Friday, July 21, 2017

Trinity Supercomputer’s Haswell and KNL partitions are merged

Trinity Supercomputer, LANL photo.    

Trinity supercomputer’s two partitions – one based on Intel Xeon Haswell processors and the other on Xeon Phi Knights Landing – have been fully integrated are now available for use on classified work in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, according to an announcement today. The KNL partition had been undergoing testing and was available for non-classified science work.

“The main benefit of doing open science was to find any remaining issues with the system hardware and software before Trinity is turned over for production computing in the classified environment,” said Trinity project director Jim Lujan. (Full story)

If these (Martian) rocks could talk

The ChemCam instrument aboard
Mars Curiosity, NASA image.

Finding the element boron might not seem exciting, but if you find it on Mars and you’re interested in alien life, it’s a big deal. Like manganese, another element that NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered in surprising abundance on Mars, boron has a lot to say about the habitability of the Red Planet.

Understanding how these elements got there and the implications to our search for life on Mars is part of Curiosity’s mission. To help find out, Los Alamos National Laboratory, in collaboration with the French Space Agency CNES, developed an instrument called ChemCam. (Full story)

LANL scientists engage industry at DisruptTECH

Miles Beaux, right, helped develop new “vacuum
balloons” as a low-cost replacement for helium
balloons, LANL photo.

New, cutting-edge technologies from Los Alamos National Laboratory got their first public hearing on potential market applications at the lab’s third annual DisrupTECH conference on Thursday.

Lab scientists unveiled nearly a dozen inventions to about 100 investors, businesspeople and technology transfer professionals from around New Mexico and elsewhere at the event, organized in partnership with the New Mexico Angels investor group. (Full story)

Los Alamos scientist explores the outer reaches of the periodic table

Stosh Kozimor, LANL photo.

In a Q&A, Los Alamos National Laboratory Staff Scientist Stosh Kozimor discusses the challenges of doing research on the actinides and their potential application in cancer therapy.

How difficult is it to work with actinides?

When you have highly radioactive samples, you want to limit your personal exposure to them, and the material is usually very scarce and incredibly valuable. So there’s a lot of up-front work using nonradioactive surrogates to make sure the entire process is well rehearsed and your hands develop muscle memory. (Full story)

NASA about to test a nuclear fission reactor

Kilopower reactors on Mars, illustration from big think.

NASA has given new life to the idea of using nuclear fission to power space missions, something it last considered in the 1960s. Now for three years, it's been funding the development of a project called Kilopower that could be the key to colonizing Mars and other planets.

The reactors are being developed at the Los Alamos National Lab, in partnership with NASA Research Centers and other DOE National labs. (Full story)

Encryption keys too predictable, warn security researchers

Whitewood entropy engine, from Whitewood.    

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have found that most random number generators used for encryption keys are not truly random. They found that encryption keys are potentially predictable because software-based random number generators – typically part of the operating system – have a limited capacity.

To address this problem, the quantum security team at LANL spent a decade developing and perfecting the ability to deliver pure entropy – the foundation of randomness – using quantum technology. (Full story)

National awards recognize Los Alamos National Laboratory leadership In nuclear safeguards

Nancy Jo Nicholas and Martyn Swinhoe, LANL photos.

Two Los Alamos National Laboratory employees were recognized today by the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management for their contributions to the nuclear safeguards profession.

Nancy Jo Nicholas, the Laboratory’s associate director for threat identification and response, was recognized with the Edway R. Johnson Meritorious Service award. Martyn Swinhoe, a physicist in the safeguards science and technology group, received the Vincent J. DeVito Distinguished Service award. (Full story)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Keeping an eye on the sky at Los Alamos

Artist’s concept of an active supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA/JPL

Every night in a remote clearing called Fenton Hill high in the Jemez Mountains of central New Mexico, a bank of robotically controlled telescopes tilt their lenses to the sky for another round of observation through digital imaging. Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Thinking Telescopes project is watching for celestial transients including high-power cosmic flashes called, and like all science, it can be messy work.

To keep the project clicking along, Los Alamos scientists routinely install equipment upgrades, maintain the site, and refine the sophisticated machine-learning computer programs that process those images and extract useful data from them. Each week the system amasses 100,000 digital images of the heavens, some of which are compromised by clouds, wind gusts, focus problems, and so on. (Full story)

Safer solid propellant for cubesats
Los Alamos National Laboratory has a radical new solid propellant for cubesats. Unlike a traditional composite propellant, which mechanically mixes a fuel and an oxidizer into a high explosive, the new propellant ignites an energetic fuel — really a low explosive. Then hydrogen and nitrogen gases from the burning fuel flow through the solid oxidizer component of the system, which gasifies, mixes with the fuel gases and unleashes significant thrust.

Both components of this binary system, the energetic fuel and the oxidizer, are immune to detonation, a huge advantage over other rocket fuels. Even the shock from the detonation of a material like C-4 in direct contact with the motor would not cause the propellant itself to detonate. Also, because the system uses solid materials, it cannot leak, has no pressurized gases and has no moving parts like a liquid system. (Full story)

Los Alamos museum hosts multimedia Manhattan Project exhibit

The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos is slated to host a new multimedia exhibit on the Manhattan Project.

The interactive exhibit, Manhattan on the Mesa: Manhattan Project Properties at Los Alamos, tells the story of Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists working on the world's first atomic bomb.

New Mexico Highlands University students developed the multimedia exhibit that features 3-D models, videos, virtual reality, and graphic panels. (Full story)

Algae production research gets boost at Los Alamos
An aerial view of a series of raceways, where Sapphire
validates the performance of its cultivation strains
by testing them at increasing spatial scales.
Credit: Sapphire Energy INC

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the selection of three projects to receive up to $8 million, aimed at reducing the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts. One of the projects involves Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Shawn Starkenburg working with Alina Corcoran of Sapphire Energy at its Las Cruces, New Mexico field site, evaluating rationally designed pond cultures containing multiple species of algae, as well as beneficial bacteria, for consistent biomass composition and high productivity. The project was awarded through a DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement titled "Productivity Enhanced Algae and Tool-Kits (PEAK)."

"Our goal is to double the yield of outdoor algal production systems," Starkenburg said. "By applying strategies and management practices from agriculture, aquaculture, microbial ecology, as well as using high-throughput selection tools to generate microbial assemblages, we believe this is achievable," he said. (Full story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory to host hazmat challenge to test first responder skills
Image: Homeland Preparedness News.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory hosted 10 hazardous materials response teams from Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Nebraska for the 21st annual Hazmat Challenge, pitting each team against one another in a series of graded, timed exercises.

The event, held at Los Alamos’ Technical Area 49 in New Mexico, features a series of challenges that involves participants responding to simulated hazardous materials emergencies in the areas of rail and highway transportation, aircraft, biological laboratories, industrial piping, confined spaces, and a skills-based obstacle course finale. (Full story)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Designing a Safer Explosive

This Fourth of July, as you and your family settle on a sandy beach or grassy lawn to watch a fireworks display, you’re probably not thinking about the science behind the explosives you’re witnessing. In fact, you probably are not even thinking of them as explosives. But that’s exactly what they are—-and there’s a lot of science that goes into creating that dazzling display of fire and colors.

Fireworks often comprise mixtures of oxidizers and fuels that are ready to participate in combustion chemical reactions. When given enough energy to begin the reaction process, the oxidizers and fuels react to generate heat, smoke and reaction products such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor and nitrogen. The heat generated can be used to excite “coloring agents,” or metal ions, that then emit the colored light we are accustomed to seeing in fireworks. The metal ions commonly used in pyrotechnics are sodium (yellow-orange), calcium (red-orange), barium (green), strontium (red) and copper (blue). (Full story)

How Hollywood and the Army are shaping the future of fireworks

In pursuit of a better bang, two unlikely industries are working to develop greener, cleaner-burning pyrotechnics. Hollywood wants less smoke — and the military doesn't want to contaminate its training sites.

But the new formulations are pricy, and America’s commercial fireworks industry — which made $1.1 billion in revenue last year — is still a long way from changing their decades-old recipes. When the industry’s ready, or when environmental regulations become more stringent, fireworks manufacturers will at least know where to start, says Jesse Sabatini, a scientist with the US Army Research Laboratory who has worked extensively on pyrotechnics. “You’ve got formulations now that are out there, that the companies can take.” (Full story)

‘Halos’ left by water on Mars discovered

The Curiosity rover on Mars took this "selfie" at the foot of the planet's Mount Sharp, which is within the 96-mile-diameter Gale Crater. (Courtesy of NASA)

Water running through the subsurface of Mars lasted longer than previous estimates, according to observations made using the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s “ChemCam” on the Red Planet.

The ChemCam – for chemistry and camera – was developed at Los Alamos in cooperation with the French space agency and is located on NASA’s Curiosity rover. Its laser shoots rocks and analyzes the vaporized materials to discover what elements lie within.

Last year, the rover’s equipment found boron within rock veins in the planet’s huge Gale Crater, evidence of a history of habitable groundwater on Mars. (Full story)

Post-It note art installation supports LGBTQ+ employees

National lab promotes workplace inclusion through an interactive activity supporting LGBTQ+ employees

At Los Alamos National Laboratory—one of the nation’s premier Department of Energy national security laboratories tucked in the foothills of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) employees and their supporters created the Lab’s first Post-It note window art installation on June 6.

In a visible display promoting diversity, hundreds of people jotted words of support on Post-Its. Six windows of the Lab’s centrally located Otowi building third-floor breezeway were transformed into the six vibrant stripes of the iconic gay pride rainbow flag. (Full story)