Friday, September 12, 2008

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for Sept. 8-12

Los Alamos and Sandia: R&D treasures

How the famous weapons labs, Los Alamos and Sandia, are aiding corporations and
spinning off startups

rocter & Gamble is joining the go green" bandwagon. The problem, says Thomas J. Lange, the company's director of modeling and simulation: "Natural materials may not be as pure, as strong, or as stable over time" as petro-plastics. And developing replacements for them takes deep science that is beyond the ken of most companies.

Enter Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. That's right, the fabled weapons-research centers in New Mexico that spawned America's nuclear arsenal.

In a partnership that has lasted 14 years, P&G is tapping the labs' supercomputers and immense brain trusts to create new eco-friendly materials for consumer products. "These are the only places I can go in the world that have such a range of world-class physicists, chemists, biologists, production engineers, and computational scientists," says Lange. "These labs are national treasures." (Read the full story.)

World’s most powerful magnet under construction

Using the strongest materials known to man, scientists are building the most powerful electromagnet in the world—one that won't blow up a split second after it's turned on. The entire magnet will be a combination of coil sets weighing nearly 18,000 pounds and powered by jolts from a massive 1,200 megajoules motor generator.

Once activated, the new magnet should be about
two million times more powerful than the average refrigerator magnet. Eventually the magnet will be placed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Find this story strangely attractive? Read it all here!)

Radioisotope shortage could force delays in medical tests

Thousands of patients in the USA may face delays in getting key medical tests because of a global shortage of radioactive tracers, which are used to perform bone scans and to assess blood flow to the heart, experts say.

In some cases, cancer patients may safely delay the tests for a few days or weeks. But others, such as those who have had heart attacks, may not be able to wait and may have to have more invasive procedures, such as angiograms, says Robert Atcher of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. (Check out the source of this whole story.)

Naked-eye gamma-ray burst was aimed squarely at Earth

Unparalleled data from satellites and observatories around the globe show that the jet from a powerful stellar explosion on 19 March was aimed almost directly at Earth. The event, called a gamma-ray burst, became bright enough for human eyes to see.

The Swift satellite detected the explosion and pinpointed its position in the constellation Bootes. Swift is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and is controlled by Penn State.

Swift was built and is being operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and General Dynamics in the U.S.; the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory in the United Kingdom; Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy; plus partners in Germany and Japan. (The entire story comes into view here.)

Biologists on the verge of creating new form of life

"What we're looking at is the origin of life in one aspect, and the other aspect is life as a small nanomachine on a single cell level," said Hans Ziock, a protocellular researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Life's function, as a simple nanomachine, is just to use energy to marshal chemicals into making more copies of itself. "You need to organize yourself in a specific way to be useful," Ziock said.

"You take energy from one place and move it to a place where it usually doesn't want to go, so you can actually organize things." (Read more here!)

Journey to the center of the Earth

You want to cool your house? Start with hot rocks a few miles down

Deep underneath your feet is a hellish stone soup, kept hot by a torrent of radiation from poisonous isotopes of uranium, thorium and potassium in the Earth's superheated mantle.

This is the heat that helps cause volcanoes, geysers and hot springs. And it is the heat that powers a modest number of electricity generators around the world, in Iceland, Idaho, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Research on geothermal power generators, which was first proposed by Los Alamos National Laboratories in the 1970s, was largely abandoned when oil prices fell. High energy prices and technological breakthroughs helped resurrect the idea. The Department of Energy is now offering $90 million for new research. (Dig up all the information here!)

Storage that really lasts

If you want to preserve data for the really long term, as in thousands of years, Norsam Technologies' analog HD-Rosetta disk may be your best bet

While we may never find out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, thanks to Norsam Technologies, we now know how many pages of text can fit on the face of a nickel-plated silicon disk (up to 200,000).

If you've never heard of Norsam Technologies, or HD (High Density) Rosetta, the name of their archival preservation technology, you are not alone. Norsam, which holds the exclusive commercial license to the focused ion beam technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory used to etch text and images onto a Permafilm metal disk, has been working with Los Alamos since 1995, yet it was only last month that the first Rosetta disks made their debut, at a ceremony sponsored by the Long Now Foundation, Norsam's first customer and an organization
established to "creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years." (Read all about it here.)

Science Complex gets some PEP

Los Alamos National Laboratory took another step down the road toward finding a suitable home for a substantial portion of its science and engineering workforce.

The laboratory announced selection of Pacific Equity Partners Los Alamos Science Complex LLC (PEP) a development partnership, to carry the project forward into the next phase. (See the entire Los Alamos Monitor story.)

Latest issue of 1663 magazine now available

The August 2008 issue of 1663, the Laboratory’s science and technology magazine, is now available on the Web.

In the latest issue, Terry Wallace, principal associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering, illustrates the symbiotic relationship between mission requirements and applied science at the Laboratory.

Using an initiative to monitor nuclear weapons tests as an example, Wallace explains how “mission drove science, which led to discovery, which fed back into mission—a perfect weave.”

See the new issue of 1663 here.

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