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)