Friday, March 30, 2018

Underground neutrino experiment sets the stage for deep discovery about matter

Researchers work on the delicate wiring of a cryostat,
which is like a thermos under vacuum that chills the detectors
that are the heart of the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR.

If equal amounts of matter and antimatter had formed in the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago, one would have annihilated the other upon meeting, and today's universe would be full of energy but no matter to form stars, planets and life. Yet matter exists now. That fact suggests something is wrong with Standard Model equations describing symmetry between subatomic particles and their antiparticles. In a study published in Physical Review Letters, collaborators of the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR, an experiment led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have shown they can shield a sensitive, scalable 44-kilogram germanium detector array from background radioactivity. (Full story)

Self-assembling, tunable interfaces found in quantum materials

A Graphic of a spontaneously emerging
interface in a quantum material.

A potential revolution in device engineering could be underway, thanks to the discovery of functional electronic interfaces in quantum materials that can self-assemble spontaneously.

"This illustrates that if we can learn to control and exploit the remarkable properties at the interfaces of quantum materials, this will likely result in a new generation of devices beyond our current imagination," said Marc Janoschek, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who, with David Fobes, also of Los Alamos, co-led the international research team making the discovery. Their findings were published today in Nature Physics. "However, because quantum materials are chemically much more complex compared to 'conventional' materials such as semiconductors, it remains a challenge to fabricate clean quantum material interfaces." (Full story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist invents “lighthouse” radiation detector

A small, fast and accurate novel radiation
detector developed at Los Alamos.

Los Alamos National Laboratory recently unveiled a new smaller radiation detector invented at the lab that uses a sweeping beam to quickly pinpoint a radiation source to reduce radiation exposure risks for workers.

The detectors use directional sensors to scan through a narrow angle looking for radiation. LANL uses the devices aboard HAZMAT robots for emergency response and to conduct geologic surveys. (Full story)

LANL: Public Lectures Explore Powering Space Missions On Mars Begin April 2

Artist's illustration of the umbrella-like heat
radiators of four Kilopower nuclear reactors.

Los Alamos nuclear scientists Patrick McClure and David Poston will discuss the small nuclear reactor developed at the Laboratory to power missions on Mars during three Frontiers in Science lectures beginning April 2.

“When we imagine sending humans to live on Mars, the moon or other planets in the not-so-distant future, a key question is: what kind of power source is small yet potent enough to reliably power an extraterrestrial habitat, and also make fuel for the trip home?” McClure said.

The project, known as Kilopower, is being developed in conjunction with NASA. In the talk, Los Alamos project lead McClure and chief reactor designer Poston will address the design and testing of the reactor, and its possible use for a range of applications in space exploration. (Full story)

Friday, March 23, 2018

How quantum computing will affect global finance

John Sarrao, LANL photo.

“We’re seeing the convergence of better algorithmic efficiency on one hand, and better qubits on the other”, says John Sarrao, associate director for theory, simulation and computation at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Whatever the future of quantum computers may be, the power of change will not only be derived from the hardware itself, but also from the algorithms that can be executed. While there are huge opportunities to utilise these algorithms for functions similar to those executed in the present day IT landscape, there are also great opportunities to develop a new breed of algorithms for completely new use cases. (Full Story)

Black hole pretenders could really be bizarre quantum stars

Gravastar, NASA illustration.

New research from theoretical physicist Raúl Carballo-Rubio at the International School for Advanced Studies in Italy provides a novel mechanism that might allow black stars and gravastars to exist.

“This work is interesting and worthwhile, showing that new kinds of solutions can exist to Einstein's equations which are not black holes,” says research physicist Emil Mottola at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who was not involved in the study. (Full Story)


Tracking seasonal sea ice in real time

Sea ice is seen from NASA's Operation IceBridge.

In the 1990s, Elizabeth Hunke, a developer at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, created the model we use today to predict sea ice patterns in the Far North. Scientists input information on wind direction, ocean currents, air temperature, solar radiation, humidity, and sea surface temperature, and then see what the model churns out.

"Typically, we run it alongside an atmospheric model or with an ocean model," Hunke said. Primarily, the model predicts the melting and growing of the sea ice, and the motion of the sea ice—how wind and ocean currents are pushing the ice around. (Full Story)

A slow neutron beats a flipping fast bit

The article’s authors Suzanne Nowicki and Nathan DeBardeleben, LANL photo.

Once every minute and for no good reason, a bit flips in a supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, causing an error. All of a sudden, say, 1 + 1 = 3.


Bits are the basic currency of all digital information. They come in two flavors, zeroes and ones. As a computer does its work, bits are called from disk storage, zip through processors and park temporarily in memory. When a bit randomly jumps from 0 to 1, it might alter a calculation or hide a piece of information. Computer engineers call it a single-event upset or a fault. (Full Story)

‘Lighthouse’ detectors minimize exposure to dangerous radiation

A small, fast and accurate radiation detector, LANL photo.

Innovative “lighthouse” detectors that use a sweeping beam to pinpoint a radiation source in seconds are reducing  exposure for workers and opening up new areas for robotic monitoring to avoid potential hazards.

“It’s easier to find a needle in a haystack if the haystack is small,” said detector inventor Jonathan Dowell, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory releases file index product to software community

Trinity Supercomputer, LANL image.

Resolving the supercomputer challenge of searching and retrieving files could now be far simpler, with a tool developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and released today to the GitHub open-source software site.

The Grand Unified File Index (GUFI) is designed using a new, hierarchical approach to storing file metadata, allowing rapid  parallel searches across many internal databases. Queries that would previously have taken hours or days can now be run in seconds. (Full Story)

Three more stories from the Post this week:

BSMA thanks Los Alamos National Laboratory and community for supporting STEM education

Director Terry Wallace buys 75th anniversary Memorabilia at the Bradbury Science Museum.

The Bradbury Science Museum Association (BSMA) wishes to thank Los Alamos National Laboratory and the community for supporting STEM education outreach efforts in northern New Mexico.

The (BSMA) and the Laboratory hosted a 75th Anniversary merchandise launch Tuesday at the Bradbury Science Museum with all proceeds benefiting STEM education outreach.

“The response was overwhelming!” Shari Foley, BSMA Gadgets Gift Shop manager, said. “We are so please with the response to the 75th Anniversary products. We’ve sold out and have more on the way.” (Full Story)

LANL Archives Preserve History

Alan Carr, Christopher C’de Baca and County Council Chair David Izraelevitz during a recent meeting at the Los Alamos Daily Post.

A treasure trove of historical documents and data is preserved in the Archives at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Deputy Group Leader for the Records Management Group Christopher C’de Baca and LANL Historian Alan Carr recently visited the Los Alamos Daily Post to share some of that history. They brought along several spy related items including the original personnel questionnaires of two of the four spies associated with the Lab.

“In the archives we have about 12,000 cubic feet of records,” C’de Baca said, adding that the archive facility occupies a space about the size of a basketball court. (Full Story)

Lab Profile: Jim Stein lives life to the fullest, camera in hand

Jim Stein has a passion for photography.
As a child, Jim Stein, of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Quality & Performance Assurance Division, loved poring over the awe-inspiring photos of National Geographic magazine. With a small camera his parents bought for him, his passion for photography was ignited.

“I started playing around with the camera like I was a Nat Geo photographer,” he said. “And although I really was pretty awful, I’ve been hooked ever since.” (Full Story)

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Friday, March 16, 2018

SMART cables: A new undersea look at earthquakes

Seismic stations record earthquake
activity around the world, LANL image.

An international joint task force is exploring the use of special underwater telecommunications cables to gather geophysical data. Currently, more than 600,000 miles of underwater cables crisscross the ocean floor, but they are deaf, dumb, and blind in the sense that they carry massive amounts of data (such as financial transactions and internet) from end to end, but do little else in between.

The task force, of which Los Alamos National Laboratory is a part, is proposing the next generation of cables, called Science Monitoring and Reliable Telecommunication (SMART) cables, which would be outfitted with scientific sensors every 50 miles or so. (Full story)

Researchers study fundamental interactions in soil communities

Bacteria dot the surface of strands of
fungal hyphae, USDA image.            

An international team of researchers is looking at how bacteria and fungi interact in soil, fundamental scientific research that could lead to advances in plant productivity and bioenergy. The work is led by Patrick Chain, lab research manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and includes researchers from the national lab’s Bioscience Division and the Center for Integrated NanoTechnologies; Vanderbilt University; and the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, and University of Houston. (Full story)

National Science Foundation awards UbiQD Phase II SBIR Grant

UbiQD team members measure the
electrical output of a window prototype,
UbiQD photo.

UbiQD, Inc., a New Mexico-based nanotechnology development company, announced today that it was recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

UbiQD is a nanotechnology company based in Los Alamos, New Mexico that manufactures high-performance cadmium-free quantum dots and composite materials. The company’s primary focus is on sunlight-harvesting applications. (Full story)

My internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Frances Zengotita (left) with Dr. Hilary
Emerson, from FIU News.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Frances Zengotita researched the role of Chromohalobacter (a bacterium that can thrive in high salt concentrations) and its potential effect on the transportation of hazardous material in the environment.

She was awarded the internship by the Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (DOE-EM) through the FIU DOE Fellows Program that is housed within the Applied Research Center.

Additionally, as an FIU McNair Fellow the program guided and supported Zengotita by preparing for research via workshops (GRE, NSF proposals, how to apply for graduate school, how to write research reports) and requiring weekly reports to ensure that she was on track. (Full story)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Los Alamos National Lab unveils 21st Century radioactivity sensors

Jonathan Dowell with a Gamma Lighthouse Detector mounted on a HAZMAT robot, LANL photo.

For the future of radioactivity detection, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory looked to nautical history of past centuries.

The “lighthouse detectors,” which are a product of more than six years of development by inventor Jonathan Dowell and colleagues at Los Alamos, adapted the concept of the old-time nautical warning system. But instead of warning sailors away from the hazards of shore, the advanced new tools can alert the presence and direction of radioactivity.

The detectors, which have been honed in size by 80 percent, are now about the size of a peanut butter jar, said officials. (Full Story)

“Let’s Talk Exascale” podcast looks at co-design center for particle-based applications

Tim Germann.

In this Let’s Talk Exascale podcast, Tim Germann from Los Alamos National Laboratory discusses the ECP’s Co-Design Center for Particle Applications (COPA).

“The Co-Design Center for Particle Applications (COPA) is focused on four sub-motifs: short-range particle-particle (e.g., MD and SPH), long-range particle-particle (e.g., electrostatic and gravitational), particle-in-cell, and additional sparse matrix and graph operations of linear-scaling quantum MD. COPA serves as centralized clearinghouse for particle-based methods, and as first users on immature simulators, emulators, and prototype hardware. Deliverables include “Numerical Recipes for Particles” best practices, libraries, and a scalable open exascale software platform.” (Full Story)

Catalysts: high performance lies on the edge

Single iron atoms (bright dots) on nanostructured carbon (dark purple), ORNL photo.

Platinum is not an abundant element, but it is a popular catalyst. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory synthesized a catalyst made from iron, nickel, and carbon. No platinum. The catalyst had the highest activity to date for a platinum group metal (PGM)-free material used in fuel cells. Experiments showed that the iron-nitrogen reactive sites were predominantly located at the surface-exposed edges, or steps, of the carbon. The reactive sites were not inside the carbon as previously predicted.

Atomic-level microscopy offers insight into the success of a PGM-free alternative. It’s based on cheap, abundant elements—iron, nitrogen, and carbon. The insights are guiding future research and development of high-performance PGM-free catalysts. (Full Story)

Students test robot-building skills

Members of the Española Middle School SumoBot team. SUN photo.

Huddled around a series of laptops arranged on two tables pushed together, 13 students from Española Middle School watched as fellow seventh-grader Marcos Johnson Cuevas adjusted a line of code that would change the behavior of the robot they had been working on since the beginning of the semester.

Each Friday, since the beginning of January, Matthew Williams, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and former member of the Los Alamos Public Schools Board of Education, came to Espinoza’s and Abergos’s classes to help them design and build their robot. (Full Story)

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Kilowatt nuclear reactor could play role in powering manned missions on Mars

LANL’s Dave Poston on News 8.

“Power is really the lifeblood exploration,” said Dr. David Poston, Chief Reactor Designer, Los Alamos National Laboratory. As humans prepare to venture out farther into the final frontier, the name of the game is nuclear fission.

"We had to show NASA that we could do this affordably within a schedule that's reasonable for them, and that's the whole basis of this project," Dr. Poston said.

"Completely throughout the Martian day, completely through a dust storm, you would never have to worry about either the astronauts or anyone, or making fuel, that lack of power that might disrupt things," said Patrick McClure Los Alamos Laboratory project lead. (Full story)

Space has weather, too

NASA is studying how high-energy particles warp certain layers of Earth's atmosphere, NASA illustration.

An extra-extra-large sun burp could induce electrical currents in the ground on Earth. That means hyper-charged power lines and blown out transformers, effectively causing blackouts like Quebec’s in 1989, which lasted 12 hours.

“A worst-case scenario could be potentially really, really bad,” says Geoff Reeves, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Billions of dollars, much of the country without power for weeks or months. It could be kind of what we’re seeing in Puerto Rico with the hurricane damage.” (Full story)

Computers learn to imagine the future

Predicting the future comes natural for people, not so for computers, from Discover.

Humans can tell a moving car from the static background and predict where the car will be in the next half-second. Challenges like these, and far more complex ones, expose the limitations in our ability to make computers think like people do. But recent research at Los Alamos National Laboratory is changing all that.

Brain neuroscientists and computer scientists call this field neuromimetic computing – building computers inspired by how the cerebral cortex works. The cerebral cortex relies on billions of small biological “processors” called neurons. (Full story)

Flu season may have peaked but activity remains "elevated"

Influenza virus.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, says they've found social media to be helpful in their forecasting — although they still conduct one forecast using traditional methods and one that adds social media input (this year, they are using Google health trends).

For this year, David Osthus, leader of the LANL's forecasting team, says their short-term forecast for the peak week was: 40% Feb. 3, 40% Feb. 10, and 10% Feb. 17. "Looks like the forecast was correct," he says. (Full story)

Researchers discover novel exciton interactions in carbon nanotubes

Spectroscopic characterization of
carbon nanotubes, LANL photo.

Nanotechnology researchers studying small bundles of carbon nanotubes have discovered an optical signature showing excitons bound to a single nanotube are accompanied by excitons tunneling across closely interacting nanotubes.

"Observing this behavior in carbon nanotubes suggests there is potential to detect and control a similar response in more complex, multi-layered semiconductor and semiconductor-metal heterostructures," said Stephen Doorn, of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos and a coauthor of the study. (Full story)

Catalysts: High performance lies on the edge

Dispersion of single iron atoms (bright dots)
supported on nanostructured carbon (dark purple). ORNL image.

Platinum is not an abundant element, but it is a popular catalyst. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory synthesized a catalyst made from iron, nickel, and carbon. No platinum. The catalyst had the highest activity to date for a platinum group metal (PGM)-free material used in fuel cells. Experiments showed that the iron-nitrogen reactive sites were predominantly located at the surface-exposed edges, or steps, of the carbon. The reactive sites were not inside the carbon as previously predicted. (Full story)

Remembering really fast

Interactions of terahertz pulses (pink)
with a vertically aligned nanocomposite,
LANL graphic.

Electronics could work faster if they could read and write data at terahertz frequency, rather than at a few gigahertz. Creating such devices would be eased with materials that can undergo a huge change in how easily they conducted electricity in response to a magnetic field at room temperature.

Scientists believe thin films of perovskite oxides hold promise for such uses. However, such behavior has never been seen at these frequencies in these films. Until now. Via terahertz pulses, scientists at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos and in the United Kingdom discovered colossal changes in electricity’s flow at the desired frequencies and temperature. (Full story)