Friday, August 30, 2019

Fighting wildfires with computer models

Image from SciAm.

The FIRETEC modeling tool, developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, leverages fluid-dynamics research originally developed for national security science and uses physics to represent the critical interactions among the multiple ignitions of a prescribed burn in very complex terrain.

Based on specific details about ignition patterns, terrain, weather, atmospheric conditions, fuel loads, vegetation and more, FIRETEC simulates the buoyant rise of air, the way the fire draws in competing drafts of air, mutual influence among fire lines, and interactions among the gases of the fire and the fuel loads, terrain, atmosphere and so on. (Full story)

Also in Scientific American:

A Missing Link in Predicting Hurricane Damage

Image from SciAm.

Eroding coastlines are a significant factor in how infrastructure will be affected—but a new computer model now factors them in.

Using supercomputers at Los Alamos, we’ve developed a model that processes data about the physical characteristics of coastlines—including soil, vegetation and sensitivity to erosion—and how those characteristics would interact with a hurricane and its storm surge.

Although many studies have been conducted in laboratory settings to understand changing coastlines, the limitations of lab research mean that the resulting models are only relevant for a very small geographical area. To overcome this issue, Los Alamos has developed a model that describes the physics of changing coastlines. Because it’s based on physics and not a single geographical area, the model can be applied on a regional scale and include any coastal city. (Full story)

Supercomputers pave the way for new machine learning Approach

New deep learning models predict the
interactions between atoms in organic
molecules, LANL image.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a machine learning approach called transfer learning that lets them model novel materials by learning from data collected about millions of other compounds. The new approach can be applied to new molecules in milliseconds, enabling research into a far greater number of compounds over much longer timescales.

The new technique, called ANI-1ccx potential, promises to advance the capabilities of researchers in many fields and improve the accuracy of machine learning-based potentials in future studies of metal alloys and detonation physics. (Full story)

New technology could help scientists predict earthquakes

Scientists are utilizing new technology that allows them to study millions of small earthquakes in hopes of being able to predict the next big one.

The study comes out of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It shows how advancing computer technology is now able to read 10 times the number of earthquakes previously recorded, as local expert of geology, Patrick Abbott explained. (Full story)

Most of California's big earthquakes are preceded by ghostly 'foreshocks' weeks in advance

Image from Live Science.

"We're hoping that these observations will help inform improved physical models of how earthquakes get started," lead study author Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told Live Science. "With this improved physical understanding, we'll eventually be able to improve earthquake forecasting as well."

Trugman and his colleagues began their hunt for foreshocks by compiling a catalogue of some 284,000 earthquakes detected by various monitoring stations around Southern California between 2008 and 2017. (Full story).

Quantum Darwinism, a new theory on the nature of reality

Wojciech Zurek, LANL photo.

Wojciech H. Zurek, a Polish theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, first proposed the extraordinary concept of Quantum Darwinism in a paper published in 2009.

Zurek claims his theory explains why the transition from quantum to classical transition happens. In other words, why the tendency of particles to adopt specific state when we observe the system obeying macroscopic physics suddenly.

Zurek thinks the interaction of quantum systems with the environment is the cause of decoherence that forces a particle to lose its ability to stay in a superposition state. (Full story)

Possible detection of a black hole so big it ‘should not exist’

Black hole illustration from NASA.

Black hole physicists have been excitedly discussing reports that the LIGO and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors recently picked up the signal of an unexpectedly enormous black hole, one with a mass that was thought to be physically impossible.

The rumor is “pushing us to alternative formation mechanisms,” said Chris Fryer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who has studied binary black hole formation and the mass gap. “In any event it will be an exciting event — if it’s true.” (Full story)

Scenes from the Hazmat Challenge at LANL

A Hazmat Team working in a decimation
exercise, Daily Post photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory hosted a Hazmat Challenge this past week at its Hazardous Materials Training Center, one of the most complete training facilities in the Nation.

Ten teams attended the event from New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The challenge provides a unique training venue for hazmat responders to test and develop their technical response capabilities in a difficult but safe environment.

The event requires participants to respond to simulated hazardous material emergencies involving aircraft, rail and highway transportation, in industrial piping, a biological lab, a confined space event and more. (Full story).

Also from the Daily Post this week:

Scenes from Robotics Night at the Bradbury Museum

Robotics Night featured robotics teams from regional schools and local groups with robots used by Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos Police Department and UMN-LA. The event was brought to the community by the Bradbury Science Museum Association and supported by New Mexico Bank & Trust. (Full story)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Scientists finally know how big earthquakes start: With many smaller ones

Image from the LA Times.

The vast majority of earthquakes we feel come soon after smaller ones, according to new research that provides unprecedented insights into how seismology works.

Sometimes days or even weeks before most temblors of at least magnitude 4.0, scientists have found, smaller ones start rippling beneath the Earth’s surface — activity that can be detected thanks to an advanced computing technique.

“One of the biggest questions in earthquake seismology is how earthquakes get started,” said the study’s lead author, Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Small cluster of earthquakes may be warning sign of larger one to come, researcher says

Daniel Trugman on KGO-TV.

Another day of "Earthquake Roulette" in California and the East Bay, in particular, where the best we can say is that even if the ground didn't t move today, we're still 24 hours closer to the inevitable.

"There has been a long history of seismologists making earthquake predictions and they are generally wrong," said Daniel Trugman at Los Alamos National Laboratory. But he's getting closer and making headlines after publishing a study of quakes in Southern California.

His findings indicate that a flurry of very small quakes, or foreshocks, precede moderate or large ones like the quakes in Ridgecrest this summer. But there's a catch. How do we tell a foreshock? (Full Story)

Also from KPIX-TV and The Daily Dive

Record-breaking lightning as long as Kansas spotted

Map shows the largest lightning flash spotted in the satellite data. LANL image.

One evening while working, Michael Peterson found himself staring at an enormous spider. But Peterson, a remote sensing scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, wasn’t looking at a critter of the eight-legged variety. Instead the form crawling across his screen was a monstrous flash of so-called spider lightning—a twisting network of light stretching hundreds of miles across stormy skies. “I was just blown away,” he says. (Full Story)

Zap! Scientists fire laser for NASA's Mars 2020 rover for 1st time

NASA's Mars 2020 rover reached another milestone with the first successful test of its SuperCam instrument.

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently tested the instrument's ability to focus on a target, take a picture, and then record spectra while firing the laser. For the test, researchers used a block of calcite rock and were able to get a nice picture and spectral signals of the calcite minerals, Roger Wiens, principal investigator for the SuperCam instrument, told (Full Story)

'Game-changer' for cosmic research

Kilopower reactor, NASA image.

The announcement comes a week after NASA's Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group pledged that its portable nuclear reactor, called Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY), will be ready to fly to Mars by 2022.

Earlier, NASA and the Los Alamos National laboratory successfully tested a prototype Kilopower system which will be essential for day-to-day requirements, such as lighting, water and oxygen, and for mission objectives, like running experiments and producing fuel for the long journey home, according to NASA's official website. (Full Story)

A tissue sample from 1966 held traces of early HIV

Image from The Atlantic.

The study is “admirable,” says Bette Korber from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and “the reconstruction of HIV’s emergence and spread is very important.” Korber pioneered such reconstructions: She created the first decent estimate of HIV’s date of origin, using a genetic database that she and others (including Worobey’s team) have repeatedly turned to. She notes that 60 million to 100 million people have been infected with HIV, and 25 million to 50 million have died—a scale of suffering comparable to past world wars. “HIV has left a wound of deepest sorrow across humanity,” she says. “It is part of the human experience. We need to understand it.” (Full Story)

Working Scientist podcast: Switching scientific disciplines

Anna Lappala, LANL photo.

Moving to a new branch of science is scary, but learning new skills and collaborating with different colleagues can be exhilarating, Julie Gould discovers.

In the penultimate episode of this six-part series about physics careers, Julie Gould talks to Anna Lappala, who moved from biochemistry to physics. Lappala, a postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, describes how she was initially terrified of people discovering she was not a "real physicist" and worked hard to learn about general physics, quantum field theory, and soft matter, among other things. (Full Story)

Teams compete in LANL’s annual HAZMAT Challenge


LANL's Jeff Dare on KRQE-TV.

First responders are testing their skills in the Los Alamos National Lab’s Annual HAZMAT Challenge.

Ten hazardous materials teams from Nebraska, Tennessee, Oklahoma and New Mexico are participating. The event requires teams to respond to emergencies in aircraft, labs, and confined spaces. They then earn points based on their response.

“Every scenario we put together is real world. We minimize any situations so that teams come out here, they get scenarios, they see every day during their day job,” group leader Jeff Dare said. (Full Story)

National lab details $13B in building plans over next decade

Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory have plans for $13 billion worth of construction projects over the next decade at the northern New Mexico complex as it prepares to ramp up production of plutonium cores for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.

Beyond the new infrastructure related to plutonium assignment, other work likely will be aimed at serving a growing workforce — from planned housing projects and parking garages to a potential new highway that would reduce commute times from Albuquerque and Santa Fe for the 60% of employees who live outside of Los Alamos County. (Full Story)

$500K grant boosts Regional Development Corp. lending program

The Española-based Regional Development Corp. will use a $500,000 grant from Los Alamos National Laboratory operator Triad National Security LLC to fund its loan programs to small business, technology and manufacturing firms, plus tribal economic diversity grants.

“This is a very big deal,” Alonzo said. “It can make the difference for someone. A guy had to buy a power nail gun to grow the business. A lot of times rural businesses don’t have an extra $500 or $1,000.” (Full Story)

Also from the New Mexican this week:

The Mexican spotted owl thrives on Los Alamos land

A Mexican spotted owl in Three-mile Canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory. LANL image.

Mexican spotted owl habitat at the laboratory, like that found in Three-mile Canyon, is protected against loss or alteration, and during the owl’s breeding season, noise disturbances from construction and other activities are prohibited. The precautions the laboratory takes to protect the habitat of these owls sets it apart from other facilities in the United States. The habitat management plan developed in 1999 was novel for its time. This formal agreement between the Department of Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows the Laboratory to successfully execute its national security mission while protecting wildlife. (Full Story)

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Groundbreaking earthquake catalog may have just solved a seismic mystery

A crack in Highway 178 appeared after a 6.4
magnitude earthquake hit Ridgecrest, California.
Image from NatGeo,

In a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters, scientists examined a massive dataset of the region’s big and small rumbles, and they report a distinct increase in seismic activity in the weeks and days leading up to the majority of earthquakes.

Data from such experiments suggest that main quakes should be preceded by foreshocks, with tiny failures splintering across a fault when it approaches a critically stressed state.

But “real earthquakes are a much more complex system than our simple laboratory experiments,” says lead author Daniel Trugman, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

It's really hard to predict an earthquake, but scientists are getting closer

Image from Popular Mechanics.

Earthquakes are among the most surprising natural disasters. Unlike, say, hurricanes, the early-warning systems for quakes are still in their earliest stages. But new studies from the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Lab are painting a more accurate picture of the stresses within the earth's crust.

"It's very difficult to unpack what triggers larger earthquakes because they are infrequent, but with this new information about a huge number of small earthquakes, we can see how stress evolves in fault systems," says Daniel Trugman, a post-doctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full story)

Also from Popular Mechanics this week:

The power source for a Mars outpost could be ready in 3 years

Engineers prepare the Kilopower reactor core.
NASA image.

An experimental miniature nuclear reactor known as Kilopower, meant to power manned outposts beyond Earth, could be ready for an in-flight test as early as 2022, says a project lead project at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

In a recent NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) Working Group weekly teleconference, Kilopower lead Patrick McClure spoke for himself and not the government when he said, "I think we could do this in three years and be ready for flight." (Full story)

Nuclear reactor for Mars outpost could be ready to fly by 2022

Watch this video

A new type of nuclear reactor designed to power crewed outposts on the moon and Mars could be ready for its first in-space trial just a few years from now, project team members said.

A flight test is the next big step for the Kilopower experimental fission reactor, which aced a series of critical ground tests from November 2017 through March 2018. No off-Earth demonstration is on the books yet, but Kilopower should be ready to go by 2022 or so if need be, said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. (Full story)

Preparing the quantum workforce of the future

Lukasz Cincio, LANL photo.

In a hot auditorium deep in the Laboratory’s Physics Building at Los Alamos National Laboratory, college physics and computing students, veteran scientists and esteemed Laboratory fellows file in after lunch for the Director’s Colloquium, as they have done for decades. The well-worn fabric seats and wood panel walls have seen some of the world’s most influential scientists speak.

But this lecture is different and a sense of anticipation fills the crowd. Quantum computing guru Scott Aaronson from the University of Texas at Austin is giving the final lecture in the Quantum Computing Summer School, a new program aimed at building a global workforce capable of working on the computers of the future – quantum computers. (Full story)

LANL scientists pioneer fast leak detection system

Manvendra Dubey, left, Bryan Travis and
Keeley Costigan. LANL photo.

Natural gas is used to heat our homes, cook our food and keep our lights on. Increased production activity — spread over millions of miles of pipeline and thousands of processing facilities across the globe — brings with it costly, hard-to-detect leaks.

Enter ALFa LDS, the Autonomous, Low-cost, Fast Leak Detection System, pioneered by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists in collaboration with Aeris Technologies and Rice University. ALFa LDS is an affordable, robust, autonomous system for the detection of natural gas leaks. (Full story)

LANL officials detail potential building boom

At a meeting attended by some 700 representatives of construction firms from around the country Thursday, plans for different kind of explosion – a building and hiring boom – were described for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

LANL Director Thomas Mason, in an interview Friday, said the lab currently has 1,400 openings and has been hiring about 1,000 people annually over the past several years, with about 500 each year placed in new job slots as opposed to replacing retirees or others who’ve left the lab. (Full story)

Also from the Journal this week:

LANL operator Triad gives $500K to local development non-profit

Laboratory Director Thomas Mason.
LANL photo.

Triad National Security, LLC — operator of Los Alamos National Laboratory — is providing a $500,000 grant to a local economic development non-profit.

“The laboratory boosts the region’s economy through employment and procurement and we are always looking for direct ways to increase that impact,” said lab director Thomas Mason, who also is president of Triad. “Triad’s partnership with RDC helps businesses provide jobs across all of northern New Mexico.” (Full story)

Also reported by the LA Daily Post

Small businesses loans available via Regional Development Corp.

The Regional Development Corp., based in Española, has $269,000 available for no-interest microloans to small businesses and loans for technology and manufacturing companies in seven Northern New Mexico counties. The Regional Development Corp. receives financial support from Triad National Security, which operates Los Alamos National Laboratory; the cities of Española and Santa Fe; Los Alamos and Santa Fe counties; and the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership. (Full story)