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)