Friday, January 25, 2019

US military eyes tiny nuclear reactors for deployed troops

A truck-sized mini reactor design, LANL image.

Los Alamos National Lab is working toward new designs for modular nuclear power. Andy Erickson, the deputy principal associate director of Global Security at Los Alamos, recently forecast that microreactors could be ready for deployment in “less than five years.”

Last October, the U.S. Army declared that small, mobile nuclear reactors present “a classic example of disruptive innovation,” their study said, “The return of nuclear power to the Army and DOD will have a significant impact on the Army, our allies, the international community, commercial power industry, and the nation.” (Full Story)

Watch the video here!

Flu forecasting models consistently more accurate than historical baseline models

The influenza A virus.

In a multi-institution collaboration assessing 22 distinct influenza forecasting models across 7 flu seasons, investigators have found that the majority of models consistently showed higher accuracy than historical baseline models.

A team of investigators from that includes the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Carnegie Mellon University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Centers for Disease Control and many others collaborated on the project, which compared the accuracy of weekly real-time forecasts assembled between 2010 and 2017 to a historical baseline seasonal average.

"The field of infectious disease forecasting is in its infancy and we expect that innovation will spur improvements in forecasting in the coming years," the authors write in their report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Full Story)

Los Alamos physicist Michelle Thomsen wins the 2019 Arctowski Medal

Michelle Thomsen, PSI photo.

Michelle F. Thomsen, Planetary Science Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory, will receive the 2019 Arctowski Medal.

Over the past 40 years, Thomsen has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the relationships between the sun and its planetary bodies, with a particular emphasis on the physics of collisionless shocks and the dynamics of the planetary magnetospheres of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Beginning with her graduate work, Thomsen analyzed data from the early planetary missions Pioneer 10 and 11 and made some of the initial discoveries of the characteristics of the magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn that became the foundation for later missions and analyses. (Full Story)

Federal labs an essential part of New Mexico's economy

Laboratory Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory is a key economic driver in the region, and we are committed to both growing the local workforce and strengthening the local companies that are crucial in supporting the work we do," said Los Alamos Director Thom Mason

There’s a lot of cool science and research going on at the national laboratories based in New Mexico. It ranges from Los Alamos National Lab’s role in ushering in the nuclear age to the hypersonic vehicle Sandia National Labs is pioneering. (Full Story)

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Friday, January 18, 2019

Editorial: LANL director wise to get New Mexicans on staff

Los Alamos National Laboratory
Director Thomas Mason

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thomas Mason is the first to admit the work LANL does will never be popular with a significant portion of the population in New Mexico.

That’s one of the reasons he feels community relations is an important part of LANL’s agenda under new operator Triad National Security LLC.

“There are probably some people who are never going to like what we do because they don’t like nuclear weapons, which is actually understandable,” Mason said in an interview with the Journal. “It is kind of a weird thing to be working really hard on something you really hope will never be used.”

Mason pledges to be as open as possible with the communities with which the labs work. That’s a good start given the nature of the work done by the lab securing our nation’s nuclear arsenal. (Full story)

LANL economic impact is in the billions

Los Alamos National Laboratory had an average annual economic impact of $3.1 billion from 2015-17, according to independent research from the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research released Monday. The same entity pegged the lab’s economic impact at $2.3 billion in a similar 2011 report using 2009 data, said David Moore of the lab’s Community Partnerships Office.

The laboratory in the coming year intends to focus on stimulating new business growth and strengthening existing companies. It is doubling the local price preference from 5 to 10 percent given to contract bids from businesses based in the seven counties surrounding the laboratory, according to a news release. (Full story)

Why Did NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Others Spend Millions on This Quantum Computer?

Credit: Gizmodo

So why use bother with one of these devices? We posed that question to researchers using D-Wave computers at Lockheed Martin, Los Alamos National Lab, Volkswagen, and elsewhere. In short, D-Waves are in their early days, but these organizations are hoping to eventually use them to solve problems, like predicting elections, routing taxis in traffic jams, or picking crucial data out of background noise.

This is just something Los Alamos scientists do: They test high performance computers. “It’s an important but modest part of our entire high-performance computing strategy,” John Sarrao, deputy director for science, technology, and engineering at Los Alamos, told Gizmodo. “It is a technology that seems to be interesting, that quantum seems to play a role in, and is available for people who want to try things out. For us, that’s a enough to say it’s worth an exploration as part of a broader overall advanced computing strategy.” (Full story)

Micro-reactors As Cheap As Natural Gas Without Air Pollution

The Megapower micro reactor.

This article looks at the mid-2020 timeline for micro-reactors which has strong Department of Defense interest. Nextbigfuture has been interviewing the project lead, Venkat Rao, for what was the Los Alamos Megapower micro-reactor.

They are working on automated mass production of the heat pipes. Heat pipes are the critical technology for the reactor. They are looking to reduce the cost of heat pipes by ten times.

After the first reactors are built, they will scale up to factory mass production. They will be able to build complete units in one month or less. (Full story)

Five cool things you can do with an ‘atom smasher’

The LANSCE control room, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has several accelerators peppered throughout its 43 square miles. By far its largest is the accelerator at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE). The most powerful linear accelerator in the world when it opened in 1972, LANSCE speeds protons, one of the basic building blocks of atoms, to 84 percent the speed of light and energies as high as 800 million electron volts.

The protons traveling down the accelerator are moving a trillion times faster than a mosquito traveling down the same accelerator — that’s a pretty big deal. Protons are very light, so each one carries very little actual energy, but there are so many that together they deliver nearly a megawatt, one million watts, of average power to targets at the end of the accelerator. (Full story)

More stable light comes from intentionally ‘squashed’ quantum dots

Colloidal quantum dots (top) are formed of an emitting cadmium/selenium core, LANL graphic.

Intentionally “squashing” colloidal quantum dots during chemical synthesis creates dots capable of stable, “blink-free” light emission that is fully comparable with the light produced by dots made with more complex processes. The squashed dots emit spectrally narrow light with a highly stable intensity and a non-fluctuating emission energy. New research at Los Alamos National Laboratory suggests that the strained colloidal quantum dots represent a viable alternative to presently employed nanoscale light sources, and they deserve exploration as single-particle, nanoscale light sources for optical “quantum” circuits, ultrasensitive sensors, and medical diagnostics. (Full story)

Gary Grider from Los Alamos on the new Efficient Mission-Centric Computing Consortium

Gary Grider, LANL photo.

insideHPC: Gary, thanks for having me today. We haven’t seen each other for a while. I remember you and I were on a panel in Manhattan, I don’t know, something like 10 years ago at the Structure conference. Anyway, can you tell me more about this new organization you are part of?

Gary Grider: So we’re forming a consortium to chase efficient computing. We see many of the HPC sites today seem to be headed down the path of buying machines that work really well with very dense linear algebra problems. The problem is: hardcore simulation can often not be a great fit on machines built for high Linpack numbers. (Full story)

Also from Inside HPC this week"

Ramping up for Exascale at the National Labs

David Montoya, right, image from Inside HPC.

In this video from the Exascale Computing Project, Dave Montoya from LANL describes the continuous software integration effort at DOE facilities where exascale computers will be located sometime in the next 3-4 years.

A key aspect of the US Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project’s (ECP) continuous integration activities is ensuring that the software in development for exascale can efficiently be deployed at the facilities and that it properly blends with the facilities’ many software components. (Full story)

‘Realistic’ new model points way to more efficient and profitable fracking

Illustration of branching into densely
spaced hydraulic cracks, LANL image.

“Our model is far more realistic than current models and software used in the industry,” said Zdeněk Bažant, McCormick Institute Professor and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “This model could help the industry increase efficiency, decrease cost, and become more profitable.”

Despite the industry’s growth, much of the fracking process remains mysterious. Because fracking happens deep underground, researchers cannot observe the fracture mechanism of how the gas is released from the shale. (Full story)

Venture fund helps with funding, technical aid

Bison Star Naturals owners Jacquelene
and Angelo McHorse with their 1-year-old
daughter, Judy. Photo from the Journal.

At the time of LANL’s management transition, more than $390,000 had been invested in the regional economy through the Native American Venture Acceleration Fund (NA VAF). Triad, LANL’s new manager, has vowed to retain most of the laboratory’s economic development initiatives – programs such as the NA VAF – although a spokesperson said some programs may look different going forward.

2018 recipients include Jacquelene and Angelo McHorse, owners of Bison Star Naturals, Jacqueline Gala Jewelry and PM Waterlily of Taos Pueblo, Butterfly Artist Market of Pojoaque Pueblo, Aguilar Consulting of San Ildefonso Pueblo, and the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council based in Ohkay Owingeh. (Full story)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Strained quantum dots have 'blink-free' light emission

Novel colloidal quantum dots (top) are formed of an emitting cadmium/selenium core, LANL graphic

Quantum-dot researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found that intentionally squashing colloidal quantum dots (in other words, creating asymmetrical strain) during chemical synthesis creates dots capable of stable, blink-free light emission that is fully comparable with the light produced by dots made with more complex processes. The squashed quantum dots emit spectrally narrow light with a highly stable intensity and a nonfluctuating emission energy.

The strained colloidal quantum dots represent a viable alternative to presently employed nanoscale light sources, and deserve exploration as single-particle nanoscale light sources for optical quantum circuits, ultrasensitive sensors, and medical diagnostics. (Full Story)

Now we know how fast a black hole spins when it shreds a star

Artist's conception of a tidal disruption event, NASA image

The black hole in question is thought to be super massive — about 1 million times the mass of the sun. Accordingly, it has an immensely powerful gravitation pull. So when an unassuming star traversed near this black hole, it began to rip the star apart. This dramatic moment is called a tidal disruption event, or flare.

"It's just gravity — but gravity in an extreme situation," Chris Fryer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who had no involvement in the study, said in an interview.

These tidal disruption flares are critical to understanding the nature, and spin, of black holes that are actively consuming stars. (Full Story)

The meteor shower that brought Tunguska is due in June

Aftermath of the Tunguska impact.

Physicist Mark Bosloughof Los Alamos National Laboratory recently presented, at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting, a new analysis of the tree-fall pattern in the Tunguska area. It suggests that the rock may have arrived during the annual Beta Taurid meteor shower. The next one's in June 2019. (There's another Taurid shower each October.) A quote from the presentation: "If the Tunguska object was a member of a Beta Taurid stream … then the last week of June 2019 will be the next occasion with a high probability for Tunguska-like collisions or near misses."

Neither Bosloughof of anyone else predicts a Tunguska-style event in June, but if the new calculations are correct, it's just the meteor shower in which it probably arrived back in 1908. According to physicist Peter Brown, who presented the new analysis with Bosloughof, "This is not something that should be keeping you up at night." (Full Story)

Researchers solve mystery of Yemen cholera epidemic

Computer generated depiction of a cholera organism, CDC image.

Through the use of genomic sequencing, scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Institut Pasteur estimate the strain of cholera causing the current outbreak in Yemen—the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history—came from Eastern Africa and entered Yemen with the migration of people in and out of the region.

To understand the nature of the strain of bacteria behind these devastating cholera outbreaks, researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, now based at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Institut Pasteur and their collaborators sequenced the genomes of Vibrio cholerae from cholera samples collected in Yemen and nearby regions.(Full Story)

Bizarre hum near Vancouver Island could predict the next deadly earthquake & tsunami

Coast of Vancouver Island, from Advocator.

Off the coast of Vancouver Island, the huge undersea Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is sliding under the large North American plate. In other words, the west coast of Canada is at high risk of a massive earthquake and a tsunami.

Since 1700, Cascadia has been quiet, but it seems that every year or so, there’s a slow slip when the North American plate lurches over the Juan de Fuca plate.

“This slip has been observed in advance of major earthquakes, which suggests it might be part of the process that causes them,” according to a new paper by Bertrand Rouet-Leduc and Claudia Hulbert of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. (Full Story)

'Realistic' new model points the way to more efficient and profitable fracking

Despite the industry's growth, much of the fracking process remains mysterious. Because fracking happens deep underground, researchers cannot observe the fracture mechanism of how the gas is released from the shale.

"This work offers improved predictive capability that enables better control of production while reducing the environmental footprint by using less fracturing fluid," said Hari Viswanathan, computational geoscientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "It should make it possible to optimize various parameters such as pumping rates and cycles and changes of fracturing fluid properties such as viscosity. This could lead to a greater percentage of gas extraction from the deep shale strata, which currently stands at about five percent and rarely exceeds 15 percent." (Full Story)

New LANL director: Community relations is a priority

Thomas Mason, LANL photo

The new director of Los Alamos National Laboratory says that, along with the lab’s nuclear weapons missions, its science and engineering efforts, and upgrading operational functions, community relations will be a key piece of LANL’s agenda under new operator Triad National Security, LLC.

“Because if you lose the trust and confidence of the communities in which you’re located, you’ll find pretty quickly that you can’t get anything done, because you lose the support that you need,” said Thomas Mason, a former director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee who took over at LANL on Nov. 1. (Full Story)

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Incoming! A June meteor swarm could be loaded with surprises.

Credit: Washington Post

On June 30, 1908, an object the size of an apartment building came hurtling out of the sky and exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia. The Tunguska event, named for a river, flattened trees for 800 square miles. It occurred in one of the least-populated places in Asia, and no one was killed or injured. But the Tunguska airburst stands as the most powerful impact event in recorded human history, and it remains enigmatic, as scientists don’t know the origin of the object or whether it was an asteroid or a comet.

One hypothesis: It was a Beta Taurid.

The Taurids are meteor showers that occur twice a year, in late June and late October or early November. The June meteors are the Betas. They strike during the day, when sunlight washes out the “shooting stars” that are visible during the nighttime meteor shower later in the year.

A new calculation by Mark Boslough, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, shows that the tree-fall pattern in Siberia is consistent with an asteroid coming from the same area in the sky as the Taurid meteor swarm. Boslough and physicist Peter Brown of Western University in London, Ontario, gave a presentation at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in Washington this month in which they called for a special observation campaign this June to search for Tunguska-class or larger objects embedded in the Taurids. (Full story)

Modeling sea ice has impact far beyond the poles

A seal rests on a slab of sea ice while a ship
crew walks in the distance.

The Earth’s polar oceans are cold enough that it’s possible to walk on seawater turned to ice. About nine million square miles of ice rest float on top of the world’s high-altitude seas and oceans. Looking like plates, sheets and mounds of fractured alabaster on a surface of shimmering blue, sea ice is more than a beautiful phenomenon—it influences Earth’s climate, wildlife and the people who must contend with it year-round.

Long ago frequented by just a few rugged groups living in the high north, the polar regions are now home to more people than ever. Their interests range across commercial shipping, mining and energy development; recreational fishing, hunting and tourism; scientific research; and military bases and defense operations.

Sea ice creates challenges for all these activities. It makes navigation hazardous for shipping, for instance, while thick ice complicates the operation and safety of U.S. Navy submarines. On the other hand, disappearing Arctic ice is changing hunting and fishing practices, as well as the ocean’s acoustic properties. (Full story)

Wireless Sensor Network Monitors Earth’s Extremes from Thousands of Miles Away

The Earth is vast, from the poles to the some 25,000 miles of Equator encircling the Earth. Satellites have given humankind new aerial views of almost every nook and cranny of the planet.

But getting “ground-truth” observations for scientists in the desolate miles far from civilization, in the dirt and rock, is a very different thing.

What could be a game changer for monitoring nature from thousands of miles away is now being tested and perfected by Los Alamos National Laboratory: the Long-Range Wireless Sensor Network, or LRWSN. (Full story)