app that’s like AccuWeather for germs: It would tell you your chance of getting the flu, or dengue or Zika, in your city on a given day. And like AccuWeather, it could help people alter their behavior to live better lives, whether that means staying home on a snowy morning or washing their hands on a sickness-heavy commute.

Since the beginning of del Valle’s career, she’s been driven by one thing: using data and predictions to help people behave practically around pathogens. As a kid, she’d always been good at math, but when she found out she could use it to capture the tentacular spread of disease, and not just manipulate abstractions, she was hooked. (Full story)

Los Alamos' predictive AI computer model wins FluSight Challenge

Dave Osthus, LANL photo.

A probabilistic artificial intelligence computer model developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory provided the most accurate state, national, and regional forecasts of the flu in 2018, beating 23 other teams in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's FluSight Challenge. The CDC announced the results last week.

"Accurately forecasting diseases is similar to weather forecasting in that you need to feed computer models large amounts of data so they can 'learn' trends. But it's very different because disease spread depends on daily choices humans make in their behavior--such as travel, hand-washing, riding public transportation, interacting with the healthcare system, among other things. Those are very difficult to predict," said Dave Osthus, statistician at Los Alamos and developer of the computer model, Dante. (Full story)

Also fin the Los Alamos Daily Post


A forest expert team in Spain fights fire with fire — literally

A fire in southern France, photo from Maine Public Radio.

Mediterranean shepherds and farmers have been using fire to manage the landscape for thousands of years. But most techniques used by firefighters today were developed in the United States, where the record-setting blazes of the past 10 years have shown the limits of suppression alone. In the U.S. as well as Europe, the change in approach toward fire is just beginning.

"In the scientific community, it's understood we need to get fire back on the landscape," says Rod Linn, a climate modeler at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "And most fire practitioners have come to grips with fire having a lot of benefits. But with the public, there's work to do to get it socialized, to get people aware that just because you see smoke, it's not necessarily bad." (Full story)

Doped quantum dots capture more energy from light

Los Alamos National Laboratory engineers have synthesized magnetically-doped quantum dots that capture the kinetic energy of electrons created by UV light before it’s wasted as heat. “This discovery could make it possible to make more efficient solar cells, light detectors, photocathodes, and light-driven chemical reactions,” according to Victor Klimov, lead researcher on the lab’s quantum dot project.

In standard solar cells, a large amount of sunlight energy is wasted as heat. This is because they lack an effective way to capture the kinetic energy of “hot” electrons generated by photons in the green to UV portion of the sun’s light. (Full story)

‘A woman driver on Mars’ — or why we need diversity in the sciences

The fact is, despite the great strides women have made in the sciences, stereotypes persist. In the 1960s and ’70s, a social scientist asked 4,807 elementary school students to draw a scientist. Of those, only 0.6 percent depicted a woman. The good news is, today, about 28 percent of children draw female scientists, a significant improvement, but we still have a long way to go — especially when you consider that women earn roughly 34 percent of all doctoral degrees in science, technology, math and engineering.

To continue this upward trend, we need to approach diversity not as the feel-good, check-the-box requirement it’s often perceived to be, but as a critical foundation on which successful teams are built. Because it is. (Full story)

Wide load on New Mexico roads

New Mexico drivers will want to keep an eye out over the next couple of days as a massive piece of equipment is being transported from Los Alamos to Clovis. No, it's not a missile, but it's just as big as one and it's traveling the New Mexico highways right now.

It's actually a massive rotor, nearly 70 feet long. When it's on the trailer the total weight is almost 700,000 pounds. This is one of the biggest cargoes that drivers will ever see transported on the roadways and it's expected to take days to get to its final destination. (Full story)

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Voyager missions saw a 'tsunami' of solar activity

Diagram of the outer solar system, from Gizmodo

The Voyagers 1 and 2 spacecraft measured the Sun sending a pulse like a “tsunami” into the interstellar medium, according to a new paper.

One researcher not involved with the study thought the measurement was exciting and important. “This is a solid scientific result, and I believe the first time they’ve seen this correlated event” between the two probes, Herbert Funsten, a research scientist at Los Alamos National Lab, told Gizmodo. He was excited to see the analysis of more of these GMIR events that the Voyager probes have measured, and see how these measurements compare with NASA’s Earth-orbiting Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission. (Full Story)

How HAWC landed in Mexico

The HAWC observatory, HAWC photo.

In 2000 Magdalena González was in the fourth semester of a PhD in theoretical physics, and her academic life was miserable.

But then she attended a talk by physicist Brenda Dingus of the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. The topic was new to her: experimental research into gamma rays. “It blew my mind,” González says. “I thought, I want to research exactly that.”

She approached Dingus to ask her how she might get involved. Dingus took her on as a graduate student, and she switched to doing satellite analysis and later working in the MILAGRO Gamma Ray Observatory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for her thesis.  (Full Story)

At LANL, breaking down data to address global problems

Guest column author Sara Del Valle, LANL photo.       

Data scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory study data from wide-ranging, public sources to identify patterns, aiming to predict trends that could threaten global security. Multiple data streams are critical because the ground-truth data (such as surveys) are often delayed, biased, sparse, incorrect or sometimes nonexistent.

For example, knowing mosquito incidence in communities would help public health officials predict the risk of mosquito-transmitted disease such as dengue, the leading cause of illness and death in the tropics, or West Nile virus, which has been found in New Mexico each year since 2003. However, mosquito data at a global (and even national) scale is not available. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Lab studying spread of mosquito-borne diseases

Los Alamos National Lab is studying the threat of mosquitoes and their growing populations.

“We’re studying mosquito populations to understand how they grow and change with seasons, and to understand how they impact infectious diseases that they spread both to humans and animals,” scientist Carrie Manore said.

Researchers say hurricanes, flooding, and standing water all affect how mosquitoes grow and relocate over time. Scientists are now studying precipitation, temperature and water gauge to predict mosquito population. (Full Story)

Seven Los Alamos scientists and engineers honored as 2019 Laboratory Fellows

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and engineers Brian Albright, Patrick Chain, Dana Dattelbaum, Michael Hamada, Anna Hayes-Sterbenz, Michael Prime and Laura Smilowitz are being honored as 2019 Laboratory fellows.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows are the best of our scientists and engineers. This year’s fellows are leaders in their fields who have made exceptional contributions not only to the Laboratory’s national security mission, but also to the broader scientific community,” said Thom Mason, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “It’s an honor to recognize these innovative researchers in such distinct, important fields." 
Also from the Daily Post this week:

UC President Janet Napolitano and Triad’s Thom Mason present $599,600 grant

Janet Napolitano, right, and Thom Mason, left, present funding to LANL Foundation President/CEO Jenny Parks, from the Daily Post.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation’s mission to “inspire excellence in education and learning in Northern New Mexico through innovative programming, collaboration and advocacy” has received a major boost with a $599,600 grant from Los Alamos National Laboratory operator Triad National Security, LLC.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director and Triad President Thom Mason explained that Triad’s Community Commitment Plan builds on the positive impact in the region that comes from the Laboratory’s support for education and economic development projects, and from its own procurement and hiring. (Full Story)

LANL’s fuel cell knowledge tapped for surveys of catalyst technology

Two recent articles in Advanced Materials leverage Los Alamos’s extensive expertise in fuel cell technology. The articles, one by Los Alamos researchers and another with their external colleagues, survey current developments in precious-metal-free electrocatalysts and progress in understanding the main causes of their instability.

The Laboratory’s role in developing fuel cells and hydrogen as an energy source goes back more than 40 years to when DOE awarded the first Fuel Cells for Transportation program to the Lab. (Full Story)

Also from the LA Reporter this week:

LANL volunteers prepare homes for rescued wildlife

Pepper (a raccoon) and Mesquite (a coyote) were illegally being kept as pets before they were rescued and brought to the New Mexico Wildlife Center in Española. Because of their domestic upbringing, they cannot be returned to the wild, but now they can go on to live life to the fullest at the center, thanks to the help of volunteers from the Laboratory.

On Sept. 13 and 14, 10 Lab volunteers worked to finish putting together these ambassador animals’ new enclosures.  “We are so grateful to have had the help of the Los Alamos National Laboratory employees,” said Melissa Moore, executive director at the Center. (Full Story)

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