Friday, March 13, 2020

U.S. flu season beginning to ease, modelers say

Image from NPR.

Each year, the CDC invites computer scientists to run enter a competition called FluSight to see which model gave the best prediction. Last year Dave Osthus, a statistician at Los Alamos National Laboratory won for a model he called Dante, which bases its predictions almost exclusively on historical patterns of disease.

He says his model, and others models he's aware of, all say the worst of this year's season is behind us. "That said, levels currently are still quite high," Osthus says. "So we have good news — sort of — on the horizon, but we're still in an elevated situation." (Full story)

Mutations can reveal how the coronavirus moves — but they’re easy to overinterpret

Covid-19 illustration, CDC image.

“This is an incredibly important disease. We need to understand how it is moving,” says Bette Korber, a biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who is also studying the genome of SARS-CoV-2. “With very limited evolution during the outbreak, [these researchers] are doing what they can and they are making suggestions, which I think at this point should be taken as suggestions.”

Now, more diversity is emerging. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 evolves over time through random mutations, only some of which are caught and corrected by the virus’s error correction machinery. (Full story)

Also from Science this week:

Next generation water splitter could help renewables power the globe

A new electrolyzer enables hydrogen generation
from water without expensive catalysts. LANL photo.

Running the world on renewable energy is simple, in principle: Harvest solar and wind energy, and use any extra to power devices called electrolyzers that split water into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen gas. Hydrogen (H2) can serve as a fuel; it is also a staple of the chemical industry. The trouble is that current electrolyzers are costly, requiring either expensive catalysts or pricey metal housings.

Yu Seung Kim and his colleagues at Los Alamos, along with researchers at Washington State University, say their new device creates a highly alkaline environment to encourage water splitting. But it does so with the proton-exchange membrane approach of tethering catalysts to opposite faces of an ion-conducting membrane ... without the big-ticket materials. (Full story)

What is the Fifth Force?

Is there a new force in nature? Image from Discover.

“From a particle physics perspective, anomalies come and go,” says Daniele Alves, a theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “We’ve learned over time to not be too biased with one interpretation or the other. The important thing is to get to the bottom of this.”

“People are paying attention to see whether this is really a nuclear physics effect or whether it’s something systematic,” Alves says. “It’s important to repeat those experiments ... to be able to test whether this is real or if it’s an artifact of the way they’re doing the experiment.” (Full story)

Mapping Lightning Strikes from Space

Credit: Unsplash/Josep Castells.

If lightning strikes anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, odds are it has already been detected and mapped by satellite-bound cameras orbiting some 35,000 kilometers above Earth.

Lightning flashes are more typically mapped from ground-based networks using radio frequencies to generate precise data on the order of meters. However, ground-based systems have a limited line of sight. The view from a satellite does not, for example, need to “account for things like tree lines or city skylines or even just general dissipation over distance,” said Michael Peterson, an atmospheric scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The idea of using a satellite to detect lightning has been around since at least the 1980s, but with the launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite–R Series (GOES-R) weather satellites starting in 2016, researchers and forecasters have attained unprecedented levels of lightning data from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instruments attached to the satellites. (Full story)

LANL scientists launching gut bacteria study in space

LANL researcher Armand Dichosa, LANL image.

New Mexico scientists are launching an experiment to the International Space Station to find out how gut bacteria and people’s overall health changes over time in space.

The testing aims to help protect future astronauts and find out how to prevent negative effects on everyone’s gut health. “We are really excited. We want to find out what is going to happen when these microbes are in space,” LANL Microbiologist Anand Kumar said.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Labs are sending off two dozen so-called gut microbiome samples to the International Space Station on the SpaceX 20 Friday night. (Full story)

Also reported in the LA Daily Post