Thursday, March 27, 2008

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for March 24-28

Nanomaterial turns radiation
directly into electricity

Materials that directly convert radiation into electricity could produce a new era of spacecraft and even Earth-based vehicles powered by high-powered nuclear batteries, say US researchers. Liviu Popa-Simil, former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear engineer and founder of private research and development company LAVM says transforming the energy of radioactive particles into electricity is more effective. "I believe this work is innovative and could have a significant impact on the future of nuclear power," says David Poston, of the US Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. However perfecting new nuclear technologies requires years of development, he adds. See the story here.

Bingaman impressed by lab's ideas for energy storage

A United States senator in search of solutions to national energy problems and a national laboratory looking to extend its portfolio of alternative energy programs had a meeting of minds Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, visited Los Alamos National Laboratory Wednesday looking for advanced energy storage technology that would enable more green energy generation, like electricity from wind and solar sources. After the meeting, Bingaman said he was very impressed with the laboratory’s potential to improve energy storage capacity. See the story here.

Also from the Monitor
Universe does a doozie

A robotic telescope on Fenton Hill in the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos was the first instrument on Earth to get a look at one of the brightest known explosions in the cosmos March 19. The phenomenon was a major gamma ray burst that had happened 7.5 billion years ago when a massive star collapsed into a black hole. Radiation from the blast had just arrived on earth's outskirts, tipping off the Swift satellite to swing into position. Los Alamos researchers were already absorbed with an ordinary burst from a half-hour earlier. See the story here.

KOAT-TV, Albuquerque
Lab technology to help airport security

Action 7 News reporter Natalie Swaby joins us live to explain. This is something most travelers will want to hear. What if you could carry your water and toiletries on the plane without any hassle. That's not the way it works at airports now, but thanks to technology being developed at Los Alamos National lab -- it could be the way of the future. See the video clip.

Director: Lab 'Highly Effective' Despite Rating

The director of Los Alamos National Laboratory says the lab made significant progress last year and that the overall performance of its leaders was "highly effective" despite a performance rating of 35 percent. The rating was part of a 180-page federal evaluation of Los Alamos National Security LLC, which runs the nuclear weapons lab for the U.S. Department of Energy. "Focusing on results that we have delivered and the improvements that we have made, in spite of numerous obstacles, I can only assess our overall performance over the past year as highly effective," lab director Michael Anastasio said. See the Albuquerque Journal story here. Subscription required.

Hundreds learn about NanoDays at Bradbury Science Museum

Science educator Gordon McDonough uses a scanning probe to demonstrate remote sensing of atoms to a group of visitors at Bradbury Science Museum. The pingpong balls represent atoms. More than 500 people came to the museum Wednesday for NanoDays.

A boy "nanojumps" over a stick as science educator Liz Martineau supervises this NanoDays activity. The stick is 16 inches from the floor, which represents one one-billionth of the total distance to the moon. Some of the NanoDays activities and displays will remain available at the museum's TechLab through the end of May. Read the Daily NewsBulletin.

Friday, March 21, 2008

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for March 17-21

The mind of a fly
Scientists tap into the brains of flies in an effort to improve artificial intelligence

Flies and humans don't have a lot in common. Humans, for instance, don't spend hours buzzing up and down windows when they're home. And flies don't know how to make coffee or read a newspaper. But when it comes to building humanlike intelligence into a computer, the fly may well know more about how our brains work than we do — so say scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Hun School of Princeton, Princeton University and Indiana University. To learn the pesky insect's secrets, the scientists have performed microscopic brain surgery on dozens of flies, embedding probes in their nerve cells, and then sent them through a series of flight tests to see how their brains respond. See the New Mexican's Science Page here.

Also from the New Mexican this past week:
Los Alamos gadgets reveal Saturn secrets that 'cameras can't show'

There's a lot more to the weird, massive landscape around Saturn than a picture can reveal. In fact, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, than data gained from a series of instruments that pick up invisible phenomenon — like the behavior of magnetic fields and the interaction of charged atoms around the planet — might be worth a trillion words. And it's that invisible knowledge and science that give two Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists a thrill, as they study information returned from instruments designed at the lab that are flying on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Cassini mission. Read the story here.

LANL gets kudos for public Web
Report finds security lacking in sites at other national labs

It's a little ironic, but it seems the Cerro Grande Fire might have saved Los Alamos National Lab
oratory some major headaches — and turned the lab into a positive example for public Web site management in a new report by the U.S. Department of Energy's inspector general. The fire in 2000, which closed LANL for three weeks and burned homes of several Los Alamos residents, spurred the lab to build a Web site aimed at providing information to the community during future emergencies, said Kevin Roark, a spokesman. See the whole story here.

DARHT gets kudos from headquarters

During a recent trip to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a senior official of the National Nuclear Security Administration made a special point of visiting the Lab’s hydrotest facility. [The facility is used to take high-speed X-ray images of imploding mockups of nuclear weapons as a means to assure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.] Steve Goodrum, assistant deputy administrator, science engineering and production, said that after his trip was scheduled, word came in that the second axis of the lab's Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility (DARHT) had met and exceeded its requirements for beginning operations. “When the e-mails and calls started coming in about DARHT’s success,” he told employees at the facility Wednesday, “the news permeated the (DOE headquarters) Forrestal Building.” So Goodrum asked to make this special side trip. He passed along congratulations and formal certificates of appreciation to Accelerator Project leader Ray Scarpetti and members of the team and took a tour of the newly proven second axis. Accompanying Goodrum were LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Charles McMillan, associate director for weapons physics. The delegation from Washington also included NNSA science campaign manager Chris Deaney.

Modeling Flu Pandemics May Help Prevent Them

An article published in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America suggests that we can reduce the likelihood of a pandemic influenza outbreak in the United States by quickly implementing social-distancing measures alongside antiviral treatment and prophylaxis (preventive measures) until a vaccine becomes accessible. The study was conducted by three teams of researchers in the US and England who worked closely with federal officials. One research team consisted of computer scientist Shufu Xu and others at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Read the story.

Senators tour Roadrunner, other facilities
Computer is computational cornerstone for Lab

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, second from right, talks on Wednesday with Applied Physics Division Leader Michael Bernardin in front of the Roadrunner high-performance computer inside the Nicholas Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation. Also shown are Tom D'Agostino, left, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and John Morrison, High Performance Computing Division leader. See the Daily Newsbulletin story here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for March 10-14

Building the lab’s future

New construction in Los Alamos heralds a new age for the lab

What the [CMR-R] project will create is a compact, more modern version of a facility already at the lab, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building. That building is a 570,000-square-foot monstrosity built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and it looks like a prison, said Joe Martz. "At the time it was constructed, it was the second largest concrete building in the U.S., next to the Pentagon," he noted. Read the full story here.

LANL Officials Defend Proposal

Los Alamos National Laboratory officials went on the offensive Tuesday, supporting a proposal to make the nation's plutonium bomb parts at the lab. The proposal is in the nation's best interest and the lab's, Los Alamos associate director Terry Wallace said during a public hearing on the proposal. Wallace's appearance was part of a broad effort, as lab heavy hitters testified at the hearing and made the news media rounds, including a drive time talk radio appearance on KKOB-AM (770). The unusual public relations initiative comes as the National Nuclear Security Administration takes public comment on a far-reaching initiative that would make Los Alamos the nation's permanent plutonium manufacturing center for the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal. Read the story here, subscription required.

Giving an opinio

A large crowd turned out for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s public hearing Wednesday night at the Hilltop House. For the first time in recent memory, top Los Alamos National Laboratory managers and other members of the community made a strong public showing in support of the agency’s current proposal for transforming the nuclear weapons complex. Toward the end of the evening, LANL plutonium scientist Joe Martz, speaking as a private citizen, said he had been attending these meetings for 20 years and called the community support, “unprecedented.” See the Monitor story here.

The Future of New Mexico's National Labs

The Department of Energy is holding several public hearings about proposals that would radically shrink America's nuclear weapons complex. But under part of the plan.. Los Alamos National Lab would get a new two-billion dollar research facility.. that some critics say.. would just help build more nuclear bombs.. Bob Martin has details.. See the video clip here.

Fly neurons fire much faster than thought

U.S. scientists have discovered neurons in the visual system of the common blowfly generate electrical impulses at a rate 10 times greater than thought. The Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists led by physicist Ilya Nemenman said their findings are expected to significantly change theories about the functioning of neural networks, as well as advance development of computers that mimic biological processes. Read the full story. See the LANL News Release.

LANL NewsBulletin
NNSA’s Goodrum congratulates DARHT team

Steve Goodrum, the newly appointed NNSA Assistant Deputy Administrator for Science, Technology, and Production, visited the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility on Wednesday to congratulate the team on successfully meeting or exceeding all of the technical requirements to operate the DARHT second axis. “When the calls started to come in at headquarters about the DARHT success,” said Goodrum, “the news quickly spread all throughout the Forrestal building. I’m particularly pleased to visit here to recognize this success and to remind you of the importance of DARHT axis 2 in the overall success of stockpile stewardship.” Goodrum was accompanied on his visit by Laboratory director Michael Anastasio, associate director for weapons physics Charles McMillan, NNSA science campaign manager Chris Deeney, and DARHT accelerator project leader Raymond Scarpetti.

Friday, March 7, 2008

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for March 3-7

Cassini Finds Possible Rings Around Saturn Moon

Scientists from northern New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory involved in new observations by a spacecraft suggest Saturn's second-largest moon may be surrounded by rings. If confirmed, it would the first time a ring system has been found around a moon. The international Cassini spacecraft detected what appeared to be a large debris disk around the 950-mile-wide moon Rhea during a flyby in 2005. The finding was described in a study in this week's issue of the journal Science. Among the 35 co-authors of the article are space scientists Hazel McAndrews, Robert Tokar and Robert Wilson of Los Alamos. Cassini's instruments also include a pair of ion-mass and ion-beam spectrometers built by Los Alamos. See the story. Read the LANL News Release. And the article in Science Magazine.

Also from the Associated Press:
NNSA plan would center nuke design in Los Alamos

Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories will be leaner in the future as the federal government reduces the nation's nuclear weapons complex. The National Nuclear Security Administration is proposing to consolidate operations from eight nuclear weapons sites around the country to move the Cold War complex into a smaller, more secure and less expensive operation. The eight facilities would get various "centers of excellence." None will close. See the story here.

Los Alamos Launches ‘Complex Transformation’ Website

The Laboratory now has a publicly available website that outlines NNSA’s preferred alternative and what it means for Los Alamos National Laboratory. The site includes a variety of resources including fact sheets, employee messages, and news articles. LANL's complex Transformation Website.

LANL explains transformatio
n plan, mission

Get ready for transformation week: not the moment when everything changes in the nuclear weapons complex, but a critical week when sides line up and offer varying, and sometimes emotional, accounts about what should or should be done in the next decade. Los Alamos National Laboratory hosted the first of two bus tours Wednesday, looking to explain a program of consolidation outlined in a Department of Energy environmental statement - and hopefully gather support. A small group of community leaders were taken behind the fence to four nuclear facilities under discussion in next week's public hearings about transforming the weapon’s complex. See the story here.

Also from the Los Alamos Monitor:
Los Alamos County Council supports LANL

Council decided in a 6-to-0 vote to send a letter to the document manager for the DOE, Theodore A. Wyka. The letter comments specifically on the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement issued by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the DOE in December. It states that council endorses the preferred alternative for Los Alamos National Laboratory as described in the SPEIS, Sec. S 3.17A. "Los Alamos County hereby expresses its strong support for LANL, whose most significant contributions to the nation lie not in the past but in the future." See the story here.

March Currents now available

This second issue of the new Laboratory employee publication features a cover article highlighting the strong teamwork behind explosives testing at the Lab's firing sites. Also in the March issue are articles on Alexander Balatsky of Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics, who recently left his mark among some of science's greats; the high flying support Bob Kroutil of Biosecurity and Public Health helps provide to emergency first responders; and the latest community leaders survey results, which offer some telling insights into what the Lab's Northern New Mexico neighbors think about their relationships with the Lab. March Currents available here.

LANL NewsBulletin
Workshop helps tea
chers introduce science concepts

Denise Thronas, standing, of PU238 Science and Technology, leads teachers in a tie-dye workshop last Saturday in Pojoaque. The workshop is designed to introduce basic chemistry concepts, which teachers can use in later lesson plans with students. Seated left to right are Ralph Paiz, principal of Tesuque Day School; Trini Solomon a teacher from San Ildefonso Day School; David Kitts and Jessica Arquero, teachers at Cochiti Pueblo Elementary School; and Jack Carson, a teacher at Santa Clara Day School.

Cochiti Elementary School Principal Michael Weinberg solders pieces that will become part of a solar robot during last Saturday's workshop. Teachers learned about basic circuit diagrams, energy conversion and storage, electronic components, aerodynamics, weight and balance. The Tribal Relations team in the Government Affairs Office coordinated the workshop as part of its pueblo education outreach program. Laboratory staff from several technical organizations led the workshops. See the Los Alamos Daily NewsBulletin online.