Friday, July 19, 2019

 Did life sign the guest book on Mars?

Petroglyphs in Monument Valley, from SciAm.

It turns out that the dark, hard varnish coating cliff faces and rocks throughout the American Southwest and elsewhere—often as a canvas for ancient carved petroglyphs—has a lot to say about life on Earth.

Several minerals make up varnish: manganese oxides, iron oxides, and (mostly) clays. Manganese oxides require oxygen to form.

The case for manganese got a lot stronger when the ChemCam instrument, developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and currently operating on the Curiosity rover on Mars, identified veins of manganese oxides and what looks like manganese-rich coatings on Martian rocks. The presence of manganese oxides suggests Mars once had an oxygen-rich atmosphere. (Full story) 

A gathering of nuclear detectives

A multidisciplinary group of scientists swing into action whenever a radioactive object turns up in an unexpected location. During these so-called “interdictions”, nuclear forensic scientists work to identify what the object is, where it came from, who it belongs to and whether there might be more of it. 

Behind that relatively straightforward premise, however, the science can be rather complicated. The photo above comes from a talk by Jacquelyn Dorhout, a post-doctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In the photo are 22 vials of a powdery substance. Despite their visual differences, every one of those vials contains the same chemical: ammonium diuranate (ADU), popularly known as yellowcake. ADU is present at many stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, and Dorhout and her colleagues found that its colour and texture variations are due to differing amounts of ammonium nitrate. In principle, Dorhout says, these differences could reveal forensically useful information about a sample’s history. “We want to be able to go back and say, ‘Where did this come from?’,” she explains. (Full story)

Quest for elusive HIV vaccine is poised for major test

HIV attacking T Cell.

Johnson & Johnson is preparing to test an experimental HIV vaccine in the U.S. and Europe in a move toward developing the first immunization against the deadly disease after decades of frustration.    

Dan Barouch, of Harvard Medical School and Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, designed an optimized set of “mosaic” proteins to go in the vaccine that would raise immune defenses against a wide variety of strains.

The vaccine uses a cold virus that’s altered to make the proteins that raise immunity. Study participants get six shots in four sessions. (Full story)


Report: US nuclear lab gives New Mexico economy $3B boost

Responsible for infusing about $3 billion a year into New Mexico's economy, Los Alamos National Laboratory is being held up by lab officials, politicians and others as an example of the kind of high-tech economic drivers the state needs more of.

The lab on Thursday released the findings of an economic impact report prepared by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Los Alamos Lab Director Thom Mason said the report underlines the lab's role as a major employer that has created good paying, high-tech jobs. He also pointed to the resulting ripple effect.

"Part of being a good neighbor is bolstering the economic well-being of the communities where we live and operate," he said. (Full story)

Also reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Albuquerque Journal

Also from the Associated Press this week:

New Mexico launches STEM challenge

Lab Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.
How will you use science and technology to help with national security? Los Alamos National Laboratory came up with the question and will be partnering with teachers and businesses as the students use what they learn in the classroom next semester to formulate their answers.

Laboratory Director Thom Mason said Friday that the challenge resonates with Los Alamos because applying science, engineering and technology to make the world safer is something its scientists and researchers do every day. While the question being asked of the students might sound simple, Mason said it’s anything but.

“This is hands-on, it’s a contact sport,” he said, implying that the competition could be fierce. (Full story)

Los Alamos scientists school Wikipedia about women in science

Ten Los Alamos women scientist biographies will go live on Wikipedia soon, ranging from physicists to chemists and explosives technicians, and the team hopes to coordinate another activity like this in the future to highlight remarkable Los Alamos female scientists and their extraordinary achievements.

Los Alamos is the first national lab that the Wiki Education Foundation representatives have visited as part of an initiative to activate scientists and scholars in a movement to ensure the public has access to reliable information, properly cited to academic sources. Other sites enlisted so far have been colleges and universities. (Full story)

Two LANL scientists win Presidential Early Career Awards

 Abigail Hunter (left) and Shea Mosby, LANL photos.

Abigail Hunter, of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Computational Physics Division, and Shea Mosby, of the Laboratory’s Physics Division, have received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

“Abigail has become a technical thought leader within the Laboratory’s weapons program and our materials modeling community, as well as an internationally recognized expert in materials science and the physics of solid-state materials,” said Mark Schraad, Computational Physics Division leader.

“Shea is a deep-thinking early career scientist who has contributed to many of the nuclear reaction measurements done at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center. He is currently developing a novel concept to measure nuclear reactions in radioactive isotopes,” said David Meyerhofer, Physics Division leader. (Full story)

Also from the Reporter this week:

LANL Director talks to RCLC about jobs, infrastructure, safety, external partnerships

Thom Mason addresses Regional Coalition of LANL
Communities board members. LA Reporter photo        

“We’re starting to chart our path forward and this takes several forms. We’ve been thinking about what our Laboratory agenda is, what are the priorities that we’re trying to accomplish,” said LANL Director Dr. Thom Mason.  "More relevant probably for the broader community and this group is how we as an institution intersect with the surrounding communities. We are part of a really tremendous ecosystem of communities and people who support all we have done.” (Full story)

LANL hosts community conversation on needs of area nonprofits

Panel discussion includes Thom Mason, left. Daily Post photo.           

Los Alamos National Laboratory hosted a Community Conversation Thursday morning at UNM-Los Alamos. The Conversation focused on the challenges facing nonprofit staff and board members in the search for organizational excellence.

Laboratory Director Thom Mason spoke on how nonprofits can connect with their organizations to seek, not only funding, but volunteers. Mason said LANL is 'gerrymandering' its giving to concentrate on seven New Mexico Counties, including Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe. (Full story)