Friday, September 21, 2018

Kilopower project: Los Alamos’ new nuclear reactors could power spacecraft and Moon bases

Assembly at the Nevada National Security Site ahead of a test in 2018. NNSS photo.

The future of space exploration may rest in the hands of a group of Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers. They’ve built the first of a new generation of small nuclear reactors intended to power missions to deep space and even future astronaut bases on the moon and Mars.

Called Kilopower, their project aims to achieve a longstanding dream of the space community: a safe, effective, and powerful nuclear power reactor that can power spacecraft for years.

“I don’t think we can expand into deep space without nuclear power, which is what’s made me so passionate about developing the technology,” says David Poston, who leads the Kilopower team. (Full Story)

Build small nuclear reactors for battlefield power

YouTube video.

There’s not much the U.S. military does that’s more dangerous than trucking fuel through a war zone.

A solution could be a new micro-nuclear reactor being developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Westinghouse power company. Built around heat-pipe technology, this inherently safe microreactor has no cooling water or pumps that can fail, uses passive regulation systems so that it cannot melt down, and can generate at least 1 megawatt of safe, reliable power for 10 years or more. (Full Story)

Why NASA wants to build a nuclear reactor on the Moon

Artist's concept of new fission power system on the lunar surface, NASA image.

If you're going to take nuclear reactors into space on crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, it had better be safe. That's what the KRUSTY test made sure of.

“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, the chief reactor designer at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The experiment included simulated power reduction, failed engines and failed heat pipes, and culminated with a 28-hour, full-power test that simulated a mission. It's planned to first be used on a spaceflight mission in 2020. (Full Story)

Which came first? Galaxies or supermassive black holes

Density of an early galaxy from the DCBH simulation, LANL image.

The formation of a black hole could require a million years or so, but to envision what that might have looked like, former postdoctoral researcher Aycin Aykutalp – now at Los Alamos National Laboratory – used the National Science Foundation-supported Stampede Supercomputer at the University of Texas at Austin to run a simulation focusing on the aftermath of DCBH formation. The simulation used physics first principles such as gravity, radiation and hydrodynamics.

The research was supported by NASA, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, the Southern Regional Education Board and two Hubble theory grants. (Full Story)

Aluminum triple bond made for first time

Calculated π orbital (purple and pink) Aluminum is yellow and sodium is blue. From C&EN.

Chemists have in the past succeeded in creating compounds containing triple bonds between two gallium or two boron atoms, species that are considered chemical oddities. An equivalent version made with aluminum—gallium and boron’s group 13 periodic table sibling—has so far remained elusive. Ivan A. Popov at Los Alamos National Laboratory proposed attempting Al≡Al as a student in Alexander I. Boldyrev’s group at Utah State University. Now, a few years later, along with Kit H. Bowen of Johns Hopkins University and Xinxing Zhang of Nankai University, who had been working toward the same goal independently, Popov and Boldyrev report experimental and computational confirmation of the bond in gas-phase clusters with sodium ions. (Full Story)

UCF, UCX and a car ride on the road to exascale

HPCwire illustration.

According to Jeff Kuehn from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the idea for the UCF-style consortium and its eventual project OpenUCX, an open-source framework, was conceived in a car ride from Los Alamos up to Colorado Springs and Denver. “Steve Poole and Rich Graham (both at Los Alamos at the time, working with Mellanox and Gilad Shainer) were discussing stacked architecture and recognized the need for a middleware and the problem.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is chairing the consortium, which includes AMD, Argonne, ARM, IBM, Mellanox, NVIDIA, Ohio State University and others —all active participants in the development – amongst other users and other vendors and the U.S. Government. (Full Story)

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Nuclear technology may help bring early mammal evolution into focus

A jaw of an Eoconodon coryphaeus—a house
cat-sized omnivore that lived between about
66 and 63 million years ago, Tom Williamson photo.

The team has formed a unique partnership with the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico to generate high-resolution imagery using a state-of-the-art neutron scanner. Tom Williamson, a paleontologist at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque is the first paleontologist to collaborate in this way with the lab, which has roots in nuclear defense. The partnership demonstrates how nuclear technology that could ultimately wipe us out as a species has also generated innovations, like this neutron scanner, that may help us understand our own origin as a species.

The lab operates some of the highest-energy X-ray and neutron scanners in the world that can generate some of the highest-resolution imagery possible, says Ron Nelson, an instrument scientist at the lab’s Neutron Science Center. (Full story)

“Lighthouse Detector” can distinguish between many sources of radiation

The Lighthouse Detector, Quaesta photo.

A lighthouse is built to shed light on rocky waters, the light turning at the top of a tower to illuminate sections of a dark shoreline that might harm incoming boats. Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a company called Quaesta Instruments have drawn from that age-old design and assembled a sort of reverse-lighthouse to detect radiation in an area. Instead of sending light out, a Lighthouse Detector senses when radiation is coming in.

Although most radiation detectors like Geiger counters are omni-directional, the Lighthouse Detector uses a blocking material to allow gamma rays or neutrons to hit a sensor on only one side of the detector. (Full story)

Cosmic chain reaction: How supermassive black holes emerged from X-rays in the early universe

Halo during the beginning of the supernovae burst
phase, integral of density-weighted mean density and
density-weighted mean temperature, LANL image.

In a study published by Nature, Kirk Barrow, from Stanford University, and colleagues from Georgia Institute of Technology and Los Alamos National Laboratory, have now found that direct collapse black holes can account for supermassive black holes—and what’s more, they should be able to test their theory in the very near future.

In the study, the researchers ran a simulation of a direct collapse black hole. They looked at the black hole and its surrounding galaxy, along with the radiation from the galaxy and how it might appear through a telescope. (Full story)

The double-hinged door between astrophysics and the military

Los Alamos Lab operates under the auspices of the National Nuclear Security Administration, whose mission is to maintain and protect America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons while simultaneously working to undercut the proliferation of such stockpiles elsewhere in the world. And the lab’s astrophysicists use the same supercomputer and similar software to calculate the yield from hydrogen fusion within the heart of a star that physicists use to calculate the yield of a hydrogen bomb. You’d have to look far and wide to find a clearer example of dual use. (Full story)

LANL shoots for the moon in search for life on Europa

Artist’s rendering of a robotic probe on the
surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. NASA image.

Los Alamos scientists have plenty of history helping NASA explore another world for evidence of habitability and ultimately of life. In the early 2000s the first neutron spectrometer — developed by the laboratory — orbited Mars, discovering and mapping its vast water resources. More recently they designed ChemCam, a combination of lasers, spectrometers, a telescope, and a camera that piggybacked on the Mars Curiosity rover to study Martian rocks and helped find evidence for a habitable Mars in the past.

The Los Alamos team is now testing SuperCam, a souped-up version of ChemCam set to join the Mars 2020 mission with a camera, laser, spectrometers, and microphone to identify chemicals and minerals on the red planet. (Full story)

Cuprates: High-temp superconductors that defy a scientific explanation

Illustration from Power Electronics.

For their research on one specific cuprate, lanthanum strontium copper oxide (LSCO), a team led by MagLab physicist Arkady Shekhter focused on its normal, metallic state—the state from which superconductivity eventually emerges when the temperature dips low enough. This normal state of cuprates is known as a “strange” or “bad” metal, in part because the electrons don’t conduct electricity particularly well.

But does quasiparticle flow also explain how electric current travels in the cuprates? At the National MagLab’s Pulsed Field Facility in Los Alamos, N.M., Shekhter and his team investigated the question. They put LSCO in a very high magnetic field, applied a current to it, then measured the resistance. (Full story)

Friday, September 7, 2018

 Are we ready for the future of warfare?

LANL Director, Terry Wallace. LANL photo.

Warfare has always been about exerting political will. In the most basic way, that’s accomplished by one side inflicting enough pain on the other to compel them to acquiesce—and technology has always played a key role in doing that. The Greek phalanx, the crossbow, the cannon, poison gas: all introduced new, powerful methods of destruction on the battlefield and fundamentally changed the way war was fought.

Today, however, science and technology are being used to exert political will far from the traditional battlefield. Adversaries are exploiting space, cyberattacks, biology and other emerging technologies to significantly disrupt the systems underpinning our society—including telecommunications infrastructure, power grids, public health systems, transportation systems and financial institutions. In short, an adversary can gain advantage without ever firing a shot. (Full Story)

Kilopower first step to safe and power nuclear fission for space and other applications

Reactor core design, LANL image.

Dr. David Poston, Los Alamos National Laboratory talks about the simple and safe NASA Kilopower Project. KRUSTY showed that developing a small reactor is not inherently expensive. A new reactor concept was designed, fabricated and tested for less than $20M. KRUSTY demonstrated a space reactor concept that can be used for near-term space science and exploration. KRUSTY/Kilopower is the first step towards truly astounding space fission capabilities. The early stage system can reach 10,000 watts and weigh 1500 kilograms. This is almost 7 watts per kilogram. They are working on a 2 Megawatt electrical power heat pipe nuclear reactor that would weigh 35-45 tons. (Full Story)

Cryogenic cooling goes solid state

The LANL/UNM research team. From machine design.

A team of researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico have for the first time demonstrated an all-solid-state optical refrigerator that operates at cryogenic temperatures and has no moving parts.

Solid-state cryocooling is an optical effect in certain materials that takes advantage of anti-Stokes fluorescence. In this process, a solid excited by a laser subsequently fluoresces at a slightly greater mean energy (shorter wavelength) than that of the exciting laser. This effect was first observed by Richard Epstein at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1995. (Full Story)

Carbon nanotubes give two excitons for the price of one

In a carbon nanotube (top, gray cylinder), the capture of a photon (green arrow) generates two excitons (blue and red spheres bound together) at oxygen doping sites (top, red balls). The excitons recombine and emit photon pairs (bottom, pink stars).

Tuning the electronic properties of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), a process known as doping, is emerging as an effective means for enhancing the emission properties of these nanotubes and introducing new functionalities.

This latest research from scientists at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies and their collaborators at Los Alamos National Laboratory identifies the latter process as the responsible party and further clarifies the details of the process. (Full Story)

In the Lab with Priscila Rosa: The power of research

Priscila Rosa aligns a single crystal in an x-ray diffractometer, LANL photo.

Priscila Rosa knows the importance of applying pressure to achieve goals. That is how she summoned the drive to leave Brazil, her home country, for a joint postdoctoral fellowship in the United States.

Rosa is the principal investigator of an early-career Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project using pressure to measure thermal expansion in quantum materials. This fundamental understanding is essential to ultimately knowing how to control and tailor such materials for potential applications. (Full Story)

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Artificial intelligence nails predictions of earthquake aftershocks

An earthquake and its aftershocks rocked Japan's
Kumamoto prefecture in 2016, causing 48 deaths.
Credit: Aflo/REX/Shutterstock

A machine-learning study that analysed hundreds of thousands of earthquakes beat the standard method at predicting the location of aftershocks.

Scientists say that the work provides a fresh way of exploring how changes in ground stress, such as those that occur during a big earthquake, trigger the quakes that follow. It could also help researchers to develop new methods for assessing seismic risk.

The findings are a good step towards examining aftershocks with fresh eyes, says Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “The machine-learning algorithm is telling us something fundamental about the complex processes underlying the earthquake triggering,” he says. (Full story)

Also reported in Scientific American

Smoked out: Researchers develop a new wildfire smoke emissions model

Chemical engineering researchers from Brigham Young University have developed an advanced model that can help predict pollution caused by wildfire smoke.

The research, sponsored by the USDA Forest Service and the Department of Energy, provides a physical model that can more reliably predict soot and smoke emissions from wildfires over a range of conditions.

"The smoke that you see from wildfires is a combination of evolved gases and soot," said Alex Josephson, a Ph.D. student in BYU's chemical engineering program who also works on the project at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "When we look at smoke as far as health effects, typically we care about those soot particles; and that's what we're modeling." (Full story)

High-impact Los Alamos innovations honored as R&D 100 award finalists

Ten Los Alamos National Laboratory innovations are finalists for the 2018 R&D 100 Awards, including the Universal Bacterial Sensor developed by the team led by Harshini Mukundan. The sensor mimics biological recognition of bacterial pathogens to identify infections even before the patient’s symptoms are evident.

This year’s finalists also exhibit the importance of external partnerships in developing technical solutions to serve the country and enhance the nation’s industrial competitiveness. - John Sarrao, principal associate director of Science, Technology & Engineering. (Full story)

Simple Device Takes Imaging with Sound to a New Level

A research team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed an inexpensive method for generating a high-power, low-frequency, collimated sound beam. In addition to penetrating deeply, this beam can create high-resolution images for applications such as biomedical diagnosis, borehole monitoring, evaluating explosives threats, and underwater communications. The new technique, dubbed Acoustic Collimated Beam (ACCObeam), is a major advance over ultrasound imaging tools. These current tools cannot image deeply into cement, rock formations, or bone and the human body. That’s because high frequencies attenuate significantly in solids. (Full story)

Reusing CO2 cuts fossil-fuel footprint

With new incentives from the federal tax code,
capturing carbon and permanently storing it
underground increases U.S. energy security.

Fossil fuels continue to drive our economy as well as most of our cars. So it’s worth pursuing a new approach with economic and environmental benefits: using carbon dioxide (CO2) as a fracturing fluid, incentivized by a new development in the federal tax code. This technique creates a win-win-win: increased domestic oil and natural gas production with lower environmental impact, including permanently sequestering CO2 underground, which helps maintain earth-system balance.

Recent research by the Computational Earth Science group at Los Alamos National Laboratory has demonstrated that using CO2 for carbon capture, utilization, and storage can be commercially viable under the recently revised 45Q tax regulation. This carbon sequestration technique involves catching CO2 waste emitted by sources like fossil fuel plants, using it in another industrial process like energy extraction, then storing it underground. The Los Alamos research studied applying this technique to what’s known as enhanced oil recovery, or extracting resources from wells that have become unproductive through conventional drilling. (Full story)

Also, in the Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico plateau named for birds is seeing them die off

Scientists believe a New Mexico plateau named for birds is seeing them die off because of climate change.

Jeanne Fair, a Los Alamos National Laboratory ornithologist, and other scientists at the laboratory recently released the results of a 10-year bird study on the Pajarito Plateau which shows “a 73 percent decrease in abundance and a 45 percent decrease in richness (variety of species) from 2003 to 2013,” the Santa Fe New Mexican reported last week.

Scientists believe a massive pinon tree die-off on the plateau may be a harbinger of things to come throughout the high-desert Southwest, where pinon trees — and the birds that frequent them — are potential markers for the effects of global warming. (Full story)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Italy’s famous dome is cracking, and cosmic rays could help save it

Florence's famed Il Duomo has been plagued by cracks for centuries, photo from Ars Technica.

The soaring dome atop the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower justly dominates the Florence skyline and has stood for centuries, ever since Filippo Brunelleschi designed it in the early 15th century. But scholars aren't quite sure how this goldsmith with no formal architectural training managed to construct it. Brunelleschi built a wooden and brick model of his plan but deliberately left out crucial details and left no comprehensive blueprints so his rivals could not steal his secrets.

Elena Guardincerri, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who grew up in a nearby town in Italy, thinks she can help resolve part of the mystery with the aid of a subatomic particle called a muon. (Full Story)

Removing hydrogen gas with silicone-based getters

3D hydrogen removal fabrication, from ASN.

Water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface and is vital to support life. In the nuclear industry, decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen can occur inside waste containers, leading to explosion. Removal of hydrogen gas is necessary to address this issue.

In their paper in Advanced Functional Materials, Dr. Denisse Ortiz-Acosta and colleagues from Los Alamos National Laboratory fabricate and evaluate 3D silicone materials for hydrogen removal.

Getters, materials used to aid hydrogen removal, were fabricated using a 3D printer. Additives were incorporated into a silicone resin to optimize the rheological properties, getter capacity, and pot life. (Full Story)

D-Wave demonstrates large-scale quantum simulation of topological state of matter

Quantum computer, from D-Wave.

"D-Wave’s quantum simulation of the Kosterlitz-Thouless transition is an exciting and impactful result. It not only contributes to our understanding of important problems in quantum magnetism but also demonstrates solving a computationally hard problem with a novel and efficient mapping of the spin system, requiring only a limited number of qubits and opening new possibilities for solving a broader range of applications," said Dr. John Sarrao, principal associate director for science, technology, and engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

New method of genome editing

Said the paper's lead author, Dean Morales, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, "As a basic research tool, with spatiotemporal control each cell can become an experiment. Imagine you'd like to study the function of a certain gene and how it alters that cell's behavior or its behavior with a close neighbor. Using the plasmonic nanoparticles as an antenna we can either turn on or turn off a gene of interest and observe in real-time the ramifications of its activity." (Full Story)

Los Alamos lab researching algae to convert to affordable fuel

Amanda Barry with a small algae farm. New Mexican photo.

Molecular biologist Amanda Barry and a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Bio-energy and Biome Sciences group are trying to determine whether one particular strain of algae can be produced at low cost and in short periods of time so that it could economically compete with fossil fuels.

“Algae hold great potential as a source of renewable fuel due to their ability to produce refinery-compatible diesel and jet fuel precursors,” Barry said in an interview last week at the New Mexico Consortium’s lab in Los Alamos. (Full Story)

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Supercomputers to be used in 13 manufacturing projects

Dow, GE and 3M are among 12 companies awarded $3.8 million for 13 industrial research projects – ranging from gas turbine combustor optimization, to manufacturing solid-state lithium-ion batteries, to improving insulating foam – under the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s High Performance Computing for Manufacturing  (HPC4Mfg) Program.

GE Global Research Center will partner with Los Alamos National Laboratory to improve the Truchas code for single crystal casting in a project titled “Highly Parallel Modeling Tool to Drive Casting Development for Aerospace and Industry Gas Turbines (IGT) Industries.” (Full Story)

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