Friday, August 3, 2018

Stemming the spread of HIV by accurately predicting its spread

Examining evolutionary relationships in HIV’s genetic code allows researchers  to evaluate how HIV is transmitted, LANL image.

One of the challenges with stemming the spread of HIV lies in understanding how it is spread. Because HIV mutates so rapidly, it has historically been difficult—if not impossible—to trace exactly who transmitted the virus to whom. Without that understanding, it’s easy for the disease to run unfettered through a population—with devastating results. Each year, HIV infects approximately 1.8 million people worldwide. All told, nearly 37 million people are currently estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. But that might be changing.

In a study published this week in the journal Nature Microbiology, my colleagues and I demonstrate that computer simulations can accurately predict the transmission of HIV across populations, which could aid in preventing the disease. (Full Story)

Also from United Press International and Technology Networks

LANL researching algae to convert to affordable fuel

Amanda Barry with mini-ponds of algae, 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)

Also from Green Car Congress

Software can model how a wildfire will spread

Photo from The Economist.

Rod Linn of Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, who helped design yet another piece of modelling software, FIRETEC, describes this as “engineering” the behaviour of wildfires. FIRETEC is so sophisticated that it even models how the flames of a planned burn, intended to clear vegetation in a controlled way, will be fed by the wind they generate. This lets users (who include the forest services of Canada and France, as well as the United States) design precise patterns for planned burns, in order to clear surface vegetation without destroying tree canopies. (Full Story)

AI stumbles in the spotlight

Artificial intelligence experts — concerned about reported blunders with high-stakes AI systems from makers like Amazon and IBM — are urging more oversight, testing, and perhaps a fundamental rethinking of the underlying technology.

Wall Street, the military, and other sectors expect AI to make increasingly weighty decisions in the future — with less and less human involvement. But if the systems behave inaccurately or display biases, the consequences outside the lab could cause harm to real people.

Garrett Kenyon, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that deep learning can’t grasp abstract concepts, or even reliably count or compare objects. (Full Story)

Also from Axios:

The impending war over deepfakes

Kim Jong-Un with Elvis? Photoshoped image from Axios.

Los Alamos researchers are creating a neurologically inspired system that searches for invisible tells that photos are AI-generated. They are testing for compressibility, or how much information the image actually contains. Generated images are simpler than real photos, because they reuse visual elements. The repetition is subtle enough to trick the eye, but not a specially trained algorithm.

AI might never catch 100% of fakes, said Juston Moore, a data scientist at Los Alamos. "But even if it’s a cat-and-mouse game," he said, "I think it’s one worth playing." (Full Story)

You can't just nuke Mars

Mars' south polar cap, ESA photo.

Roger Wiens, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, leads the team behind ChemCam, an instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover. This instrument fires laser pulses at Martian rocks and analyzes the chemical composition of what comes out. He says that Curiosity has seen few carbonate bearing rocks at Gale Crater — the sort of calling card of adsorbed CO2.

“Carbonates are generally not that abundant on Mars,” Wiens says. “When you think about sediments on Earth, you think about carbonates because they’re everywhere.” (Full Story)

Also in Astronomy

Scientists test tiny labels for sorting out space debris

Space junk illustration, ESA image.

David Palmer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, and his colleagues are working on a way to keep tabs on the growing space traffic. Palmer normally studies pulsars -- distant celestial bodies that emit regular pulses of radio waves -- but he realized that their low-power signals could be a model for tracking human-made objects in space. This inspired Palmer and his colleagues to develop postage stamp-sized beacons for satellites that are uniquely identifiable, like license plates in space. These devices, if successful, could become ubiquitous in the industry and help address the worsening problem of proliferating space junk. (Full Story)

Wallace and five former LANL Directors participate in panel for 75th anniversary celebration

Terry Wallace, right, and Donald Kerr, John Browne, Robert Kuckuck, Michael Anastasio and Charlie McMillan, with Ellen Tauscher during Tuesday's event. LANL photo.

Current LANL Director Terry Wallace said the Lab has a rich history expressed by the former directors on stage and as he introduced each one, he referred to the different challenges they faced during their terms. He said today’s challenges don’t look like those faced in 1943 by J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1945 by Norris E. Bradbury or in 1970 by Harold M. Agnew but that they are just as compelling and continue to be framed by world events. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

LANL sponsors back to school drive for students

Last year LANL collected 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies, LANL photo.

Backpacks and supplies can be dropped off at Smith's in Los Alamos, branches of Del Norte Credit Union in Los Alamos, White Rock and Española, or at the Lab’s Community Partnerships Office at 1619 Central Ave., downtown. Look for the boxes decorated like yellow school buses at those locations (lists of suggested supplies are also available at the boxes).

The Laboratory is working with 12 school districts and the Bureau of Indian Education schools in Northern New Mexico to make sure the backpacks and supplies go to the children that need them most. (Full Story)

Italian scientists first to become citizens at new CIS office

Four-year-old Giulia D'Angelo waves a U.S. flag during the naturalization ceremony for her parents, Journal photo.

At Thursday’s opening of the new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Albuquerque, Milena Veneziani and Gennaro D’Angelo took the oath and became naturalized citizens. They both work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Jesse Mendez, the director of the Albuquerque field office, said “I think having the special luck to naturalize these two citizens who have contributed not only to the community but the nation as a whole with the work they do as scientists, it was a tremendous opportunity.” (Full Story)

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