Saturday, September 20, 2008

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for September 15 - 19

Sting operation
Scientists use bees and wasps to sniff out
the illicit and the dangerous

A honeybee receives a fragrant reminder of its
Target scent each morning and responds by

sticking out its proboscis --LANL Photo

It's the ultimate way to pull off a sting: Teach a group of ordinary honeybees to ignore flowers and, instead, focus on vapors from explosives used in bombs. Then send the bees off in teams to sniff out terrorists. Or track the molecular trail of illicit drugs, or even point police to a rotting corpse.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, researchers are putting bees to work in a portable system that, like a trained police dog, could sniff out drugs and bombs at airports, border
crossings, military installations and schools. Get the whole buzz here.

How weapons labs aid business

Nanomaterials - National labs such as Sandia and Los Alamos have pioneered nanotechnology.

Commercial Application: Seattle-based CNT Technologies is using technology from Los Ala
mos to spin carbon nanotube fibers into "super threads" to make superstrong artificial limbs, sporting goods, aircraft parts, and more.

See the BusinessWeek photo gallery here.

Abrupt climate change focus Of U.S. national laboratories

Abrupt climate change is a potential menace that hasn’t received much attention. That’s about to change. Through its Climate Change Prediction Program, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research recently launched IMPACTS –Investigation of the Magnitudes and Probabilities of Abrupt Climate Transitions – a program led by William Collins of Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division that brings together six national laboratories to attack the problem of abrupt climate change, or ACC. . .

Most people think of climate change as something that occurs only gradually, however, with average temperature changing two or three degrees Celsius over a century or more; this is the rate at which ‘forcing’ mechanisms operate, such as the accu
mulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels or widespread changes in land use.

Collins, who heads the Climate Science Department in ESD, is the principal investigator for
IMPACTS, which will bring together the work of experts in physical, chemical, and biogeochemical climate processes and in computer simulations of the whole Earth system. Argonne, Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest are the participating national laboratories. . . .

Under the direction of Bill Lipscomb of Los Alamos National Laboratory, IMPACTS researchers including Rob Jacob from Argonne National Laboratory will undertake the difficult task of realistically modeling the processes of ice-shelf melting, the retreat of a shelf’s underwater grounding line, and the calving of icebergs. . . .Re
ad the whole story here.

How green is your supercomputer?

With the 31st edition of the Top 500 listing announ
ced in June, IBM's "Roadrunner" hybrid Opteron-Cell machine - created for the U.S. government's Los Alamos National Laboratory - was the first supercomputer in history to break the one petaflop barrier. That's 1 quadrillion floating point operations per second. It was also the first time that the systems' power consumption data was made available. And so, in this energy-crazed 21st century, you can now peruse the Green 500 list (, which sorts the Top 500 by flops per watt.

The listing is interesting, in that trends you wouldn't think about become clear. Among the top 10
machines in the original list, the average machine consumes 1.32 megawatts and has a power efficiency of 248 megaflops per watt. (Roadrunner, at 437 megaflops per watt, is bringing up the class average – big time). But across the 50 biggest machines on the list, average power consumption falls to 908 kilowatts and average power efficiency falls to 193 megaflops per watt. And across the whole list of 500 machines, average power consumption falls to 257 kilowatts and efficiency falls further to 122 megaflops per watt. See the story here.

Science and Education

Scientists lay foundations for exascale computing

Having crashed through the petaflop barrier of a thousand trillion calculations per second back in June, scientists are continuing work into achieving the next benchmark in supercomputer performance - exascale computing. Georgia Institute of Technology's Professor Karsten Schwan is one of two scientists working in the field to receive a 2008 HP Labs Innovation Research Award to further research into solving the problems thrown-up by computing on this scale.

Exa is the prefix for quintillion, or 10^18, or a million trillion. That's a lot of calculations per
second. Sustained performance of 1.02 petaflops was achieved by a system built by IBM for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (dubbed Roadrunner) a few months back. This put the machine well ahead of BlueGene/L (with a performance of 478.2 teraflop/s) which comes in at number two on the list of top supercomputer sites.

In looking to go beyond these formidable numbers, researchers will have to develop new ways to build and run these monstrous machines. Roadrunner is built on "hybrid" computing architecture that combines different types of processors, an approach also taken by Schwan. Read the
exascale story here.

Nostalgia for a more innovative era? Not from this bunch

IBM’s Stretch computer, completed in 1961. IBM photo

ven a cursory glance at history reminds us that real innovation is often a messy, unpredictable and costly

At the Computer History Museum in California the
subject is the IBM Stretch program, a bold effort in the mid-1950s to take big computers into the transistor era and ladle in all sorts of computer design and software advances.

Stretch was designed for pioneering computer tasks. Its first customer was Los Alamos National Laboratory, which wanted more computing firepower fo
r atomic research. Read the story here.

Visualizing the unseen forces of turbulence

Supercomputers are giving researchers a new look at the problem

o really understand the chaotic force governing the flow of
gases and liquids, though, we have to see how it works, and until a few years ago, researchers lacked both the computing firepower and the tightly focused programs to produce a clear picture of turbulent motion.

Supercomputing hubs have been roughly doubling their number of processing cores every few years, and the U.S. Department of Energy's national laboratories now boast four of the
top five supercomputers in the world.

Earlier this year, IBM's Roadrunner computer at Los Alamos
National Laboratory topped the petaflop computing benchmark for the first time ever. See the story here.

Illustration: turbulence in a jet engine

The guy with the motorcycle on the poster

e's not exa
ctly an unsung hero anymore, but only because he's been sung a few times before. Two years ago, De Colores, Inc., the organization that sponsors the Hispanic Cultural Festival named Jerry Romero one of their "unsung heroes" at their annual banquet in Albuquerque.

And now he is the guy with the motorcycle on Los Alamos National Laboratory's "Million Reasons to Give" poster for the 2009 Employee Giving Campaign. There's a quote: "You ask, 'Where's the love?' Open your heart. It's all around you." There are also a million reasons to read this story here.

NM Small Business Administration honors minority businesses

As part of the 2008 Minority Enterprise Development Week, the New Mexico district office of the Small Business Administration recognized small business owners for their achievements Wednesday.

Winners were announced during the fourth annual Service Disabled and Veter
an Owned Small Business Conference. . .

Los Alamos National Laboratory was honored as the Regional Business Advocate. See the story here.

Anastasio addresses University of California Board of Regents

Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio (foreground) addressed the University of California Board of Regents Wednesday at the UC Irvine campus.

Anastasio spoke to regents in his role as president of Los Alamos National Security, LLC and as Los Alamos's director. Seated next to Anastasio is Bruce Darling, UC executive vice president. See this and many other stories in the Laboratory's NewsBulletin.

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