Thursday, October 14, 2021


Fact check: Post falsely claims TSA airport body scanners unzip and interfere with human DNA

Courtesy photo.


Some people online are encouraging others to avoid Transport Security Administration body imaging scanners at the airport, claiming the equipment has the ability to unzip and alter human DNA.


The viral post attributes the claim to a purported study conducted by Boian S. Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.


But the study cited in the post makes no mention of airport scanners, and TSA says it uses a technology that does not alter human DNA and does not penetrate the skin.


"Our theoretical and experimental research has nothing to do with the belief that airport scanners can unzip DNA," Alexandrov, the lead researcher in the study, told USA TODAY. The project looked at how terahertz waves interact with double-stranded DNA. Alexandrov said it was "basic theoretical research." (Full story)



Physicists announce the world's most precise measurement of neutron lifetime


The high-efficiency ultracold neutron detector

employed in the 'bathtub' trap.


Particles called neutrons are typically very content inside atoms. They stick around for billions of years and longer inside some of the atoms that make up matter in our universe. But when neutrons are free and floating alone outside of an atom, they start to decay into protons and other particles. Their lifetime is short, lasting only about 15 minutes.


Physicists have spent decades trying to measure the precise lifetime of a neutron using two techniques, one involving bottles and the other beams. But the results from the two methods have not matched: they differ by about 9 seconds, which is significant for a particle that only lives about 15 minutes.


Now, in a new study published in the journal Physical Review Letters, a team including researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory has made the most precise measurement yet of a neutron's lifetime using the bottle technique. The experiment, known as UCNtau (for Ultra Cold Neutrons tau, where tau refers to the neutron lifetime), has revealed that the neutron lives 14.629 minutes with an uncertainty of 0.005 minutes. This is a factor of two more precise than previous measurements made using either of the methods. While the results do not solve the mystery of why the bottle and beam methods disagree, they bring scientists closer to an answer. (Full story)



LANL scientist shows girls that they can


Dr. Harshini Mukundan at Los Alamos National Laboratory.


A Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist was recently featured in “Mission Unstoppable,” a TV show that promotes women in STEM.


Dr. Harshini Mukundan was invited on the show to explain her role as a LANL group leader and her work in microbiology. She also leads a group of scientists who conduct a variety of research, including spectroscopy, which is how matter interacts with electromagnetic radiation, as well as biological work and more.


“As a scientist, I lead a group that actually looks at a team that looks at developing diagnostics for emerging infectious diseases,” Mukundan said. “Some of our research is trying to figure out ways to what I call agnostically detect – which means you don’t need to know what the pathogen is, what the bug is, but you are still able to identify it with some degree of reliability – so that we can be prepared for emerging threats like the COVID pandemic.”


Mukundan does science and STEM outreach because she believes it’s important to give back to the community and bring STEM awareness to girls. It is actions like these that led her to be nominated as an ambassador for the #IfThenSheCan initiative. (Full story)



First Results from Perseverance Mission Show Evidence Of Flash Floods On Mars


Images of the delta being explored by the Perseverance rover.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU for the Mastcam-Z mosaic and



New images from the Perseverance mission show evidence of delta and flood deposits in Jezero crater on Mars, indicating that there were massive flash floods as well as periods of stability on the red planet. The deltas are an ideal place to search for signs of ancient life.


“These images show large boulders that have been washed down the river. They could have only been moved by powerful flood waters,” said Roger Wiens, principal investigator for SuperCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “The location of the boulders also tells us that the lake was not full at the time of the flash floods, indicating fluctuating water levels. This could mean Mars experienced changes in climate over time.” (Full story)



Exascale Hardware Evaluation: Workflow Analysis for Supercomputer Procurements

It is well known in the high-performance computing community that many (perhaps most) HPC workloads exhibit dynamic performance envelopes that can stress the memory, compute, network, and storage capabilities of modern supercomputers. Optimizing HPC workloads to run efficiently on existing hardware systems is challenging, but attempting to quantify the performance envelopes of HPC workloads to extrapolate performance predictions for HPC workloads on new system architectures is even more challenging, albeit essential.


This predictive analysis is beneficial because it helps each data center’s supercomputer procurement team extrapolate to the new machines and system architectures that will deliver the most performance for production workloads at their datacenter. However, once a supercomputer is installed, configured, made available to users, and benchmarked, it is too late to consider fundamental architectural changes.


The goal of the Exascale Computing Project hardware evaluation group is to modernize the metrics and predictive analysis to guide US Department of Energy supercomputer procurements. Scott Pakin, the ECP HE lead at Los Alamos National Laboratory, notes, “Our main customer is the DOE facilities, who consider our work to be very valuable in determining the types of machines to be procured and configured. Our work can also be used by application developers seeking to understand the performance characteristics of their codes.” (Full story)



LANL Awarded Spot in ‘Top 50 Best Companies To Work For’ By LATINA Style Inc.

LANL moved up on the LATINA Style Inc. list of

2021 Top 50 Best Companies for Latinas to work at

in the United States.


LATINA Style Inc. has named Los Alamos National Laboratory as one of the 2021 Top 50 Best Companies for Latinas to Work in the U.S.


Up three spots from last year, LANL ranked 30th out of 50 in 2021. Los Alamos has appeared on this list with other U.S. companies for four years in a row, and is the only national laboratory named as a “best company.”


Companies that responded to LATINA Style Inc.’s questionnaire — including LANL — were evaluated based on matters that LATINA Style Inc. magazine readers deemed as important to them in the workplace. (Full story)

Friday, October 8, 2021


Learning curve


Intel Loihi 2 neuromorphic chip. Courtesy photo.


Though he catches flak for it, Garrett Kenyon, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, calls artificial intelligence “overhyped.” The algorithms that underlie everything from Alexa’s voice recognition to credit card fraud detection typically owe their skills to deep learning, in which the software learns to perform specific tasks by churning through vast databases of examples. These programs, Kenyon points out, don’t organize and process information the way human brains do, and they fall short when it comes to the versatile smarts needed for fully autonomous robots, for example. “We have a lot of fabulous devices out there that are incredibly useful,” Kenyon says. “But I would not call any of that particularly intelligent.”


Kenyon and many others see hope for smarter computers in an upstart technology called neuromorphic computing. In place of standard computing architecture, which processes information linearly, neuromorphic chips emulate the way our brains process information, with myriad digital neurons working in parallel to send electrical impulses, or spikes, to networks of other neurons. Each silicon neuron fires when it receives enough spikes, passing along its excitation to other neurons, and the system learns by reinforcing connections that fire regularly while paring away those that don’t. The approach excels at spotting patterns in large amounts of noisy data, which can speed learning. Because information processing takes place throughout the network of neurons, neuromorphic chips also require far less shuttling of data between memory and processing circuits, boosting speed and energy efficiency.


Two groups have already shown neuromorphic chips can match the capabilities of some of the most advanced AI programs on the market. Today’s workhorse AI software relies on a deep learning algorithm known as a backpropagation neural network (BPNN), which enables AI systems to learn from their mistakes as they are trained. In a preprint posted on arXiv in August, Andrew Sornborger, a physicist at Los Alamos, and colleagues reported programming the first-generation Loihi to carry out backpropagation. The chip learned to interpret a commonly used visual data set of handwritten numerals as quickly as conventional BPNNs, while drawing just 1/100 as much power. (Full story)




Supercomputing effort to model the complex interactions affecting climate change in Arctic coastal regions


Beaufort Sea ice, April 2007. Credit: Andrew Roberts.


Earth's rapidly changing Arctic coastal regions have an outsized climatic effect that echoes around the globe. Tracking processes behind this evolution is a daunting task even for the best scientists.


Coastlines are some of the planet's most dynamic areas—places where marine, terrestrial, atmospheric and human actions meet. But the Arctic coastal regions face the most troubling issues from human-caused climate change from increasing greenhouse gas emissions, says Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientist Andrew Roberts.


"Arctic coastal systems are very fragile," says Roberts, who leads the high-performance computing systems element of a broader Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science effort, led by its Biological and Environmental Research (BER) office, to simulate changing Arctic coastal conditions. "Until the last several decades, thick, perennial Arctic sea ice appears to have been generally stable. Now, warming temperatures are causing it to melt.” (Full story)




Two Los Alamos Scientists Take Top Prizes in National Competition to Help Improve Electrical Grid


LANL scientists Hassan Hijazi, left, and Carleton Coffrin

developed algorithms that took top prizes in a national

 competition to help improve resiliency of the electrical grid.



Two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory took top prizes in a national competition for developing algorithms to help improve the resiliency and efficiency of the electrical grid. The algorithm developed by Hassan Hijazi of the Applied Mathematics and Plasma Physics Group took first place in all four divisions, while the one developed by Carleton Coffrin of the Laboratory’s Information Systems and Modeling Group placed second in two of the four divisions. Their work outperformed 14 other entries in the competition funded by Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), a United States government agency that promotes and funds research and development of advanced energy technologies.

“Grid security is a national security issue, which is why this is important work for Los Alamos,” said Nancy Jo Nicholas, associate Laboratory director for Global Security at Los Alamos. “Every five minutes, optimization problems arise in the U.S. electrical grid that require a mathematical solution. Hassan’s and Carleton’s achievement will help advance national efforts to create a more reliable, resilient, and secure electrical grid.” (Full story)




Four Los Alamos Researchers Named 2021 Laboratory Fellows


Los Alamos National Laboratory’s 2021 Fellows are:

Elizabeth Hunke and Baolian Cheng, top row, and David A. Smith

and Blas Uberuaga, bottom row.



Four researchers have been named 2021 Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows: Baolian Cheng, Elizabeth Hunke, David A. Smith and Blas Uberuaga.


“To be a Fellow at the Laboratory is to be a leader in our workplace and within the scientific community at large,” said Thom Mason, Laboratory director. “I am honored to recognize these four fellows and thank them for their extraordinary contributions and accomplishments.” (Full story)



LANL Honors Four for Research and Leadership with Laboratory Fellows Prizes


LANL researchers, clockwise from top left:

Andrew Gaunt, Bill Daughton, Eva Birnbaum

and Cristiano Nisoli.


Four Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers will be honored with the Laboratory’s Fellows Prizes at a ceremony Oct. 6. Bill Daughton, Andrew Gaunt and Cristiano Nisoli will receive the Fellows Prize for Research, and Eva Birnbaum will receive the Fellows Prize for Leadership.


“I congratulate Bill, Andrew, Cristiano and Eva for being recognized with these prestigious awards,” said John Sarrao, deputy Laboratory director for Science, Technology and Engineering. “Bill’s significant advancements in internal confinement fusion, Andrew’s key role in transuranic chemistry, and Cristiano’s work in magnetic materials have profoundly influenced their respective fields and the Laboratory. Eva’s leadership in isotope production has impacted national priorities and differentiated Los Alamos.”


The Fellows Prizes for Research is awarded to individuals for outstanding research performed at the Laboratory that has been published within the last 10 years and that has had a significant impact on their discipline or program. The Fellows Prize for Leadership recognizes individuals for outstanding scientific and engineering leadership at the Laboratory and recognizes the value of such leadership that stimulates the interest of talented young staff members in the development of new technology. (Full story)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover snaps an epic selfie along with 'mission-critical' views of Red Planet


NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie over a rock nicknamed "Rochette," (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)


 A series of images taken on March 17, 2021, captures a detailed view of an escarpment called the "Delta Scarp," which is part of a fan-shaped river delta that formed in the crater.


"This is showing huge boulders. That means there had to have been some huge flash flooding that occurred that washed boulders down the riverbed into this delta formation," Roger Wiens, principal investigator for SuperCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in the statement. 


"These large boulders are partway down the delta formation. If the lakebed was full, you would find these at the very top. So the lake wasn't full at the time the flash flood happened. Overall, it may be indicating an unstable climate. Perhaps we didn't always have this very placid, calm, habitable place that we might have liked for raising some microorganisms," Wiens said. (Full story)



Scientists work to unravel fungus ecology as Valley fever expands throughout West

A scanning electron microscope image of Coccidioides spherules—the parasitic form of the fungus that grows inside its host. Photo by Bridget Barker, NAU.


Understanding the ecology of the fungus, such as where it is found and why, is vital because otherwise, it is hard to know how the impacts of climate change on the landscape might influence the range of the fungus across the United States.


Climate change will likely lead to the spread of the disease to other states where it has yet to surface, said Morgan Gorris, an earth systems scientist and postdoctoral fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.


In 2019, Gorris created a model showing how the known preferred ecological niche of Coccidioides fungus—dry and hot—would spread further across the U.S. over the next 80 years. By 2100, under a “high warming” scenario from model predictions, cases of Valley fever could increase by 50%, and states as far north as Montana and North Dakota could become endemic hot spots.


“Because the western part of the United States is already so dry, and it’s going to get even warmer, the fungus might be able to live in areas further and further north,” Gorris said. In the worst case warming scenario, “we found the endemic region could even reach the U.S.-Canada border,” she added. (Full story)

Also reported in Newsweek



Reducing plastics with proteins


Taraka Dale, BOTTLE Consortium lead.


Plastic waste is a growing existential threat polluting our land and water, but an international group of scientists are working on new ways to make - and break - plastics.


"Our project has two primary goals. One is to develop new and more effective ways of breaking down plastics that already exist as waste in our environment," said Taraka Dale, Biomass and Biodiversity Team Leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory and LANL team lead for the BOTTLE consortium.


"The other goal is to develop new plastics that can be used in the future - as substitutes for our current plastics - that are designed to break down and be recycled and remade into other products, right from the get-go," said Dale.


BOTTLE, which stands for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment, is a multi-institutional research and development consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. (Full story)



Intel Launches 2nd Loihi Neuromorphic Chip; LANL Investigating ‘Trade-offs’ Between Quantum and Neuromorphic Computing


Intel Loihi 2 neuromorphic chip. Courtesy photo.


Intel today released an update on its neuromorphic computing strategy, introducing Loihi 2, its second-generation neuromorphic research chip, and Lava, an open-source software framework for developing “neuro-inspired” applications.


Neuromorphic computing holds the promise of drawing insights from neuroscience to create chips that function more like the biological brain. It’s hoped that it will deliver orders of magnitude improvements in energy efficiency, speed of computation and efficiency of learning across a range of edge applications: from vision, voice and gesture recognition to search retrieval, robotics, and constrained optimization problems.


“Investigators at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been using the Loihi neuromorphic platform to investigate the trade-offs between quantum and neuromorphic computing, as well as implementing learning processes on-chip,” said Dr. Gerd J. Kunde, staff scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This research has shown some exciting equivalences between spiking neural networks and quantum annealing approaches for solving hard optimization problems. We have also demonstrated that the backpropagation algorithm, a foundational building block for training neural networks and previously believed not to be implementable on neuromorphic architectures, can be realized efficiently on Loihi. Our team is excited to continue this research with the second generation Loihi 2 chip.” (Full story)


Upgrade will protect national security and community interests


East side of the White Rock Canyon crossing.


Los Alamos National Laboratory’s critical national security mission is rooted in its ability to analyze and solve some of the most complex challenges facing our nation. We help keep the nation safe by ensuring our nuclear deterrent remains safe and effective, we develop knowledge about the effects of climate change and we investigate deadly disease outbreaks. We do all that more rapidly than ever before using LANL’s on-site capabilities, such as high-performance computing and accelerator and neutron science.


To accomplish today’s missions and make sure we can accomplish tomorrow’s, LANL requires increasing amounts of electricity. Because the need for LANL’s expertise is so great, we anticipate the laboratory’s peak seasonal power demand will exceed operating limits for its and Los Alamos County’s existing transmission lines by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is proposing to upgrade its electrical power capacity serving this area of New Mexico. The project, referred to as the Electrical Power Capacity Upgrade, or EPCU, would provide the laboratory and Los Alamos County with reliable and redundant electrical power.


In coordination with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Energy is preparing an environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts associated with this needed upgrade. This process will include an evaluation of impacts associated with constructing and operating a new overhead power transmission line across a designated utility corridor on the Caja del Rio Plateau and upgrading the laboratory’s existing electrical infrastructure. (Full story)