Friday, April 27, 2018

Supercomputers Tackle Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Superbugs’

Acne, bronchitis, pink eye, ear infections, and sexually transmitted diseases are just a few of the illnesses treatable by antibiotics — assuming that the bacteria that cause these illnesses are not resistant to antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to public health, occurs when antibiotics are unable to kill the bacteria causing an infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. (Full story)


Earth-modeling System steps up to Exascale

A new Earth-modeling system unveiled today will have
weather-scale resolution and use advanced computers
to simulate aspects of Earth.

E3SM is a state-of-the-science modeling project that uses the world’s fastest computers to more accurately understand how Earth’s climate work and can evolve into the future. The goal: to support DOE’s mission to plan for robust, efficient, and cost-effective energy infrastructures now, and into the distant future.

This multilaboratory effort will be a huge advance in our already important capabilities for Earth-systems modeling and energy-related analysis,” said John Sarrao, Principal Associate Director for Science, Technology and Engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Our laboratory, along with our sister institutions, has made significant contributions to Earth-systems modeling over the previous decades, but this latest contribution takes our work to an entirely new level.” (Full story)

‘SuperCam’ Update: Multi-purpose Instrument Coming Together for 2020 Launch to Mars

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s SuperCam instrument will have both infrared and green laser beams for remote analysis of chemistry by laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and mineral analyses with remote Raman spectroscopy. The red and green beams are fired at different times. The various green beams represent a scan of the target, performed using sequential laser pulses. 

Excitement is building within the SuperCam team as the instrument enters the final stages of assembly and testing toward an anticipated launch aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Just this month, the two major parts of an advanced engineering model were delivered and integrated for realistic performance testing. (Full story)

Nipping frost in the bud
Tirtha Banerjee

Weather in high-elevation terrain makes northern New Mexico a challenging place to grow an orchard with apples, apricots, cherries or peaches for market. Such a landscape creates significant daily temperature swings with frosts occurring late into the spring, resulting in challenging conditions for fruit growing.

Changes in climate patterns add to these challenges. In particular, warm periods arrive earlier in the spring, causing the budding process in fruit trees to start earlier. This leads to two disadvantages for the tree: first, warmer nights can prevent internal processes in plants that harden the buds to withstand late-season frosts. In a compounding effect, the less hardy buds still have to contend with late-season frosts. In Albuquerque and Santa Fe, for example, there is no evidence that the last frost date is moving earlier in the year. (Full story)

Science Cafe Spotlights Mars Curiosity Scientist
Roger Wiens

WSIU's Jennifer Fuller talks with Los Alamos National Laboratory Scientist Roger Wiens about his ChemCam, the Mars Rover Mission, and more ahead of his visit to The Science Center of Southern Illinois for this month's Science Cafe. (Full story)

Science Fairness
Students watch a science demonstration at the 2017
Summer Physics Camp for Young Women.
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Anna Llobet Megias heard the call and last year created a physics camp for young women, which is currently accepting applicants for its second season this summer. A scientist in the lab's Neutron Science and Technology group, Llobet Megias said the camp grew out of the awareness of the need to provide STEM education opportunities for young women combined with an assessment of what specific needs exist in Northern New Mexico.

The camp is ambitious, providing a variety of activities, talks and opportunities. Last summer, Llobet Megias says, participants designed rockets, experimented with optics, and learned about electromagnetism from super conductors. They had lectures on everything from the Mars rover to coding. Attendees also visit LANL on a field trip. (Full story)

Friday, April 20, 2018

 Going with the gut


Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Columbia University image.

The gut – a.k.a. the gastrointestinal tract that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus – contains trillions of bacterial cells. A majority are good bacteria that reside in the nearly 30 feet of the large and small intestines. These good bacteria are responsible for a person’s overall health. But sometimes a harmful bacterium called Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infects the gut.

But what if scientists could identify and isolate the bacteria in a fecal sample that inhibit C. diff and then put just those bacteria into a pill or drink? That’s exactly what my colleagues and I are working on at Los Alamos National Laboratory: pulling together bacteria into a super-powerful cocktail that washes out the infection. The work exploits the Laboratory’s extensive biological research efforts developed in support of our national security mission. (Full Story)

One step closer to understanding explosive sensitivity with molecule design

A small amount of “edited” PETN explosive undergoes an energetic reaction during an impact drop test, LANL photo.

Explosives have an inherent problem – they should be perfectly safe for handling and storage but detonate reliably on demand. Using computer modeling and a novel molecule design technique, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have replaced one “arm” of an explosive molecule to help unravel the first steps in the detonation process and better understand its sensitivity — how easily it begins a violent reaction.

"It started out with, can we take a common initiating explosive PentaErythritol TetraNitrate (PETN) and replace parts of it to change sensitivity properties," said explosives chemist Virginia Manner. (Full Story)

Also from Chem Europe

LANL scientists honored for exceptional work

Laboratory Director Terry C. Wallace, Jr., presents Howard Menlove with the Los Alamos Medal, LANL photo.         

Four Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists were honored at the Los Alamos Medal ceremony April 12 for their distinguished achievements that have impacted the success of the laboratory and the nation, either through mission accomplishments or enhancing the laboratory’s distinction.

This year, the Medals were awarded to Howard Menlove, who helped establish the laboratory’s technical expertise in nuclear safeguards and nonproliferation that became the foundation for international nonproliferation programs; and three members of the Human Genome Project team at Los Alamos – Scott Cram, Larry Deaven, and Robert Moyzis – who were instrumental in motivating the Department of Energy to formally initiate the Human Genome Project in 1987. (Full Story)

Also from the Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Terry Wallace speaks to community leaders

Terry Wallace, center, chats with Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and Santa Fe Community College President Dr. Cecilia Cervantes, Daily Post photo.

LANL Director Dr. Terry Wallace explained that he graduated from Los Alamos High School, got his undergraduate degrees at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and was a professor “somewhere else” for 20 years, but that he always got to work with Los Alamos and knew he would get to return 16 years ago.

“We’re 75 years in but we’re at the center of some extraordinary things that are happening around the country and the world, and some of these things are some great anxiety-producing events. But we’re here to do the business of that country in terms of national security,” he said. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

LANL wildland fire manager discusses drought

Los Alamos National Laboratory wildland fire manager Manny L'Esperance

“I don’t think I’m going to surprise anybody when I tell you what the current conditions are,” Los Alamos National Laboratory Wildland Fire Manager Manny L’Esperance said Monday evening at a Science on Tap event at UnQuarked in Central Park Square.

“We’re in the midst of a drought that appears to be getting worse and I don’t know what you folks think about climate change but this drought, every year we hear it’s getting worse. We are seeing fire behavior that we have never seen before and this year’s no different,” he said. (Full Story)

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Preventing a cyber zombie apocalypse

Cybercrime rates are on the rise, but what exactly does that mean? Cybercrime is any sort of crime using a computer—simple enough. And now that most people in the United States have a computer or access to one, cybercrime is more common than ever.

Say, for instance, someone wanted to take down a popular website through what’s called a distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack. An example of this is the 2016 DDoS attack on the internet performance management company DYN that temporarily took down more than 75 major websites.

Attacks like these are the reason Los Alamos National Laboratory has been working on cybersecurity techniques, processes and tools to prevent and detect cyberattacks. (Full story)

Muons for nuclear waste inspection

Muons check for missing spent fuel
rods. LANL image.

Waste nuclear-fuel rods are typically stored in 3-m-diameter steel casks that hold between 20 and 30 fuel-rod bundles. But once a cask is sealed, there is no way to check how many bundles are inside or, importantly, whether any are missing, without opening it. Now J. Matthew Durham of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and colleagues have shown that this problem can be solved by monitoring the paths of cosmic-ray muons passing through a cask. They say that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors could use the method to verify that nuclear fuel isn’t being diverted from nuclear storage facilities. (Full story)

Understanding a cell's 'doorbell'

Calcium bridges two parts of a cell receptor,
possibly regulating its activity. LANL image.

A multi-institutional project to understand one of the major targets of human drug design has produced new insights into how structural communication works in a cell component called a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCRs), basically a "doorbell" structure that alerts the cell of important molecules nearby. Understanding the structure and function of the receptor more deeply will enable better drug development.

"It's a huge field of active research in academia and industry because if we can figure out precisely how GPCRs work, then we can more easily design drugs to change their behavior and thereby control pain, hunger, and more," said coauthor Christopher Neale, a researcher with the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

Scientists record unprecedented neutrino measurement

Fermilab's MiniBooNE detector features hundreds
of photodetectors, FermiLab photo.

Neutrinos are produced from the decay of particles called kaons. Decaying kaons yield muon neutrinos with a range of energies. But using conservation of energy and momentum principles, scientists determined that muon neutrinos produced by kaon-at-rest decay would have the precise energy of 236 million electronvolts.

"It is not often in neutrino physics that you know the energy of the incoming neutrino," said Richard Van De Water, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "With the first observation by MiniBooNE of monoenergetic muon neutrinos from kaon decay, we can study the charged current interactions with a known probe that enable theorists to improve their cross section models. (Full story)

3D printing saves the world

Bryce Tappan (left) and Alex Mueller (right)
watch as a 3D printer produces a little cone
of mock explosive material. LANL photo.

A paper from the Los Alamos National Laboratory details how Alex Mueller is leading a team to create the next-generation of explosives using 3D printing. By examining the microstructure and manipulating internal hollow spaces of TNT, the scientists are trying to control and tailor a new form of explosives.

Making an explosive more difficult to detonate when there’s an accident also makes it more difficult to detonate intentionally. The behavior of explosives such as TNT is largely controlled through hot spots. Introducing inclusions, such as air bubbles, into TNT will trap air inside, causing it to compress and rapidly heat up. (Full story)

Friday, April 6, 2018


Finding order in disorder demonstrates a new state of matter

 Cristiano Nisoli. LANL photo.

Physicists have identified a new state of matter whose structural order operates by rules more aligned with quantum mechanics than standard thermodynamic theory. In a classical material called artificial spin ice, which in certain phases appears disordered, the material is actually ordered, but in a “topological” form.

"Our research shows for the first time that classical systems such as artificial spin ice can be designed to demonstrate topological ordered phases, which previously have been found only in quantum conditions," said Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Cristiano Nisoli. (Full Story)

Also from Science Alert

Light 'relaxes' crystal to boost solar cell efficiency

Constant illumination was found to relax the lattice of a perovskite-like material, Rice/LANL image.

Some materials are like people. Let them relax in the sun for a little while and they perform a lot better. A collaboration led by Rice University and Los Alamos National Laboratory found that to be the case with a perovskite compound touted as an efficient material to collect sunlight and convert it into energy.

The researchers led by Aditya Mohite, a staff scientist at Los Alamos who will soon become a professor at Rice; Wanyi Nie, also a staff scientist at Los Alamos, and lead author and Rice graduate student Hsinhan (Dave) Tsai discovered that constant illumination relaxes strain in perovskite's crystal lattice, allowing it to uniformly expand in all directions. (Full Story)

Overcoming the ‘space factor’

Erin Quinn.  LANL photo.

Whenever an instrument is sent into space, worries abound. As if the launch were not risky enough (with the threat of explosion on the launch pad or the extreme vibrations shaking parts loose), a host of other threats emerge once the spacecraft safely reaches orbit.

That is where software developers like Erin Quinn come in. Quinn works in Space Data Science and Systems group on the ground support equipment for the Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System (SABRS), one of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s satellite-borne treaty-monitoring payloads. (Full Story)

Site of El Niño origin affects carbon cycle response

Time lags for individual El Niño events. ERL Image.

Researchers in the US have found that El Niños originating in the eastern tropical Pacific take longer to generate a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations than those initiated in the central tropical Pacific.

The results should enable scientists to better constrain the effects of El Niños in climate models.

"The time lag can be used to form a reasonable hypothesis about the way vegetation reacts to the El Niño effects," said Petr Chylek of Los Alamos National Laboratory, US. (Full Story)

Report: NM could nearly triple solar jobs

Testing the UbiQD solar window, from UbiQD.

With the right strategies, New Mexico could become a bustling hub for developing and building novel, cutting-edge solar technologies, according to a new study by the California-based American Jobs Project.

Ubiquitous Quantum Dots is using technology from Los Alamos National Laboratory to create an electric-generating coating for windows that can channel photons from sunlight to PV cells attached to window frames. (Full Story)

NSF ‘supermagnet’ laboratory receives $184 million renewal

100T magnet at Los Alamos, LANL photo.

The National Science Foundation has renewed support for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory with $184 million over the next five years, a funding increase of more than 9 percent over the last funding period.

At its Los Alamos facility the lab has created a magnet that can repeatedly produce a magnetic field of 100 Tesla -- 2 million times stronger than the Earth’s. The magnet is the only one of its kind that can produce fields of that strength without exploding. (Full Story)

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