Friday, April 6, 2012

Musing on muons

How to detect smuggled uranium and plutonium using muons

Muons are like electrons, though heavier and unstable. They are produced when cosmic rays (fast-moving atomic nuclei from space) hit the atmosphere. The reason they might be useful for detecting nuclear explosives is that they are scattered more by heavy atomic nuclei, such as those of uranium and plutonium.

The original idea, dreamed up in 2003 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, was to use detectors called drift tubes to track muons through a cargo. Decision Sciences, a company spun out of that effort in 2005, has been refining this approach since then (full story).

How do supermassive black holes get so big? A peculiar diet, perhaps

For years, astronomers have puzzled over the diet needed to bulk up supermassive black holes – powerful gravitational traps that lurk in the centers of galaxies.

Jack Hills, an astrophysicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, proposed that the smoking gun for a supermassive black hole at the center a galaxy would come in the form of stars vaulting from the galactic center at speeds of more than 1 million miles an hour – essentially fast enough to escape from the galaxy (full story).

Reversing a trend toward 'nano,' DOE asks researchers to think 'meso'

DOE has asked its scientists to start doing research in the realm of the "meso," a Greek prefix that means "middle" and signifies a size closer to a living cell than the atomic level.

Leading the push are George Crabtree, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, and John Sarrao of Los Alamos National Laboratory (full story).

LANL says it’s ahead of schedule on waste removal

The TRU Waste Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory is currently two months ahead of schedule processing and repackaging waste stored in large fiberglass-reinforced boxes (FRPs).

These large boxes pose particular repackaging challenges since they contain many different types of radioactively contaminated equipment and can be up to 30-feet long (full story).

Also from the Monitor this week:

Environmental data now viewable by the public

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s database of environmental monitoring data is now directly viewable by the public.

“Intellus New Mexico,” the new, web-based application, will display the same internal data that Laboratory scientists and regulatory agencies see and use for environmental analysis and monitoring of the LANL site. The new system contains more than 9 million records, including historical data as well as a near-real-time view of ongoing data collection activities (full story).

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