Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Charting the “Bloody” Brine Flows from an Antarctic Glacier


In a previously undocumented event, iron-rich brine

can be seen flowing from Taylor Glacier during researchers’

1969–1970 Antarctic field season. Credit: Lois Jones


A red cascade occasionally appears to leak from Antarctica’s Taylor Glacier. Aptly named Blood Falls, the icy outflow’s striking color is caused by iron-rich brine that spews from the glacier’s side and rapidly oxidizes after hitting the air. The sight has puzzled observers since it was first spotted in 1903, but now, scientists have compiled a new historical record of brine releases to shed light on the frequency and extent of the phenomenon. The researchers presented their findings on 17 December at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2021.


“I just got to thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we knew more about how often this waterfall feature has been active or when it’s been active?’ because it looks so bizarre,” said Chris Carr, a glaciologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. She led this project as part of her doctoral thesis at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. (Full story)




Using sparse data to predict lab earthquakes


A machine-learning approach developed for sparse data reliably predicts fault slip in laboratory earthquakes and could be key to predicting fault slip and potentially earthquakes in the field. The research by a Los Alamos National Laboratory team builds on their previous success using data-driven approaches that worked for slow-slip events in earth but came up short on large-scale stick-slip faults that generate relatively little data -- but big quakes.


"The very long timescale between major earthquakes limits the data sets, since major faults may slip only once in 50 to 100 years or longer, meaning seismologists have had little opportunity to collect the vast amounts of observational data needed for machine learning," said Paul Johnson, a geophysicist at Los Alamos and a co-author on a new paper, "Predicting Fault Slip via Transfer Learning," in Nature Communications. (Full story)




LANL launches Indigenous women in physics program


Arielle Platero, a senior at Fort Lewis College in

Durango, Colorado, and a member of the Navajo Nation,

has just been awarded a mentorship in physics

at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Credit: Arielle Platero.


Arielle Platero was born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation and grew up in Farmington in a single-parent household.


Now 33 and a senior majoring in engineering and math, with an emphasis on physics at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, Platero has been chosen to participate in a paid mentoring program with physicists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in a joint LANL-Fort Lewis effort supporting Indigenous female undergraduate students pursuing a career in physics.


The two-year $195,000 LANL program, launched in mid-November, consists of 10 weeks at the lab and year-round mentoring. It is funded by the Department of Energy. Officials are seeking “to make it a more permanent program,” said Astrid Morreale, a researcher in the Particle Physics and Applications group at LANL and a co-leader of the program. (Full story)




LANL: B61-12 Bomb Reaches Major Milestone


A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning performs a drop test of a B61-12.

Photo Courtesy DOD’s F-35 Joint Program Office.


A major milestone has been achieved with the recent delivery of the first production unit (FPU) of the B61-12, meaning the refurbished bomb is on track for full-scale production in May 2022. The first production unit was built at the Pantex Plant, near Amarillo, Texas.


The bomb has been undergoing a life extension program for more than nine years. Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories are the design agencies for the project, with Los Alamos also being responsible for producing detonators and other classified components.


“The first production unit milestone is the culmination of years of effort across a team that spanned many technical disciplines throughout the Laboratory,” said Bob Webster, deputy director for Weapons at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “’I’m very proud of the exceptional commitment of all involved to reach this point.” (Full story)


Thursday, December 9, 2021

LANL scientist aids hunt for cancer cure


Patrick Chain.


A potential melanoma-fighting compound has been discovered in the sea floor near Antarctica by a team that included a scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory.


In new research published Wednesday in the journal mSphere, Patrick Chain, a senior scientist and Laboratory Fellow at LANL, and researchers from the University of South Florida and the Desert Research Institute, “successfully traced a naturally produced melanoma-fighting compound called ‘palmerolide A’ to its source: a microbe” that lives in an underwater species called an ascidian, known as a “sea squirt.” The species is common to the Antarctic waters of the Anvers Island archipelago, LANL said in a news release.


Palmerolide A” is a toxin that can specifically damage melanoma cells.


Chain, 48, is with the Bioscience Division at LANL. He did not go to Antarctica for the research but hopes to join a future exploration. (Full story)


A seanv


Physical features boost the efficiency of quantum simulations

New theoretical research lays the groundwork for robust

quantum algorithms when large-scale quantum computers

become available. Image credit: Dreamstime.


Recent theoretical breakthroughs have settled two long-standing questions about the viability of simulating quantum systems on future quantum computers, overcoming challenges from complexity analyses to enable more advanced algorithms. Featured in two publications, the work by a quantum team at Los Alamos National Laboratory shows that physical properties of quantum systems allow for faster simulation techniques.


"Algorithms based on this work will be needed for the first full-scale demonstration of quantum simulations on quantum computers," said Rolando Somma, a quantum theorist at Los Alamos and coauthor on the two papers.


The paper "Hamiltonian simulation in the low-energy subspace" demonstrates that the complexity of a quantum simulation algorithm depends on the relevant energy scale and not the full range of energies of the system, as previously thought. In fact, some quantum systems can have states of unbounded energies, hence simulations would prove intractable even on large quantum computers. (Full story)





This federal scientist developed something you can’t see but will help the electrical grid


Ensuring resiliency and efficiency of the electrical grid, it’s a top national security concern. Keeping the grid top notch will take more than wires. It’ll take algorithms. My next guest, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, developed an algorithm that won the top prize in a competition, staged by the Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy. Doctor Hassan Hijazi joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk about it. (Full story)





New Los Alamos program supports opportunities for Indigenous women in physics


Astrid Morreale, researcher at Los Alamos,

co-principal investigator on the project.


A newly funded program at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in collaboration with Fort Lewis College, supports undergraduate Indigenous women interested in a career in physics. Offered to two women per year majoring in physics at Fort Lewis College, the program aims to build a pipeline of talent from the undergraduate level in the Four Corners region to graduate programs and eventual careers in physics, including at national laboratories such as Los Alamos.


“Indigenous women are the most underrepresented group in physics degree completion and careers, and we’re in a region where the demographics are heavily Native American,” said co-principal investigator Astrid Morreale, physicist with the Nuclear and Particle Physics and Applications group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “It’s a bit of an incoherence, where we’re here doing high-level science and engineering, yet still underrepresented groups are either not coming to us or we’re not bringing them in. This program represents an effort to turn that around.”


Two program participants have been selected as the first cohort in the program. Julie Nelson, a senior at Fort Lewis College, is an engineering and math major with an emphasis in physics, and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. (Full story)





Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience Premiers With Ribbon Cutting Ceremony


Attendees applaud following the ribbon cutting ceremony

at White Rock Visitor Center. Photo by Maire O’Neil.


There was an air of excitement Tuesday morning at the White Rock Visitor Center as Bradbury Science Museum executive director Linda Deck and Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason conducted a ribbon cutting ceremony for two trailers that are part of the “Challenge: Tomorrow LANL Traveling Experience.


The two mobile exhibits have been developed to travel around New Mexico to festivals, STEM events, schools and universities. They contain experiential components that will be explained by Lab staff to help people both adults and children learn what happens at LANL, who does the work as well as why and how they do it.


Deck noted that those present at Tuesday’s event would experience what it will be like to engage with Challenge ambassadors and learn what a visitor will experience when they go through trailers which provide an opportunity to learn more about the work of LANL. (Full story)




Twelve Labor Unions And Triad National Security Sign Collective Bargaining Agreements


Twelve labor unions signed collective bargaining agreements

Dec. 2 with Triad, which operates LANL.


Twelve labor unions signed their collective bargaining agreements Dec. 2, completing their negotiations with Triad National Security, which operates Los Alamos National Laboratory.


These contracts represent about 1,200 essential workers in the skilled building trades including electricians, pipefitters, mechanics, sheet metal workers, operators, iron workers, painters, carpenters, roofers, laborers, teamsters, insulators and masons.


“The skilled building trades represent approximately 10 percent of the Laboratory workforce,” LANL Director Thom Mason said. “As the Lab expands its mission and invests in its facilities, these tradespeople are more essential than ever. I am grateful we have reached an agreement that benefits these employees, the New Mexico economy and our country’s national security.”


At the Laboratory, such collective bargaining negotiations take place every five years and involve an immense amount of collaboration. This process began in the summer of 2021; the new contracts go into effect in July 2022, effective through June 2027. Skilled building trades are high-paying, secure jobs, and are in demand in New Mexico and nationwide. (Full story)


Friday, December 3, 2021


Omicron mutations alarm scientists, but new variant first must prove it can outcompete delta


People pass through Waterloo train station in London.

Credit: Matt Dunham/AP.


When the variant now known as omicron first appeared on a global database of coronavirus genomic sequences, scientists were stunned. This was the weirdest creature they’d seen to date. It had an unruly swarm of mutations. Many were known to be problematic, impeding the ability of antibodies to neutralize the virus. But there had never been a variant with so many of these mutations gathered in a package. Even though scientists recognized some of these mutations, many others were new and utterly enigmatic.


Laboratory experiments can help characterize whether mutations are consequential or just a random change of no great significance. But omicron is so new that it has not yet been sent through a gantlet of laboratory tests.


“It looks grim, but it needs to be tested and we don’t know how these mutations will act together,” said Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)



Californium complex offers bonding insights



Newton’s californium complex has provided the first crystal structure featuring a californium-carbon bond, helping probe bonding trends in the nether regions of the periodic table.


Californium is the heaviest element available in milligram quantities. Its scarcity and radioactivity pose huge experimental challenges.


“We’re really pushing the limits of the smallest scale at which you can do classical synthetic chemistry,” says Andrew Gaunt, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory and part of the team that created the complex. (Full story).



Diverse satellite images sharpen our picture of Earth


Being able to accurately detect changes to the Earth’s surface using satellite imagery can aid in everything from climate change research and farming to human migration patterns and nuclear nonproliferation. But until recently, it was not possible to flexibly integrate images from multiple types of sensors — for example, ones that show surface changes (such as new building construction) versus ones that show material changes (such as water to sand). Now, with a new capability, we can — and in doing so, we get a more frequent and complete picture of what’s happening on the ground.


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we’ve developed a flexible mathematical approach to identify changes in satellite image pairs collected from different satellite sensor types that use different sensing technologies, allowing for faster, more complete analysis. It’s easy to assume all satellite images are the same and, thus, comparing them is simple. But the reality is quite different. Hundreds of different imaging sensors are orbiting the Earth right now, and nearly all take pictures of the ground in a different way from the others. (Full story)



Global Warming, Not Just Drought, Drives Bark Beetles To Kill More Ponderosa Pines


Bark beetle. Courtesy photo


In California’s Sierra Nevada, western pine beetle infestations amped up by global warming were found to kill 30% more ponderosa pine trees than the beetles do under drought alone. A new supercomputer modeling study hints at the grim prospect of future catastrophic tree die-offs and offers insights for mitigating the combined risk of wildfires and insect outbreaks. “Forests represent a crucial buffer against warming climate and are often touted as an inexpensive mitigation strategy against climate change,” said Zachary Robbins, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, graduate student at North Carolina State University, and lead author of the paper on beetles and ponderosa pine tree die-offs. “Our research shows that warming shortens the time between beetle generations, supercharging beetle population growth. That can then spur catastrophic mortality in forest systems during drought in the Sierra Nevada and throughout the Western United States.”


In the recently published study in Global Change Biology, Robbins and his collaborators developed a new modeling framework to assess the risk western pine beetles, or bark beetles, pose in many forest ecosystems under climate change. If the effects of compromised tree defenses (15% to 20%) and increased bark beetle populations (20%) are additive, the team determined that 35% to 40% more ponderosa pines would die from beetle attacks for each degree Celsius of warming. 


“Our study is the first to attribute a level of tree mortality to the direct effect of warming on bark beetles, using a model that captures both beetle reproduction and development rates and host stress,” Robbins said. “We found that even slight increases in the number of annual generations of bark beetles due to warming can significantly increase tree mortality during drought.” (Full story)



Program aims to help Indigenous women get into the world of physics


Astrid Morreale, researcher in the Nuclear

and Particle Physics and Applications group at LANL,

co-principal investigator on the project.


Indigenous women are the most underrepresented group in physics. Los Alamos National Laboratory is trying to change that with a new program aiming to help women and break down stereotypes. The lab is teaming up with Fort Lewis College in Durango to change that.


A new program funded by the Department of Energy started last month. Two Fort Lewis undergraduate Indigenous women, majoring in physics will now get mentoring from LANL scientists for a year. “At some point, they will be taking a trip to the European lab which is the largest laboratory for our field in Europe,” said LANL physicist Astrid Morreale.


Morreale says it’s more than just training. “Also break down the stereotypes some people may have on what it takes to be a physicist and what does a physicist look like. It is important to have people from different backgrounds, different ways of life,” Morreale said.


She says while the program aims to help Indigenous women, she stresses that the lab and the field of physics have much to gain by bolstering participation from underrepresented groups. “But in my field in particular which is very international we can’t really succeeded if you don’t have diversity,” Morreale said.


Ariello Platero, a member of the Navajo Nation, and Julie Nelson, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, were picked for the program this year. (Full story)