Friday, December 21, 2018

Scientists claim progress in earthquake prediction

Credit: Washington Post

The Big One — a catastrophic earthquake — is coming. When? Where? How violent and destructive will it be? Scientists would love to be able to answer these questions, but they’ve been humbled by earthquakes too often. The earth shakes unpredictably. There’s chaos in the mix.

Geophysicists can create hazard maps that show known faults and the probability of an earthquake in the coming decades. That’s not the same thing as predicting an earthquake. It just tells you to live in a reinforced building, brace your bookshelves and stash batteries for an emergency.

Even the famous San Andreas Fault in California, which generated the earthquake that devastated San Francisco in 1906, is stubbornly enigmatic: It could break next week or in 100 years.

But people are still trying to crack the earthquake code. Scientists based at Los Alamos National Laboratory published two papers Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience reporting what they say could be a breakthrough in predicting earthquakes. One paper emerged from laboratory research. The other was focused on subtle seismic signals along the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. (Full story)


Aboard the Rocket Lab mission that launched Saturday night — the California-based company’s first for NASA — was a new technology that will allow operators to identify satellites from the ground, like a license plate helps identify the owner of a car. David Palmer, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, developed the Extremely Low Resource Optical Identifier, or ELROI, that emits short bursts of light in a unique pattern that allow it to be tracked and identified from ground stations. It could help with space traffic management in low-Earth orbit, which is already congested and getting more so as companies plan for constellations of hundreds of satellites. (Full story)

Sea ice: More than just frozen water

A seal rests on a slab of sea ice while a ship
crew walks in the distance.

Long ago, frequented by just a few rugged groups living in the high north, the polar regions are now home to more people than ever, with interests that range across commercial shipping; mining and energy development; recreational fishing; hunting and tourism; scientific research; and military bases and defense operations.

Sea ice creates challenges for all these activities. It makes navigation hazardous for shipping and thick ice complicates the operation and safety of naval submarines. On the other hand, disappearing Arctic ice is changing hunting and fishing practices, as well as the ocean’s acoustic properties.

To support these varied interests, scientists use satellites, aircraft and ships to monitor how far sea ice extends, its thickness in various locations and other topographic characteristics — even its color. Other field research studies the physical and biological processes that influence how ice forms, moves and changes hue. (Full story)

Precision experiment first to isolate, measure weak force between protons, neutrons

Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of scientists has for the first time measured the elusive weak interaction between protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom. They had chosen the simplest nucleus consisting of one neutron and one proton for the study.

Through a unique neutron experiment at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, experimental physicists resolved the weak force between the particles at the atom's core, predicted in the Standard Model that describes the elementary particles and their interactions. Their result is sensitive to subtle aspects of the strong force between nuclear particles, which is still poorly understood.

The team's observation, described in Physical Review Letters, culminates decades of work performed with an apparatus known as NPDGamma. The first phase of the experiment took place at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Building on the knowledge gained at LANL, the team moved the project to ORNL to take advantage of the high neutron beam intensity produced at the lab's Spallation Neutron Source. (Full story)

LANL: Top 25 Stories Highlight Science Achievements

From space missions to disease forecasting, particle physics to artificial intelligence, the biggest science news items from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2018 have been gathered in one place: It’s a collection that reflects the significant depth and breadth of national laboratory science.

“The range of technical and scientific capabilities in these stories, as reported by media outlets across the world, reflects the many ways Los Alamos National Laboratory serves the nation,” Laboratory Director Thom Mason said. “We are first and foremost a national security laboratory, but with so many additional strengths, from materials science to life science, physics, and beyond, it is no surprise that this selection of stories is so diverse. I'm proud of our employees at every level who made this science possible.” (Full story)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Volcanic lightning can help warn of dangerous eruptions

Volcanic lightning over the 2014 eruption of Mount Sinabung, from Nat Geo.

The night of February 13, 2014, Indonesia's Kelud volcano burst to life, hundreds of volcanic lightning strokes crackled overhead. Now, scientists say such lightning may be just as useful as it is beautiful. A new study takes another step toward the development of lightning as a monitoring tool to track the ever-shifting dangers of a volcanic eruption.

As the USGS's Alexa Van Eaton and her colleagues note in the study, there's still a large amount of uncertainty associated with general estimates of mass spewing from a volcano based on satellite imagery.

“That doesn't mean that it's not without value,” says atmospheric scientist Sonja Behnke of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “It's just, we see something, but there's really a whole lot more going on.” (Full Story)

Eliminating the latent reservoir of HIV

HIV attacking a T-Cell, CDC photo.

A new study suggests that a genetic switch that causes latent HIV inside cells to begin to replicate can be manipulated to completely eradicate the virus from the human body. Cells harboring latent HIV are “invisible” to the natural defenses of the immune system. The findings, which suggest a cure for HIV may be possible, are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Liang and Youfang Cao of Merck Research Laboratories are the lead authors of the study. Xue Lei from the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Alan S. Perelson and Ruy M. Ribeiro from the Los Alamos National Laboratory are the collaborators and co-authors on the paper. (Full Story)

Invest in artificial intelligence to predict earthquakes

Illustration of the recent Alaska earthquake.

Seismology is an incredibly complex field of science. Earthquakes and aftershocks are still unpredictable in their timing, location and intensity. Despite strenuous research, seismologists have yet to identify a reliable precursor to earthquakes. Such a thing would be any kind of geological phenomenon that consistently precedes every tremor. Science has revealed much about our world, but understanding the tectonic plates seems to be just outside of our reach.

Paul Johnson, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, submitted a detailed report in 2017 that recorded his team’s progress on machine learning for earthquakes. Johnson’s team fed the computer raw data from earthquake measurements. This differs from how scientists have tried to predict earthquakes in the past, primarily by using the United States Geological Survey’s Earthquake Catalog.(Full Story)

Less ozone means more snow for Antarctica

Antarctic ice melt, From Boulder Today.

While previous research has outlined some aspects of the relationship between ozone depletion and the climate of the southern hemisphere, the new study co-authored by Lenaerts, Jeremy Fyke of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Brooke Medley of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory has analyzed the effect on Antarctica specifically.

The results complement a separate NASA-led study, which was led by Medley and published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, which uses observations from ice cores to show that Antarctic snowfall has increased in the last 200 years and especially so in the past 30 years, suggesting that precipitation changes can be linked to man-made causes such as greenhouse gas emissions as well as the ozone hole. (Full Story)

LANL Director Thom Mason works with students during Hour of Code project at school in Española

Director Thom Mason working with a student on her coding effort. Photo by John McHale.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason volunteered for the Hour of Code project this afternoon at Tony E. Quintana Elementary in Española. The program was presented to the combined 6th grade classes of Nancy Martinez and Danita Quintana. This program provides a one-hour introduction to computer science designed to demystify ‘code’ and show that anyone can learn the basics. Laboratory volunteers Aimee Hungerford and Hari Khalsa have been working with local schools on the initiative since 2015. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

LANL Director Shares Plans At 2018 REDI Conference

 Thom Mason, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason focused his recent keynote address at the 2018 Regional Economic Development Initiative REDI Conference on the importance of area small businesses – and emphasized his intention to increase LANL’s support.

“LANL is already consistently among the best performing across all the national laboratories in percentage of procurement from regional small businesses,” Mason told the crowd gathered Dec. 4 at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino. “But we’ll be doubling the preference we give to Northern New Mexico small businesses for small business contracting.” (Full Story)

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Spacecraft encounter with asteroid Bennu is test run for defending Earth

The asteroid Bennu as seen from the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

On Dec. 3, the NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REx arrived at its destination of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. During the next year, it will orbit the asteroid to search for the best places to land and scoop up samples before eventually returning them to Earth in 2023.

But there's another reason researchers are interested in the contents of this space rock: They want to learn more about how they might have to, on short notice, divert, deflect or destroy an asteroid that's on a potentially devastating collision course with Earth.

The multi-institution research team has modeled a possible planetary defense mission against Bennu, based on the limited information they had about the small space object, according to Cathy Plesko, a research scientist in applied physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (full story).

Is There Really A Fourth Neutrino Out There In The Universe?

The Sudbury neutrino observatory, from Forbes.

Of all the particles that we know of, the elusive neutrino is by far the most difficult to explain. We know there are three types of neutrino: the electron neutrino (νe), the muon neutrino (νμ), and the tau neutrino (ντ), as well as their antimatter counterparts (νe, νμ, and ντ). We know that they have extremely tiny but non-zero masses: the heaviest they can be means it would take over 4 million of them to add up to an electron, the next-lightest particle. (full story).

Mesmerizing video shows what would happen if an asteroid crashed into Earth's oceans

Science! But not as Billy Bob Thornton described
it in 'Armageddon'. Credit: Mashable.

In films like Armageddon, Hollywood has tried (and failed) to take on the question of what would happen if a comet or asteroid plunged into the oceans on Earth, but what has scientific research actually determined it may look like?

America's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has posted a new video illustrating what could happen if an asteroid crashed into one of our oceans, and it's fascinating.

Based on data collected by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Galen R. Gisler and John M. Patchett, referred to as the Deep Water Impact Ensemble Data Set, these simulations show asteroids of various sizes entering the water from different angles. It's the scale and size of the aftermath that's the truly stunning part. (full story).

LANL Releases New Sea-Ice Computer Model
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Elizabeth Hunke.

Los Alamos National Laboratory with several collaborating groups released an update for an internationally vital sea-ice computer model, called CICE version 6.0, a timely tool that supports more accurate forecasting of ice occurrence and global climate modeling.

“This update improves our ability to understand a type of anchored ice, called land-fast ice, that is attached to the shore or sea bottom and can block shipping lanes and northern ports,” said Elizabeth Hunke, lead developer of the CICE model. (Full story).

NASA InSight Lander 'Hears' Martian Winds

One of InSight's 7-foot wide solar panels.
Credit: NASA/JPL.

NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander, which touched down on Mars just 10 days ago, has provided the first ever "sounds" of Martian winds on the Red Planet.

An even clearer sound from Mars is yet to come. In just a couple years, NASA's Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to land with two microphones on board. The first, provided by JPL, is included specifically to record, for the first time, the sound of a Mars landing. The second is part of the SuperCam and will be able to detect the sound of the instrument's laser as it zaps different materials. This will help identify these materials based on the change in sound frequency. (full story). 

Friday, November 30, 2018

How supercomputers can help fix our wildfire problem

California wild fire, from Wired.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, atmospheric scientist Alexandra Jonko is using a supercomputer and a system called FIRETEC to model fires in extreme detail. It models, among other things, air density and temperature, as well as the properties of the grass or leaves in a particular area.

Jonko runs a bunch of simulations with different wind speeds, typically on the scale of 40 acres. “It'll probably take me about four hours to simulate between 10 and 20 minutes of a fire spreading,” she says.  FIRETEC produces valuable physics-based data on fire dynamics to inform how fire managers do prescribed burns. (Full Story)

The race to build megafire prediction tools

Destruction from the Carr Fire, from Bloomberg.

Before first responders hit a fire’s front line, data analysts plot strategies in far-off labs and office parks, using software to arrive at “a better understanding of how fire responds to its environment and how it behaves,” says Rod Linn, a senior scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“Fire behavior is all about heat transfer and its interaction with the ecology,” Linn says. Authorities using Firetec, including the French and Canadian forestry services, can also use the software to study past megafires and apply that research to mitigate future risks. (Full Story)

Innate 'fingerprint' could detect tampered steel parts

David Mascareñas, LANL photo.

Researchers using magnetic signals have found unique "fingerprints" on steel, which could help to verify weapons treaties and reduce the use of counterfeit bolts in the construction industry.

"Magnetic signals provide a wide range of possible national security applications," said David Mascareñas, a research and development engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study published recently in the journal Smart Materials and Structures. "It's a promising phenomenon that we hope to leverage to uniquely identify different pieces of artillery." (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post

What happens when an explosive is detonated?

To unravel this mystery, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory combine computer simulations and innovative experiments that verify what the computers come up with, particularly the simulations of the short-lived chemical bonds formed during detonation.

One way Los Alamos scientists actually observe and study detonation is to significantly shrink the size of an explosion. The tiny scale enables scientists to drive shock waves into materials so thin it is possible to see through them. Using a laser, researchers send a pulse of light at exactly the moment the shock wave strikes the super-thin material. That lets them observe and record the impact and the resultant chemical reactions.(Full Story)

New mission on Mars will test for “marsquakes”

Scientists in New Mexico and across the country had a big celebration this morning after a successful rover landing. Action 7 news reporter Justin Matthews spoke with Dr. Roger Wiens from the Los Alamos National Laboratory over the phone. He has worked on the Curiosity rover already roaming the surface of mars about 400 miles south of where the Insight rover is.

Wiens says he and his colleagues at LANL are watching insight very closely. One mission doesn’t land successfully on mars, the next one is in jeopardy, as well. “Landing was the first challenge. Now it’s going to carry out its purpose. Insight is a great name for this because we are looking inward on mars. This is a mission that is trying to study the interior of mars.” (Full Story)

Three LANL scientists named Fellows by AAAS

From left, Manvendra Dubey, David Janecky and Greg Swift, LANL photos.

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Manvendra Dubey, David Janecky and Greg Swift have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a Fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon Association members by their peers.

“Becoming an AAAS fellow is a tremendous honor. I want to congratulate Manvendra, David and Greg on the recognition,” Laboratory Director Thom Mason said. “Their work has made lasting impacts in climate, oceanic and thermoacoustic science, respectively, and embodies how the Laboratory’s national security mission benefits diverse fields of science.” (Full Story)

Los Alamos startup begins sales of greenhouse product

A toddler plays next to a roll of UbiQD's new greenhouse film, UbiQD photo.

Greenhouse growers can now bathe their crops in yield-boosting, late-summer-like sun rays all year round courtesy of Los Alamos startup Ubiquitous Quantum Dots.

UbiQD uses a copper and zinc base in its manufacturing process, which it licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. LANL recently completed extensive testing for toxicity that showed the product is “extremely safe,” McDaniel said.  (Full Story)

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Using sound to ‘see’ through solid objects

Guest column's author, Christian Pantea, LANL image.

To foil supervillains, Superman relies on his X-ray vision to see through shielded objects to expose dangerous items, such as explosives laced with kryptonite. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, a team of scientists in the Materials Synthesis and Integrated Devices group have invented a technology that works somewhat like Superman’s X-ray vision.

Instead of eye beams, this new technology, known as ACCObeam (Acoustic Collimated Beam), uses a new type of sound beam to pierce through physical barriers such as cement, rock and metal and produce high-resolution images of what lies beyond, be it an explosive hidden in a suitcase or an unstable oil well deep in the earth that could fracture and collapse at any given moment. (Full Story)

Los Alamos, NNSA and Cray deploy Arm supercomputer

Cray XC50, Cray image.

“For too long, the community has been driving for peak operations per watt, while mission-critical, national security applications have extracted fewer usable operations per peak FLOPS (floating-point operations per second) even after spending enormous time and energy revamping applications to mate to machines on this peak FLOPS quest,” Gary Grider, leader of the HPC Division at Los Alamos, said.

“Our focus is on fostering efforts and systems that enable efficient mission-focused computing at extreme scale. The simulations run at Los Alamos use highly irregular data structures that require high-fidelity, multi-physics applications that utilize petascale datasets and workflows for the security of the nation.”(Full Story)

The secret history of plasma weapons

Pre-prototype proof-of-concept PIKL laser, 1992, from Popular Mechanics.

Twenty-five years ago, inside a classified facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, researchers test-fired a new type of laser. The target: a piece of wet chamois leather meant to simulate human skin. The intense laser pulse lasted just a few microseconds, but created a brilliant flash and a loud bang, as though the leather had been hit by an explosive projectile.

Those early 1990s tests were part of the Pentagon's plan to develop a more effective nonlethal way to engage a target—an area where the services have experienced chronic shortcomings. (Full Story)

Quantum computing companies to watch

Super-cooled quantum chip, Rigetti photo.

Founded in 2013, Berkeley startup Rigetti Computing offers a “hybrid quantum computing platform” that’s available now – well, as an invite-only beta. So what have people been doing on the Rigetti platform? Los Alamos National Lab also used the Rigetti platform to learn a quantum algorithm primitive called the SWAP test. It’s detailed in a paper titled “Learning the quantum algorithm for state overlap” which also makes mention of “IBM’s quantum computers." (Full Story)

Physicist Donald Sandoval is a master of the loom

Donald Sandoval is a fifth generation weaver, LANL photo.

Donald Sandoval, of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Primary Physics group, stands before a loom made by his father and weaves a tapestry. The weaving process itself is not too complicated but does take time, so Sandoval’s mind tends to wander. His thoughts often venture to his day job as a mechanical engineer supporting the Lab’s national security mission. Sandoval said he has often solved complicated engineering and mathematical problems while working at the loom. (Full Story)

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