Friday, January 15, 2021

Los Alamos National Laboratory 2020 year in review


Looking back over 2020, Director Thom Mason said it is the 13,000 Laboratory employees that he is most proud of … how they have stepped up and met the challenges of a global pandemic.


“We have a lot of important work to do … we got through 2020 and made good progress, Mason said, and that is great news for the region and Northern New Mexico.”


While COVID-19 dominated headlines in the science world, LANL made its mark on 2020 with successes across the board. From innovation in education to nonreactive nuclear energy, COVID-19 forecasts to jet fuel produced from corn, the Laboratory spent the year impacting the nation — and New Mexico. (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Laboratory part of team working to help wildfire management


QUIC-Fire model on KRQE.


The Los Alamos National Laboratory is part of a team working to combat wildfires. They’re developing a tool, called QUIC-Fire, to help make prescribed burns more efficient, which can help prevent more serious wildfires down the line.


“By helping decision-makers and prescribed fire managers decide when, where, and how to, to burn safely and effectively, we expect or hope that we’re allowing them to more efficiently put fire on the landscape in a good way and thus reduce the chance of catastrophic fire on the landscape at a later time,” said Rod Linn, Senior Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of the lead developers of QUIC-Fire. (Full Story)


Science can help ease local wildfire threats


Cerro Grande fire in 2000, image from the Taos News.


As drought and wildfires continue to devastate forests in Northern New Mexico and across the Western United States, it's natural to wonder if we're doing enough to keep our communities and lands safe. Smoky summer skies over Los Alamos and other surrounding communities provide yet another reminder that danger is just a spark away.


With that in mind, Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking measures to prevent wildfires and the dangers they present by carrying out unique firefighting strategies across its 42 remote square miles. The laboratory has a long history of using advanced science to analyze wildfires and expose hidden risks associated with fire-related air quality issues resulting from smoke and soot. (Full Story)


NM identifies first case of new variant


Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, from the ABQ Journal.


Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Wednesday that it isn’t surprising to see the variant surface in New Mexico. It was first detected in the United Kingdom but has been identified in the United States, too.


The presence of the variant, she said, is all the more reason for New Mexicans to wear face coverings, continue social distancing and take other steps to prevent transmission of the disease. “The appropriate response,” Korber said, “is to be extra careful and be sure to wear your masks.”


Korber said New Mexicans should not panic at news of the new variant. Scientists are studying the variant and other mutations carefully, she said, to determine the impact. (Full Story)



Gene Team: Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Bette Korber leads a team tracking the virus that causes COVID-19


Bette Korber, LANL photo.


Jan. 6 New York Times story reported US scientists' call for a national surveillance program to monitor the coronavirus genomes for new mutations, particularly in light of a new variant.


One of the scientists studying those genomes is Bette Korber, a Los Alamos National Laboratory fellow in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group. Korber leads an interdisciplinary team that provides bioinformatics, theoretical and statistical support in collaborative efforts with experimental researchers, focusing on the areas of HIV-1 viral diversity, the human immune response to infection and vaccine design. Korber's own mosaic HIV vaccine concept is currently being evaluated in human clinical trials. (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Laboratory approved by state to provide employees with COVID-19 vaccines


Los Alamos National Laboratory has announced to employees that the Laboratory has been approved by the state of New Mexico to provide COVID-19 vaccines to employees on-site and has tested the process with vaccinations of frontline medical staff while the general rollout plan is being finalized.


The Laboratory has been developing the plan since last summer and the process will be similar to one used for the flue vaccination on-site last fall. State guidelines for distribution which include prioritization of healthcare providers, first responders and emergency response teams are in place. (Full Story)


Experts: STEM workers to drive NM’s future


LANL Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.


The need for STEM employees increasingly is being filled from within the state, thanks to new educational partnerships. Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said that although 40% of current staff members were recruited from out of state, 75% of last year’s hires came from New Mexico.


“Part of the reason for that is because we’ve been able to work with the educational institutions to kind of set up pipelines that meet those needs,” Mason said. “And we’re going to need to do more of it.” Mason said many LANL employees got their start as interns during their time as graduate or undergraduate students. (Full Story)


What did the U.S. Department of Energy achieve at New Mexico nuclear sites in 2020?


Aerial view of the LANSCE facility, from the Current-Argus


Soil remediation at Los Alamos was completed in multiple areas contaminated with radiation that posed risk to local groundwater.


The facility also improved its ability to characterize and process waste destined or WIPP, installing two glovebag process lines in Technical Area 54 dedicated to the storage and remediation of waste.


The new process lines allowed for the processing of about 1,500 containers of waste for disposal, and by the end of fiscal year 2020, 553 containers in about 25 shipments were ready to be shipped to WIPP. (Full Story)


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Friday, January 8, 2021

Halfway there? NM eyes pandemic finish line


Nurses care for a COVID-19 patient at Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa.  Journal photo.


Aforecast by Los Alamos National Laboratory suggests New Mexico will have falling case totals through early January, with the possibility of an uptick after that. Holiday travel and social gatherings could contribute to the growth.


Vaccination efforts should start to reduce cases and deaths early this year, according to Los Alamos. The first effects of the Pfizer vaccines – which started being administered to health care workers in mid-December – could affect New Mexico’s virus growth curves before the end of January. (Full Story)


Also from the Journal:


Study: Session risk depends on format, testing, masks


An almost empty NM House chamber in November. Journal photo.


Aproposal to hold legislative committee hearings at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center would create a “medium high” risk for an outbreak of COVID-19 infections, according to statistical modeling by Los Alamos National Laboratory.


One option analyzed by Los Alamos scientists, for example, estimated that a 60-day session with in-person floor meetings but online committee hearings would result in more than new 30 infections, based on certain assumptions.  (Full Story)


COVID-19 vaccine critical but it's not silver bullet


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we’re using mathematical models and computational simulations enabled by the laboratory’s supercomputing capabilities to understand how best to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. And what we’ve learned is: While the vaccine is a critical weapon in fighting this virus, it’s not a silver bullet — at least not yet.


Our models look at individual communities based on government data. To understand the different outcomes based on how the vaccine will be distributed, we create various what-if scenarios that were developed in collaboration with local, state and federal governments to help them effectively plan for vaccine distribution and complementary mitigation strategies. (Full Story)


LANL shifting gears to fight COVID-19


From KRQE.


Los Alamos National Laboratory is turning from national defense to helping fight COVID-19. LANL researchers are looking at ways to help clear mucus from blocking airways in the lungs, which can be common in COVID-19 patients.


Using different modeling, they are learning how a method called “intrapulmonary percussive ventilation” – which drops aerosols in the lung – could help do this. The goal is to help COVID-19 patients on ventilators. “So that’s what we’re trying to do, give it the one-two punch. Use a ventilator to help bring in air and use IPV with its aerosols that it generates to pulse and to break up the mucus that’s plugging the way for the airflow,” said John Bernardin, Engineer at the labs. (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Laboratory study hopes to characterize and optimize ventilator treatment for COVID-19


3D printed "manifold" mimics lung structure.  LANL photo.


Cross-disciplinary scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are working to learn how Intrapulmonary Percussive Ventilation (IPV) helps clear mucus from blocking the airways of the human lung, a common reaction to the COVID-19 virus. 


Researchers, using some of the same modeling and experimental techniques from the Laboratory’s nuclear weapons mission, are working to discover the underlying science and engineering principles behind this process and have developed a preliminary machine learning algorithm that could someday assist pulmonary doctors in treating COVID-19 patients with IPV. (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter:


15 Ways LANL made an impact in 2020 — COVID-19 and beyond


From innovation in education to nonreactive nuclear energy, COVID-19 forecasts to jet fuel produced from corn, the Laboratory spent the year impacting the nation — and New Mexico.


Beginning in March and still going strong, Laboratory experts in computer modeling and disease forecasting have been some of our most-quoted scientists of 2020. Computational epidemiologists Sara Del Valle, David Osthus and Carrie Manore, theoretical biologists Bette Korber and Ruian Ke, and manager in Biosecurity and Public Health Jeanne Fair are just a few who shared their knowledge with the nation. (Full Story)


LANL-developed technology offers promise of safer X-rays


Perovskite X-ray detector. LANL photo.


The Los Alamos prototypes offer a hundred times more sensitivity than conventional silicon-based detectors. And unlike their silicon cousins, the perovskite versions don’t require an outside power source — instead the energy of the X-rays themselves is enough to run the detectors.


High-sensitivity perovskite detectors will enable dental and medical images that require a tiny fraction of the exposure that accompanies conventional X-ray imaging. Reduced exposure decreases risks for patients and medical staff alike. (Full Story)


Using machine learning to study anatomy, weather and earthquakes


Illustration from TechCrunch.


The most recent discovery, made by researchers at Los Alamos National Labs, uses a new source of data as well as ML to document previously unobserved behavior along faults during “slow quakes.” Using synthetic aperture radar captured from orbit, which can see through cloud cover and at night to give accurate, regular imaging of the shape of the ground, the team was able to directly observe “rupture propagation” for the first time, along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey.


“The deep-learning approach we developed makes it possible to automatically detect the small and transient deformation that occurs on faults with unprecedented resolution, paving the way for a systematic study of the interplay between slow and regular earthquakes, at a global scale,” said Los Alamos geophysicist Bertrand Rouet-Leduc. (Full Story)



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Thursday, December 24, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic news


Bette Korber on CNN.


Why is it evolving slowly, or why is it good news? 


Korber:  It has a proofreading mechanism when it copies itself. It proofreads. Not all viruses have that. HIV doesn't have that. So it is evolving. It changes its amino acids and its proteins and its genetic material slowly, and there's -- this is good news for a vaccine because you put in a copy of some part of the virus, the spike protein, that little bit that sticks off the coronavirus is what people are using. If that is not changing much, then the vaccine is going to look like the viruses out in the world. So when you make an antibody response to that or an immune response, that antibody response will carry over and recognition the other variants that are out in the world, is the hope. (Full Story)



Los Alamos study hopes to characterize and optimize ventilator treatment for Covid-19


Mathematical visualization shows the velocity of air entering the lungs from a high-frequency pulsating ventilator, LANL image.


Researchers, using some of the same modeling and experimental techniques from the Laboratory’s nuclear weapons mission, are working to discover the underlying science and engineering principles behind this process and have developed a preliminary machine learning algorithm that could someday assist pulmonary doctors in treating Covid-19 patients with IPV.


"People who have contracted the SARS-Cov2 virus may develop respiratory distress in which their lungs fill with mucus as a response to the viral infection.  As the lungs fill with mucus, the person may ultimately require mechanical ventilation," said John Bernardin, principal investigator for the project in the Laboratory's Mechanical and Thermal Engineering group. (Full Story)


Distributing December’s most anticipated new release – The COVID-19 vaccine


Graphic from the Reporter.


At Los Alamos, scientists are using mathematical models and computational simulations enabled by LANL’s supercomputing capabilities to understand how best to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to minimize impacts on the healthcare system and the overall population. This information can help decision makers determine which mitigation strategies to implement and how to safely reopen various parts of the community as the vaccine is rolled out.


To understand the different outcomes based on how the vaccine will be distributed, researchers are looking at various what-if scenarios. (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


Groundbreaking software helps tame blazes


Sara Brambilla demonstrates QUIC-Fire, LANL image.


Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and their collaborators invented QUIC-Fire to meet that need. The team included researchers in the Earth and Environmental Sciences and Analytics, Intelligence, and Technology divisions at Los Alamos along with partners at the United States Forest Service and Tall Timbers Research Station.


This near real-time simulation software offers 3D modeling of fire progression that incorporates critical influences: 3D vegetation structure, variable winds, and complex topography. QUIC-Fire’s most important capability is running on a laptop, offering mobility and rapid information for fire managers. (Full Story)




Garbage to gas: Using biodigesters to create energy wins 2020 New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge


Student scientists at Monte del Sol Charter School earned a $4,500 cash prize awarded by Los Alamos National Laboratory judges in the New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge with their project, “Garbage to Gas: Using Biodigesters to Create Energy.”


“The STEM Challenge’s team-based approach of applying science, technology, engineering and math to address real needs is a microcosm of what we do at the Laboratory every day,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “I congratulate the teachers and student scientists of Monte del Sol Charter School and thank our partners for organizing this innovative contest.” (Full Story)


New calculation of the Hubble Constant


Collision of two neutron stars, from SciTech Daily.


Acombination of astrophysical measurements has allowed researchers to put new constraints on the radius of a typical neutron star and provide a novel calculation of the Hubble constant that indicates the rate at which the universe is expanding.


“We studied signals that came from various sources, for example recently observed mergers of neutron stars,” said Ingo Tews, a theorist in Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)


Also from Space Daily


New radionuclide enables PET imaging of targeted alpha cancer therapies


Cerium-134 enables clinicians to visualize the therapeutic effects of actinium and thorium on cancer in the body through PET imaging, LANL image.


Scientists in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Isotope Program have developed a radionuclide that enables PET imaging of actinium and thorium, alpha emitters used for cancer therapy. 


“This advancement offers new possibilities for medical staff and drug developers to better characterize new actinium and thorium therapeutics,” said Stosh Kozimor, lead Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher on the joint project with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California, and the University of Wisconsin, in statement. (Full Story)


NNSA successfully removes radioactive samples from Lovelace Biomedical Research Institute


Following this successful transfer, NNSA and LANL will recommend to either re-use the materials or identify a final disposition strategy for the removed samples. Until a final decision is made, the materials are being stored safely and securely.


“The success of the Lovelace project depended on technical ability; close collaboration at the local, state, and federal level; and careful attention to nuclear and worker safety regulations,” said Thom Mason, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “I congratulate everyone involved for a safe, smooth effort.” (Full Story)



Employee holiday gift drive raises $58,000 and buys more than 2,500 gifts

Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with local nonprofits to distribute holiday gifts bought with record-breaking employee donations. Partners include organizations like Barrios Unidos, Gerard’s House, Help NM, and New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department.


“It is heartwarming to see such an outpouring of generosity in a year when many of our neighbors across Northern New Mexico are facing added hardship,” said Thom Mason, Laboratory director. “I am grateful the Laboratory has joined efforts with our community partners to make the holidays a little brighter for people in the region.” (Full Story)


Procurement at Los Alamos National Laboratory goes digital


Kelly Beierschmitt, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking action to make it easier for New Mexico businesses to contract with it by upgrading to a new procurement software system.


In FY2019, the Laboratory spent more than $396 million in procurement and contracts in New Mexico. Of that $269 million was with the small business community and the Lab is striving to increase those numbers year after year, LANL Deputy Director of Operations Kelly Beierschmitt said in a recorded message during last week’s virtual community conversation. (Full Story)



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Friday, December 18, 2020

At Los Alamos National Lab, supercomputers are optimizing vaccine distribution


Image from HPCwire.


Over the course of the year, LANL has pitted its supercomputing prowess against every aspect of the pandemic, from modeling the virus and its spread to investigating various pharmaceuticals that might mitigate or prevent infections. Now, LANL finds itself facing what may be one of the final challenges posed by SARS-CoV-2: optimizing distribution of the new vaccines that may signal the beginning of the end of COVID-19.


LANL was no stranger to this kind of analysis: earlier in the year, the lab had used supercomputer-powered tools like EpiCast to simulate virtual cities populated by individuals with demographic characteristics to model how COVID-19 would spread under different conditions. (Full Story)


A COVID-19 vaccine is here. But it's not a 'magic bullet,' experts warn


Image from KUNM.


Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have been using mathematical models and computer simulations to get a clearer picture of how the pandemic will progress once the vaccination process begins. Ben McMahon, a mathematical epidemiologist and a member of the laboratory's Theoretical Biology Group, says the most important finding is about what the vaccine won't do.


"The vaccine is not going to be a magic bullet that makes all of this go away in the time scale of a couple of months," McMahon said. "It's going to help enormously, but it's going to be really important to continue the other methods of control throughout the vaccination process." (Full Story) 


Answering the ‘what-if’ questions on COVID interventions with MEDIAN


Covid illustration, LANL image.


This is where Los Alamos shines, in assessing complex data and making sense of it for decision-makers. Los Alamos’ Modeling Epidemics for Decision Support with Infrastructure Analysis (MEDIAN) project evolved to help identify asymptomatic people in the population.


“With the significant asymptomatic spread of the virus, plus without a vaccine (yet) and pharmaceuticals, the best feasible strategies for testing and diagnostics, contact tracing and quarantine need to be explored and used to the best advantage,” said project lead Jeanne Fair (Biosecurity & Public Health Group). (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


LANL Director addresses Lab’s economic impact, COVID impact and employee giving campaign results


LANL Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.


Mason said LANL directly or indirectly supports some 25,000 jobs in the state and that the number is growing. In FY2020, he said 1,152 new employees were hired which is on pace with the level of hiring over the last several years. The previous year, 1,250 were hired and Mason noted that there was a little bit of a drop off when COVID first started while the Lab adapted to doing things differently. About half the new hires are replacements for people retiring or going to other jobs while the other half are being hired because the Lab budgets are growing which means missions are growing.


“As we look to the future, growth is going to continue and depending on what happens with the budget this year things could significantly accelerate. We’re hopeful the budget will be resolved before Christmas and there’s significant increase that’s been proposed for Los Alamos that’s on the table for discussion,” Mason said. (Full Story)


And from the Los Alamos Daily Post.


Garrett Kenyon: Some AI systems may need sleep


Los Alamos National Laboratory's Garrett Kenyon appears live with KHOW Radio talk show host Ross Kaminsky to talk about Artificial Intelligence systems, what they are and how they work, and how biologically-patterned AI systems might need sleep to function properly. (Listen Here)

Superbolts and megaflashes — scientists study souped up lightning


Image from CBC.


Michael Peterson, a scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been crunching data from two Earth observing satellites. One study used data from the FORTE satellite the the other used images from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument on the GEOS-R satellite.


In all, he was able to spot two million 'superbolt' lightning strikes, which are 100 to 1000 times more electrically powerful and optically brighter than an ordinary lightning bolt. They are, however, relatively rare, representing only about 0.3 per cent of all lightning strikes picked up by the satellites. (Full Story)


New estimates of neutron star size and Hubble constant


Graphic from Tech Explorist.


A combination of astrophysical estimations has permitted scientists to put new constraints on the radius of a typical neutron star and give a novel calculation of the Hubble constant that demonstrates the rate at which the universe is expanding.


Ingo Tews, a theorist in Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said, “Combining signals to gain insight into distant astrophysical phenomena is known in the field as multimessenger astronomy. In this case, the researchers’ multimessenger analysis allowed them to restrict the uncertainty of their estimate of neutron star radii to within 800 meters.” (Full Story)


Shots in the dark – Learn about those explosions you might have heard or seen last week


Explosion on Dec. 3, just west of White Rock. LANL photo.


Last week, local social media was abuzz with comments about loud booms and flashes coming from the Lab. That’s because on four nights, a total of eight explosive tests were detonated at Minie firing site on Threemile Mesa, just a few miles from White Rock.


“These were unusually visible and audible explosives experiments,” said Peter Dickson, group leader for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Explosive Applications and Special Projects, which was responsible for the experiments. In fact, Dickson, while making sound level measurements on a ridge just west of White Rock, took the photo you see here with a regular DSLR camera. (Full Story)

Nuclear Power in a Six-pack


Small-scale nuclear reactors could help wean us off fossil fuels, but first they need to overcome the public fear shaped by nuclear accidents. (Listen Here)


Study shows cerium-134 could help advance targeted cancer treatment


Veronika Mocko processing cerium-134 in the “Hot Cells” at LANL, LANL photo.


The targeted nature of this treatment allows for the radioisotope to destroy tumors but leave healthy tissue untouched, said Los Alamos National Laboratory principal investigator Stosh Kozimor.


“We all know someone who’s had cancer and went through some sort of non-targeted treatment,” Kozimor said. “The side effects can be gruesome, but if you’re applying a medication that only kills the diseased tissue and not killing healthy tissue, that minimizes negative side effects.” According to Kozimor, two targeted alpha therapeutics that are getting a lot of attention are actinium-225 and thorium-227.  (Full Story)


Also from the Los Alamos Reporter

Can science solve the plastic glut?


Plastic on a beach, photo from the Taos News.


Recently, Los Alamos National Laboratory announced a new consortium that will harness the technical and research capabilities of four Department of Energy research laboratories and four universities.


The program is being dubbed BOTTLE – calling to mind the ubiquitous plastic water bottle – and stands for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment.


BOTTLE is a project of the Bioenergy and Biome Group, part of the Bioscience Division at LANL, according to Taraka Dale, BOTTLE program lead for the lab. (Full Story)



Colleges introduce new collaborations


As momentous as this new project is, it is only one example of how we are collaborating and innovating across the state. For example, Northern New Mexico College and Santa Fe Community College already have begun discussions with CNM about coordinating and specializing in career technical programs.


Similar coordination and distribution of emphasis areas already has paid dividends in our partnerships with Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Northern focuses on radiological control technician education and training, and SFCC specializes in machinist-engineering pathways. (Full Story)



Second Annual New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge


High school students from 33 schools will be competing for $5,000 in prize money from 18 employers in the 2nd Annual New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge. Employer partners from around the state include Los Alamos National Laboratory and N3B Los Alamos.


Employer partners have provided judges to rate the solutions based on quality, creativity, presentation, and how they match up with skills that employers need for future hires in their own industries. Selected teams will receive $500 per student in cash. (Full Story)



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