Friday, March 2, 2018

Kilowatt nuclear reactor could play role in powering manned missions on Mars

LANL’s Dave Poston on News 8.

“Power is really the lifeblood exploration,” said Dr. David Poston, Chief Reactor Designer, Los Alamos National Laboratory. As humans prepare to venture out farther into the final frontier, the name of the game is nuclear fission.

"We had to show NASA that we could do this affordably within a schedule that's reasonable for them, and that's the whole basis of this project," Dr. Poston said.

"Completely throughout the Martian day, completely through a dust storm, you would never have to worry about either the astronauts or anyone, or making fuel, that lack of power that might disrupt things," said Patrick McClure Los Alamos Laboratory project lead. (Full story)

Space has weather, too

NASA is studying how high-energy particles warp certain layers of Earth's atmosphere, NASA illustration.

An extra-extra-large sun burp could induce electrical currents in the ground on Earth. That means hyper-charged power lines and blown out transformers, effectively causing blackouts like Quebec’s in 1989, which lasted 12 hours.

“A worst-case scenario could be potentially really, really bad,” says Geoff Reeves, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Billions of dollars, much of the country without power for weeks or months. It could be kind of what we’re seeing in Puerto Rico with the hurricane damage.” (Full story)

Computers learn to imagine the future

Predicting the future comes natural for people, not so for computers, from Discover.

Humans can tell a moving car from the static background and predict where the car will be in the next half-second. Challenges like these, and far more complex ones, expose the limitations in our ability to make computers think like people do. But recent research at Los Alamos National Laboratory is changing all that.

Brain neuroscientists and computer scientists call this field neuromimetic computing – building computers inspired by how the cerebral cortex works. The cerebral cortex relies on billions of small biological “processors” called neurons. (Full story)

Flu season may have peaked but activity remains "elevated"

Influenza virus.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, says they've found social media to be helpful in their forecasting — although they still conduct one forecast using traditional methods and one that adds social media input (this year, they are using Google health trends).

For this year, David Osthus, leader of the LANL's forecasting team, says their short-term forecast for the peak week was: 40% Feb. 3, 40% Feb. 10, and 10% Feb. 17. "Looks like the forecast was correct," he says. (Full story)

Researchers discover novel exciton interactions in carbon nanotubes

Spectroscopic characterization of
carbon nanotubes, LANL photo.

Nanotechnology researchers studying small bundles of carbon nanotubes have discovered an optical signature showing excitons bound to a single nanotube are accompanied by excitons tunneling across closely interacting nanotubes.

"Observing this behavior in carbon nanotubes suggests there is potential to detect and control a similar response in more complex, multi-layered semiconductor and semiconductor-metal heterostructures," said Stephen Doorn, of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos and a coauthor of the study. (Full story)

Catalysts: High performance lies on the edge

Dispersion of single iron atoms (bright dots)
supported on nanostructured carbon (dark purple). ORNL image.

Platinum is not an abundant element, but it is a popular catalyst. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory synthesized a catalyst made from iron, nickel, and carbon. No platinum. The catalyst had the highest activity to date for a platinum group metal (PGM)-free material used in fuel cells. Experiments showed that the iron-nitrogen reactive sites were predominantly located at the surface-exposed edges, or steps, of the carbon. The reactive sites were not inside the carbon as previously predicted. (Full story)

Remembering really fast

Interactions of terahertz pulses (pink)
with a vertically aligned nanocomposite,
LANL graphic.

Electronics could work faster if they could read and write data at terahertz frequency, rather than at a few gigahertz. Creating such devices would be eased with materials that can undergo a huge change in how easily they conducted electricity in response to a magnetic field at room temperature.

Scientists believe thin films of perovskite oxides hold promise for such uses. However, such behavior has never been seen at these frequencies in these films. Until now. Via terahertz pulses, scientists at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos and in the United Kingdom discovered colossal changes in electricity’s flow at the desired frequencies and temperature. (Full story)