Friday, December 22, 2017

Satellite ‘license plates’ could prevent a disaster in low earth orbit

Space junk, from ESA.           

As of a couple of years ago, more than 1,300 active satellites orbited Earth, in addition to tens of thousands of dead satellites, discarded rockets and other bits and pieces that have accumulated in space in the 60 years since Sputnik, ranging in size from softballs to school buses.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory our mission is to find scientific solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems—that includes keeping our satellites and spacecraft safe. So we’re developing an optical “license plate” that we hope will one day travel aboard every object that goes into outer space. (Full story)

Breathing new life into pulmonary research

The PuLMo artificial lung, LANL image

A team of scientists and bioengineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a tissue-engineered artificial lung called PuLMo, for Pulmonary Lung Model, that simulates the response of the human lung to drugs, toxins, particles and other agents. As an artificial organ that you can see inside, the laptop-sized device is a unique technological scaffold for building all kinds of life-improving research and technology.

Resembling an amped-up computer board sprouting tubes, wires, and clamps and using real human cells, PuLMo consists of a bronchiolar unit and an alveolar unit. They work the way a lung is supposed to work — PuLMo breathes. (Full story)

While Earthlings take a break, the Mars rover keeps working

Curiosity rover raised robotic arm with
drill pointed skyward, NASA image.

There’s no holiday on Mars. While many of us earthlings will spend the final days of 2017 taking a break from work and relaxing on couches or ski slopes, the ChemCam instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will keep busy—all on its own. Using its autonomous target-selection software, ChemCam will pick rocks to “zap” for chemical analysis.

“This is the first time ChemCam will operate over the holiday break,” said Steve Johnstone, operations lead of ChemCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The onboard software debuted in the summer of 2016, but recent upgrades have made it more capable of selecting different types of targets and different positions relative to the rover. (Full story)

From inner to outer space, Los Alamos science goes big in 2017

With a top-story list populated by breakthroughs in supercomputing, accelerator science, space missions, materials science, life science, and more, Los Alamos National Laboratory put its Big Science capabilities to wide, productive use in 2017.

“No discipline left untouched—that’s the story from Los Alamos in 2017,” said Alan Bishop, Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology and Engineering at Los Alamos. “In a remarkably productive year, Laboratory researchers have grabbed headlines for their research in everything from physics to explosives modeling to HIV vaccine developments. (Full story)

Nuclear fusion company says it will make carbon-free energy a reality

Scott Hsu.

"I think fusion is kind of the holy grail of energy," said Scott Hsu, a fusion researcher at the U.S. government's Los Alamos National Laboratory. On top of creating an immense amount of energy, Hsu noted that fusion also doesn't suffer from the many drawbacks of existing energy sources. Fusion runs on seawater (the source of hydrogen), doesn't leave behind radioactive fuel rods, and produces no carbon gases — the source of Earth's warming. (Full story)

LANL employees share big-hearted holiday spirit

Volunteers help pack more than 1,000 gifts
donated by Lab employees, Daily Post photo.    

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Motorcycle Safety Committee and members of the Los Alamos Fire Department gathered Friday afternoon at the LANL Community Partnerships Office at 15th Street and Central Avenue to help transport the more than 1,000 gifts donated by Lab employees to less fortunate children as part of their annual Holiday Gift Drive.  (Full story)

LANL Foundation pays for teacher certification

LaDonna Phillips is a teacher
participating in the certification.  RG Sun photo.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation is working with EspaƱola School District administrators to ensure the District has well-qualified educators by paying for several teachers to obtain their National Board Certification.

The Certification is offered by National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Certification, a nonprofit created by educators to help create accomplished teachers. It is considered by many, the top teaching credential in the country and is accepted nationwide. (Full story)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Smoke from wildfires may be surprisingly deadly, scientists report

The hills above Santa Barbara, Calif., are shrouded in smoke from the Thomas Fire. From WaPo.

“What burns matters,” said Manvendra Dubey, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who is also working on the problem of wildfire smoke and its consequences. Dubey underscored the complex chemistry of the smoke that emanates from different types of fires at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans.

So there is much more to learn about the dangers of wildfire smoke — but based on the little we know so far, it sounds like a serious threat, and one that could grow even worse in the future. (Full Story)

Raspberry Pi modules combine to let developers test supercomputer software

Raspberry Pi module.

Software developers who write (or want to write) software for supercomputers just got a huge holiday present: a way to test their software for bugs without having to use a supercomputer. It’s an affordable, scalable device consisting of thousands of inexpensive Raspberry Pi nodes and serves as a powerful high-performance-computing testbed for system-software developers, researchers, and others who lack machine time on the world’s fastest supercomputers.

“It’s not like you can keep a petascale machine around for R&D work in scalable systems software,” says Gary Grider, leader of the High Performance Computing Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of the Trinity supercomputer. (Full Story)

Also from Machine Design this week:

Electrically stimulated quantum dots amplify light

Quantum dot laser, LANL photo.       

Los Alamos scientists have shown they can amplify light using electrically excited films of quantum dots (i.e., chemically synthesized semiconductor nanocrystals). The films are put into devices much like the now-ubiquitous light-emitting diodes (LEDs), but, in this case, they are designed to sustain the high current densities required for achieving the optical-gain regime.

Laser diodes are common and can be found in laser pointers, barcode readers, and the like. A key element of such devices is an optical-gain medium, which amplifies incident light rather than absorbing it. (Full Story)

10 surprising ways machine learning is being used today

Illustration from InformationWeek. 

About 10,000 people die in earthquakes each year, so researchers are always on the hunt for ways to predict earthquakes and their magnitude. A pair of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have taken a crucial first step in that direction.

The researchers created a laboratory earthquake simulation: a model consisting of blocks separated by a chasm, or “fault line.” They then trained a machine learning algorithm to detect acoustic emissions from the model. In other words, by learning what an earthquake “sounds” like just before it happens, the model knew how to “listen” for future earthquakes. (Full Story)

Four scientists win Los Alamos Medal

The Los Alamos Medal was established in 2001, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory will award four former researchers with the Los Alamos Medal for their scientific contributions. Scott Cram, Larry Deaven, Robert Moyzis and Howard Menlove will receive the award, the highest honor bestowed by the Laboratory.

The team of Cram, Deaven, and Moyzis are recognized for their work sequencing the human genome and Menlove for his work on methods and instruments used for treaty verification.

The Laboratory will hold an award ceremony in early 2018 to honor the recipients. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post

Chamisa students compete in electric car challenge

With support from Los Alamos National Laboratory, two teams of Chamisa Elementary School 6th graders participated in the New Mexico Electric Car Challenge and proudly brought home a 3rd place trophy.

Susan Hettinga, a teacher at Chamisa Elementary School, was the “ringleader” of the eight students who participated - Victoria Raven, Lia Rushton, Maya Carpenter, Rosario Dodd, Seth Javernick, Owen Wylie, Julianna McCabe and Ella Javernick. (Full Story)

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Friday, December 8, 2017

LANL biologist ‘cautiously’ optimistic about HIV vaccine

Bette Korber, LANL photo.

Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has designed a “mosaic” vaccine that is about to become one of only a handful of HIV fighters ever tested for its effectiveness in humans.

Researchers will spend the next few years studying a test population of 2,600 women in sub-Saharan Africa to see if the mosaics can indeed slow or prevent HIV infection in humans.

The search for an HIV vaccine has always been difficult, in part because the virus has the ability to mutate rapidly, creating multiple strains in different parts of the world. (Full story)

Computer simulations reveal roots of drug resistance

Efflux pumps are a mechanism for
removing toxins, including antibiotics. LANL image.

New supercomputer simulations have revealed the role of transport proteins called efflux pumps in creating drug-resistance in bacteria, research that could lead to improving the drugs’ effectiveness against life-threatening diseases and restoring the efficacy of defunct antibiotics.

“By understanding how the pump moves and dynamically behaves, we can potentially find a way to deactivate the pump—and antibiotics that haven’t worked in a long time may be useful again,” said Los Alamos biophysicist Gnana Gnanakaran. (Full story)

Better biofuels by design

Computing systems that emulate the biological neural networks of animal and human brains can potentially save both money and time as scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory seek to convert nonfood biomass into new engine fuels. These fuels could be used in existing transportation infrastructure and engine technologies—and meet government regulations. Researchers are using these artificial neural networks to estimate the combustion characteristics of biofuel constituents and new fuel molecules. (Full story)

NASA testing space-rated fission power unit
Moving the Kilopower prototype, NASA photo.

“The reactor technology we are testing could be applicable to multiple NASA missions, and we ultimately hope that this is the first step for fission reactors to create a new paradigm of truly ambitious and inspiring space exploration,” adds David Poston, Los Alamos’ chief reactor designer.

“Simplicity is essential to any first-of-a-kind engineering project – not necessarily the simplest design, but finding the simplest path through design, development, fabrication, safety, and testing.” (Full story)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Terry Wallace named new director of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Terry Wallace, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory will soon be under direction of a home town boy — Terry Wallace, who grew up in Los Alamos, worked at the lab as an undergraduate student and has held various high-ranking positions at LANL since 2003.

The lab announced Tuesday that Wallace will become the 75-year-old lab’s 11th director — and the first actually from Los Alamos — as of Jan. 1, succeeding retiring director Charles McMillan. (Full Story)

Tiny license plates could help us steer clear of our space junk

Prototype laser-powered license plate to fit on satellites headed for space, LANL photo.

With so many new flying objects being sent into orbit and beyond, many scientists say, we could be in for some dangerous collisions. One group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is trying to fix that with something ubiquitous among cars, but currently nonexistent for space mobiles: A license plate.

But don’t things just float around up there like a giant game of bumper cars? Not even close, explains David Palmer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos. While there have only been two really substantial space crashes, he says, one crash is all it takes to trigger catastrophe. (Full Story)

NIH and partners launch HIV vaccine efficacy study

An HIV-infected T cell. NIAID image.

NIAID provided funding for preclinical and early phase clinical development of the mosaic-based vaccine, which was initially developed by the laboratory of Dan H. Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, together with Janssen and other partners. The mosaic immunogens incorporated in the vaccine were designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In preclinical studies, regimens with mosaic-based vaccines protected monkeys against infection with an HIV-like virus. Findings from two early-stage human clinical trials suggest that these vaccines are well-tolerated and can generate anti-HIV immune responses in healthy adult volunteers. (Full Story)

NASA, DOE testing ‘Kilopower’ space nuclear reactor

Kilopower demonstration unit. NASA photo.

Patrick McClure, project lead on the Kilopower work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said that a space nuclear reactor could provide a high-energy density power source with the ability to operate independent of solar energy or orientation, and the ability to operate in extremely harsh environments, such as the Martian surface.  Additionally, the Kilopower team believes the technology could be applicable to multiple NASA missions.

“We ultimately hope that this is the first step for fission reactors to create a new paradigm of truly ambitious and inspiring space exploration,” said David Poston, chief reactor designer at Los Alamos. (Full Story)

All missions on board for NASA heliophysics research

Illustration of space-based sensors.  From PhysOrg.

Scientists have been studying the near-Earth environment for the better part of a century, but many mysteries -- like where the energetic particles that pervade the area originate and become energized -- still remain. In a new type of collaborative study, scientists combined data from 16 separate NASA and Los Alamos National Laboratory spacecraft to understand how a particle phenomenon in the magnetic environment around Earth occurs. These events, called substorms, can cause auroras, disrupt GPS communications and, at their most intense, damage power grids. (Full Story)

 Quantum dots amplify light with electrical pumping

Quantum dot laser, LANL image.

Los Alamos achieves light amplification with electrically stimulated quantum dots, critical step towards solution-processible laser diodes

In a breakthrough development, Los Alamos scientists have shown that they can successfully amplify light using electrically excited films of the chemically synthesized semiconductor nanocrystals known as quantum dots. (Full Story)

How a meteor-like shock turns silica into glass

Shocked silica glass, SLAC image.

"We were able for the first time to really visualize from start to finish what happens in a material that makes up a major portion of the Earth's crust," said Arianna Gleason of the DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the principal investigator for the study, which was published Nov. 14 in Nature Communications. (Full Story)

Scalable clusters make HP R&D easy as Raspberry Pi

Trinity supercomputer, LANL image.

Housed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Trinity is the third-fastest supercomputer in the world, by one measure. But the Department of Energy and the lab didn’t design it to top the speed list. They wanted it to solve specific – and huge – physics problems that would bring any other machine to its knees while sucking in megawatts of power from the electric grid.

Trinity came fully on line in 2017 as the latest in a string of world-class supercomputers supporting Los Alamos’s mission of ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory Trinity supercomputer lands on two top-10 lists

The Trinity Supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory was recently named as a top 10 supercomputer on two lists: it made number three on the High Performance Conjugate Gradients (HPCG) Benchmark project, and is number seven on the TOP500 list. (Full Story)

Research group finds thick skin of atomic nucleus

Crab Nebula in the constellation Taurus, NASA image.

Calcium-48 is a quirky material, with this particular study taking Washington University chemists Robert J. Charity and Lee G. Sobotka from Duke's Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory to the Department of Energy's Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory.

"The Los Alamos experiment was critical for the analysis we pursued. In the end—because it has this additional set of neutrons—it gets us to information that helps us to further clarify the physics of neutron stars, where there are many more neutrons relative to protons,” said co-author Willem H. Dickhoff. (Full Story)

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