Friday, June 23, 2017

Innovative rocket science gives boost to near-space missions

CubSat rocket motor test firing, LANL image.

Over the past decade and a half, satellites the size of a toaster have opened up new possibilities for using space. Called CubeSats, these diminutive spacecraft offer several appealing virtues for scientific and national security missions. They have one major handicap — but a fix is on the way.

For all their advantages, CubeSats are hamstrung by one shortcoming: they lack their own rocket motor. To solve the problem, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has a long history of developing propellants as part of the nuclear weapons program, have developed a unique segregated fuel oxidizer rocket fuel system. (Full story)

Laser-targeting A.I. yields more Mars science

ChemCam aboard the Curiosity Rover, NASA image.

A.I. software on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has helped it zap dozens of laser targets on the Red Planet this past year, becoming a frequent science tool when the ground team was out of contact with the spacecraft.

The vast majority of those involved selecting targets to zap with ChemCam's laser, which vaporizes small amounts of rock or soil and studies the gas that burns off. 

The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico leads the U.S. and French team that jointly developed and operates ChemCam. (Full story)

UCAR collaboration to improve weather forecasts worldwide

MPAS enables forecasters to combine a global
view of the atmosphere with a higher-resolution
view of a particular region. UCAR image.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research today announced a new collaboration with The Weather Company, an IBM business, to improve global weather forecasting.

With the new agreement, The Weather Company will develop a global forecast model based on the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS), an innovative software platform developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

MPAS offers a unique way of simulating the global atmosphere while providing users with more flexibility when focusing on specific regions of interest. (Full story)

U.S. textile makers look for a revival

Spools of thread awaiting shipment. From Unify.

New technology is also coming to textile finishing. APJeT developed its technology at North Carolina State University College of Textiles. The firm’s atmospheric pressure plasma jet technology, based on know-how from Los Alamos National Laboratory, uses a blend of gases to apply water-repellent, fire-retardant, and soil- and stain-resistant fabric finishes.

APJeT claims that its process completely eliminates the large amounts of water necessary to finish most textiles. It also says the process uses only 10% of the chemicals needed in traditional fabric finishing. (Full story)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Los Alamos lets users customize the supercomputer software stack

Trinity supercomputer at Los Alamos, LANL photo.

For all their power, supercomputers require specialized software and applications, which makes it difficult for users running big data analyses – which comes with its own set of frameworks and dependencies -- to take advantage of the hardware.

To make it easier for researchers working with big data to use supercomputers, developers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a program called “Charliecloud” that uses a container approach to lets users package their own software stacks. (Full Story)

Entropy: a shot in the arm for IoT security?

Entropy engine hardware, LANL photo.

With machine intelligence and massive cloud-driven compute power at our disposal, it is becoming easier and easier to ‘guess’ the codes that underpin encryption and crypto-based applications. Thus, entropy is needed.

In terms of mathematics, entropy is a lack of order or predictability and a gradual decline into a state of numerical disorder.

The technology is born out of a decade-long research project conducted by the quantum security team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is designed to strengthen cryptographic security systems from encryption in traditional datacenters and virtual cloud environments. (Full Story)

'Magic' alloy could spur next generation of solar cells

Ion Beam facility, LANL photo.

In what could be a major step forward for a new generation of solar cells called "concentrator photovoltaics," University of Michigan researchers have developed a new semiconductor alloy that can capture the near-infrared light located on the leading edge of the visible light spectrum.

Goldman's team combined on-the-ground measurement methods including X-ray diffraction done at U-M and ion beam analysis done at Los Alamos National Laboratory with custom-built computer modeling. (Full Story)

LANL divisions win quality awards

The Human Resources Division and the Quality and Performance Assurance Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory both received Performance Excellence Recognition awards from Quality New Mexico, a non-profit organization that helps New Mexico businesses and organizations improve organizational performance.

“We want to provide the best possible human resources products and services to our employees,” Human Resources Division Leader Sue Harris said. (Full Story)

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Friday, June 9, 2017

‘Charliecloud’ simplifies Big Data supercomputing

Reid Priedhorsky and Tim Randles aim to simplify
supercomputer use. LANL photo.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, home to more than 100 supercomputers since the dawn of the computing era, elegance and simplicity of programming are highly valued but not always achieved. In the case of a new product, dubbed "Charliecloud," a crisp 800-line code helps supercomputer users operate in the high-performance world of Big Data without burdening computer center staff with the peculiarities of their particular software needs. "Charliecloud lets users easily run crazy new things on our supercomputers," said lead developer Reid Priedhorsky of the High Performance Computing Division at Los Alamos. (Full story)

Investigational vaccine protected monkeys from HIV-like virus

HIV vaccine.

Building on insights from an HIV vaccine regimen in humans that had partial success during a phase 3 clinical trial in Thailand, a Duke-led research team used a more-is-better approach in monkeys that appeared to improve vaccine protection from an HIV-like virus.

Barton F. Haynes, M.D. and colleagues -- including Bette T. Korber of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who led the vaccine design -- started from the foundation used in the RV144 human vaccine trial in Thailand. (Full story)

Refracturing revitalizes old oil wells

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are combining extensive data mining and analysis of 20,000 shale gas wells with new technologies—including better fracturing techniques and innovative working fluids such as supercritical carbon dioxide—to transform oil and gas wells that would’ve been considered at the end of their productive lives a few years ago into high-performers. (Full story)

'Halos' discovered on Mars widen time frame for potential life

Jens Frydenvang, LANL image.

Using data from the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” rover, the group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, was able to determine that Gale Crater once contained a lake of water that was likely drinkable. Moreover, even after the surface water of the lake disappeared, a significant amount of remained beneath the surface, and for a much longer period of time than previously understood.

“What this finding tells us is that, even when the lake eventually evaporated, substantial amounts of groundwater were present for much longer than we previously thought – thus further expanding the window for when life might have existed on Mars,” said Jens Frydenvang. (Full story)

Descartes unveils geospatial machine-learning platform

GeoVisual Search processes satellite and identify
 similar objects around the world. From Descartes.

Descartes Labs, a spin-off from the U.S. Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, was established in 2014 to apply machine learning to Earth imagery and other large datasets. Before machine learning can extract value from imagery drawn from different space-based instruments, however, the data has to be pre-processed to line up pixels and correct for varying atmospheric conditions and spectral calibrations. (Full story)

Girls In STEM aims to boost interest in science careers

Amanda Madden demonstrates how to build a
spectrometer, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Elizabeth Coronado and Kelsey Neal, with support from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, recently launched a project called Girls in STEM, which aims to improve girls’ attitudes toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Our hope is that as attitudes improve, girls will be more likely to pursue challenging STEM coursework in secondary and post-secondary schools, and that they might pursue a career in STEM whether it is at the Lab or elsewhere,” Coronado said. (Full story)

Also in the Daily Post this week:

Chris Fresquez named DOE Small Business Program Manager Of The Year

Small Business Program Manager
Chris Fresquez, LANL photo.

Chris Fresquez, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s small business program manager, is the recipient of the 2016 Small Business Program Manager of the Year Award given annually by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

“Chris’s leadership and his team’s work are essential in ensuring that the Laboratory effectively partners with our New Mexico community members” said Craig Leasure, Principal Associate Director for Operations and Business. “I congratulate Chris on this accomplishment.” (Full story)

Friday, June 2, 2017

'Halos' on Mars suggest conditions for life lasted longer than thought

Mars Curiosity Rover, NASA image.

Shortly after touching down inside the Red Planet's 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater in August 2012, NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence that the area had harbored a potentially habitable lake-and-stream system in the ancient past.

"This tells us that the silica found in halos in younger rocks close by was likely remobilized from the old sedimentary rocks by water flowing through the fractures," said study lead author Jens Frydenvang, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Curiosity finds new evidence of long-term groundwater on Mars

Pale zones called halos border bedrock fractures visible in this 2015 NASA image.

Curiosity, our most advanced robotic explorer on Mars, is currently roving around the Gale crater, taking samples and analyzing the composition of crater material. The trusty bot previously revealed that Gale crater was likely once an enormous lake that stretched for miles "with water that we would even have been able to drink," said Jens Frydenvang, a rover-team scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Copenhagen. (Full Story)

Also in the Los Alamos Monitor

Neutron lifetime measurements take new shape for in situ detection

Pouring ultra-cold neutrons into a Helium-3 counter.

Measurements of the neutron lifetime and accurate simulations of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis (BBN) require old neutrons to be freed from their nuclear cages. Christopher Morris of Los Alamos National Laboratory and author of the new study explained that neutrons have been essentially "fossilized" in the nuclei of atoms. Studying these "fossil particles," then, can provide a glimpse of the earliest moments of the universe's existence.

By the time BBN ended, most neutrons were locked up in the nuclei of helium atoms. Today, almost all matter in the universe is still close to the initial delicate ratio of helium to hydrogen. The ratio is important since it determines how fast our sun burns hydrogen, powering life on earth. (Full Story)

Former Lab SARA student plans career as Army physician

Mullin receives his second lieutenant bars from his parents, Pointer View photo.

During his cadet career, Edmund Patrick Mullin from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Class of 2017) got the opportunity to work at several hospitals and labs in New Mexico, Germany, Italy and Africa starting in his plebe year.

“During my first semester, academically I wasn’t that great, but I was lucky enough to go to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in my plebe year [as a Service Academies Research Associate SARA student]. There, I concentrated on lab work. I learned how to make cultures and learned about plutonium pits, (a critical part of nuclear weapons) and went with nuclear engineers to the nuclear labs, which few people actually get to see.” (Full Story)

Three Los Alamos National Laboratory teams receive DOE Secretary Appreciation Awards

Dimitri Kusnezov (NNSA), Sara Del Valle, Paul Fenimore, Kirsten McCabe and Director Charlie McMillan. LANL photo.

Three teams at Los Alamos National Laboratory were the recent recipients of the Department of Energy’s Secretary Appreciation Awards for their exceptional contributions to the agency’s mission.

The Laboratory’s Ebola Task Force, Cancer Moonshot team and Technology Convergence Working Group were all recognized in January by then-Secretary Moniz and again in April during a ceremony hosted by LANL Director Charlie McMillan and Dimitri Kusnezov, NNSA’s chief scientist and senior advisor to the Secretary. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

Students enjoy hands-on science at Bradbury

Taos High School student studies the hands-on Matchstick Puzzle, BMSA photo.

Twenty-two Taos High School students enjoyed the hands-on science activities at the Bradbury Science Museum, thanks to the bus ride paid for by the Bradbury Science Museum Association.

“Getting the bus ride funding made such a huge difference for us!” said Ines Firmo, Taos High School special education science teacher. For some of our students, this is the first time they have been outside of Taos, so I’m really happy that we knew about the BSMA transportation grant so we could give them this experience. Our students are loving all the hands-on science activities here, it’s the best way to learn!” (Full Story)

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Genomics for everyone 

Printed human genome sequence, from Huff Po.

Seeing a need that the unique expertise at Los Alamos National Laboratory could fill, a team in the Biosecurity and Public Health group, collaborating with the Naval Medical Research Center, has developed a new computational and web-based tool called EDGE Bioinformatics to fulfill the promise of democratizing genomics.

Funded by the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the work comes out of the lab’s decades of research in genetics and life sciences. (Full story)

ABQ startup ready to go with gas detection device

Charles Harb, Journal photo.

Charles Harb, a quantum optics physicist, is from Australia, but his wife’s family is New Mexican. The Australian Federal Police approached Harb about a decade ago to develop a mobile explosives-detection device, leading to about $8 million in research and development at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, plus assistance from Los Alamos National Laboratory in recent years.

The company, RingIR Inc., launched in Albuquerque in August 2016 at the WESST incubator Downtown after more than 10 years developing its technology in Australia and New Mexico. (Full story

Also from the Journal this week:

Fast-growing Descartes Labs moving HQ to Santa Fe

ABQ Journal photo.

Descartes, which launched in 2015, is growing fast with advanced image-recognition software from Los Alamos National Laboratory that allows industry, government and academic researchers to rapidly analyze global trends in almost any field using satellite imagery.

It’s currently based in a 3,000-square-foot office in Los Alamos, and it leases a smaller space in Santa Fe for employees there. But with 30 people now working for Descartes, and plans to reach 60 by the end of the year, the company is bursting at the seams. (Full story)

United Way and LANL partner to make a difference

UWNNM Executive Director Kristy Ortega,
left, presents a plaque to Carole Rutten
of the LANL Community Partnerships Office,
LANL photo.

United Way of Northern New Mexico (UWNNM) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are embarking upon an exciting new partnership through the UWNNM Cornerstone Program! A shared objective in this partnership is to keep up with the most critical areas of need in the counties we serve. Because of the Laboratory and other Cornerstone Businesses, UWNNM hosts community focused meetings, engages in regular communication with a variety of non-profits, local governments, and local business. (Full story)

LANL Foundation kicks off scholarship campaign

This year’s fundraising campaign champion, Jeff Yarbrough, associate director for Plutonium Science and Manufacturing, addressed students, parents and donors at the Lab, emphasizing the fundraising theme, “Education: Mission Critical.” John McDermon, LANL Foundation scholarship program manager, and LANL Director Charlie McMillan were also in attendance.

Each year, LANL Foundation has the privilege of awarding scholarships to deserving students who have worked hard in and out of the classroom to become well-rounded individuals and members of their communities. (Full story)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Trying to bring down cancer

Behind leaded glass, robotic arms quality-test isotope production, Popular Mechanics photo.

Eva Birnbaum, the isotope production facility's program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, asks me if I know what a decay chain is. She points in the direction of an expanded periodic table that, despite a year of college chemistry, means about as much to me as a list of shipbuilding supplies from the 1600s.

As for what a decay chain is: When radioactive isotopes release radiation, they usually turn into another radioactive isotope, which releases radiation until it turns into another radioactive isotope, and so on, until it hits on something stable. (Full Story)

Insight into enzyme's 3D structure could cut biofuel costs

Structure of an enzyme that helps bacteria break down cellulose, LANL image.

Using neutron crystallography, a Los Alamos research team has mapped the three-dimensional structure of a protein that breaks down polysaccharides, such as the fibrous cellulose of grasses and woody plants, a finding that could help bring down the cost of creating biofuels. The research focused on a class of copper-dependent enzymes called lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs), which bacteria and fungi use to naturally break down cellulose and closely related chitin biopolymers. (Full Story)

Nerses ‘Krik’ Krikorian reflects on his career as a scientist and intelligence analyst

Krik Kerkorian, LANL photo.

Today, at age 96, Krikorian lives in a brightly lit condominium in Los Alamos, surrounded by his vast art collection and family photos, marveling at his good fortune. When he started kindergarten in Niagara Falls, he barely spoke English. Sixteen years later, he graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and began a job at Union Carbide, working in a lab that made highly enriched uranium. For what purpose, Krikorian wasn’t sure.

“I’d read a book somewhere that speculated that uranium was a fission thing. But I didn’t know what ‘fission’ meant. I’m a chemist, not a physicist,” he said with a laugh. It was 1943 and, unbeknownst to him, Krikorian was knee-deep in the Manhattan Project. (Full Story)

Rethinking the dreaded Siberian elm

Siberian elms line East Alameda Street in Santa Fe, from the New Mexican.

Sanna Sevanto, a tree physiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, called the elms “a double-edged sword” because they grow quickly, use a lot of water but also provide lush, shade canopies.

Because of their wide leaves, they also “release more water vapor into the atmosphere than areas like grasslands, and that basically maintains the patterns of local rainfall better — that is the part where they are good,” she said.

“It is a new world we live in, and elms are succeeding,” said Nate McDowell, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist who led a Southwestern tree study that found that climate change could leave the high-desert mountains of New Mexico nearly bald. (Full Story)

Quasars defy models of black hole formation

Artists' impression of a quasar, from IBT.

In March, researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used computer simulations to calculate the rate of evolution of supermassive black holes if their growth is fed by cold and dense accretion streams.

The simulated black holes created by the researchers were also seen to be interacting with galaxies in the same way that is observed in nature, mimicking star formation rates, galaxy density profiles, and thermal and ionization rates of gases. (Full Story)

Six Northern New Mexico businesses awarded funds to boost growth

The Venture Acceleration Fund awarded a round of funding to six diverse northern New Mexico businesses. The VAF is a collaborative investment administered by the Regional Development Corporation.

“The Laboratory wants to support the region’s small businesses as much as possible, and the VAF plays a critical role in helping companies on a growth trajectory expand and contribute to the broader economy,” said David Pesiri, director of the Richard P. Feynman Center for Innovation at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is responsible for the Lab’s technology transfer initiatives. (Full Story)

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