Friday, May 25, 2018

Muons: the little-known particles helping to probe the impenetrable

Deviation muography, Nature illustration.

The muon is going mainstream, last year it helped archaeologists to make a stunning discovery of a previously unknown chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid. An international a meeting in May called Cosmic-ray Muography was sponsored by the Royal Society and held in Newport Pagnell, UK.

In the United States, trials at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have found that similar technology can spot where fuel rods have been removed from casks of spent fuel. Just four stolen fuel rods would provide enough plutonium to build a primitive nuclear weapon, Los Alamos physicist Christopher Morris told the conference. (Full story)

Game-changing neutrino experiments

Illustration from Symmetry.

Neutrinos are known to oscillate between three known types, or flavors, as they move through space: electron, muon and tau. But in 1995, physicists working on the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector, or LSND, at Los Alamos National Laboratory stumbled upon clues that there may be an extra flavor hiding on the sidelines. They called it a “sterile neutrino,” a neutrino flavor that would not interact like the others. (Full story)

Los Alamos thankful for its ability to serve

Lab Director Terry Wallace

The U.S. government announced May 10 its recommended alternative for expanding the nation’s production of plutonium pits – the core of a nuclear weapon. They decided to maintain full-scale pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce 30 pits per year, with a surge capability for more, and to create additional capability at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce an additional 50 pits by 2030. This is the result of the government’s long-term analysis to determine how best to meet the recently released Nuclear Posture Review’s requirement to produce no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030 in support of the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

This represents a big vote of confidence in Los Alamos National Laboratory by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the government agency that runs our national laboratories and other sites across the nation’s nuclear weapons enterprise. To fulfill its mission, the laboratory will need to continue its close partnership with NNSA, its sister laboratories including Sandia and Lawrence Livermore, and the entire nuclear security enterprise – and we are committed to doing just that. (Full story)

NASA looks to send a small nuclear reactor to the moon and Mars

Kilopower, NASA illustration.

The scientists said the results showed the system not only works but can withstand multiple induced failures.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said David Poston, the chief reactor designer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Kilopower project uses nuclear fission — the process in which an atom is split, releasing a tremendous amount of heat energy. Fission is used in nuclear power plants, although the space reactor is not large. (Full story)

Friday, May 18, 2018

‘Explosive’ eruption at Hawaii volcano’s summit shoots ash more than five miles high

Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates. WaPo photo.

Thursday's event was, if not the big one, then certainly a big one, researchers said. As the molten rock dropped below the level of the water table, it's likely that water in the surrounding rock began pouring into the vacated chamber — much the way water rushes to fill a recently dug well, said Charlotte Rowe, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The water would then flash into steam, “and steam as we know is a very powerful source of energy, a very powerful propellant,” Rowe said.

Kilauea has erupted in this manner before. In May 1924, the Hawaii Volcano Observatory reported more than 50 explosive events over the course of two-and-a-half weeks at the volcano's summit.  (Full Story)

Will NASA go nuclear to return to the Moon?

A Kilopower unit on Mars, NASA illustration.

NASA and DoE officials say the reactor is safer than previous generations because of how it works. The fission chain reaction is passively controlled and can even be stopped, using boron control rods and beryllium reflectors. Atom-splitting would not begin until after the reactor is far from Earth.

According to Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the DoE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Under all worst-case situations, we don’t believe there is any chance the reactor would come on accidentally during a launch accident,” he says. (Full Story)

Wallace: Plutonium decision big vote of confidence for Los Alamos National Laboratory

Director Terry Wallace, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Dr. Terry Wallace told Lab staff today in an internal memo obtained by the Los Alamos Daily Post that the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has given the Lab “a big vote of confidence”.

“They are investing an additional $3 billion in new mission space, which includes people, infrastructure and equipment. This is a significant opportunity to continue contributing to the nation’s security by drawing on our unique expertise in plutonium science,” he said. (Full Story)

Neutrons measured with unprecedented precision using a 'magneto-gravitational trap'

The UNCtau 'bottle' trap at LANSCE. LANL photo.

"This is a significant improvement compared to previous experiments," said Chen-Yu Liu, who is a leader on the UNCtau experiment, which uses neutrons from the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center Ultracold Neutron source at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "The data is far more accurate than what we've had before."

The work required five years to design, fabricate, test and install their equipment at the neutron source in Los Alamos, after which the team began to run experiments and collect data. (Full Story)

Also from Space Daily

Los Alamos researchers map how Ebola, Zika attack host cells

Section of Ebola virus forming “spikes” during “pre-fusion” or infection of a host cell. LANL image.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) recently used computer modeling to map the process by which the Ebola and Zika viruses infiltrate host cells.

The researchers, who published their work in the journal Biomolecules, aimed to understand the specific structure-function relationship of the Ebola glycoprotein (EBOV GP) and Zika envelope (ZIKA E) proteins, which enable fusion with the host cell. This improved understanding could aid in the development of vaccines and therapeutic medicines. (Full Story)

Also from Medical News Net

A missing piece in the neutrinoless beta-decay puzzle

Short-range interactions in models of neutrinoless double-beta decay, APS illustration.

The observation of a nuclear process called neutrinoless double-beta decay might help researchers figure out what gives neutrinos their mass and why there’s far more matter than antimatter in the Universe. While this hypothetical decay has never been observed, experiments have placed constraints on the maximum rate at which it could occur.

Now Vincenzo Cirigliano of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and colleagues show that previous calculations of neutrinoless double-beta decay might have neglected a contribution that is critical for interpreting experimental data. (Full Story)

Long-range Wireless Sensor Network hardware

LRWSN hardware, LANL image.       

The Long-range Wireless Sensor Network developed by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and West Virginia University easily, efficiently, and affordably collects, processes, and transmits data in all kinds of rugged and remote outdoor environments.

This invention grew out of the Laboratory’s decades of experience in developing rugged, low-power satellite components for a really remote and harsh environment: space. Now the Lab has applied this expertise to develop these novel long-range wireless sensor networks for harsh environments and low resource situations on earth. (Full Story)

Also from the New Mexican this week:

Los Alamos scientist’s patented radiation detector could boost worker safety

“Lighthouse” radiation detector tested at Trinity Site, LANL photo.    

Jonathan Dowell, who specializes in engineering physics, has patented a radiation-detection device that could make places like the Los Alamos lab safer for workers and also has applications for emergency first responders, security authorities and hospitals.

The small, 11-pound cube, dubbed a “lighthouse” radiation detector, uses a sweeping beam to zero in on radiation sources in seconds to reduce worker exposure. About the size of a jar of peanut butter, the detector can be sent into potentially contaminated areas on hazmat robots and also works as a hand-held device. (Full Story)

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Micro-fission reactor moves closer to powering settlements on Mars

Engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber
around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY
(KRUSTY system). LANL photo.

“We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said David Poston of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the chief reactor designer

KRUSTY is a compact fission reactor that can generate between one and ten kilowatts of electricity continuously for 10 years or more. NASA began building the reactor to support deep space travel in 2015. (Full story)

Feds split ‘pit’ work between LANL and S.C.

The majority of the nation’s production of plutonium cores for nuclear weapons would take place at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina under a plan certified by the Nuclear Weapons Council and announced Thursday, but a lesser number of plutonium “pits” would still be made at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The two-pronged approach “is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking,” according to a statement Thursday by Ellen M. Lord, Department of Defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment and chairwoman of the Nuclear Weapons Council, and Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Department of Energy undersecretary for nuclear security, administrator of the NNSA and a member of NWC. 

“Furthermore, by maintaining Los Alamos as the Nation’s Plutonium Center of Excellence for Research and Development, the recommended alternative improves the resiliency, flexibility, and redundancy of our Nuclear Security Enterprise by not relying on a single production site,” the statement said. (Full story)

Feds: Los Alamos lab to share plutonium work with South Carolina site

Los Alamos National Laboratory is still on track to ramp up its nuclear weapons work, but on a smaller scale than outlined by the Obama administration. Officials for the National Nuclear Security Administration announced Thursday that the agency will set up a larger plutonium-pit production center in South Carolina, and the mission will be split between the two sites.

Under the new plan, as many as 30 pits per year will be produced at Los Alamos, while the Savannah River Site in South Carolina will be tasked with producing at least 50 pits per year. (Full story)

Neutron decay may hint at dark matter

Decay of neutrons into dark matter particles
could solve a long-standing discrepancy, UCSD image.

Neutrons decay within about 14.5 min, but their exact lifetime is still debated, as two types of neutron decay experiments give conflicting results.

Christopher Morris from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and colleagues monitored the gamma-ray emission from a bottle of ultracold neutrons. They didn’t find any signal, appearing to rule out this proposed decay channel in the photon energy range of 782 to 1664 keV. (Full story)

Los Alamos Scientists attack load balancing challenge

The merger of neutron stars is simulated using
the 3-D code SNSPH.

Simulating complex systems on supercomputers requires that scientists get hundreds of thousands, even millions of processor cores working together in parallel. Managing cooperation on this scale is no simple task.

To solve these load imbalances, Christoph Junghans, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and his colleagues are developing algorithms with many applications across high-performance computing (HPC). (Full story)

Los Alamos rolls out biodefense program with University of Nebraska

Harshini Mukundan, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with the University of Nebraska to boost educational opportunities for students looking to embark on a career in the field of biodefense.

The partnership was arranged when the two institutions attended a meeting arranged by the National Strategic Research Institute.

“You can develop solutions through partnerships. You can accomplish much more as a whole than by working alone,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and partnership coordinator Harshini Mukundan, Ph.D. (Full story)

Los Alamos High School students take awards at state Supercomputing Challenge

Lillian Petersen with her award, LADP photo.

Several Los Alamos High School students joined 56 other teams representing 26 schools from around the state April 24 in Los Alamos for the 28th Annual Supercomputing Challenge.

LAHS sophomore Lillian Petersen won second place for her project, “Predicting Food Shortages in Africa from Satellite Imagery.” Her program predicts crop yields so that international aid organizations can be better prepared for humanitarian relief operations.

Elijah Pelofske, an LAHS junior, won third place for his “RSA Based Primality Test” project. Elijah says, “Efficient and accurate primality testing is a key mechanism used to ensure digital security in the modern world.” (Full story)