Friday, May 18, 2018

‘Explosive’ eruption at Hawaii volcano’s summit shoots ash more than five miles high

Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates. WaPo photo.

Thursday's event was, if not the big one, then certainly a big one, researchers said. As the molten rock dropped below the level of the water table, it's likely that water in the surrounding rock began pouring into the vacated chamber — much the way water rushes to fill a recently dug well, said Charlotte Rowe, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The water would then flash into steam, “and steam as we know is a very powerful source of energy, a very powerful propellant,” Rowe said.

Kilauea has erupted in this manner before. In May 1924, the Hawaii Volcano Observatory reported more than 50 explosive events over the course of two-and-a-half weeks at the volcano's summit.  (Full Story)

Will NASA go nuclear to return to the Moon?

A Kilopower unit on Mars, NASA illustration.

NASA and DoE officials say the reactor is safer than previous generations because of how it works. The fission chain reaction is passively controlled and can even be stopped, using boron control rods and beryllium reflectors. Atom-splitting would not begin until after the reactor is far from Earth.

According to Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the DoE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Under all worst-case situations, we don’t believe there is any chance the reactor would come on accidentally during a launch accident,” he says. (Full Story)

Wallace: Plutonium decision big vote of confidence for Los Alamos National Laboratory

Director Terry Wallace, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Dr. Terry Wallace told Lab staff today in an internal memo obtained by the Los Alamos Daily Post that the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has given the Lab “a big vote of confidence”.

“They are investing an additional $3 billion in new mission space, which includes people, infrastructure and equipment. This is a significant opportunity to continue contributing to the nation’s security by drawing on our unique expertise in plutonium science,” he said. (Full Story)

Neutrons measured with unprecedented precision using a 'magneto-gravitational trap'

The UNCtau 'bottle' trap at LANSCE. LANL photo.

"This is a significant improvement compared to previous experiments," said Chen-Yu Liu, who is a leader on the UNCtau experiment, which uses neutrons from the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center Ultracold Neutron source at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "The data is far more accurate than what we've had before."

The work required five years to design, fabricate, test and install their equipment at the neutron source in Los Alamos, after which the team began to run experiments and collect data. (Full Story)

Also from Space Daily

Los Alamos researchers map how Ebola, Zika attack host cells

Section of Ebola virus forming “spikes” during “pre-fusion” or infection of a host cell. LANL image.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) recently used computer modeling to map the process by which the Ebola and Zika viruses infiltrate host cells.

The researchers, who published their work in the journal Biomolecules, aimed to understand the specific structure-function relationship of the Ebola glycoprotein (EBOV GP) and Zika envelope (ZIKA E) proteins, which enable fusion with the host cell. This improved understanding could aid in the development of vaccines and therapeutic medicines. (Full Story)

Also from Medical News Net

A missing piece in the neutrinoless beta-decay puzzle

Short-range interactions in models of neutrinoless double-beta decay, APS illustration.

The observation of a nuclear process called neutrinoless double-beta decay might help researchers figure out what gives neutrinos their mass and why there’s far more matter than antimatter in the Universe. While this hypothetical decay has never been observed, experiments have placed constraints on the maximum rate at which it could occur.

Now Vincenzo Cirigliano of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and colleagues show that previous calculations of neutrinoless double-beta decay might have neglected a contribution that is critical for interpreting experimental data. (Full Story)

Long-range Wireless Sensor Network hardware

LRWSN hardware, LANL image.       

The Long-range Wireless Sensor Network developed by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and West Virginia University easily, efficiently, and affordably collects, processes, and transmits data in all kinds of rugged and remote outdoor environments.

This invention grew out of the Laboratory’s decades of experience in developing rugged, low-power satellite components for a really remote and harsh environment: space. Now the Lab has applied this expertise to develop these novel long-range wireless sensor networks for harsh environments and low resource situations on earth. (Full Story)

Also from the New Mexican this week:

Los Alamos scientist’s patented radiation detector could boost worker safety

“Lighthouse” radiation detector tested at Trinity Site, LANL photo.    

Jonathan Dowell, who specializes in engineering physics, has patented a radiation-detection device that could make places like the Los Alamos lab safer for workers and also has applications for emergency first responders, security authorities and hospitals.

The small, 11-pound cube, dubbed a “lighthouse” radiation detector, uses a sweeping beam to zero in on radiation sources in seconds to reduce worker exposure. About the size of a jar of peanut butter, the detector can be sent into potentially contaminated areas on hazmat robots and also works as a hand-held device. (Full Story)

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Micro-fission reactor moves closer to powering settlements on Mars

Engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber
around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY
(KRUSTY system). LANL photo.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said David Poston of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the chief reactor designer

KRUSTY is a compact fission reactor that can generate between one and ten kilowatts of electricity continuously for 10 years or more. NASA began building the reactor to support deep space travel in 2015. (Full story)

Feds split ‘pit’ work between LANL and S.C.

The majority of the nation’s production of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons would take place at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina under a plan certified by the Nuclear Weapons Council and announced Thursday, but a lesser number of plutonium “pits” would still be made at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The two-pronged approach “is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking,” according to a statement Thursday by Ellen M. Lord, Department of Defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment and chairwoman of the Nuclear Weapons Council, and Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Department of Energy undersecretary for nuclear security, administrator of the NNSA and a member of NWC. 

“Furthermore, by maintaining Los Alamos as the Nation’s Plutonium Center of Excellence for Research and Development, the recommended alternative improves the resiliency, flexibility, and redundancy of our Nuclear Security Enterprise by not relying on a single production site,” the statement said. (Full story)

Feds: Los Alamos lab to share plutonium work with South Carolina site

Los Alamos National Laboratory is still on track to ramp up its nuclear weapons work, but on a smaller scale than outlined by the Obama administration. Officials for the National Nuclear Security Administration announced Thursday that the agency will set up a larger plutonium-pit production center in South Carolina, and the mission will be split between the two sites.

Under the new plan, as many as 30 pits per year will be produced at Los Alamos, while the Savannah River Site in South Carolina will be tasked with producing at least 50 pits per year. (Full story)

Neutron decay may hint at dark matter

Decay of neutrons into dark matter particles
could solve a long-standing discrepancy, UCSD image.

Neutrons decay within about 14.5 min, but their exact lifetime is still debated, as two types of neutron decay experiments give conflicting results.

Christopher Morris from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and colleagues monitored the gamma-ray emission from a bottle of ultracold neutrons. They didn’t find any signal, appearing to rule out this proposed decay channel in the photon energy range of 782 to 1664 keV. (Full story)

Los Alamos Scientists attack load balancing challenge

The merger of neutron stars is simulated using
the 3-D code SNSPH.

Simulating complex systems on supercomputers requires that scientists get hundreds of thousands, even millions of processor cores working together in parallel. Managing cooperation on this scale is no simple task.

To solve these load imbalances, Christoph Junghans, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and his colleagues are developing algorithms with many applications across high-performance computing (HPC). (Full story)

Los Alamos rolls out biodefense program with University of Nebraska

Harshini Mukundan, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with the University of Nebraska to boost educational opportunities for students looking to embark on a career in the field of biodefense.

The partnership was arranged when the two institutions attended a meeting arranged by the National Strategic Research Institute.

“You can develop solutions through partnerships. You can accomplish much more as a whole than by working alone,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and partnership coordinator Harshini Mukundan, Ph.D. (Full story)

Los Alamos High School students take awards at state Supercomputing Challenge

Lillian Petersen with her award, LADP photo.

Several Los Alamos High School students joined 56 other teams representing 26 schools from around the state April 24 in Los Alamos for the 28th Annual Supercomputing Challenge.

LAHS sophomore Lillian Petersen won second place for her project, “Predicting Food Shortages in Africa from Satellite Imagery.” Her program predicts crop yields so that international aid organizations can be better prepared for humanitarian relief operations.

Elijah Pelofske, an LAHS junior, won third place for his “RSA Based Primality Test” project. Elijah says, “Efficient and accurate primality testing is a key mechanism used to ensure digital security in the modern world.” (Full story)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Supercomputers Tackle Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Superbugs’

Acne, bronchitis, pink eye, ear infections, and sexually transmitted diseases are just a few of the illnesses treatable by antibiotics — assuming that the bacteria that cause these illnesses are not resistant to antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to public health, occurs when antibiotics are unable to kill the bacteria causing an infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. (Full story)


Earth-modeling System steps up to Exascale

A new Earth-modeling system unveiled today will have
weather-scale resolution and use advanced computers
to simulate aspects of Earth.

E3SM is a state-of-the-science modeling project that uses the world’s fastest computers to more accurately understand how Earth’s climate work and can evolve into the future. The goal: to support DOE’s mission to plan for robust, efficient, and cost-effective energy infrastructures now, and into the distant future.

This multilaboratory effort will be a huge advance in our already important capabilities for Earth-systems modeling and energy-related analysis,” said John Sarrao, Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology and Engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Our laboratory, along with our sister institutions, has made significant contributions to Earth-systems modeling over the previous decades, but this latest contribution takes our work to an entirely new level.” (Full story)

‘SuperCam’ Update: Multi-purpose Instrument Coming Together for 2020 Launch to Mars

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s SuperCam instrument will have both infrared and green laser beams for remote analysis of chemistry by laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and mineral analyses with remote Raman spectroscopy. The red and green beams are fired at different times. The various green beams represent a scan of the target, performed using sequential laser pulses. 

Excitement is building within the SuperCam team as the instrument enters the final stages of assembly and testing toward an anticipated launch aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Just this month, the two major parts of an advanced engineering model were delivered and integrated for realistic performance testing. (Full story)

Nipping frost in the bud
Tirtha Banerjee

Weather in high-elevation terrain makes northern New Mexico a challenging place to grow an orchard with apples, apricots, cherries or peaches for market. Such a landscape creates significant daily temperature swings with frosts occurring late into the spring, resulting in challenging conditions for fruit growing.

Changes in climate patterns add to these challenges. In particular, warm periods arrive earlier in the spring, causing the budding process in fruit trees to start earlier. This leads to two disadvantages for the tree: first, warmer nights can prevent internal processes in plants that harden the buds to withstand late-season frosts. In a compounding effect, the less hardy buds still have to contend with late-season frosts. In Albuquerque and Santa Fe, for example, there is no evidence that the last frost date is moving earlier in the year. (Full story)

Science Cafe Spotlights Mars Curiosity Scientist
Roger Wiens

WSIU's Jennifer Fuller talks with Los Alamos National Laboratory Scientist Roger Wiens about his ChemCam, the Mars Rover Mission, and more ahead of his visit to The Science Center of Southern Illinois for this month's Science Cafe. (Full story)

Science Fairness
Students watch a science demonstration at the 2017
Summer Physics Camp for Young Women.
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Anna Llobet Megias heard the call and last year created a physics camp for young women, which is currently accepting applicants for its second season this summer. A scientist in the lab's Neutron Science and Technology group, Llobet Megias said the camp grew out of the awareness of the need to provide STEM education opportunities for young women combined with an assessment of what specific needs exist in Northern New Mexico.

The camp is ambitious, providing a variety of activities, talks and opportunities. Last summer, Llobet Megias says, participants designed rockets, experimented with optics, and learned about electromagnetism from super conductors. They had lectures on everything from the Mars rover to coding. Attendees also visit LANL on a field trip. (Full story)

Friday, April 20, 2018

 Going with the gut


Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Columbia University image.

The gut – a.k.a. the gastrointestinal tract that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus – contains trillions of bacterial cells. A majority are good bacteria that reside in the nearly 30 feet of the large and small intestines. These good bacteria are responsible for a person’s overall health. But sometimes a harmful bacterium called Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infects the gut.

But what if scientists could identify and isolate the bacteria in a fecal sample that inhibit C. diff and then put just those bacteria into a pill or drink? That’s exactly what my colleagues and I are working on at Los Alamos National Laboratory: pulling together bacteria into a super-powerful cocktail that washes out the infection. The work exploits the Laboratory’s extensive biological research efforts developed in support of our national security mission. (Full Story)

One step closer to understanding explosive sensitivity with molecule design

A small amount of “edited” PETN explosive undergoes an energetic reaction during an impact drop test, LANL photo.

Explosives have an inherent problem – they should be perfectly safe for handling and storage but detonate reliably on demand. Using computer modeling and a novel molecule design technique, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have replaced one “arm” of an explosive molecule to help unravel the first steps in the detonation process and better understand its sensitivity — how easily it begins a violent reaction.

"It started out with, can we take a common initiating explosive PentaErythritol TetraNitrate (PETN) and replace parts of it to change sensitivity properties," said explosives chemist Virginia Manner. (Full Story)

Also from Chem Europe

LANL scientists honored for exceptional work

Laboratory Director Terry C. Wallace, Jr., presents Howard Menlove with the Los Alamos Medal, LANL photo.         

Four Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists were honored at the Los Alamos Medal ceremony April 12 for their distinguished achievements that have impacted the success of the laboratory and the nation, either through mission accomplishments or enhancing the laboratory’s distinction.

This year, the Medals were awarded to Howard Menlove, who helped establish the laboratory’s technical expertise in nuclear safeguards and nonproliferation that became the foundation for international nonproliferation programs; and three members of the Human Genome Project team at Los Alamos – Scott Cram, Larry Deaven, and Robert Moyzis – who were instrumental in motivating the Department of Energy to formally initiate the Human Genome Project in 1987. (Full Story)

Also from the Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Terry Wallace speaks to community leaders

Terry Wallace, center, chats with Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and Santa Fe Community College President Dr. Cecilia Cervantes, Daily Post photo.

LANL Director Dr. Terry Wallace explained that he graduated from Los Alamos High School, got his undergraduate degrees at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and was a professor “somewhere else” for 20 years, but that he always got to work with Los Alamos and knew he would get to return 16 years ago.

“We’re 75 years in but we’re at the center of some extraordinary things that are happening around the country and the world, and some of these things are some great anxiety-producing events. But we’re here to do the business of that country in terms of national security,” he said. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

LANL wildland fire manager discusses drought

Los Alamos National Laboratory wildland fire manager Manny L'Esperance

“I don’t think I’m going to surprise anybody when I tell you what the current conditions are,” Los Alamos National Laboratory Wildland Fire Manager Manny L’Esperance said Monday evening at a Science on Tap event at UnQuarked in Central Park Square.

“We’re in the midst of a drought that appears to be getting worse and I don’t know what you folks think about climate change but this drought, every year we hear it’s getting worse. We are seeing fire behavior that we have never seen before and this year’s no different,” he said. (Full Story)

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Preventing a cyber zombie apocalypse

Cybercrime rates are on the rise, but what exactly does that mean? Cybercrime is any sort of crime using a computer—simple enough. And now that most people in the United States have a computer or access to one, cybercrime is more common than ever.

Say, for instance, someone wanted to take down a popular website through what’s called a distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack. An example of this is the 2016 DDoS attack on the internet performance management company DYN that temporarily took down more than 75 major websites.

Attacks like these are the reason Los Alamos National Laboratory has been working on cybersecurity techniques, processes and tools to prevent and detect cyberattacks. (Full story)

Muons for nuclear waste inspection

Muons check for missing spent fuel
rods. LANL image.

Waste nuclear-fuel rods are typically stored in 3-m-diameter steel casks that hold between 20 and 30 fuel-rod bundles. But once a cask is sealed, there is no way to check how many bundles are inside or, importantly, whether any are missing, without opening it. Now J. Matthew Durham of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and colleagues have shown that this problem can be solved by monitoring the paths of cosmic-ray muons passing through a cask. They say that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors could use the method to verify that nuclear fuel isn’t being diverted from nuclear storage facilities. (Full story)

Understanding a cell's 'doorbell'

Calcium bridges two parts of a cell receptor,
possibly regulating its activity. LANL image.

A multi-institutional project to understand one of the major targets of human drug design has produced new insights into how structural communication works in a cell component called a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCRs), basically a "doorbell" structure that alerts the cell of important molecules nearby. Understanding the structure and function of the receptor more deeply will enable better drug development.

"It's a huge field of active research in academia and industry because if we can figure out precisely how GPCRs work, then we can more easily design drugs to change their behavior and thereby control pain, hunger, and more," said coauthor Christopher Neale, a researcher with the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

Scientists record unprecedented neutrino measurement

Fermilab's MiniBooNE detector features hundreds
of photodetectors, FermiLab photo.

Neutrinos are produced from the decay of particles called kaons. Decaying kaons yield muon neutrinos with a range of energies. But using conservation of energy and momentum principles, scientists determined that muon neutrinos produced by kaon-at-rest decay would have the precise energy of 236 million electronvolts.

"It is not often in neutrino physics that you know the energy of the incoming neutrino," said Richard Van De Water, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "With the first observation by MiniBooNE of monoenergetic muon neutrinos from kaon decay, we can study the charged current interactions with a known probe that enable theorists to improve their cross section models. (Full story)

3D printing saves the world

Bryce Tappan (left) and Alex Mueller (right)
watch as a 3D printer produces a little cone
of mock explosive material. LANL photo.

A paper from the Los Alamos National Laboratory details how Alex Mueller is leading a team to create the next-generation of explosives using 3D printing. By examining the microstructure and manipulating internal hollow spaces of TNT, the scientists are trying to control and tailor a new form of explosives.

Making an explosive more difficult to detonate when there’s an accident also makes it more difficult to detonate intentionally. The behavior of explosives such as TNT is largely controlled through hot spots. Introducing inclusions, such as air bubbles, into TNT will trap air inside, causing it to compress and rapidly heat up. (Full story)