Friday, May 22, 2020

Why NASA thinks nuclear reactors could supply power for human colonies in space

NASA is developing a nuclear reactor that could power a human settlement on the moon. NASA illustration.

Engineers wanted advanced performance from these systems right away, which led to complicated and expensive designs, says David Poston, a nuclear engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He and Patrick McClure, who specializes in reactor safety at Los Alamos, have worked at the lab for the past 25 years and recall the days when nuclear fission had fallen out of favor.

In the early 2010s, they got their chance: researchers at Los Alamos and later the NASA Glenn Research Center and the US Department of Energy began work on a joint project called Kilopower, now renamed the Nuclear Fission Power Project. The goal is to develop a new nuclear fission power system for space that would be capable of producing 10 kW of electrical energy. (Full Story)

Social media rules. That's bad in a pandemic

Covid-19 illustration, CDC image.

Popular social media posts are filled with inaccuracies about science. They could damage public health during this coronavirus pandemic, the authors of two separate studies say.

This research collaboration between scholars at George Washington University, University of Miami, Michigan State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory looked at comments from more than 100 million Facebook users in a variety of online communities that discussed vaccines during the 2019 measles outbreak.  (Full Story)

Why artificial brains need sleep

Image from Inside Science.

Conventional techniques used to rapidly train standard artificial neural networks do not work on spiking neural networks. "We are still learning how to train spiking neural networks to perform useful tasks," said study lead author Yijing Watkins, a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Watkins and her colleagues experimented with programming neuromorphic processors to learn to reconstruct images and video based on sparse data, a bit like how the human brain learns from its environment during childhood development. "However, all of our attempts to learn eventually became unstable," said study senior author Garrett Kenyon, also a computer scientist at Los Alamos. (Full Story)

Visualizing science: How color determines what we see

Scientists use data visualization to quantify, interpret, evaluate, and communicate information, LANL image.

Color strongly influences the way we perceive information, especially when that information is dense, multidimensional, and nuanced—as is often the case in scientific data sets. Choosing colors to visually represent data can thus be hugely important in interpreting and presenting scientific results accurately and effectively.

“Language is inherently biased, but through visualization, we can let the data speak for [themselves],” said Phillip Wolfram, an Earth system modeler and computational fluid dynamicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. At Los Alamos, data visualizations are as ubiquitous as the sagebrush that embroiders the nearby desert.  (Full Story)

Scientists give quantum dot solar cells a detox

The new quantum dot electrodes and the corresponding spread of different elements in them, LANL image. 

Among their many uses, quantum dots have shown promise as photovoltaic materials in solar cells. Now, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have developed a new type of quantum dot solar cell that isn’t made with the toxic elements found in most, while maintaining efficiency.

The main problem with quantum dot solar cells is that they’re made with toxic elements like lead and cadmium. So, for the new study the LANL team tried a different recipe, making their dots out of copper, indium and selenium that was then layered with zinc. (Full Story)

Also from Solar+Power and AZO Quantum

New technique separates industrial noise from natural seismic signals

Map of detected industrial noise, LANL image.

For the first time, seismologists can characterize signals as a result of some industrial human activity on a continent-wide scale using cloud computing. In two recently published papers in Seismological Research Letters, scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory demonstrate how previously characterized “noise” can now be viewed as a specific signal in a large geographical area thanks to an innovative approach to seismic data analyses.

“In the past, human-caused seismic signals as a result of industrial activities were viewed as ‘noise’ that polluted a dataset, resulting in otherwise useful data being dismissed,” said Omar Marcillo, a seismologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study. “For the first time, we were able to identify this noise from some large machines as a distinct signal and pull it from the dataset, allowing us to separate natural signals from anthropogenic ones.” (Full Story)

Also from the Los Alamos Reporter

Bradbury Science Museum launches online archives with Manhattan Project science and history

The Bradbury Science Museum launches its online archives collection, LANL photo.

The Bradbury Science Museum premiered its online artifacts collection with images of groundbreaking science and history of the Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first atomic bombs at Los Alamos Laboratory that helped to end World War II.

“People can now virtually experience a part of the museum never seen before as well as some of our gallery exhibits,” said Wendy Strohmeyer, collections specialist at the Bradbury Science Museum, which interprets the Laboratory’s history during the Atomic Age of the Manhattan Project.  (Full Story)

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