Friday, April 24, 2009

Low sunspot cycle fascinates scientists, who say there's no reason to panic

And the record has been a good one, give or take a dozen or so non-threatening delivery-truck mishaps and a couple of misdirected deliveries; more than 7,000 loads have been carried there –

Since 2004, the sun has been in a prolonged period of low sunspot activity, which has led some to fear that the phenomenon could lead to global cooling, a new ice age, the death of the sun or even to the end of the world predicted by the Mayan calendar.

But the reality is that the phenomenon is part of a natural 11-year repeating sunspot cycle that fluctuates from intense activity to no activity and back again about every six years. And while it's interesting that the low number of sunspots over the past few years is the fourth longest such trend since the mid-1600s, it's by no means any reason to panic, said Geoff Reeves, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

New hope for biomass fuels: breaking the ties that bind

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have discovered a potential chink in the armor of fibers that make the cell walls of certain inedible plant materials so tough. The insight ultimately could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels. (Full story)

High tech trials help whiz kids prepare for college

A look at the project titles from the 19th New Mexico Adventures in Supercomputing Challenge might leave you wondering if the competition really involved teens from all over New Mexico, or Ph.D. physicists from our two national labs. (Full story)

Los Alamos middle-schoolers finish strong

Despite a few hurdles, Rachel Robey and Gabe Montoya captured third prize out of 61 teams in the N.M. Supercomputer Challenge this year. (Full story)

Work is out of this world

Three starry-eyed teens who honed a method for spotting asteroids took top honors Tuesday at the 19th annual New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge.

More than 320 students from across the state used high-performance supercomputers and worked with mentors from the state's national laboratories to analyze, model and solve real-world problems. (Full story)

Small-business contracts given

Los Alamos National Security, LLC, recently awarded subcontracts for a total of more than $753 million to several small businesses. (Full story.)

Town hall kicks off Earth Week

Green is busting out this year in Los Alamos.

A well-attended Energy Town Hall meeting at Fuller Lodge Tuesday morning, marked a departure in scale and emphasis from past years’ events.

The forum was jointly sponsored by several energy and environmental groups from Los Alamos
National Laboratory along with Los Alamos County. (Entire story.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Star crust is 10 billion times stronger than steel

The crust of a neutron star is strong enough to hold up ultra-dense mountains, a new simulation suggests. Penn State Illustration

Since laboratory experiments cannot replicate the extreme conditions on the surface of a neutron star, astronomers have largely assumed that the crust's strength would be similar to that of the strongest substances on Earth.

But in new computer simulations, Charles Horowitz of Indiana University and Kai Kadau of the Los Alamos National Laboratory show the crust of a neutron star is much stronger. Materials like rock and steel break because their crystals have gaps and other defects that link up to create cracks. But the enormous pressures in neutron stars squeeze out many of the imperfections. Test the
stronger-than-steel story here.

Mapping the evolution of ideas

Comparing physics maps from 1997 and 2006, above, shows how areas shrink and grow and how they merge with one another. Physics World image.

Now physicists have made a map using the Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS) codes produced by the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Taking papers from the last two decades in the AIP's database, Mark Herrera from the University of Maryland, David Roberts from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Natali Gulbachce from the Northeastern University in Boston, have created a map using the links between different PACS numbers. Science evolves here!

Rodriguez among LANL's next generation of scientists

Marko Rodriquez.

He earned his PhD in computer science two years ago at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Now, among his many appellations he can describe himself as a director's postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Center for Non-Linear Studies where he is also associated with the lab's Applied Mathematics and Plasma Physics group in the Theoretical Division. More about Marko here.

Lab Stresses Role in Local Economic Development

Northern New Mexico businesses are getting financial help from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and there are plenty of the ways LANL can help boost local economies, according to LANL Director Michael Anastasio.

"There are plenty of challenges the country faces, and the lab has a lot to offer in that regard," Anastasio told guests at a well-attended breakfast meeting Tuesday where lab personnel and prominent northern New Mexicans including Santa Fe Mayor David Coss met to discuss LANL's role in economic development around the region. More economic development here.

Lab spreads jobs, puts stimulus to work

New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary Fred Mondragon, standing, talks with Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio and Santa Fe Mayor David Coss at the regional community leaders breakfast in Santa Fe. LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has contracts to let and jobs to give. With an extra $212 million in stimulus funds and its FY 09 base package solidly in hand, LANL is out shopping for people and companies to do some of the work.

Gordon Dover, program director for the lab's American Reinvestment and Recovery Act project said Tuesday morning that the money would have to be committed by the end of Sept. 2010 and spent by the end of the following year, under the DOE guidelines. Read the story here.

Labs central to energy future, Chu says

The country's national laboratories will retain a nuclear-weapons mission although there will be a definite shift toward work on energy issues and helping the economy, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said last Friday in Albuquerque. See the
video here.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Chu visits Los Alamos National Laboratory

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) -- He's the U.S. energy secretary and the new boss, but Steven Chu was all scientist as he launched a two-day visit to New Mexico with a stop at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Chu chatted informally with lab scientists about their ongoing research into climate modeling, hydrogen storage, nanotechnology, HIV and other issues on Thursday. In a large hall in the lab's computing center, he scrutinized displays of the programs, listened intently to explanations, then peppered lab employees with questions that made it clear he was a fellow scientist.

"He knew a lot about our field - which was dazzling," said Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist who is researching HIV. (Extra! Extra! Read all about it

Energy secretary assessing labs

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) - Energy Secretary Steven Chu toured Los Alamos National Laboratory Thursday and is scheduled to visit Sandia National Laboratories on Friday.

His department oversees both facilities. After working in Washington Chu jetted across the country and at 5 p.m. was hustled into LANL for a whirlwind three-hour tour.

The Los Alamos agenda showed Chu the lab does a lot more than just weapons work, for example using computers in the war on HIV/AIDS. (Enjoy the story on your own computer!)

Energy secretary visits Los Alamos

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AJ) -- The visit was an opportunity for Los Alamos to display what a few of its 2,200 some Ph.D.'s have been up to, with large posters specially made for the visit describing research in fields as diverse as climate change and cybersecurity.

“We wanted to give him a chance to see the breadth” of LANL's work, said Terry Wallace, a principal associate director. (Subscription required to read this story.)

Energy Secretary visits LANL

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will continue his two-day visit to New Mexico's national laboratories with a stop at Sandia Friday. Thursday, he chatted with scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and was briefed on the lab's nuclear weapons program. (Watch this!)

Nanoscale changes rise to macro importance in a key electronics material

The new study of silver niobate not only opens the door to engineering improved electronic components for smaller, higher performance wireless devices, but also serves as an example of understanding how subtle nanoscale features of a material can give rise to major changes in its physical properties. The study required measurements at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory and the Lujan Neutron Center at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Expand your mind with the whole story here

Editorial: As WIPP proves safe, should role expand?

And the record has been a good one, give or take a dozen or so non-threatening delivery-truck mishaps and a couple of misdirected deliveries; more than 7,000 loads have been carried there - from Los Alamos National Laboratory, from the now-closed Rocky Flats weapons plant and from nuclear installations coast to coast. (Full story)

The Curious Capitalist: Still no great depression

Sebastian Dartevelle, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and an occasional reader of this blog, devised a simple way to correct 1929 farm employment statistics: He came up with rough estimates of the total number of people who could work in 1929 (those 14 and older) and in 2007 (those 16 and over), and divided the change in non-farm employment in each downturn by the appropriate labor-force number. (Don't be depressed, read the whole story.)

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Friday, April 3, 2009

News from Los Alamos National Laboratory for April 3.

Funds to help NM sites with cleanup projects

Hazardous materials workers at MDA-B. LANL photo

Federal stimulus funds will help clean up the legacy of the Cold War.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday that $172 million in recovery act funding will accelerate the preparation of nuclear waste shipments destined for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and $212 million will help northern New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory demolish old buildings and clean up dump sites. More clean up


$384 million from stimulus plan will go to WIPP, Los Alamos

The federal government will pump $384 million into New Mexico's nuclear institutions to clean up and dispose of old Cold War waste in one of the largest economic stimulus investments in the state. Los Alamos National Laboratory will get $212 million between now and 2011 to clean up radioactive waste on an old lab site next to the community of Los Alamos. Read more about stimulus here.

Ten years in operation, WIPP boasts sterling safety record, continued support

Carlsbad’s WIPP site (DOE photo)

Deep in an underground tunnel, standing 20 feet away from a stack of barrels of nuclear waste left over from the Cold War, Roger Nelson, chief scientist at WIPP, brought up the issue of safety.

It's been 10 years since the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant began operations, and more than 7,200 shipments later the site and its transportation system have had no major problems, including no releases to the environment and no worker contamination, Nelson said proudly. Explore more about WIPP

Laboratory cosponsors Expanding Your Horizons conference

Nancy Palomina of Pojoaque Valley Middle School uses hot glue to construct a bridge during a hands-on activity. LANL photo.

The event at the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos, drew about 100 middle- and high-school girls from 12 New Mexico schools. "This is all about showing young women that they can do science, that science is cool,” said Lisa Colletti of the Lab’s Actinide Analytical Chemistry organization.

Other activities included workshops related to astronomy, aerospace, chemistry, and earth science; a team-building activity; and various demonstrations. Teachers learned innovative ways to teach math and science at a teacher conference that took place simultaneously. Expand your horizons

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