Friday, June 28, 2019

SuperCam instrument integrated on NASA's Mars 2020 rover

SuperCam mast unit undergoes testing at Los Alamos. LANL photo.

The French/American SuperCam instrument was delivered in early June to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has been integrated this week on NASA's Mars 2020 rover.

Developed jointly by Los Alamos National Laboratory and the French space agency, CNES, University laboratories in France, the instrument is ambitious. It combines different techniques at remote distances: Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) for elemental composition, infrared (IR) and Raman spectroscopy, color imaging, and even sound recording through a microphone. NASA called it a "Swiss army knife" of instruments because of its versatility. (Full Story)

A storage model for the exascale crowd

Gary Grider and the Trinity Supercomputer, LANL image.

One bit of news that almost got lost in the shuffle at the recent ISC 2019 conference was Intel’s announcement that it is bringing DAOS, the Distributed Asynchronous Object Storage platform, to supercomputing.

Gary Grider, head of high performance computing at Los Alamos National Lab, told us DAOS would enable the abstraction of data structures that “happen to live in persistent storage as opposed to memory.” The technology that would make this all possible was burst buffers and solid state storage, more generally, which enables indexed data to be retrieved a lot more rapidly than what’s possible with spinning disks. (Full Story)

New NM law expands labs’ business assistance program

A new state law doubles the cap on the value of services Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories can offer companies seeking help in fields ranging from engineering to material sciences from $10,000 to $20,000 for businesses in urban counties and from $20,000 to $40,000 for businesses in rural counties

In 2000, the Laboratory Partnership with Small Business Tax Credit Act, which designated tax credits to allow Sandia — and later Los Alamos — to partner with New Mexico-based small businesses to solve a wide range of technical challenges. (Full Story)

Rocket Lab Electron launch set for Spaceflight Inc. Rideshare Mission

Prometheus cubesats, LANL image.

Rocket Lab is preparing for its third Electron rocket launch of the year. The seventh flight of Electron, named “Make It Rain,” will carry seven satellites for Spaceflight Inc.

On board are two Prometheus cubesats, developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as technology demonstration satellites. A student built technology demonstration satellite from the Melbourne Space Program named ACRUX-1 is also aboard Electron, as are two SpaceBEE communications satellites for Swarm Technologies. (Full Story)

Computer vision companies and startups to watch

Descartes Labs has an irresistible origin story: After branching off from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the company in 2015 used cloud computing and computer vision to mine satellite images and weather data, then map out an estimate of America's upcoming corn yield. The model proved even more accurate than the Agriculture Department’s own forecast, moving the market three percent. The company has since continued to build out a massive “data refinery” through which users can apply machine learning to produce their own models. (Full Story)

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Friday, June 21, 2019

“The Death Star” event that ejected life into the solar system

Asteroid impact model. LANL image.

A few years ago, reports Douglas Preston in The Day the Dinosaurs Died, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory used what was then one of the world’s most powerful computers, the so-called Q Machine, to model the effects of the impact, creating a slow-motion, second-by-second false-color video of the event:

“Within two minutes of slamming into Earth, the asteroid, which was at least six miles wide, had gouged a crater about eighteen miles deep and lofted twenty-five trillion metric tons of debris into the atmosphere. Picture the splash of a pebble falling into pond water, but on a planetary scale. (Full story)

NASA concept for generating power in deep space a little KRUSTY

Photo from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

NASA and NNSA engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY). The vacuum chamber is later evacuated to simulate the conditions of space when KRUSTY operates.

Prospects of establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon have taken a step forward with the test of a system known as Kilopower, a lightweight fission reactor which could provide ten kilowatts of power for at least a decade.

KRUSTY was developed by NNSA’s [Los Alamos National Laboratory]. Last week, the team won a Gears of Government President’s Award for their achievement. (Full story)

Simulating ice at the bottom of the world: Modeling the Antarctic ice sheets

Antarctic surface velocities simulated by MALI. LANL image.

The collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in the West Antarctic Peninsula shattered more than ice — it shattered scientists’ prevailing view of ice sheets and their floating shelves. Simulating these erratic and complex changes requires scientists to have a high level of detail — called resolution — in their models. 

MALI — a collaboration between DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories — puts resolution only where it’s needed. It can focus high resolution on fast-moving ice streams and low resolution in the slow-moving interior. The model changes the resolution by changing the shape and size of the blocks it splits the world into.

Results have been good so far. At a test of one-kilometer (0.6-mile) resolution, MALI simulated the thickness of certain ice accurately down to the meter. Other tests have showed that it’s correctly mimicking under different circumstances how the grounding line moves. (Full story)

Petaflop systems now dominate the supercomputer landscape

Trinity supercomputer at Los Alamos, LANL photo.

Petaflop capabilities now dominate the supercomputer landscape with all of this year's entries in the TOP500 now delivering these levels of performance or more.

In seventh place Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories' Trinity at 20.2 petaflops.

The TOP500 project is a bi-annual report on supercomputers around the world based on the High-Performance Linpack (HPL) benchmark. For the first time since its inception in 1993, only petaflop systems have made the TOP500 computers list. (Full story)

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)