Friday, November 30, 2018

How supercomputers can help fix our wildfire problem

California wild fire, from Wired.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, atmospheric scientist Alexandra Jonko is using a supercomputer and a system called FIRETEC to model fires in extreme detail. It models, among other things, air density and temperature, as well as the properties of the grass or leaves in a particular area.

Jonko runs a bunch of simulations with different wind speeds, typically on the scale of 40 acres. “It'll probably take me about four hours to simulate between 10 and 20 minutes of a fire spreading,” she says.  FIRETEC produces valuable physics-based data on fire dynamics to inform how fire managers do prescribed burns. (Full Story)

The race to build megafire prediction tools

Destruction from the Carr Fire, from Bloomberg.

Before first responders hit a fire’s front line, data analysts plot strategies in far-off labs and office parks, using software to arrive at “a better understanding of how fire responds to its environment and how it behaves,” says Rod Linn, a senior scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“Fire behavior is all about heat transfer and its interaction with the ecology,” Linn says. Authorities using Firetec, including the French and Canadian forestry services, can also use the software to study past megafires and apply that research to mitigate future risks. (Full Story)

Innate 'fingerprint' could detect tampered steel parts

David MascareƱas, LANL photo.

Researchers using magnetic signals have found unique "fingerprints" on steel, which could help to verify weapons treaties and reduce the use of counterfeit bolts in the construction industry.

"Magnetic signals provide a wide range of possible national security applications," said David MascareƱas, a research and development engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study published recently in the journal Smart Materials and Structures. "It's a promising phenomenon that we hope to leverage to uniquely identify different pieces of artillery." (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post

What happens when an explosive is detonated?

To unravel this mystery, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory combine computer simulations and innovative experiments that verify what the computers come up with, particularly the simulations of the short-lived chemical bonds formed during detonation.

One way Los Alamos scientists actually observe and study detonation is to significantly shrink the size of an explosion. The tiny scale enables scientists to drive shock waves into materials so thin it is possible to see through them. Using a laser, researchers send a pulse of light at exactly the moment the shock wave strikes the super-thin material. That lets them observe and record the impact and the resultant chemical reactions.(Full Story)

New mission on Mars will test for “marsquakes”

Scientists in New Mexico and across the country had a big celebration this morning after a successful rover landing. Action 7 news reporter Justin Matthews spoke with Dr. Roger Wiens from the Los Alamos National Laboratory over the phone. He has worked on the Curiosity rover already roaming the surface of mars about 400 miles south of where the Insight rover is.

Wiens says he and his colleagues at LANL are watching insight very closely. One mission doesn’t land successfully on mars, the next one is in jeopardy, as well. “Landing was the first challenge. Now it’s going to carry out its purpose. Insight is a great name for this because we are looking inward on mars. This is a mission that is trying to study the interior of mars.” (Full Story)

Three LANL scientists named Fellows by AAAS

From left, Manvendra Dubey, David Janecky and Greg Swift, LANL photos.

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Manvendra Dubey, David Janecky and Greg Swift have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as a Fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon Association members by their peers.

“Becoming an AAAS fellow is a tremendous honor. I want to congratulate Manvendra, David and Greg on the recognition,” Laboratory Director Thom Mason said. “Their work has made lasting impacts in climate, oceanic and thermoacoustic science, respectively, and embodies how the Laboratory’s national security mission benefits diverse fields of science.” (Full Story)

Los Alamos startup begins sales of greenhouse product

A toddler plays next to a roll of UbiQD's new greenhouse film, UbiQD photo.

Greenhouse growers can now bathe their crops in yield-boosting, late-summer-like sun rays all year round courtesy of Los Alamos startup Ubiquitous Quantum Dots.

UbiQD uses a copper and zinc base in its manufacturing process, which it licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. LANL recently completed extensive testing for toxicity that showed the product is “extremely safe,” McDaniel said.  (Full Story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.

Please visit us at

Friday, November 16, 2018

Using sound to ‘see’ through solid objects

Guest column's author, Christian Pantea, LANL image.

To foil supervillains, Superman relies on his X-ray vision to see through shielded objects to expose dangerous items, such as explosives laced with kryptonite. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, a team of scientists in the Materials Synthesis and Integrated Devices group have invented a technology that works somewhat like Superman’s X-ray vision.

Instead of eye beams, this new technology, known as ACCObeam (Acoustic Collimated Beam), uses a new type of sound beam to pierce through physical barriers such as cement, rock and metal and produce high-resolution images of what lies beyond, be it an explosive hidden in a suitcase or an unstable oil well deep in the earth that could fracture and collapse at any given moment. (Full Story)

Los Alamos, NNSA and Cray deploy Arm supercomputer

Cray XC50, Cray image.

“For too long, the community has been driving for peak operations per watt, while mission-critical, national security applications have extracted fewer usable operations per peak FLOPS (floating-point operations per second) even after spending enormous time and energy revamping applications to mate to machines on this peak FLOPS quest,” Gary Grider, leader of the HPC Division at Los Alamos, said.

“Our focus is on fostering efforts and systems that enable efficient mission-focused computing at extreme scale. The simulations run at Los Alamos use highly irregular data structures that require high-fidelity, multi-physics applications that utilize petascale datasets and workflows for the security of the nation.”(Full Story)

The secret history of plasma weapons

Pre-prototype proof-of-concept PIKL laser, 1992, from Popular Mechanics.

Twenty-five years ago, inside a classified facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, researchers test-fired a new type of laser. The target: a piece of wet chamois leather meant to simulate human skin. The intense laser pulse lasted just a few microseconds, but created a brilliant flash and a loud bang, as though the leather had been hit by an explosive projectile.

Those early 1990s tests were part of the Pentagon's plan to develop a more effective nonlethal way to engage a target—an area where the services have experienced chronic shortcomings. (Full Story)

Quantum computing companies to watch

Super-cooled quantum chip, Rigetti photo.

Founded in 2013, Berkeley startup Rigetti Computing offers a “hybrid quantum computing platform” that’s available now – well, as an invite-only beta. So what have people been doing on the Rigetti platform? Los Alamos National Lab also used the Rigetti platform to learn a quantum algorithm primitive called the SWAP test. It’s detailed in a paper titled “Learning the quantum algorithm for state overlap” which also makes mention of “IBM’s quantum computers." (Full Story)

Physicist Donald Sandoval is a master of the loom

Donald Sandoval is a fifth generation weaver, LANL photo.

Donald Sandoval, of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Primary Physics group, stands before a loom made by his father and weaves a tapestry. The weaving process itself is not too complicated but does take time, so Sandoval’s mind tends to wander. His thoughts often venture to his day job as a mechanical engineer supporting the Lab’s national security mission. Sandoval said he has often solved complicated engineering and mathematical problems while working at the loom. (Full Story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.

Please visit us at

Friday, November 9, 2018

Science Daily Levitating particles could lift nuclear detective work

laser tweezers
Los Alamos scientists Alexander Malyzhenkov
and Alonso Castro demonstrate levitating uranium
particles with laser beams. LANL photo.

Laser-based 'optical tweezers' could levitate uranium and plutonium particles, thus allowing the measurement of nuclear recoil during radioactive decay. This technique provides a new method for conducting the radioactive particle analysis essential to nuclear forensics

"Our idea relies on trapping a particle using 'optical tweezers,' a technique which is the subject of this year's Nobel prize in Physics," said Alonso Castro of the Lab's Actinide Analytical Chemistry group. (full story)

APS physicsDetecting nuclear decay with recoil

levitating particles

Small particles levitated in an optical trap can recoil from radioactive decays in a way that identifies their nuclear composition, a new theoretical study suggests. Alonso Castro and colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, propose a novel way to identify isotopic compositions of nuclear material by measuring the recoil of radioactive particles suspended in laser beams.

In nuclear decay, an unstable atom transmutes into a stable daughter atom and emits a gamma ray, an alpha particle, or a beta particle. The emission carries with it some momentum, and so the daughter atom responds by moving in the opposite direction. (full story)

federal computer weekNational Labs bring emerging tech to bear on grid security

grid sunset

Federal researchers are looking to leverage quantum computing, artificial intelligence and dedicated networks to help shield electric grid networks from remote cyber attackers as well as physical exploits involving unauthorized access to infrastructure.

"Fiber systems are relatively easy to tap. You put a bend in a cable, and the photons shoot right of there," Alia Long, lead development researcher in cyber-physical systems in Los Alamos National Lab's Advanced Research in Cyber Systems group. (Full story)

next platformARM is the NNSA’s new secret weapon

cray xc50
Cray XC-50, Cray image.

Los Alamos has invested heavily recently in standard Intel-based machines recently without the bells and whistles of other leadership class national lab machines in order to stay focused on mission versus tuning to exotic systems, and while that has changed with the introduction of Marvell (formerly Cavium) 64-bit ThunderX2 into the NNSA supercomputer fleet, Deputy Division Leader on the HPC side at LANL, Gary Grider, tells us that the jump to Arm was far easier than one might imagine, even with some of the world’s most complex simulation codes. (Full story)

vectorThe Melting Arctic: And why it’s important to the rest of society

arctic ice melt aerial

The Arctic is turning green. It is not snowing or getting colder—instead, plants are growing in the cold tundra. A team from Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently conducted research that supports that areas of the Arctic, which were once frozen for thousands of years, are now thawing. Along with signs of green life flourishing in the region, increasing amounts of permafrost are beginning to melt.

According to Dr. Cathy Wilson of the Los Alamos lab, the melting of permafrost happens “as insulating snow accumulates atop tall shrubs, it boosts significant ground warming.” But why is the melting Arctic important to the rest of society? (Full story)

ABQ biz firstNew management team takes over at LANL

Thom Mason 01
Laboratory Director Thom Mason,
LANL photo.

On Nov. 1, Los Alamos National Laboratory began operating under the purview of Triad National Security LLC, a limited liability company consisting of Battelle Memorial Institute, the regents of the University of California and the regents of Texas A&M University. Fluor Federal Services, Huntington Ingalls Industries/Stoller Newport News, Longenecker & Associates, TechSource, Strategic Management Solutions and Merrick & Co. will support Triad National Security LLC in the performance of this contract. (Full story)

ABQ Journal LogoLANL group gives $70K in grants to 5 nonprofits

lanl msc

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Major Subcontractors Consortium, in partnership with New Mexico Community Foundation and Los Alamos National Security, has awarded a total of $70,000 in 2018 grants to five economic development nonprofits in the northern part of the state.

LANL MSC is a collaboration of 36 major LANL subcontractors that pool funds to support economic development projects serving the counties of Rio Arriba, Los Alamos, Mora, San Miguel, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Taos, as well as the Pueblos in those counties. (Full story)