Friday, March 24, 2017

Breaking the ‘speed limit': Simulation shows monster black holes' rapid growth

Quasar halo simulation containing a supermassive black hole. LANL image.

"It turns out that while supermassive black holes have a growth speed limit, certain types of massive stars do not," said Joseph Smidt, a researcher at the theoretical design division of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the first author on the new work. "We asked, what if we could find a place where stars could grow much faster, perhaps to the size of many thousand suns; could they form supermassive black holes in less time?"

The researchers compared their models to the most distant known energetic galactic center, called a quasar, and one of the most massive of those objects, which is also ancient, to see whether that method could have quickly grown them to full size. (Full Story)

Also from HPC Wire and Space Daily

Quantum dot solar inefficiency source found

Quantum dot solar cells could become more efficient, now that the Los Alamos Lab has uncovered a mechanism that has been holding them back.

The dots are made form electro-optically active materials whose size as well as composition controls the photon energy that they interact with, allowing their absorption (and emission) wavelength to be tuned by particle size. They can also be tuned to deliver multiple electron-hole pairs from one photon, which has allowed quantum dot solar cells to operate at 10% efficiency, according to Los Alamos. (Full Story)

Watch the video

'Flying saucer' quantum dots hold secret to brighter, better lasers

Spherical core of the quantum dot nanoparticle, UT image.

Fresh insights into living cells, brighter video projectors and more accurate medical tests are just three of the innovations that could result from a new way of fabricating lasers.

The new method, developed by an international research team from U of T Engineering, Vanderbilt University, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and others, produces continuous laser light that is brighter, less expensive and more tuneable than current devices by using nanoparticles known as quantum dots. (Full Story)

Uncovering the origins of cancer

Ludmil Alexandrov, New Mexican photo.        

“The question that bothers me and interests me the most is what causes cancer,” said Ludmil Alexandrov, 30, a J. Robert Oppenheimer fellow at Los Alamos, who will spend the next five years studying the mutational fingerprints of more than 5,000 cancer patients around the world.

“If you take any given cancer patient, can you say cancer is caused by A, B, C, D?” Alexandrov said, adding that is “a puzzle in my head that we are trying to solve.”

With the exclusion of cancer related to smoking, Alexandrov said, “Eight out of 10 cancers we cannot explain; we don’t know what caused them.” (Full Story)

Less radiation in inner Van Allen belt than previously believed

Van Allen Probes circle radiation belts, LANL illustration.

The inner Van Allen belt has less radiation than previously believed, according to a recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Observations from NASA's Van Allen probes show the fastest, most energetic electrons in the inner radiation belt are actually much rarer and harder to find than scientists expected. This is good news for spacecraft that are orbiting in the region and can be damaged by high levels of radiation. The results will also help scientists better understand -- and detect -- effects from high-altitude nuclear explosions. (Full Story)

Also from the LA Daily Post

Can our grid withstand a solar storm?

When the last really big solar storm hit Earth in 1921, the Sun ejected a burst of plasma and magnetic structures like Zeus hurling a thunderbolt from Mount Olympus. Earth’s magnetic field funneled a wave of electrically charged particles toward the ground, where they induced a current along telegraph lines and railroad tracks that set fire to telegraph offices and burned down train stations.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has been studying space weather for more than 50 years as part of our national security mission to monitor nuclear testing around the globe, and part of that work includes studying how the radiation-saturated environment of near space can affect technology and people. (Full Story)

Scanning tunneling microscopy reveals unexpected optical phonon effect

Optical phonon condensate droplets, LANL image.         

"We did not predict this B-E condensate in our model. This is an absolutely new observation," said Alexander "Sasha" Balatsky of Los Alamos National Laboratory, a coauthor on the paper with a research team from Air Force Research Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Nordita Center for Quantum Materials, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University.

The new substance may be useful for phonon-based quantum computers, and it may also shed light on the conditions required to form biological Fröhlich condensates of collective modes. (Full Story)

Featured R&D 100 Award Winner PuLMo

Section of the Pulmonary Lung Model, LANL image.

To avoid lung disease complications, scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed PuLMo: Pulmonary Lung Model—a miniature, tissue-engineered lung platform that precisely mimics the response of human lungs to pharmaceuticals and other agents.

The principal application of PuLMo, a winner of a 2016 R&D 100 award, is to revolutionize the reliability of drug toxicity assessments and better predict the efficacy of a new drug in humans. Since PuLMo is the size of an actual human lung, such miniaturization makes it possible to evaluate multiple units at a time. (Full Story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.

Please visit us at

Friday, March 17, 2017

Science on the Hill: Dark matter detective work

The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory in
the mountains of Mexico, from the New Mexican.

Fourteen thousand feet above sea level near a volcanic peak in Mexico sits a unique astronomical observatory. Instead of peering into space with a glass lens, it uses 300 huge barrels of water. And instead of focusing light, digital sensors inside each barrel detect a ghostly blue light called Cherenkov radiation from high-energy particles zipping through the water.

At this High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory, better known as HAWC, a team of astrophysicists from Los Alamos National Laboratory and their colleagues are sifting through data from those mountain-top water barrels looking for the fingerprint of one of the most elusive yet abundant quarries in the universe: Dark matter. (Full story)

2D layered hybrid perovskite material enhances effectiveness for LEDs and solar cells

2D Perovskite structure, LANL image.               

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are developing ground-breaking 2D layered hybrid perovskites that allow higher level of freedom in designing and fabricating efficient optoelectronic devices.

The 2D, near-single-crystalline "Ruddlesden-Popper" thin films have an out-of-plane orientation so that unrestrained charge movement takes place across the perovskite layers in planar devices.

At the edges of the perovskite layers, the team detected "layer-edge-states," which are crucial to both high fluorescence efficiency (a few tens of percent) for LEDs and high efficiency of solar cells (>12 %). (Full story)

Scientists discover oxidation state for molecular plutonium

Researchers have identified the +2 oxidation state in a molecular system of plutonium. The findings by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in collaboration with the University of California- Irvine provide a significant step towards a more complete understanding of chemical trends across the actinide series and ultimately will provide knowledge about how to manipulate and control oxidation-state chemistry and electronic structure. (Full story)

Raving about robots

Robo Rave Competition, RG Sun photo.

Janelle Vigil-Maestas from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Programs Office, said her Office started sponsoring the event several years ago, to give students practice ahead of the much larger annual, international contest held each year in Albuquerque. This year, it will be on May 5 and 6.

“We brought it to Northern because we had a lot of students that were starting teams and they didn’t have experience competing,” she said. (Full story)

LANL donation adding to UNM supercomputing power

The new system given to UNM from
Los Alamos. UNM photo.

The machine was acquired from LANL through the National Science Foundation-sponsored PR0bE project, which is run by the New Mexico Consortium (NMC). The NMC, comprising UNM, New Mexico State, and New Mexico Tech universities, engages universities and industry in scientific research in the nation's interest and to increase the role of LANL in science, education and economic development. (Full story)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Oldest, biggest black holes may have come from enormous stars

European Organization for Astronomical Research illustration.           

The earliest supermassive black holes may have been big to start with. If so, it would help explain the recent detection of such beasts within a billion years of the big bang.

In principle, though, stars can gain mass faster than black holes. Joseph Smidt at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and his colleagues say this could explain the presence of supermassive black holes so early on.

“Other results showed that you can get the right mass – but black holes are more than mass,” says Smidt. “We’ve shown that we can match several other independently observed features.” (Full Story)

See the NewScientist video on YouTube

Machine-learning algorithm predicts laboratory earthquakes

Random Forest approach for predicting time remaining before failure.           

Bertrand Rouet-Leduc at Los Alamos National Laboratory [has] trained a machine-learning algorithm to spot the tell-tale signs that a laboratory earthquake is about to give way using only the sounds it emits under strain.  The team is cautious about the new technique’s utility for real earthquakes, but the work opens up new avenues of research in this area.

Rouet-Leduc and collaborators created artificial earthquakes in their lab by pulling on one block sandwiched between two others. At the interface between the blocks, they packed a mixture of rocky material, called gouge material, to simulate the properties of real faults. (Full Story)

Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

2D Perovskite structure. LANL illustration.

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating innovative 2D layered hybrid perovskites that allow greater freedom in designing and fabricating efficient optoelectronic devices. Industrial and consumer applications could include low cost solar cells, LEDs, laser diodes, detectors, and other nano-optoelectronic devices. (Full Story)

See the Los Alamos video on YouTube

Unexpected oxidation state for molecular plutonium discovered

Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory and UC Irvine study a new oxidation state of plutonium. LANL Photo

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in collaboration with the University of California - Irvine (UCI) have uncovered a significant new chemical attribute of plutonium, the identification and structural verification of the +2 oxidation state in a molecular system.

"This finding marks out plutonium, already known for its extremely complex chemistry, as the actinide element with the largest number of confirmed oxidation states," said Andrew Gaunt, lead Los Alamos investigator on the project along with Stosh Kozimor. (Full Story)

Jaqueline L. Kiplinger receives IUPAC 2017 Distinguished Women In Chemistry Award

Jaqueline Kiplinger, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Jaqueline Kiplinger was recognized this week with the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) 2017 Distinguished Women in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering award. Kiplinger was one of 12 women recognized this year internationally and the only recipient of this honor from the United States. (Full Story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.

Please visit us at

Friday, March 3, 2017

How bioinformatics tools are bringing genetic analysis to the masses

Illustration from Nature.     

For doctors trying to treat people who have symptoms that have no clear cause, gene-sequencing technologies might help in pointing them to a diagnosis. But the vast amount of data generated can make it hard to get to the answer quickly.

Patrick Chain, who led the development of the software1, at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, says that EDGE was created to try to square the rapidly growing availability of low-cost DNA sequencers with the relative paucity of know-how required to make sense of the data. (Full story)

What if black holes … weren’t holes after all?

Photo by Elena Giorgi.

The concept of a “black hole” — a celestial body so dense and massive that not even light can escape its gravitational field — dates back to the 18th century, with the theoretical work of Pierre-Simon Laplace and John Michell. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that these mysterious dark objects were first described mathematically by German physicist Karl Schwarzschild.       

Emil Mottola, a physicist in T-Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, laughs as he explains this bit of history behind black holes. “Would black holes have captured the popular imagination if they were still known as Schwarzschild’s solution?” The name “black hole” was coined by the American physicist John Wheeler in the 1960s, when these objects became the subject of serious study and first entered the popular vocabulary. (Full story)

Revamped thermonuclear missile warhead passes key milestone

USS Alabama, US Navy image.          

The Department of Energy said Thursday its scientists are taking the final steps to modernize the W88 thermonuclear warhead for Navy Trident II ballistic missiles.

After a four-year effort to alter the warhead with new arming, fuzing and firing components and add a new safety feature, a team from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories has been authorized to begin production engineering, with the first unit scheduled for delivery in late 2019. (Full story)