Friday, February 8, 2019

Magnetic north just changed. Here's what that means.

Magnetic north has never sat still. In the last hundred years or so, the direction in which our compasses steadfastly point has lumbered ever northward, driven by Earth's churning liquid outer core some 1,800 miles beneath the surface.

“We know that the pole now is moving faster than it has for decades, but how often does that happen in the long historical record?” inquires Geoff Reeves, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Lab. “We don't have any idea. What we know is what it's doing now is different, and that's always exciting scientifically.” (Full Story)

Research team creates bacterial sensor modeled after the immune system

Left to right: Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland, Harshini Mukundan and Aaron Anderson accept their R&D 100 Award, from R&D.

The human innate immune system is capable of detecting all pathogens quickly, sensitively and effectively. It does this by selectively recognizing and binding to pathogen-specific biomarkers—or bacterial calling cards—via a suite of immune receptors.

A team at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has created a possible solution. They’ve designed a Universal Bacterial Sensor—modeled after the human innate immune system—that mimics the biological recognition of all categories of bacterial pathogens. Requiring less than a drop of blood, it detects all pathogens without prior knowledge of what they might be, before symptom onset and within 15 to 30 minutes. (Full Story)

We need more powerful nuclear engines to explore farther and faster into space

NASA engineers working on the Kilopower reactor system, NASA photo.

NASA has also investigated making more efficient RTGs called eMMRTGs, or enhanced multi-mission RTGs. But to really take a bigger step forward, we have to look at something new. “Eventually we will need higher-power systems. Only fission can supply that in any type of near-term scenario,” says Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher David Poston.

Poston is the chief reactor designer for Kilopower, a prototype fission reactor that NASA successfully testedlast year. It could provide power over the course of long missions, possibly even for human planetary outposts. “The way we evolved it to being feasible was simplifying things,” says Poston. “We’ve had plenty of space reactor programs over the past 30 years, but they’ve all failed. Mostly because they became too expensive.”  (Full Story)

Los Alamos pursues technology for more affordable FCEVs

Yu Seung Kim, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with five institutions, including Toyota, to create polymer fuel cells designed to make electric cars less expensive.

Yu Seung Kim and his team’s job is to create a fuel cell that will allow an electric car to run without having to keep the engine cool or using water. “I proposed to make a fuel cell that will work above 100 degrees Celsius, up to 230 degrees Celsius (446 degrees Fahrenheit) without using water,” Kim explained. (Full Story)

In the lab: Asking the right questions


Tanmoy Bhattacharya reduces challenges in science and other disciplines to a puzzle of patterns. LANL photo.

In 1980s Kharagpur, India, the patterns dotted on the punch cards caught Tanmoy Bhattacharya’s eye.

Decades later, Bhattacharya, of Los Alamos’ Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology group, now helps maintain and program computers at Los Alamos that crunch complex data to design computational models for vaccines that can predict and possibly prevent HIV — one of the most enduring, complicated and devastating bloodborne diseases on the planet. (Full Story)

Sharp turns cause rivers to meander, migrate

According to new research by geologists, current river migration models are unnecessarily complicated. The latest analysis, published this week in the journal Geology, showed that a river's rate of migration is closely correlated with the sharpness of its bends.

"The authors' method for relating curvature to migration rate provides a very nice framework for determining where a simple migration model is appropriate," said Jonathan Schwenk, a postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Lab who studies river behavior. "I would love to see this analysis extended to rivers flowing through different environments to really get a sense of the factors that make simple models and the theory diverge from observed migration patterns." (Full Story)

How air conditioners could advance a renewable power grid

UM illustration.

More strategic control of air conditioners could improve the overall efficiency and reliability of the power grid and make it easier to transition to renewable energy, and that’s the goal of a $2.9 million grant University of Michigan researchers have received from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

In the experimentation stage, the team will build a small distribution feeder of air conditioners in a warehouse at Los Alamos National Laboratory. With this setup, the team will test the load balancing system to its breaking point, and therefore learn how to prevent such issues from occurring in real life. (Full Story)

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