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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