Friday, October 25, 2019

American scientists are about to start shooting plasma guns in a bid to achieve controlled nuclear fusion

The Plasma Liner Experiment. LANL photo.

Scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are about to start experiments with "plasma guns" in the hope of achieving controlled nuclear fusion—a source of clean and near limitless energy.

Nuclear fusion is the way the sun generates power. It involves two small, lighter nuclei joining together to create one heavy nucleus. When they join together, energy is released. However, achieving this in a stable state, meaning the energy can be harnessed, is extremely difficult. High pressures and temperatures of around 150 million degrees Celsius are required. (Full story)

This Frankenstein's Monster is going to be a nuclear fusion reactor

Supersonic jets fired from 7 plasma guns collide
in PLX test firings, LANL image.

Engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico—birthplace of the Manhattan Project—are building a new machine that draws on two diverging methods of creating nuclear fusion. And the bulbous contraption looks like something straight out of a sci-fi novel.

The Plasma Liner Experiment has 36 plasma guns that surround the spherical chamber. These guns are designed to shoot plasma jets of ionized gas into the chamber, targeting, compressing, and heating a cloud of fusion fuel inside. The plasma guns are set back from the machine so they can fire rapidly and lower the chances of the sensitive machinery being damaged during the reaction. (Full story)

Also in PhysOrg

Scientists are building an “AccuWeather” for germs to predict your risk of getting the flu

Sara del Valle of Los Alamos is working to predict
and prevent epidemics using data and machine
learning. LANL photo.

Predicting (and, ideally, preventing) such epidemics is Sara del Valle’s passion. She hopes to develop an app that’s like AccuWeather for germs: It would tell you your chance of getting the flu, or dengue or Zika, in your city on a given day. And like AccuWeather, it could help people alter their behavior to live better lives, whether that means staying home on a snowy morning or washing their hands on a sickness-heavy commute.

Since the beginning of del Valle’s career, she’s been driven by one thing: using data and predictions to help people behave practically around pathogens. As a kid, she’d always been good at math, but when she found out she could use it to capture the tentacular spread of disease, and not just manipulate abstractions, she was hooked. (Full story)

Los Alamos' predictive AI computer model wins FluSight Challenge

Dave Osthus, LANL photo.

A probabilistic artificial intelligence computer model developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory provided the most accurate state, national, and regional forecasts of the flu in 2018, beating 23 other teams in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's FluSight Challenge. The CDC announced the results last week.

"Accurately forecasting diseases is similar to weather forecasting in that you need to feed computer models large amounts of data so they can 'learn' trends. But it's very different because disease spread depends on daily choices humans make in their behavior--such as travel, hand-washing, riding public transportation, interacting with the healthcare system, among other things. Those are very difficult to predict," said Dave Osthus, statistician at Los Alamos and developer of the computer model, Dante. (Full story)

Also fin the Los Alamos Daily Post


A forest expert team in Spain fights fire with fire — literally

A fire in southern France, photo from Maine Public Radio.

Mediterranean shepherds and farmers have been using fire to manage the landscape for thousands of years. But most techniques used by firefighters today were developed in the United States, where the record-setting blazes of the past 10 years have shown the limits of suppression alone. In the U.S. as well as Europe, the change in approach toward fire is just beginning.

"In the scientific community, it's understood we need to get fire back on the landscape," says Rod Linn, a climate modeler at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "And most fire practitioners have come to grips with fire having a lot of benefits. But with the public, there's work to do to get it socialized, to get people aware that just because you see smoke, it's not necessarily bad." (Full story)

Doped quantum dots capture more energy from light

Los Alamos National Laboratory engineers have synthesized magnetically-doped quantum dots that capture the kinetic energy of electrons created by UV light before it’s wasted as heat. “This discovery could make it possible to make more efficient solar cells, light detectors, photocathodes, and light-driven chemical reactions,” according to Victor Klimov, lead researcher on the lab’s quantum dot project.

In standard solar cells, a large amount of sunlight energy is wasted as heat. This is because they lack an effective way to capture the kinetic energy of “hot” electrons generated by photons in the green to UV portion of the sun’s light. (Full story)

‘A woman driver on Mars’ — or why we need diversity in the sciences

The fact is, despite the great strides women have made in the sciences, stereotypes persist. In the 1960s and ’70s, a social scientist asked 4,807 elementary school students to draw a scientist. Of those, only 0.6 percent depicted a woman. The good news is, today, about 28 percent of children draw female scientists, a significant improvement, but we still have a long way to go — especially when you consider that women earn roughly 34 percent of all doctoral degrees in science, technology, math and engineering.

To continue this upward trend, we need to approach diversity not as the feel-good, check-the-box requirement it’s often perceived to be, but as a critical foundation on which successful teams are built. Because it is. (Full story)

Wide load on New Mexico roads

New Mexico drivers will want to keep an eye out over the next couple of days as a massive piece of equipment is being transported from Los Alamos to Clovis. No, it's not a missile, but it's just as big as one and it's traveling the New Mexico highways right now.

It's actually a massive rotor, nearly 70 feet long. When it's on the trailer the total weight is almost 700,000 pounds. This is one of the biggest cargoes that drivers will ever see transported on the roadways and it's expected to take days to get to its final destination. (Full story)

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Voyager missions saw a 'tsunami' of solar activity

Diagram of the outer solar system, from Gizmodo

The Voyagers 1 and 2 spacecraft measured the Sun sending a pulse like a “tsunami” into the interstellar medium, according to a new paper.

One researcher not involved with the study thought the measurement was exciting and important. “This is a solid scientific result, and I believe the first time they’ve seen this correlated event” between the two probes, Herbert Funsten, a research scientist at Los Alamos National Lab, told Gizmodo. He was excited to see the analysis of more of these GMIR events that the Voyager probes have measured, and see how these measurements compare with NASA’s Earth-orbiting Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission. (Full Story)

How HAWC landed in Mexico

The HAWC observatory, HAWC photo.

In 2000 Magdalena González was in the fourth semester of a PhD in theoretical physics, and her academic life was miserable.

But then she attended a talk by physicist Brenda Dingus of the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. The topic was new to her: experimental research into gamma rays. “It blew my mind,” González says. “I thought, I want to research exactly that.”

She approached Dingus to ask her how she might get involved. Dingus took her on as a graduate student, and she switched to doing satellite analysis and later working in the MILAGRO Gamma Ray Observatory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for her thesis.  (Full Story)

At LANL, breaking down data to address global problems

Guest column author Sara Del Valle, LANL photo.       

Data scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory study data from wide-ranging, public sources to identify patterns, aiming to predict trends that could threaten global security. Multiple data streams are critical because the ground-truth data (such as surveys) are often delayed, biased, sparse, incorrect or sometimes nonexistent.

For example, knowing mosquito incidence in communities would help public health officials predict the risk of mosquito-transmitted disease such as dengue, the leading cause of illness and death in the tropics, or West Nile virus, which has been found in New Mexico each year since 2003. However, mosquito data at a global (and even national) scale is not available. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Lab studying spread of mosquito-borne diseases

Los Alamos National Lab is studying the threat of mosquitoes and their growing populations.

“We’re studying mosquito populations to understand how they grow and change with seasons, and to understand how they impact infectious diseases that they spread both to humans and animals,” scientist Carrie Manore said.

Researchers say hurricanes, flooding, and standing water all affect how mosquitoes grow and relocate over time. Scientists are now studying precipitation, temperature and water gauge to predict mosquito population. (Full Story)

Seven Los Alamos scientists and engineers honored as 2019 Laboratory Fellows

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and engineers Brian Albright, Patrick Chain, Dana Dattelbaum, Michael Hamada, Anna Hayes-Sterbenz, Michael Prime and Laura Smilowitz are being honored as 2019 Laboratory fellows.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows are the best of our scientists and engineers. This year’s fellows are leaders in their fields who have made exceptional contributions not only to the Laboratory’s national security mission, but also to the broader scientific community,” said Thom Mason, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “It’s an honor to recognize these innovative researchers in such distinct, important fields." 
Also from the Daily Post this week:

UC President Janet Napolitano and Triad’s Thom Mason present $599,600 grant

Janet Napolitano, right, and Thom Mason, left, present funding to LANL Foundation President/CEO Jenny Parks, from the Daily Post.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation’s mission to “inspire excellence in education and learning in Northern New Mexico through innovative programming, collaboration and advocacy” has received a major boost with a $599,600 grant from Los Alamos National Laboratory operator Triad National Security, LLC.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director and Triad President Thom Mason explained that Triad’s Community Commitment Plan builds on the positive impact in the region that comes from the Laboratory’s support for education and economic development projects, and from its own procurement and hiring. (Full Story)

LANL’s fuel cell knowledge tapped for surveys of catalyst technology

Two recent articles in Advanced Materials leverage Los Alamos’s extensive expertise in fuel cell technology. The articles, one by Los Alamos researchers and another with their external colleagues, survey current developments in precious-metal-free electrocatalysts and progress in understanding the main causes of their instability.

The Laboratory’s role in developing fuel cells and hydrogen as an energy source goes back more than 40 years to when DOE awarded the first Fuel Cells for Transportation program to the Lab. (Full Story)

Also from the LA Reporter this week:

LANL volunteers prepare homes for rescued wildlife

Pepper (a raccoon) and Mesquite (a coyote) were illegally being kept as pets before they were rescued and brought to the New Mexico Wildlife Center in Española. Because of their domestic upbringing, they cannot be returned to the wild, but now they can go on to live life to the fullest at the center, thanks to the help of volunteers from the Laboratory.

On Sept. 13 and 14, 10 Lab volunteers worked to finish putting together these ambassador animals’ new enclosures.  “We are so grateful to have had the help of the Los Alamos National Laboratory employees,” said Melissa Moore, executive director at the Center. (Full Story)

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Ancient oasis once existed on Mars

The Curiosity Rover, NASA image.

The surface of Mars was once home to shallow, salty ponds that went through episodes of overflow and drying, according to a paper published today in Nature Geoscience.

“We’ve learned over the years of Curiosity’s traverse across Gale Crater that Mars’ climate was habitable once, long ago,” said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a co-author of the paper. “What these new findings show is that the climate on Mars was not as stable as we thought it was. There were very wet periods and very dry periods—as these sulfate-rich rocks show us.” (Full story)

Modified quantum dots capture more energy
Doping a quantum dot with manganese
speeds the capture of energy, LANL image.

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have synthesized magnetically-doped quantum dots that capture the kinetic energy of electrons created by ultraviolet light before it’s wasted as heat.

“This discovery can potentially enable novel, highly-efficient solar cells, light detectors, photocathodes and light-driven chemical reactions,” said Victor Klimov, lead researcher on the Laboratory’s quantum dot project.

In standard solar cells, a large amount of sunlight energy is wasted as heat. This waste occurs due to the lack of effective approaches for capturing kinetic energy of ‘hot’ electrons generated by photons in the green to ultraviolet portion of the sun’s light spectrum. (Full story)

Ancient tsunamis that left their mark

Location of Burckle Crater in the Indian
Ocean. From Ancient Origins.

Burckle crater was discovered in 2005 by Dr. Dallas Abbott who estimates it to be between 4,500 to 5,000 years old. The obvious explanation is that a large comet or asteroid smashed into the Indian Ocean 4,800 years ago, producing a monster tsunami at least 600 feet (183 meters) high.          

Bruce Masse, an environmental archeologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory believes that the comet fell on May 10, 2807 BC according to information contained in many flood myths from around the world, particularly those mentioning a full solar eclipse which occurred on that day. (Full story)

Los Alamos Reporter visits LANL emergency management division

The Emergency Response Training Center has
props for training exercises, LA Reporter photo.

For more than 12,500 employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the phone number to remember is 7-2400. This is the phone number for the 24-hour Emergency Operations Support Center (EOSC) at Technical Area 69 which operates seven days a week.

The EOSC monitors the LANL fire alarm system, receives notification of incidents and emergencies, and dispatches LANL emergency responders. It also activates other response elements throughout the 43-square mile site, issues protective actions to workers and makes any required notifications. The slogan on bright yellow posters says, “When in doubt, call the EOSC 24/7”. And yes, there’s an app for that! (Full story)

Also from the LA Reporter this week:

John Sarrao named to state technology research collaborative board

John Sarrao, LANL photo.  

The New Mexico Economic Development Department’s (NMEDD) Science and Technology Division has named new board members for the Technology Research Collaborative (TRC) including John Sarrao, Deputy Director for Science, Technology, and Engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The TRC was formalized in 2003, with the goal of promoting technology commercialization in New Mexico, increasing high- paying jobs, and diversifying the economy. (Full story)

Friday, October 4, 2019

What Google’s quantum supremacy claim means for quantum computing

Google used a 54-qubit processor in its quantum supremacy experiment. Google photo.

Google’s team has even coined a term to describe how quickly quantum computing could gain on classical computing: “Neven’s Law,” which describes how quantum computing seems to gain power far more rapidly through double exponential growth.

“If you’ve ever plotted a double exponential [on a graph], it looks like the line is zero and then you hit the corner of a box and you go straight up,” says Andrew Sornborger, a theoretical physicist who studies quantum computers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “And so before and after, it’s not so much like an evolution, it’s more like an event—before you hit the corner and after you hit the corner.” (Full Story)

LANL teams with Arm for extreme-scale computing

Efficient Mission Centric Computing Consortium (EMC3), LANL graphic.

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Arm are teaming up to make efficient, workload-optimized processors tailored to the extreme-scale computing requirements of the Laboratory’s national-security mission. The collaboration addresses the challenges of connecting more and more processors as high performance computers become larger and more powerful.

High performance computers play a pivotal role in Los Alamos’ mission of maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile and understanding complicated physics through extreme-scale simulations that can take months to complete on today’s fastest computers. (Full Story)

Brazilian woman diagnosed with HIV after getting a manicure

Illustration from the Sentinel of Guwahati, India.

In a strange incident, a 22-year-old Brazilian woman was diagnosed with HIV after getting a manicure using shared equipment. Doctors say the case, which was first reported in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses last year, highlights a “new form of transmission for the virus.” According to Dr. Brian Foley, of the HIV Sequence Database at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, USA, the incident should not make you fearful of contact with people who have HIV because the risk of infection is very low.”

“It should make people aware that sharing any utensils with possible blood-blood contacts, such as needles used for drugs, tattoos, or acupuncture can result in the transmission of viruses such as hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV.” (Full Story)

Los Alamos Reporter visits with LANL air and water quality monitoring staff

David Fuehne explains how data is obtained by air monitoring stations throughout the area. LA Reporter photo.

Living with a national laboratory in the neighborhood, the safety and health of the people and the environment probably crosses one’s mind a little more often than it might if one were living elsewhere. On a recent visit to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Los Alamos Reporter was surprised to learn that more than 700 staff members are involved in the Lab’s 140 environmental safety and health programs – making it comparable to a state program as large as that run by the state of California.

The morning began with a tour of some of the Lab’s offsite AIRNET air monitoring equipment close to Los Alamos Medical Center with David Fuehne, technical program leader for radionuclide emissions. In terms of pollution, Fuehne and his team are looking for particulate radionuclides like uranium or plutonium. (Full Story)

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