Friday, June 14, 2019

The problem with quantum computers

Illustration from SciAm.

The trouble is, quantum mechanics challenges our intuition. So we struggle to figure out the best algorithms for performing meaningful tasks. To help overcome these problems, our team at Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing a method to invent and optimize algorithms that perform useful tasks on noisy quantum computers.

Algorithms are the lists of operations that tell a computer to do something, analogous to a cooking recipe. Compared to classical algorithms, the quantum kind are best kept as short as possible and, we have found, best tailored to the particular defects and noise regime of a given hardware device. (Full Story)

Reaping the unexpected dividends of space exploration

Vela satellite undergoing testing at Los Alamos in the 1960s, LANL photo.

Space science has likewise yielded unexpected discoveries and unintended applications — some at Los Alamos National Laboratory. For example, in the early 1960s, Los Alamos developed technology for detecting space-based nuclear detonations when the United States signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

One week after the treaty went into effect, the laboratory began its nascent treaty monitoring role when its sensors rode into space on the first of the Vela satellite series. From the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, a series of 12 Vela satellites were sent into space—each with a suite of Los Alamos instruments. (Full Story)

How scientists discovered a new way to produce a rare medical isotope

A single patient with end-stage prostate cancer before treatment (A) after three doses of
actinium-225 (B) and after an additional dose (C).    

Inside a narrow glass tube sits a substance that can harm or cure, depending on how you use it. It gives off a faint blue glow, a sign of its radioactivity. While the energy and subatomic particles it emits can damage human cells, they can also kill some of our most stubborn cancers. This substance is actinium-225.

"There is no residual impact of the prostate cancer. It's remarkable," said Kevin John, a researcher at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Actinium-225 and treatments derived from it have also been used in early trials for leukemia, melanoma, and glioma. (Full Story)

All-woman team commands rock-zapping laser on Mars


From left to right: Suzi Montano, Adriana Reyes-Newell, Roberta Beal, Lisa Danielson, Nina Lanza and Cindy Little (not pictured: Margie Root). LANL photo.

The laser that zaps rocks on Mars is commanded by a talented group of engineers and scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory—who also happen to all be women, a rarity in the engineering field.

“It’s unusual, simply because engineering still tends to be male-dominated,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist on the team who has helped recruit some other team members. “Typically on teams like this you’ll have a few women, but a majority are men. I don’t know of any other instruments on the Mars Curiosity Rover that has an all-female engineering team.” (Full Story)

Thin-film breakthrough to give quantum technologies a boost

A multi-institution research team led by Los Alamos scientists report they have developed a thin film to control the generation of single photons at a precise location. This thin film, made from two 2D materials, tungsten and selenium, pave the way “for beyond-lab-scale quantum materials.”

"While more research is needed to fully understand the role of mechanical deformation in creating these quantum emission sites, we may enable a route to control quantum optical properties by using strain," said Michael Pettes, a Los Alamos National Laboratory materials scientist. (Full Story)

A bubbly new way to detect the magnetic fields of nanometer-scale particles

Image from NIST.

As if they were bubbles expanding in a just-opened bottle of champagne, tiny circular regions of magnetism can be rapidly enlarged to provide a precise method of measuring the magnetic properties of nanoparticles.  The technique provides a deeper understanding of the magnetic behavior of nanoparticles.

Samuel M. Stavis of NIST and Andrew L. Balk, who conducted most of his research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and NIST, along with colleagues at NIST and the Johns Hopkins University, described their findings in a recent issue of Physical Review Applied. (Full Story)

Faces of innovation: Cristian Pantea, acoustic scientist

Cristian Pantea, LANL photo.

When bomb squads are called to check out a potential bomb, they need answers to critical questions. Is the bomb a fake? If it’s real, is it stable enough to be defused, or could it explode at any second?

A Los Alamos–invented acoustic imaging device, called ACCObeam, is being repurposed to remove much of that uncertainty. Using ACCObeam’s sound waves, bomb techs of the future may be able to build 3D images of bombs without physically looking inside them. (Full Story)
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Friday, June 7, 2019

Over 400 earthquakes have hit Southern California in the past few days

Micro-quake data, LANL image.

In the period between 2008 and 2017, scientists found that Southern California was hit by 1.8 million more tiny earthquakes than had previously been recorded, according to a study recently published in the journal Science, highlighting the significant levels of geological activity in the region. Again, most of these were imperceptible on the surface.

"You don't feel them happening all the time, but they're happening all the time," Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of the study, told National Public Radio. (Full story)


Podcast: Irene Qualters from LANL shares life lessons on HPC and diversity

Qualters, LANL photo.        

In this Big Compute Podcast, Gabriel Broner interviews Irene Qualters from Los Alamos National Lab about her career and the evolution of HPC. Irene, an HPC pioneer, went from being a young, inexperienced female engineer working with Seymour Cray to becoming president of Cray Research. After 20 years at Cray Research, she decided it was time for a change and went into the pharma space and eventually the National Science Foundation. She was awarded the 2018 HPCwire Readers’ Award for Outstanding Leadership in HPC.  (Full story)

You can’t see it, but it’s 200+ times stronger than steel

Hisato Yamaguchi examines a material for
night vision goggles that is coated with
atomic armor, LANL photo.

The evolution of armor has been a constant struggle between protection and performance.

It was this struggle between keeping some things (bullets) out, while letting others (heat and perspiration) out that inspired scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a radical new type of coating dubbed “atomic armor.” Made from two-dimensional, ultrathin crystal materials, atomic armor can be applied in a skin-like layer to a particularly sensitive device without hindering its performance. So, for instance, night-vision goggles can be coated with atomic armor to protect against corrosive gases without hindering their ability to turn darkness into light. (Full story)

Community leaders briefed on safety, workforce development

Director Mason, LANL photo.

LANL Director Thom Mason and DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Steve Goodrum discuss safety and workforce development during the LANL Community Conversation event Thursday morning at Buffalo Thunder Resort.

Director Mason told the audience that the TA55 Division will add 1,500 employees in the near future. In answer to a question from Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus about diverse careers at LANL, Mason said, “The Lab is a broad enough place that anyone can match their skills and passion to a career at LANL”. (Full story)

LANL Faces of Innovation: Katie Mussack, physicist

Mussack, LANL photo.

In 1945, the U.S. Navy had a question: Could its ships survive a nuclear blast? It turned to Los Alamos, which provided an answer after the 1946 Crossroads test series in the Pacific. In 2018, the Navy had another question—a classified one—this time about nuclear weapons. Once again, it turned to Los Alamos for an answer.

“To answer the question, we started brainstorming,” says physicist Katie Mussack, who partnered with colleagues Omar Wooten and Guillermo Terrones on what she calls “thought experiments.” (Full story)

Friday, May 31, 2019

100 years ago, Einstein and an eclipse changed physics forever

Einstein, from the Washington Post.

Inside a black hole, Einstein's equations suggest that matter and energy become so compressed they reach infinite density. But what does that mean? The theorists suspect it means they need a better theory.

"You can't calculate anything beyond that point, once the numbers become infinite. You've lost all control," says Emil Mottola, a theoretical physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"That doesn't tell you that nature can't do that, but it's very suspicious." (Full Story)

Startups strive to recycle emissions for 'new carbon economy'

Oil pipeline, image from WPR.

With captured CO2 most sought after by oil operations, a nationwide network of pipelines more than 4,500 miles (7,240 km) long carries it to wells, according to a 2017 study by the Great Plains Institute.

But pipelines could also one day be plugged into manufacturing hubs that use recycled CO2 to make chemicals and building materials - if those industries really take off, said Richard Middleton with the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Middleton is one of a group of scientists mapping an expansive grid of pipelines that, if built out, would maximize the amount of CO2 taken from sources like energy plants and heavy industry to sites where demand is highest. (Full Story)

Quantum information gets a boost from thin-film breakthrough

Controlling single-photon emission for specific locations in 2D materials, LANL graphic.

Efforts to create reliable light-based quantum computing, quantum key distribution for cybersecurity, and other technologies got a boost from a new study demonstrating an innovative method for creating thin films to control the emission of single photons.

"Efficiently controlling certain thin-film materials so they emit single photons at precise locations—what's known as deterministic quantum emission—paves the way for beyond-lab-scale quantum materials," said Michael Pettes, a Los Alamos National Laboratory materials scientist and leader of the multi-institution research team. (Full Story)

Earth notes: Pajarito Plateau birds

Common Nighthawk, All About Birds photo.

After the Cerro Grande Fire burned through in the year 2000, foresters decided to thin trees to reduce wildfire danger. Ecologists at Los Alamos National Laboratory wanted to survey birds in thinned and unthinned areas, to find how they responded to this management technique.

Then something unexpected happened. Almost all the pinyon pines in the study sites died—left vulnerable to bark beetle attacks. Only juniper was left.

Over the next decade, bird populations on the Pajarito Plateau plummeted by 73 percent, on both thinned and unthinned sites. Eight species disappeared—including the common nighthawk, band-tailed pigeon, hairy woodpecker, and pygmy nuthatch—cutting the region’s diversity almost in half. (Full Story)

Mary Anne With receives 2019 NPS distinguished service award

Mary Anne With, LANL photo.

Mary Anne With of the Office of Partnerships and Pipeline, PPO, at Los Alamos National Laboratory is the recipient of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA)’s 2019 Distinguished Service Award.

The community is invited to join the Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows in a celebration of With's incomparable contributions to the Laboratory since she joined the Postdoc program in 1991. (Full Story)

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Friday, May 24, 2019

This is the world's rarest form of gold. New clues are revealing why

The "Ram's Horn," Harvard image.

Researchers just got their first peek inside the exquisite sample, known as the Ram's Horn, with the assistance of a half-mile-long particle accelerator at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The results revealed that the bundle, which seems to be dozens of glimmering golden wires, is actually either one massive crystal or only a few crystals growing together.

“That’s probably the most valuable item that I ever held in my hand or put my hands on,” says Sven Vogel, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory's neutron science center. (Full story)

Also in The Sun

LANL helps build a SuperCam for Mars

Bruno Dubois, a SuperCam mechanical engineer from L’Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie,working on SuperCam at Los Alamos.

When NASA approved Los Alamos National Laboratory’s SuperCam for the next Mars rover, officials referred to it as a “Swiss Army knife of an instrument.”

The nickname came from all the different tools the device will be able to use to study rocks and soil on the Red Planet, according to Roger Wiens, LANL scientist and principal investigator of SuperCam.

By expanding the scope of what’s been possible with the ChemCam camera currently on Mars aboard the Curiosity rover, Wiens says, scientists will be able to unlock more clues about whether life did or did not once exist out there. (Full story)

Watch the video

Data mining paves the way for a better understanding of seismic activity

When handled effectively, data mining combined with automation can help advance industries and even save lives. Just last month, researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to track seismic activity through data mining, resulting in a better understanding of how stress impacts the earth’s crust. Here in North Carolina we were recently hit by yet another string of earthquakes earlier this year, and the findings from Los Alamos have the potential to help earthquake prevention measures nationwide. (Full story)

Watch the video

Española company lands $52M contract at LANL

PMI CEO Eric Quintana, left, with LANL Director Thom Mason, PMI photo.

Performance Maintenance Inc. of Española has won a five-year, $52 million subcontract to provide janitorial services and supplies to Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Performance Maintenance is a 25-year-old family-run business that started as a part-time cleaning business. It now has 170 employees and provides commercial and residential building maintenance, food service and hotel supplies as well as janitorial services. It also offers a line of green cleaning products. (Full story)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Basic quantum research will transform science and industry

LANL image.

The promise of quantum computing seems limitless—faster internet searching, lightning-quick financial data analysis, shorter commutes, better weather prediction, more effective cancer drugs, revolutionary new materials, and more. But we’re not there yet.

In recent years, Los Alamos has developed a quantum-key distribution device based on this principle for creating hack-proof communications, a major step forward in cybersecurity.

That is one example of how basic science research ultimately spawns technology. Wojciech Zurek, of Los Alamos National Laboratory continues his theoretical work in quantum mechanics and is currently studying the breakdown of quantum coherence of space time near a black hole. (Full Story)

Watch the video

Kilopower system earns award in quest to support a future Moon base

The Kilopower assembly at the Nevada National Security Site, NASA image.

By 2028, NASA is aiming to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon. What power system will fuel the long-duration stay on the moon, as well as other planetary surfaces? An answer may reside in Kilopower, with the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) project proving its worth in a successful demonstration last year.

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

UNM-LA grads told to ‘pay it forward’ at 38th annual graduation ceremony

Los Alamos Laboratory Director Thom Mason speaks at the UNM graduation ceremony.

It was their time on the stage, but if there was one universal message at the 38th annual University of New Mexico-Los Alamos graduation, it was for the graduates to pay it forward.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason told the students that their newly-acquired education is not only a tool to better their lives, but of those around them.

“…take it and improve it wisely to improve your communities, to teach others, and to build the kind of life you want, hopefully with an exciting job that will get you out of bed every morning,” Mason said. (Full Story)

Faces of Innovation: Gary Grider, supercomputing scientist

Gary Grider, LA Reporter photo.

In the world of supercomputers, “fastest” traditionally equates to “best.” But Los Alamos’ High Performance Supercomputing Division leader, Gary Grider, is shaking up tradition.

Rather than continuing to aspire to the fastest computers, Grider chooses to focus the division’s efforts on computing efficiency, a more relevant and timely consideration for U.S. national security applications. For decades, the TOP500 list—a notable world ranking of supercomputers by speed—was the gold standard for determining who could boast the top computer. Los Alamos played prominently in the competition, earning first-place rankings several times over. (Full Story)

Also from the LA Reporter this week:

Giving back to help the region: LANL employees volunteer on nonprofit projects

Vangie Trujillo helps out at Kaune Early Learning Center in Santa Fe, LANL image.
April was National Volunteer Month, and more than 20 Laboratory employees gave up their free time to help out nonprofits across Northern New Mexico on three days of service co-ordinated by the Laboratory’s Community Partnerships Office.

The first project saw volunteers at Barrios Unidos in Chimayo on April 19, working on improvement projects such as painting trim, planting flowers and bushes, and adding base course to a garden meditation/prayer labyrinth. (Full Story)

3D printed polymer can localize shocks

3-D printed polymer-based foam structure that responds to the force of a shock wave, LANL image.  

The US Air Force Research Laboratory and research partners at Los Alamos National Laboratory have reportedly developed a 3D printed polymer-based foam structure that can respond to the force of a shock wave to act as a one-way switch, a long sought-after goal in shock research.

The material is a foam-like structure that contains a series of specifically-engineered tiny holes that determine the overall behavioral characteristics. Scientists used computer modeling to run trials to determine the most effective hole geometries to achieve the desired material response. (Full Story)

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