Friday, July 17, 2015

Los Alamos marks 70 years since Trinity test

The "gadget" at the Trinity Test site. LANL photo.

On July 16 Los Alamos National Laboratory will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first successful test of an atomic bomb.

The anniversary of that explosion, which happened about 210 miles south of here at a site named Trinity, will be marked in a low-key fashion at the lab. There will be a roundtable discussion in an auditorium.

The participants will discuss, among other things, supercomputing. The lab doesn’t test nuclear weapons with actual explosions anymore; it’s done through computer simulations. The lab has a new supercomputer named Trinity, and a new slogan, “From Trinity to Trinity.” (Full Story)

70 years after Trinity

Trinity, the World's first atomic explosion. LANL photo.

When a flash of light beamed from the arid New Mexico desert early on July 16, 1945, residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa felt windows shake and heard dishes fall. Some in the largely Catholic town fell to their knees and prayed.

The end of the world is here, they thought.

What villagers didn’t know was that just before 5:30 a.m., scientists from the then-secret city of Los Alamos successfully exploded the first atomic bomb at the nearby Trinity Site. Left in its place was a crater that stretched a half-mile wide and several feet deep. (Full Story)

The first light of Trinity

The light of a nuclear explosion is unlike anything else on Earth. This is because the heat of a nuclear explosion is unlike anything else on Earth. Seventy years ago today, when the first atomic weapon was tested, they called its light cosmic. Where else, except in the interiors of stars, do the temperatures reach into the tens of millions of degrees? It is that blistering radiation, released in a reaction that takes about a millionth of a second to complete, that makes the light so unearthly, that gives it the strength to burn through photographic paper and wound human eyes. (Full Story)

Veteran recalls role in the A-bomb

Richard Johnson, 94, worked at Los Alamos during World War II.  Times Union photo.

Living on a quiet, tree-lined street that backs up to the Poesten Kill is one of the last surviving Americans who developed the first atomic weapon at Los Alamos, N.M., as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II.

Richard C. Johnson graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1942 and joined the Army to fight Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. As the United States raced to build the world's first atomic bomb, Army brass noticed Johnson in training and assigned him to the clandestine effort at the research laboratory in the mountains of New Mexico. (Full Story)

Nuclear security supercomputers continue evolution

The Trinity Supercomputer, LANL image.

Seventy years to the date after the first nuclear tests were conducted in New Mexico, supercomputers have evolved to the point that realistic simulations of nuclear detonations and weapons degradation can be accurately modeled with far greater detail and far more data than physical tests could reveal.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has been at the center of much of this work and will soon be home to one of the most powerful supercomputers on the planet to aid in far more extensive modeling of many scenarios that could have an impact on nuclear weapons stockpiles. (Full Story)

Powering New Horizons’ 3-billion-mile journey

Black, tubular structure at left is the spacecraft's RTG power module.  NASA photo.

For New Horizons, the energy answer lay in the power of plutonium. Specifically, in a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). This simple form of nuclear power, developed by the Energy Department, takes heat from the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 and converts it into electricity using devices called “thermocouples.”

The heat-producing ceramic “fuel pellets” of plutonium dioxide for the RTG — designed and safety-tested by Energy Department scientists — were manufactured at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Martian crust more like Earth than thought

Martian crust, NASA JPL image.

Researchers have found evidence of a 'continental crust' on Mars. They say the findings are 'surprisingly similar' to the material found in continents on Earth. The ChemCam laser instrument on NASA's Curiosity rover was turned on some unusually light-coloured rocks on Mars.

It is the first discovery of a potential 'continental crust' on Mars. 'Along the rover's path we have seen some beautiful rocks with large, bright crystals, quite unexpected on Mars' said Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, lead scientist on the ChemCam instrument. (Full Story)

NASA’s Curiosity Rover finds rocks similar to Earth’s

Roger Weins on KRQE-TV's morning show, from KRQE

The ChemCam laser instrument on NASA’s Curiosity rover has turned its beam onto some unusually light-colored rocks on Mars, and the results are surprisingly similar to Earth’s granitic continental crust rocks. This is the first discovery of a potential “continental crust” on Mars.

"Along the rover’s path we have seen some beautiful rocks with large, bright crystals, quite unexpected on Mars” said Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, lead scientist on the ChemCam instrument. (Full Story)

Science on the Hill: Methane cloud hunting

Manvendra Dubey, LANL photo.

When our team from Los Alamos National Laboratory went hunting for methane gas in the atmosphere over the Four Corners area of northwest New Mexico, we found a strange daily pattern. The regional methane concentrations leapt higher every morning before tapering off. But the biggest surprise was how much methane emissions we found — two times more than estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency and three times greater than in international emissions inventories. (Full Story)

Also from the New Mexican this week:

LANL raises $356K for N.M. students

Los Alamos National Laboratory employees pledged a record $356,550 to the 2015 Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund drive. The drive encourages lab employees, retirees and subcontract personnel to donate to a fund that awards college scholarships to Northern New Mexico students. (Full Story)

Spotted owl chicks at Los Alamos lab

A spotted owl parent standing in front of one of its chicks, LANL photo.       

Biologists located a record seven Mexican spotted owl chicks on Los Alamos National Laboratory property during nest surveys last month.

“We’ve never found this many chicks,” Chuck Hathcock, wildlife biologist with the Environmental Stewardship group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a news release about the Mexican spotted owl, which the federal government lists as threatened. “It’s encouraging to see successful nests because it’s an indication that our efforts to protect these species are making an impact.” (Full Story)

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Saving West’s iconic landscapes from wildfires, one steppe at a time

The Valles Caldera, LANL image.

Valles Caldera is a nearly 14-mile-wide crater of an ancient volcano in New Mexico's Jemez Mountains. Its forested rim rings a expanse of trees, meadows, and summits inside the crater.

Beyond its ecological value, Valles Caldera represents an important watershed influencing the Rio Grande River, notes Richard Middleton, a researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Using particle physics to map what’s inside Fukushima

Worker at the destroyed Fukushima plant, from Popular Mechanics.              

Cleanup efforts at Fukushima have a boost from halfway around the world, thanks to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. So how do you map the series of pipework to find potential faults? You use particles. Specifically muons.

As the naturally occurring particles pass through a part of Fukushima, a series of detectors map their movements and notice whether they change direction. (Full Story)

Technology out of Los Alamos may help better diagnose diseases

Harshini Mukundan, LANL photo.     

A serious and highly contagious disease recently made a comeback in New Mexico. Just last month, health officials out of Clovis had to test more than 100 Curry County residents after a man came down with Tuberculosis. Doctors still don’t have effective ways of testing for it, but that could change with new technology out of Los Alamos.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab were looking for a tool that could diagnose TB early on, and one that could tell the difference between active and inactive TB. (Full Story)

Perovskites will power new low-cost & highly efficient solar cells

Perovskite crystals, LANL image.

Since we’re celebrating Independence Day this weekend over here in the USA, we’re sharing this fireworksy image of perovskite crystals emailed to us by the folks at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The lab has been hot on the trail of next-generation, super-efficient solar cells, and it looks like perovskite is the name of the game, partly because they are “more than a thousand times” less expensive than those fancy multi-junction solar cells. (Full Story)

Eddies pull carbon emissions into deep ocean, new model simulates

A three-dimensional spatial structure of mixing in an idealized ocean simulation, LANL image.

To better understand how carbon dioxide (CO2) moves around the globe, scientists need to know what happens as the ocean circulates. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) computer models clarify the complex ocean mixing process occurring in mesoscale eddies across the open ocean, and what they show will help prioritize responses to climate change. (Full Story)

Video: How Seagate collaborates with LANL on HPC

Kyle Lamb from the Infrastructure Team at Los Alamos National Lab describes the unique challenges he faces at a facility known for being at the forefront of technology. Kyle addresses the future of storage for High Performance Computing and the ways LANL is partnering with Seagate to tackle the changes on the horizon. (Full Story)

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Space particles are helping map the inside of Fukushima

Welding storage tanks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, from Wired.

A group of scientists at Los Alamos National Lab have figured out how to see through just about anything—including the radioactive disaster zone inside the Fukushima reactor core—using subatomic particles from outer space.

“Any industrial process is subject to flow-accelerated corrosion,” says Matt Durham, lead author of a new paper detailing the process, called muon tomography. Inside a pipe, whichever side that’s in contact with a fluid tends to get eaten up. The difficulty of disassembling a pipe for inspection means that comprehensive checks rarely happen. But using muons, “you don’t have to tear it apart,” says Durham. “You just have to zap it from the outside.” (Full Story)

Giving buildings a cosmic CT scan

CT-like scans generated by subatomic particles, from Science.

Because muons are massive but don’t interact too strongly with other materials, they can penetrate hundreds of meters of rock and soil, says Matt Durham, a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and lead author of the study. In comparison, lighter electrons stop in material almost immediately, where heavier protons and atomic nuclei interact with them so strongly that they disintegrate into showers of particles. Muons' ability to penetrate makes them ideal for peering into objects. (Full Story)

Also from Homeland Security Newswire

Supercomputing the vortex

A simulation of vortex-induced motion, LANL image.

Los Alamos National Laboratory mechanical and thermal engineering researchers’ efforts to solve the complex problem of how ocean currents affect the infrastructure of floating oilrigs and their computational fluid dynamics (CFD) numerical simulations received recognition from ANSYS, a company that provides computer-based engineering simulation capabilities. (Full Story)

One woman’s quest for healthy beer

Kombucha maker Ayla Bystrom-Williams, right, with Rena Glasscock and scientist David Fox, from The Guardian.

Like many scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, David Fox cannot reveal the full details of his current research. In his case, it’s not a matter of national security. Though the bioengineer works at a site best known as the birthplace of the atomic bomb, he is spending much of this summer analyzing something less hazardous – a special hybrid beer.

The fermented beverage under his microscope might have probiotic and other health benefits not normally associated with one of the world’s oldest intoxicants. (Full Story)

The solar cells of the future look very pretty up close

You’re looking at a perovskite. Not an Eastern European bird of prey, nor an exotic toy to play with in the wind, but a potential future of solar power. And that's what you can see here: neat chunks of defect-free crystals manufactured at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Cheap compared to silicon crystals, these kinds of perovskites are even beginning to rival them in efficiency terms because the lack of defects ensure that photons are neatly converted into electrons with few losses. (Full Story)

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