Friday, April 1, 2016

Fusion-powered rockets could stop comets from destroying Earth

A fusion-powered spacecraft flying around Mars,
from PopSci.

In 1994, Glen Wurden watched several huge pieces of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crash into Jupiter, generating an explosion big enough to see from Earth. "Had they hit Earth, we would not be standing here today," said Wurden in a recent talk at MIT.

Wurden is a fusion researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and an amateur astronomer by night.

Although the risk of a giant, civilization-ending space rock hitting Earth is very low, the threat is always there (just ask the dinosaurs). And according to Wurden, there may be only one way to stop it: fusion rockets. (Full story)

Belgium fears nuclear plants are vulnerable

Nuclear power plant in Doel, Belgium. From the NYT.

Cheryl Rofer, a retired nuclear scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Belgium’s Tihange nuclear plant has pressurized water reactors, inside a heavy steel vessel, reducing the danger that nuclear fuel could leak or spread.

She said that the Brussels bombers’ explosive of choice, TATP, might be able to damage parts of the plant but that the damage would shut down the reactor, limiting the radiation damage. (Full story)

New model could help detect illicit nuclear tests

Scientists place gas sample tubes at an
underground nuclear explosion site in Nevada.
From C&EN.

Scientists have improved their ability to detect underground nuclear explosions set off  by rogue nations,  a development sure to be of interest next week, when the Nuclear Security Summit kicks off its 2016 meeting in Washington D.C.

“This work is of great interest to the nuclear detection community,” LANL’s Philip H. Stauffer says, noting the importance of the Carrigan team’s addition of a more complete set of isotopes, which will help inform a model of explosion-generated fractures recently developed at Los Alamos. (Full story)

Did the moon shift its axis? Mysterious ice deposits reveal clues
Buzz Aldrin during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.
NASA photo.

In 1998, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used data collected by a NASA moon orbiter to find what appeared to be ice slightly displaced from each of the moon’s poles – the same regions that Dr. Matthew Siegler and his team have now tried to explain – by pinpointing hydrogen deposits there.

Los Alamos scientists were able to identify the hydrogen, a chemical component of water, by observing the behavior of lunar neutrons near the moon’s surface. (Full story)

NM startup radically streamlines drug development

Alex Koglin, co-founder and president of NTxBio.
Journal photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a new way to rapidly screen thousands of microorganisms for potential antibiotics, then quickly reproduce them, leading to the discovery of two new compounds that could, eventually, help fight resistant bacteria.

Two of the scientists involved with the project, structural biologist Alex Koglin and human biologist Michael Humbert, are now working to build the system into a commercial platform that could help pharmaceutical companies rapidly push new medicines into the market. They co-founded a new startup, NTxBio LLC. (Full story)

Holistic data analysis and modeling poised to transform protein X-ray crystallography

X-ray diffraction images are processed to remove the
sharp "Bragg" reflections, LANL image.

A new 3-D modeling and data-extraction technique is about to transform the field of X-ray crystallography, with potential benefits for both the pharmaceutical industry and structural biology. A paper this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the improved blending of experimentation and computer modeling, extracting valuable information from diffuse, previously discarded data. (Full story)

Quantifying climate-driven impacts on the Colorado Basin, developing response strategies

Climate-driven heat-stress and forest mortality on
the Colorado River watershed are expected to reduce
river flows. Middleton photo.

Climate-driven heat-stress and forest mortality on the Colorado River watershed are expected to reduce river flows basin-wide out to the year 2100, based on the impact of multiple climate and climate-driven disturbance scenarios. Los Alamos National Laboratory, multiple Department of Energy national laboratories, Federal agencies, and large power utilities are examining these impacts on the energy-water nexus and will develop strategies for response. (Full story)

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