Friday, October 26, 2018

A.I. Is Helping Scientists Predict When and Where the Next Big Earthquake Will Be

Image Credit: Jean-Francois Podevin

Countless dollars and entire scientific careers have been dedicated to predicting where and when the next big earthquake will strike. But unlike weather forecasting, which has significantly improved with the use of better satellites and more powerful mathematical models, earthquake prediction has been marred by repeated failure. Some of the world’s most destructive earthquakes — China in 2008, Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011, among them — occurred in areas that seismic hazard maps had deemed relatively safe. The last large earthquake to strike Los Angeles, Northridge in 1994, occurred on a fault that did not appear on seismic maps.

Now, with the help of artificial intelligence, a growing number of scientists say changes in the way they can analyze massive amounts of seismic data can help them better understand earthquakes, anticipate how they will behave, and provide quicker and more accurate early warnings.

“I am actually hopeful for the first time in my career that we will make progress on this problem,” said Paul Johnson, a fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who is among those at the forefront of this research. (Full story)

Oxygen-Rich Liquid Water May Exist on Mars

Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech and University of Arizona

The possibility of life on Mars may not be consigned to the distant past. New research suggests our neighboring world could hide enough oxygen in briny liquid water near its surface to support microbial life, opening up a wealth of potentially habitable regions across the entire planet. Although the findings do not directly measure the oxygen content of brines known to exist on the Red Planet, they constitute an important step toward determining where life could exist there today.

And while the model-based results might seem quite speculative, they do align with otherwise- mysterious in-situ findings on Mars. NASA's Curiosity rover has identified rocks rich in the element manganese, which likely required significant oxygen to form.

"Manganese deposition on Earth is really closely associated with life, both indirectly and directly," says Nina Lanza, a planetary geologist at Los Alamos National Research Laboratory in New Mexico. (Full story)

How Quantum Mechanics Lets Us See, Smell and Touch

Credit: Discover Magazine

Our eyes have evolved to be exquisitely sensitive to these photons. Some recent experiments have shown that we can even detect single photons, which raises an intriguing possibility: Could humans be used to test some of the weird features of quantum mechanics? That is, could a person — like a photon or an electron or Schrödinger’s hapless cat, dead and alive at the same time — directly engage with the quantum world? What might such an experience be like?

“We don’t know because no one has tried it,” says Rebecca Holmes, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Three years ago, when she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Holmes was part of a team led by Paul Kwiat that showed people could detect short bursts of light consisting of just three photons. In 2016, a competing group of researchers, led by physicist Alipasha Vaziri at Rockefeller University in New York, found that humans can indeed see single photons. Seeing, though, might not accurately describe the experience. Vaziri, who tried out the photon-glimpsing himself, told the journal Nature, “It’s not like seeing light. It’s almost a feeling, at the threshold of imagination.” (Full story)

Modeling a better burn to boost engine performance

David Carrington and Jiajia Waters

In the United States alone, more than 250 million vehicles rely on the tried-and-true internal combustion engine. However, there’s always room for improvement, particularly when it comes to better engine performance. With gasoline and diesel becoming more expensive, and alternative fuels still experimental, vehicle manufacturers around the world are investing time and effort studying how to improve these familiar motors.

Engine designers are particularly interested in turbulence – the swirling, violent confusion that results from mixing fuel with gases – when fuel burns. By better understanding and thus better predicting the effects of turbulence on the energy efficiency of an engine, researchers hope to better predict and thus manipulate fluid dynamics to improve engine performance. (Full story)

Artificial Intelligence Being Trained to Combat Deepfakes

Credit: Science Trends

Deepfake programs are capable of merging different images together into a video, compositing images of one person onto another person, for instance. These programs can be used to make powerful and influential people, like politicians, appear to say things they didn’t actually say. These programs operate by analyzing thousands of images of a person from different angles, saying different things, wearing different facial expressions, and learning the features that define the person.

The Los Alamos National Lab has an entire division dedicated to digital forensics research, and the digital forensics team there combines expertise from many different disciplines to detect fake videos. Los Alamos’ stated goal is “to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.” One method of fake detection the team is working on is a method that analyzes “compressibility”. An image’s compressibility refers to how much information is within the image, and if there are incongruities between the actual amount of information within it and how much there seems to be, this can suggest a fake.

“Basically, we start with the idea that all of these AI generators of images have a limited set of things they can generate. So even if an image looks really complex to you or me just looking at it, there’s some pretty repeatable structure,” cyber scientist Justin Moore said to Wired. (full story)

Sandia, Los Alamos labs get funding for quantum research

Two national laboratories based in New Mexico have been awarded $8 million by the U.S. Energy Department to study the fundamental physics of all matter.

The award will fund two three-year projects focused on quantum research at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies. Scientists from Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories will be able to build advanced tools for nanotechnology research and development. Officials say funding also will provide opportunities for researchers outside the labs to benefit from the new technologies. (Full story)

Layered core could be key to longer-lasting fuel cells

One factor holding back the widespread use of eco-friendly hydrogen fuel cells in cars, trucks, and other vehicles is the cost of the platinum catalysts that make the cells work. One approach to using less precious platinum is to combine it with other cheaper metals, but those alloy catalysts tend to degrade quickly in fuel cell conditions.

The new catalyst, made from alloying platinum with cobalt in nanoparticles, also beats US Department of Energy (DOE) targets for the year 2020 in both reactivity and durability, according to tests researchers describe in the journal Joule.  To find out how well the catalyst would hold up in that environment, the researchers sent the catalyst to the Los Alamos National Lab for testing in an actual fuel cell. (Full story)

Friday, October 19, 2018

LANL scientist Bette Korber honored for work on HIV vaccine

Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been named scientist of the year by R&D magazine, for her innovative “mosaic” design for an HIV vaccine.

“We selected Bette as our 2018 Scientist of the Year to recognize not only her groundbreaking contribution to the mosaic vaccine and the fight against HIV, but also for her continued commitment to trying new and innovative scientific approaches,” said Bea Riemschneider, the magazine’s editorial director. (Full Story)

Also from Laboratory Equipment

Three Los Alamos Medal winners changed the course of science

From left, Paul Whalen, Geoffrey West and John M. Pedicini, LANL photo.          

Los Alamos National Laboratory today announced that three individuals have been awarded the Los Alamos Medal, the Laboratory’s highest honor, for groundbreaking contributions to science and national security. John M. Pedicini, Paul Whalen and Geoffrey West were selected for their distinguished achievements that have impacted the success of the Laboratory, either through mission accomplishments or enhancing the Laboratory’s distinction. (Full Story)

These new tricks can outsmart deepfake videos—for now

Deepfakes could have a profound effect on courts, from Wired.

Over at Los Alamos National Lab, cyber scientist Juston Moore’s visions of potential futures are a little more vivid. Like this one: Tell an algorithm you want a picture of Moore robbing a drugstore; implant it in that establishment’s security footage; send him to jail. In other words, he's worried that if evidentiary standards don’t (or can’t) evolve with the fabricated times, people could easily be framed. And if courts don't think they can rely on visual data, they might also throw out legitimate evidence. (Full Story)

Arctic greening thaws permafrost, boosts runoff

Arctic researchers dig deep snow pits to understand the warming effect of snow-shrub interactions on underlying permafrost. LANL photo.

A new collaborative study has investigated Arctic shrub-snow interactions to obtain a better understanding of the far north's tundra and vast permafrost system. Incorporating extensive in situ observations, Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists tested their theories with a novel 3D computer model and confirmed that shrubs can lead to significant degradation of the permafrost layer that has remained frozen for tens of thousands of years. These interactions are driving increases in discharges of fresh water into rivers, lakes and oceans. (Full Story)

Los Alamos lab spin-tests nuclear missile instrument

The High Explosives Centrifuge Test facility. LANL image.

Scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are using a new centrifuge facility to evaluate a flight-ready telemetry equipment for evaluating test missile launches. The equipment transmits a stream of data on the missile’s temperature, acceleration, vibration, and strain at various parts of the weapon’s airframe. Because test missile flights end with missiles being destroyed, telemetry data from the flight must be collected by receiving stations along the flight path. (Full Story)

Watch the video

Modeling non-numerical data in systems biology

Illustration from MNN.

An interview with Dr. Eshan Mitra, Ph.D., from Los Alamos National Laboratory, discussing the importance of computer models in biology and the development of a more accurate model of the RAF phosphorylation pathway.

Why are computer models used in systems biology?

We use computer models to study processes in biology that are challenging to directly observe with experiments. Our models focus on cell signaling pathways: sets of proteins in a cell that work together to perform a certain function, such as cell growth. (Full Story)

LANL, NM Tech strengthen collaboration

A lot more scientists and engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and New Mexico Tech could be mingling on each other’s campuses under a new agreement to be signed Thursday in Socorro.

The new accord allows for joint appointments for faculty and staff at both institutions, providing unprecedented access to one another’s research and facilities. (Full Story)

LANL Profile: Michael Martinez capturing culture in art

Michael Martinez, from the Daily Post.

With pen and ink, artist Michael E. Martinez of Los Alamos’ Detonation Science and Technology group takes to paper, beautifully crafting a bleached skull with a headdress inspired by the American Plains Indians. To give it a New Mexican theme, he uses the Zia symbol for the skull’s eyes and accents the smooth face and war bonnet with turquoise coloring. Emblazoned on the New Mexico flag, the Zia symbol originated with the Zia people. (Full Story)

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Friday, October 12, 2018

R&D Magazine announces 2018 Scientist of the Year

Bette Korber, from R&D.

R&D Magazine is proud to announce Los Alamos National Laboratory theoretical biologist Bette Korber, PhD, as the 2018 Scientist of the Year.

Korber’s innovative HIV “mosaic” vaccine design—assembled from fragments of natural sequences via a computational optimization method—led to a first-in-class preventative HIV vaccine now being tested for efficacy in humans with support from the NIH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a milestone few others have reached.

This year marks the 53rd annual Scientist of the Year Award, which recognizes career accomplishments in scientific research and technology spanning nearly all disciplines from physics to medicine to chemistry. (Full story)

Catching hackers in the act

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, where some of the nation’s most precious secrets are kept, information is not only closely guarded, tools are being developed to help others detect and respond quickly to targeted attacks.

Understanding the capabilities and intent of malware — a process known as reverse engineering — is a difficult, manual process that can take days or even weeks for an expert analyst. Los Alamos has long been a leader in manual malware analysis, and has found that expert intuition can be augmented by machine learning tools that rapidly identify patterns across large sets of related malware, collected over time. (Full story)

Astrophysicists scramble to find an answer for mysterious microquasar jets

Material ejecting from a region around a
supermassive black hole in a quasar, ESO image.

Due to it fundamentally challenging established astrophysics, scientists are truly baffled by the discovery of highly energetic radiation being emitted from a microquasar in deep space. A microquasar is a black hole that swallows debris from a nearby companion star and blasting it out as enormous jets of material, but this is the first time that such radiation has been detected coming from one. Publishing its findings in Nature, a team from the US Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Laboratory strongly suggested that particle collisions at the end of the microquasar’s jets likely produced the powerful gamma rays. (Full story)

Officials use social media to monitor, intervene in disease outbreaks

Influenza A.

Public health officials say that polling using text messages, social media platforms, and other digital tools can be key in both tracking the health care behavior of people and disseminating lifesaving information during emergency situations. Meanwhile, social media is being used to help forecast seasonal flu epidemics. The Los Alamos National Laboratory told Axios last flu season they found social media (in particular using Google health trends) to be helpful in their forecasting. (Full story)

Local biologist develops lollipop to tackle allergy symptoms

It's easy to feel wiped out this time of year. Allergies can leave you feeling miserable with all of the sneezing, runny noses, and itchy eyes.

While most blame what's in the air, Cliff Han, a doctor and now biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said your symptoms have nothing to do with what's in the environment. The cause, believe it or not, he said is good oral hygiene that's killing that good bacteria in your mouth. (Full story)


Solving epidemics with math

Mac Hyman, from the Monitor.

Sharks, bears, spiders and snakes may rule the deadly monster category on TV, but a team of mathematicians at Tulane University, who also partner with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, know who the real threat to humans are.

That would be the lowly mosquito.

While researchers have already found a way to infect mosquitoes with a bacteria that keeps them from spreading deadly disease, Tulane University professor and mathematician Dr. Mac Hyman, who is also a research partner with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is helping those researchers better wield their new weapon with math. (Full story)

Friday, October 5, 2018

NASA 60th Anniversary: Why haven't we found aliens yet?

Roger Wiens, LANL photo.

Astronomer Frank Drake devised an equation to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations which might be present in the Milky Way galaxy, called the Drake Equation.

“The values of the different terms are very highly uncertain, consistent with both no life elsewhere in the universe on the one hand and lots of civilizations on the other hand,” Dr. Roger C. Wiens, of the Space Remote Sensing Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico where he is searching for signs of Martian life. (Full Story)

Newborn baby contracted HIV from an open blister on his dad's arm

HIV Illustration.

'It's a very unusual case,' Dr Thomas Leitner, the only US scientist on the case told

'It shows us that it's not something that will have a large impact on the HIV epidemic but it does show us that there are unusual ways of transmission.'

Dr Leitner, of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is a phylogenetics expert, trained in tracing the evolutionary history of organisms. It's not the first time he's been co-opted by Nuno Taveira, a microbiologist in Lisbon, to help out on a criminal investigation before. But this was unique. (Full Story)

Scientists discover new nursery for superpowered photons

High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray (HAWC) Observatory, in Mexico, HAWC photo.

The new evidence strongly suggests that the powerful gamma rays were produced at the ends of the jets and not another source nearby.

"SS 433 is located in the same region of the sky as other bright sources that also emit gamma rays," Hao Zhou says, galactic science coordinator of HAWC and a lead author on the Nature paper. "With its wide field of view, HAWC is uniquely capable of separating the gamma-ray emission due to SS 433 from other background photons." Zhou is a 2015 Michigan Tech PhD graduate now at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Plasma-Jet-Driven-Magneto-Inertial-Fusion status report

The PLX instrument at Los Alamos, LANL image.

While coaxial plasma guns have been used to accelerate plasma since the 1950’s, notably in space propulsion as plasma thrusters, the challenges of applying plasma guns as a driver for fusion are unique.

A conical array of 7 guns have been installed on the Plasma Liner Experiment (PLX) at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and experiments to merge the jets launched from these guns to form a piece of the plasma liner have been performed. The initial results8 show the formation of a series of shocks between merging jets, in qualitative agreements with our 3D computational results. (Full Story)

Los Alamos tests telemetry unit for nuke monitoring

The High Explosives Centrifuge Test Facility, LANL image.

More than 100G forces in a centrifuge are being used to test a telemetry unit at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to the federal institution.

The telemetry unit, which will evaluated nuclear weapons test missile launches, assesses the stresses of the flight to the upper reaches of the planet’s atmosphere and back down to Earth.

“The purpose of the centrifuge test is to subject the electronics to a high gravitational load (G-load) that’s representative of what the system will experience when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere,” said Alex Cusick, a Los Alamos weapons test engineer. (Full Story)

Also from PhysOrg

Lab, Pojoaque schools partner for new program

Terry C. Wallace, Jr (left) Laboratory Director; Jon Paul Romero, president of Pojoaque Valley Schools; and Sam Minner, president of New Mexico Highlands University. LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pojoaque Valley School District and New Mexico Highlands University officially launched the region’s first professional development school at a PVSD board meeting Wednesday.

“The value of education and the critical role it plays in the future success of both Northern New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory cannot be overstated,” said Terry C. Wallace, Jr., the laboratory’s director. (Full Story)

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