Friday, July 26, 2019

What happens when a deadly disease is eradicated? Scientists sequence and destroy

Rinderpest killed more than 90% of cattle in Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Image from Nature.

Scientists who work with the deadly livestock virus rinderpest — only the second disease ever wiped out, after smallpox — achieved a milestone last month when they destroyed a huge proportion of the world’s last remaining virus samples.

“The world is not out of the woods,” says Paul Fenimore, a theoretical biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who has modelled the potential progress of epidemics resulting from a rinderpest release. International efforts to consolidate and eliminate stocks have already greatly reduced the risk that rinderpest could return, says Fenimore. But the chance of an accidental release, although low, exists as long as lab stocks remain, he says. (Full Story)

Quantum Darwinism, an idea to explain objective reality, passes first tests

Wojciech Zurek, LANL photo.

Surprisingly, although decoherence is a straightforward consequence of quantum mechanics, it was only identified in the 1970s, by the late German physicist Heinz-Dieter Zeh. The Polish-American physicist Wojciech Zurek further developed the idea in the early 1980s and made it better known, and there is now good experimental support for it.

But to explain the emergence of objective, classical reality, it’s not enough to say that decoherence washes away quantum behavior and thereby makes it appear classical to an observer. Somehow, it’s possible for multiple observers to agree about the properties of quantum systems. Zurek, who works at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, argues that two things must therefore be true. (Full Story)

3 rovers will head to Mars in 2020

Engineers at JPL install legs and wheels on the Mars 2020 rover.  NASA image.

China’s rover will be its second attempt to reach Mars, after a joint effort with Russia crashed in 2012 before leaving Earth’s orbit. HX-1 will reportedly carry a mast-mounted laser-induced breakdown spectrometer similar to the ChemCam on Curiosity and the SuperCam on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The Chinese have done “a fair amount to imitate the ChemCam on Curiosity, same as we’re doing, so it will be fun to compare,” says Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the SuperCam team leader.

“The fact there are three rovers headed to Mars is amazing,” Wiens says. “The success of any of those three is not assured. It’s still very much a risky business. But I can imagine the scientific conferences that would come from having three rovers in three different parts of the world.” (Full Story)

Inside the Government’s ‘Quantum Computing Summer School’

Illustration from Vice.

The hot core of Los Alamos' mission is nuclear security. And if quantum computers can successfully simulate atoms and particles, scientists can understand how the nuclear material inside existing bombs is behaving, what will happen as it sits inert, and what would happen if someone pressed the big red button. Since we’re not supposed to just blow up bombs in the desert anymore to understand them, scientists could simulate nuclear blasts (and the sitting-still bombs) on quantum computers.

While we have a good sense of what they can do, if you ask a quantum computer person how the computers work, you likely won’t get a satisfying answer. That’s partly because it’s complicated. But it’s also because quantum mechanics has no practical bearing on our interactions with the world. (Full Story)

Understanding quantum cryptography


Illustration from AltCoin.

The key is encrypted into a series of photons that get passed between two parties trying to share secret information. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle dictates that an adversary can’t look at these photons without changing or destroying them.

“In this case, it doesn’t matter what technology the adversary has, they’ll never be able to break the laws of physics,” said physicist Richard Hughes of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who works on quantum cryptography.

Any encryption method will only be as secure as the humans running it, added Hughes. Whenever someone claims that a particular technology “is fundamentally unbreakable, people will say that’s snake oil,” he said. (Full Story)

Algal biofuels face diverse pathogens

Healthy vs. unhealthy algae ponds, University of Arizona image.

DNA analysis of a predatory bacterium has revealed a much higher level of genetic diversity than previously thought, posing a threat to the algae biofuel industry.

Biologists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico sequenced strains of the Vampirovibrio chlorellavorus bacterium, which can destroy algae cells and render algae ineffective for biofuel production.

Blake Hovde, Los Alamos National Laboratory biologist, said: "DNA sequences show what are likely different species, suggesting a much larger diversity in this family than we originally assumed. (Full Story)

Physicist and neuroscientist Garrett Kenyon says there’s no Artificial Intelligence

Garrett Kenyon answers questions following his talk on artificial intelligence, LA Reporter photo.

Kenyon is a physicist and neuroscientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Information Sciences Division who specializes in neurally-inspired computing.

“The topic is so interesting. What is AI? What does it mean for our society? I’ve been in this field for more than 30 years now and I bring a different perspective to the topic. It will be somewhat shocking to some people because I bring a somewhat different opinion of where we’re at,” he said.

“AI doesn’t exist,” Kenyon told the Los Alamos Reporter prior to his talk. “It’s kind of a myth. It’s this word everyone uses. It’s utterly abused.” (Full Story)

Machine-learning competition boosts earthquake prediction capabilities

Earthquake prediction could improve earthquake hazard assessments, image from HPCwire.

Three teams who applied novel machine learning methods to successfully predict the timing of earthquakes from historic seismic data are splitting $50,000 in prize money from an open, online Kaggle competition hosted by Los Alamos National Laboratory and its partners.

“Crowdsourcing for new approaches in earthquake forecasting helps us leverage a wide range of expertise in addressing one of the most important problems in Earth science, because of the devastating consequences of large quakes,” said Bertrand Rouet-Leduc, a Los Alamos researcher who prepared the data for the competition. (Full Story)

Melting ice may change shape of Arctic river deltas

Kolyma Delta, Russia. Landsat natural color satellite image. USGS image.

“Your channels tend to stay in one place when you have really thick ice or when you have permafrost that’s really hard to erode,” said Rebecca Lauzon, environmental educator at the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s Cumming Nature Center in New York and the lead author of the new study.

Lauzon, who was working an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the time of the research, and her co-authors, created two versions of a model: One to predict the effects that ice thickness might have on Arctic river deltas and another to predict the effects of permafrost strength. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory Summer Science Camp empowers New Mexican young women

Laboratory researcher Adrianna Reyes-Newell, right, shows students how laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy works. LANL photo.

The third annual Los Alamos National Laboratory Summer Physics Camp for Young Women recently concluded in Pojoaque, giving the 22 students from Northern New Mexico communities a grounding in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, introducing them to role models, and showcasing the wide range of STEM opportunities available at the Laboratory.

“The free camp aims at empowering local young women to explore a future in STEM by showcasing topics through demonstrations and hands-on experiments and lectures,” said Anna Llobet, camp organizer and Laboratory researcher. (Full Story)

Also from the Daily Post this week:

LANL Employees Donate $372,491 For Scholarships

During the recent Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund (LAESF) campaign, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) employees pledged $372,491 to support scholarships for Northern New Mexico students.

The annual drive encourages Laboratory employees, retirees and subcontract personnel to donate to funds that award scholarships to qualified students pursuing a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or professional certification in any area of study or in pursuit of a trade. (Full Story)

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