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)