Thursday, February 20, 2020

How your favorite airline can slash its colossal carbon emissions

Courtesy photo.

If the airline industry were its own country, it would emit more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air than nearly every nation on Earth. To quell these prodigious emissions, and to prepare for a future where already-booming air travel is expected to triple by 2045, major airlines recently announced lofty designs to slash their carbon emissions.

But, critically, airlines  might want to ramp up investment in fuels that don’t require fracking new oil from the planet. These fuels, called biofuels because they’re commonly made from crops or plant waste, won’t add any new carbon to Earth’s already skyrocketing carbon-dioxide levels. “Instead of releasing carbon as CO2 that’s been in the earth for billions of years, this is from a plant,” said Andrew Sutton, who works on the Chemical Energy Storage Team at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Sutton is researching ways to make current jet fuels more efficient.) (Full story)

Expedition drifts in the Arctic ice to study climate

Members of the Atmospheric Radiation
Measurement installation team stand in
front of the icebreaker R/V Polarstern.
Courtesy Photo.

After years of planning and days of travel, a team of scientists and technicians from Los Alamos National Laboratory at last have made it to the top of the world, that snow desert known as the Arctic.

As the team emerges from the comfort of the research ship R/V Polarstern, they are struck by the unforgiving cold, which during winter reaches minus-58 degrees. This is the place of the midnight sun and polar night, where it’s often difficult to discern land from water because of the ice and snow that sit above it, and where polar bears and arctic foxes are the solitary creatures.

Despite the destitute location and uninviting climate of the Arctic, people have always been drawn to this desolate place. Explorations go as far back as 325 B.C., when a Greek expedition led by Pytheas made it to the frozen sea while searching for tin.

Countless other expeditions have followed. Lately, humanity has come to the Arctic to seek answers to how and why the Earth’s climate works the way it does. For example, five years ago Russian scientists used drift stations — research camps aboard large floating slabs of ice — to study the nature of climate and how it has evolved on Earth.

Such scientific work has the potential to unravel the Arctic’s secrets regarding how it responds to a changing environment, and critically, how it affects weather patterns in the rest of our world. (Full story)

Interplanetary rock star: LANL scientist Nina Lanza uses the Mars rover and its ChemCam laser to study the geology of the Red Planet

Nina Lanza, a scientist at LANL, traveled to
Antarctica a few years ago to locate and
recover meteorites.

A trip to a Boston planetarium at age 7 to see Halley’s Comet set the trajectory of Nina Lanza’s life.

The Mars rover and Los Alamos National Laboratory planetary geologist said she came from a family that loved exploring the natural world. Lanza grew up in Boston, and her parents took her to the planetarium where she attended a lecture and then was given the opportunity to look through a telescope.

“There were all these amazing things,” she said. “I realized that’s what I wanted to do, study these things.”

Lanza is part of the lab’s almost all-woman team that controls the ChemCam instrument that is attached to the Curiosity rover. The instrument shoots rocks with a laser and then LANL team analyzes them. (Full story)

Electrically pumped quantum-dot LED could lead to laser-diode version

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have incorporated colloidal quantum dots into a new type of electrically pumped LED containing an integrated optical resonator, which also allows the device, when optically pumped, to function as a laser.

The device, which emits at 618 nm with a quantum yield of about 80%, is a step toward mass-producible electrically pumped CQD lasers. This novel, dual-function device opens a path to versatile, easy-to-fabricate laser diodes—because the output wavelength can be tailored by changing the size of the CQDs, the technology can potentially result in lasers with wavelengths anywhere within a broad spectrum. (Full story)

Friday, February 14, 2020

The U.S. power grid desperately needs upgrades to handle climate change

Map of the U.S. electrical grid, EIA image.

The number of possible new installations and renovations across a network of power lines is often so high that a computer cannot simulate every combination of upgrades to calculate how many customers would benefit. “If you have on the table 100 or 150 or more different things you could do to your system and you look at all the possible combinations … very quickly the number of combinations exceeds the number of atoms in the universe,” says computer scientist Russell Bent of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

To tackle this problem, Bent and colleagues developed a computer program that doesn’t simulate every possible combination. Instead, it strategically samples upgrades from the pool of options that a utility has funding for and evaluates how the utility’s network would fare in different disasters — such as earthquakes and hurricanes — with each upgrade option. (Full story)

Disease modelers gaze into their computers to see the future of Covid-19, and it isn’t good

The virus that causes Covid-19. Courtesy Photo.

Like weather forecasters, researchers who use mathematical equations to project how bad a disease outbreak might become are used to uncertainties and incomplete data, and Covid-19, the disease caused by the new-to-humans coronavirus that began circulating in Wuhan, China, late last year, has those everywhere you look. That can make the mathematical models of outbreaks, with their wide range of forecasts, seem like guesswork gussied up with differential equations; the eightfold difference in projected Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, calculated by a team from the U.S. and Canada, isn’t unusual for the early weeks of an outbreak of a never-before-seen illness.

But infectious-disease models have been approximating reality better and better in recent years, thanks to a better understanding of everything from how germs behave to how much time people spend on buses.

“Our overarching goal is to minimize the spread and burden of infectious disease,” said Sara Del Valle, an applied mathematician and disease modeler at Los Alamos National Laboratory. By calculating the effects of countermeasures such as social isolation, travel bans, vaccination, and using face masks, modelers can “understand what’s going on and inform policymakers,” she said. For instance, although many face masks are too porous to keep viral particles out (or in), their message of possible contagion here! “keeps people away from you” and reduces disease spread, Del Valle said. “I’m a fan of face masks.”

The clearest sign of the progress in modeling comes from flu forecasts in the U.S. Every year, about two dozen labs try to model the flu season, and have been coming ever closer to accurately forecasting its timing, peak, and short-term intensity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines which model did the best; for 2018-2019, it was one from Los Alamos. (Full story)

New Mexico scientists' new development could lead to the growth of a human heart

Scientists at Los Alamos National Lab developed the first full 3D structure of a heart RNA molecule. Karissa Sanbonmatsu is a structural biologist with LANL.

"Over 90 percent of the human genome codes for these molecules so they're extremely important,"Sanbonmatsu said. RNA is like a cousin to DNA, and is often called the "dark matter of the genome," because scientists do not really know what they do or even look like.

"You can learn a lot about what kinds of drugs bind that molecule and often you can solve the entire mechanism just by getting a detailed 3D image," she said. (Full story)

All about the laser (and microphone) atop Mars 2020, NASA's next rover

SuperCam mast unit undergoes testing at
Los Alamos, LANL photo.

SuperCam is led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where the instrument's Body Unit was developed. That part of the instrument includes several spectrometers, control electronics and software.

The Mast Unit was developed and built by several laboratories of the CNRS (French research center) and French universities under the contracting authority of CNES (French space agency). Calibration targets on the rover deck are provided by Spain's University of Valladolid. (Full story)

Satellite 'license plates' and re-igniting rocket fuel could head off space junk crashes

Space Junk illustration, from Live Science.

Approximately 5,000 satellites carry payloads into orbit around our planet, but only around 2,000 are active and communicating with Earth, said David Palmer, a Los Alamos space and remote-sensing scientist.

"Currently, when something is launched — and a launch can release 100 or more satellites — the operators and the space surveillance people have to track every piece of space hardware that is released by the rocket and determine individually which piece is which."

Palmer is the principal investigator for a project developing a type of electronic license plate for satellites. This will allow orbiters to broadcast their owners and positions for as long as they're in space, even after the satellite ceases to function. (Full story)

Friday, February 7, 2020

Opinion: Our power grid is at risk

OpEd author Thom Mason, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, LANL photo.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which is run by a partnership that includes Texas A&M University, are working with the government and utility companies to harden our power grids and reduce widespread outages.

Using advanced mathematics, physics, engineering and artificial intelligence, and leveraging rapidly expanding data available from smart devices, we are developing computer models to better understand the threats from extreme events and reduce the risks. (Full Story)

Where Australia’s smoke goes to die


Smoke from bushfires blankets Australia in an image from the International Space Station, NASA photo.

Smoke from Australia’s megafires has already traveled tens of thousands of miles around Earth. “It circles the globe in roughly a week,” said Manvendra Dubey, who researches air pollution and wildfire smoke at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Much of this carbon dioxide will likely stay in the atmosphere, where it will live for hundreds of years. Though, plants on land and plankton in the ocean will consume some of this carbon dioxide—though exactly how much is unknown. “It will have climatic consequences,” said Dubey. (Full Story)

Laser Focused: UNM alumna part of Mars rover research team

Planetary scientist Nina Lanza, LANL photo.

After getting her undergraduate degree in astronomy from Smith College and a master’s in earth and environmental sciences from Wesleyan University, Lanza came to UNM in pursuit of her Ph.D. in earth and planetary sciences.

“At the time, UNM was (and still is) working in conjunction with Los Alamos National Laboratory on the ChemCam instrument, which would ride aboard the Mars Curiosity rover,” Lanza said. (Full Story)

LANL breaks ground on first of three new cell phone towers

Officials break ground for a new cell phone tower, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory broke ground last week on the first of three new cell phone towers which are anticipated to deliver fewer dropped calls and more bars for callers on Lab property and in the community.

On hand to make the occasion were Kelly Beierschmitt, Deputy Director for Operations, and Kathye Segala, Associate Laboratory Director for Capital Projects as well as Pete Maggiore, Assistant Manager of Environmental Projects for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Los Alamos Field Office, and Ron Lovato, CEO of Tsay Corporation, the contracting company. (Full Story)

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