Friday, May 1, 2020

Meeting the COVID-19 challenge head on

Lab director Thom Mason, LANL photo.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed all of our lives — from how we work, to how we teach our children, to how we grocery shop. As we yearn to return to normal, we’re also called on to do what we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is no different. We have responsibilities to the nation and to the communities where we live, and we take them very seriously. As one of the largest employers in Northern New Mexico, we’re doing what we can to answer the call to use our vast scientific and technical resources to help fight this disease, and protect our employees and the communities we call home. (Full Story)

LANL providing COVID-19 modeling for New Mexico

Los Alamos National Lab is instrumental in creating COVID-19 modeling for the state.

"Basically what we do is we learn the trends from cases and deaths, and we forecast forward based on some underlying assumptions based on how we know diseases spread," said Carrie Manore. Manore is one of several LANL employees who work on the projections.

In New Mexico right now, what were seeing is a steadily decreasing growth rate which is good," Manore said. "That's a good thing. So, initially we were seeing a pretty high growth rate in our cases per day and that's steadily going down. It's still positive so we're still expecting to see more cases [in the] next four to six weeks for sure." (Full Story)

Opinion: How New Mexico is beating the virus

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, State of NM photo.

Led by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state swiftly shuttered much of its economy, not waiting on the federal government. It also tapped two secret weapons: sophisticated medical knowledge, a legacy from its role as a hub of aerospace research, and the scientific power of the nuclear weapons laboratories that occupy the state’s high desert plateaus.

The state is harnessing the scientific power of two national nuclear laboratories to process still more coronavirus tests. Normally dealing in physics to secretively maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories will not just test, but model and even help search for a vaccine for the virus. (Full Story)

Behind the data: Breaking down the statistical models of COVID-19

Atlanta Police Officer taking precautions, AJC photo.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, a top-tier government research lab, has developed a statistical model that has, so far, proven accurate at forecasting cases and deaths over various time spans. In Georgia, the lab’s model has been particularly accurate. It shows that Georgia’s death toll, currently near 900, will be about 2,300 deaths on June 3. It finds a better than 50-50 chance that the state has already passed the peak surge in confirmed cases. (Full Story)

Work of Los Alamos scientists suggests COVID-19 can turn really bad again

Los Alamos researchers built a statistical model for how fast the curve is flattened in 51 countries. LANL image.

Los Alamos scientists estimated how fast the curve is flattened in 51 countries. They determined that arbitrarily re-opening societies can allow COVID-19 to undo that progress much faster than it took to achieve it. Widespread testing would help to manage the difference.

"The number of cases averted in two weeks of intervention will be regained in only one week," if all measures are completely relaxed, according to the paper, titled, "Decline In Global Transmission Rates Of COVID-19."  (Full Story)

Coronavirus models made governments take action, but how useful are they really?

South Korea implemented mass testing, image from SCMP.

Sara Del Valle, a mathematical epidemiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said that while including “every single variable is challenging or maybe impossible due to lack of needed data, we can build models to consider multiple variables and trade-offs between those variables”.

“We tend to start with simpler models and build up as more information becomes available,” she said. In principle, at least, the mathematics behind modelling are relatively straightforward and similar across simulations. Calculations are based on estimates of how many people are at risk of infection, how many people are infectious and how many people will die or have recovered and are therefore assumed to be immune. (Full Story)

Most U.S. states will need a lot more testing to safely reopen

Covid-19 sample collection in Florida, image from KQED.

Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and colleague Ben Jacobson crunched the numbers two ways for each state. Both start with the number of deaths projected for May 15 by Los Alamos National Laboratory, whose COVID-19 model the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consults. Los Alamos projects that, nationally, the death toll on that day will be 545 — but more if states keep easing up on social distancing. For comparison, on April 25, the U.S. reported just over 2,065 new COVID-19 deaths. (Full Story)

Why we need better science to pinpoint small, underground nuclear tests

1946 Atomic bomb test in the Marshall Islands, From Defense News.

One of the ways we’re improving our estimations is through experimentation. Recently, multiple National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, participated in a series of experiments that analyzed underground chemical explosions to advance nuclear detonation detection capabilities. The experiment used buried explosives in the Nevada desert to generate seismic and acoustic signals similar to those emitted by an underground nuclear detonation — allowing scientists to better understand how certain signals move through the Earth. (Full Story)

Restartable solid rocket fuel could help reduce space junk

An artist's depiction of satellites orbiting Earth. NASA image.

Nicholas Dallmann is a research engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility. He contributed this article to's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. The project he describes is funded by Los Alamos Laboratory Directed Research and Development. 

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we're working to change this. We've recently developed and demonstrated the ability to stop and restart solid rocket motors many times — something that has never been done before. (Full Story)

Mining the Moon seems more possible than ever

Mining operations on the moon, Illustration from PopMech.

One choice for the job would be a small nuclear reactor, and NASA has pursued this and made several breakthroughs. In 2018, researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site, and NASA put their Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) through a 28-hour continuous full-power demonstration.

NASA likes this fission reactor because it’s coupled to a Stirling engine, it’s closed-cycled, and it’s regenerative. Those are long-lasting, low-maintenance devices, the kind of power source that could efficiently power an extraterrestrial thermal mining operation. (Full Story)

Los Alamos team aims organic imager at Venus

Engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are hoping to send a new photonics-based instrument to Venus to seek out organic compounds that may indicate the presence of extra-terrestrial life.

Called the “OrganiCam”, the instrument uses a combination of fluorescence lifetime imaging and Raman spectroscopy to identify organic molecules, with a sensitivity in the parts-per-billion range.

LANL’s director of global security programs, Andy Erickson, discussed the development during a plenary talk for this week’s SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing (DCS) Digital Forum - the virtual event that has replaced the scheduled DCS conference and exhibition in Anaheim, California. (Full Story)

A proposal for the first manned interstellar spaceship

Illustration of the local interstellar neighborhood, from Space Daily.

Solar One is a proposed human-crewed spaceship that would integrate three existing or near-term technologies: the LANL Mega Power Reactor, a larger version of NASA' Sunjammer light sail, and an updated version of the HELLADS laser system.

Firstly, the LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Mega Power Reactor is a fission reactor that weighs 35 tons. It is able to produce up to 10 MW, or the equivalent of 2 MW of continuous power for 12 years.

A micro fission reactor such as the LANL Mega Power Reactor could cost around 16 million dollars, a HELLADS laser system around 21 million dollars, and the Sunjammer mission had a total cost of 27 million dollars. (Full Story)

A fever in the dust

UC Irvine graphic.

“Valley Fever is an example of a disease that will probably be more widespread from climate change,” says Morgan Gorris, a postdoctoral research fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a former graduate student at UC Irvine, who maps out environmentally influenced diseases, like Valley Fever. “I anticipate we will see larger health impacts from this disease in the future.”

Current maps of the disease are incomplete at best. Valley Fever is not required to be reported to the CDC. Texas, a state on the edge of the endemic region, chooses not to report Valley Fever cases nationally.

“Texas has been known to have cases since the 1930s,” says Gorris. “Some counties do report their case counts, but the whole state does not. It's not mandated. I feel like I would have a lot better understanding of where the boundary of this disease is if I had case data for Texas.”  (Full Story)

Are salt deposits a solution for nuclear waste disposal?

Phil Stauffer testing the inflatable packer, LANL image.

Around the world, there are pools of water filled with nuclear waste waiting for their final resting place. This is waste that was created from decades of nuclear power generation, and the waste must be handled carefully.

In the United States, scientists are studying several solutions for disposing of these wastes. Phil Stauffer and researchers at Los Alamos National Labs have been working with the US Department of Energy and other national laboratories on one long-term, safe, disposal solution: salt.

"Deep salt formations that already exist in the United States are one candidate for long-term disposal," says Stauffer. "This 'high-level' nuclear waste can create a lot of heat, in addition to the radioactivity that must be contained. We need to develop a clear path to dispose of this waste." (Full Story)

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