Friday, June 26, 2020

World record lightning ‘megaflash’ in South America — 440 miles long — confirmed by scientists

Storm that produced the world's longest certified lightning discharge in 2018, WMO image.

“This dramatic augmentation of our space-based remote sensing capabilities has allowed the detection of previously unobserved extremes in lightning occurrence,” said Michael J. Peterson of the Space and Remote Sensing Group of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Albrecht explained that, before the days of GOES 16, satellites could scan for lightning only in brief windows. That meant the vast majority of events were missed.

“We have measurements every two milliseconds with the [Global Lightning Mapper],” said Albrecht. “And we have all the chances to see those across the Americas, and also over the Pacific Ocean. [Europe] will launch their sensor in a couple of years, [and] China has a similar sensor.” (Full Story)

Also from Forbes

How dynamite shaped the world

Nobel’s Extradynamit, a later version of dynamite he sold in 1875, from PopMech.

To understand why dynamite was so revolutionary, says Larry Glenn Hill, a detonation physicist with Los Alamos National Laboratory’s High Explosive Science and Technology group, you have to understand the instability of its precursor.

“Detonation is a wondrous and highly specialized process, which involves the cooperation of two structures,” Hill explains. “The first is a shock wave, and the second is a burn wave.” A shock wave is a sharp rise in pressure, temperature, and density that travels at supersonic speeds. Picture it as the motion that occurs when you release a tightly coiled spring. As all that energy is expended, it produces heat, which is responsible for the fiery part of an explosion. “A detonation can be viewed as a burn-supported shock wave, or a shock-triggered burn wave; however one chooses to look at it. It is either and both.” (Full Story)

Perseverance mission scientist outlines rover’s instruments, mission

Mars Perseverance Rover, NASA illustration.

One month before the scheduled launch of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, Roger Wiens, who serves as both principal investigator of its SuperCam laser instrument and as co-investigator of its SHERLOC team, discussed the mission’s science instruments and its purpose in a virtual webinar presented by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI).

In a presentation titled “NASA’s Perseverance Rover and the Prospect of Round-Trip Robotic Missions,” Wiens, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, outlined the details of the first-ever Mars sample return mission in the context of the space agency’s decades-long exploration of the Red Planet. (Full Story)

Low-cost quantum dot windows could power a solar future

LANL photo.

Newly developed luminescent solar concentrators can help turn these large glass facades into power generation units. Window-based collectors have the potential to far exceed the output of rooftop panels in major cities as a result of the larger surface area.

To transform a window into a luminescent solar concentrator, our team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a technique for depositing a layer of a fluorescent material on the glass surface.  (Full Story)

Creative Diagnostics expands response to COVID-19 to recombinant SARS-CoV-2 RBD mutants

Covid-19, CDC image.

Due to the complexity of SARS-CoV-2, there are currently no vaccines or drugs available for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, showing an emergent need for effective prevention and treatment measures.

"The research of Los Alamos National Laboratory shows that a major D614G mutation on SARS-CoV-2 Spike has emerged in European countries," said a senior scientist at Creative Diagnostics, "and this D614G mutation may make the virus more transmissive. So, it's of great importance to understand the biology of this variant, especially concerning the research and development of vaccine and drug." (Full Story)

New Mexico watching COVID-19 spike in neighboring states

Covid-19, NIH image.

The state’s lead doctor who’s helping guide New Mexico through the pandemic, once again gave a status update on where the state stands with COVID-19, and where we could be headed. Doctor David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department went through a lot of data on Friday, and addressed concerns about spikes in our neighboring states.

Dr. Scrase said the state is also working closely with Los Alamos National Labs to track mobility as it relates to virus spread rate. LANL modeling shows a close correlation between travel and rate of spread. (Full Story)

The Vet who protects Los Alamos National Laboratory

Jesse Galvan, US Army photo.

Retired Army Colonel Jesse Galvan once kept the nation’s Army bases safe from threat, and now he’s continuing that work in Los Alamos. Around the Lab, we’re used to seeing Protective Force (Pro Force) officers checking ID at the front entrance or patrolling the grounds in their white SUVs.

“You never really see all that we’re capable of, and that’s the point,” Galvan says. “But rest assured we are capable of addressing and defending the Lab against any threat out there.” (Full Story)

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Mutation allows Coronavirus to infect more cells, study finds. Scientists urge caution

A transmission electron micrograph of the coronavirus, red, developing in a cell. From the NYT.

For months, scientists have debated why one genetic variation of the coronavirus became dominant in many parts of the world.

Scientists’ attention had begun to focus on the D614G mutation by May, when Bette Korber, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posted a paper arguing that “when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form.” Many scientists criticized the study, saying that its analysis was not sufficient to conclude that the virus with that mutation was more transmissible in humans. 

David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke University, said that he was involved in a new analysis, led by Dr. Korber, addressing those concerns. (Full Story)

Hidden neutrino particles may be a link to the dark sector

T.J. Schaub lifts out a photomultiplier tube to be replaced as part of the neutrino detector upgrade, LANL photo.

The idea that our experiments might be detecting a fourth neutrino remains controversial, however, because the Standard Model of particle physics is one of the most tested and thoroughly confirmed theoretical frameworks in history—and it allows for only three neutrinos.

Finally, after years of uncertainty, several projects are beginning around the world—including our own Coherent CAPTAIN-Mills (CCM) experiment—that could put this mystery to bed.

CCM takes place in a hall in the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) at the end of an 800-meter-long particle accelerator. The accelerator fires a beam of protons at a tungsten target. When the protons hit the tungsten, they kick showers of neutrons out of the target atoms through a process called neutron spallation. (Full Story - Subscription Required)

LANL scientists design artificial heart to test medical drugs

An exciting first-of-its-kind organ testing is happening here in New Mexico.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab are creating a miniature heart, hoping to find out how medications could affect humans.

"The problem is that animals and humans are fundamentally different. We have different biological chemical differences. A human heart for example is not the same thing as an animal heart so understanding how drugs are going to affect a human heart is very difficult to predict," said Los Alamos researcher Kent Coombs.

Watch the video as Shelly Ribando talks about the latest on what the doctor who designed the artificial heart says, and how it could help in the fight against COVID-19. (Full Story)

State working with Los Alamos National Lab on school reopen plan  KRQE

The state’s Medical Advisory Team says it's hearing concerns from educators and parents about the challenges of distance learning and kids falling behind. “Our educational community really feels like the in-person learning is more effective than the online learning, and so we’re trying to figure out how do we do what’s safe, and give ourselves time to make sure that it’s gonna work,” said Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of Human Services Department.

Dr. Scrase says the state’s Medical Advisory Team is working closely with Los Alamos National Laboratory on this issue. LANL is able to map data and create models for what different scenarios might look like when schools reopen. Their modeling team has been recognized by the Center for Disease Control for being some of the most accurate in the country. (Full Story)

Summer physics camp offers 21 young Northern New Mexico women unique opportunity

Some of the young women in the camp, From the LA Reporter.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s camp has adapted to a completely VIRTUAL experience where students are able to attend from their homes! More than half of the two week camp are dedicated to hands on experiments and demonstrations. Students received a large number of materials to be able to learn about turbulence, fundamental properties of light, electric circuits, electromagnetism, engineering, computer science and coding, etc. 

This camp is supported by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos and Pojoaque Public schools, Future Female Leaders in Engineering program, LANL foundation and the IEEE. (Full Story)

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Transforming how medicines created with an artificial heart

Given the need to improve and streamline drug development, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are working on a technology that could do just that; they are creating an artificial heart that has the same biological content and structure as a human heart, and replicates beat rate and the blood flow. It could one day be used to test new drugs safely and efficiently. 

See the video here 

For a number of reasons, most drugs never make it to market. Most fail before they get to animal trials, but many fail in human clinical trials because they are not safe or effective. While human trials try to represent a globally diverse population, unexpected side effects can still emerge when a drug is marketed around the world. (Full Story)

Artificial brains may need sleep too

LANL illustration. 

No one can say whether androids will dream of electric sheep, but they will almost certainly need periods of rest that offer benefits similar to those that sleep provides to living brains, according to new research from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We study spiking neural networks, which are systems that learn much as living brains do,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory computer scientist Yijing Watkins. “We were fascinated by the prospect of training a neuromorphic processor in a manner analogous to how humans and other biological systems learn from their environment during childhood development.” (Full Story)

Also from the Los Alamos Reporter and News Medical

Here's an idea: A rock-vaporizing 'SuperCam' for the Mars rover

The mast unit of the SuperCam instrument.  NASA photo.

In this special edition of Here's an Idea, Roger Wiens, a fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, explains how he and his team created the SuperCam. The "Super" instrument will be aboard the 2020 Mars rover, ready to find and vaporize rocks.

By studying Martian soil, and bringing samples back to Earth, we'll have a better understanding of past life on the Red Planet.

Episode Highlights: What is the SuperCam? “It looks out at targets up to 25 feet away from the rover...or even way out to infinity." How the Idea Began: “We thought we were really proposing too much. NASA’s not going to believe that we can pull this off.” (Full Story)

Did you know Earth has a double electrical heartbeat?

Image from The Wire.

Lightning pumps charge into the atmosphere, as do galactic cosmic rays. Electrified clouds that don’t produce lightning shoulder a share of the burden equal to that of lightning. Dust, pollutants and other particles in the lower troposphere also play a role in the GEC, as does the changing of the seasons.

“You’re looking at the total integrated effects of all the electrified weather across the globe,” said Michael Peterson, a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico who has studied the circuit with satellite lightning detectors. “People have described it as the electrical heartbeat of the planet.” (Full Story)

"Countdown 1945": The story of the first use of the atomic bomb

Norris Bradbury with the partially-assembled Trinity device, LANL photo.

"Countdown 1945," published by Simon & Schuster (a ViacomCBS company), tells the dramatic story of the 116 days from Harry Truman's sudden and unexpected swearing-in as president to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Truman had been vice president for only three months, and knew nothing about the Manhattan Project and the race to build the atomic bomb. "This is the original weapon of mass destruction," said national security correspondent David Martin. "Absolutely," Wallace said. "The world had never seen anything like this." (Full Story)

Patterns in permafrost soils could help climate change models

Permafrost distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, from NOAA.

A team of scientists spent the past four summers measuring permafrost soils across a 5,000 square-mile swath of Alaska's North Slope. While working to buildup a much-needed soil dataset, their measurements revealed an important pattern: The hydrologic properties of different permafrost soil types are very consistent, and can be predicted based on the surrounding landscape.

Cathy Wilson, a hydrologist and climate modeler at Los Alamos National Laboratory who also conducts permafrost research in Alaska, said that the study is a big step for climate models, and that she is looking forward to applying study techniques in her own work. (Full Story)

Triad donates $10,000 to the Pueblo Relief Fund

Taos Pueblo will be one of the pueblos to benefit from the Pueblo Relief Fund. LANL photo.

Triad National Security, the management and operations contractor of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has given $10,000 to assist New Mexico’s Native American Pueblos, which have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 public health crisis. The funds will go to the Pueblo Relief Fund and be used to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and support tribal members.

The fund is administered by the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC), and its assistance will cover essential disinfecting supplies, personal protective equipment, and food distribution. (Full Story)

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Pangolins may have incubated the novel coronavirus, gene study shows

A white-bellied pangolin, image from CNN.

A deep dive into the genetics of the novel coronavirus shows it seems to have spent some time infecting both bats and pangolins before it jumped into humans, researchers said Friday.

"In our study, we demonstrated that indeed SARS-CoV-2 has a rich evolutionary history that included a reshuffling of genetic material between bat and pangolin coronavirus before it acquired its ability to jump to humans," said Elena Giorgi, a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who worked on the study. (Full Story)

Also from Global Health Newswire and The Express

Why New York suffered when other cities were spared

Pedestrians walk through Times Square inNew York City on March 12.  From NNY360.

Outbreaks can’t start without a spark. The U.S. shut down most travel from China on Feb. 2, when there were at least 14,000 cases there. But it left open travel from most of Europe until March 13. During that time, Italy went from two known infections to more than 15,000.

Using genetic analysis, it’s possible to trace the lineage of the virus like a family tree with branches around the world. One analysis, from researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, showed that one branch emerged directly from China, with U.S. cases concentrated in Washington state. But a second branch of the virus grew in Italy, and was then imported to New York, rapidly becoming more prevalent. (Full Story)

Life on Mars? Meet the new rover built to give us the answer

Artist's illustration of NASA's Mars 2020 rover Perseverance, NASA image.

Roger Wiens is the principal investigator of the ChemCam and SuperCam instruments at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. SuperCam is a product of a United States-France partnership, along with support from Spain. Wiens contributed this article to's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. 

The rover sports a rock-zapping laser instrument, this time called SuperCam (the next-generation ChemCam). In addition to the laser shots that provide chemical compositions of the rocks, two other techniques give complementary information on their mineral content (the way the elements are bound together as molecules).  (Full Story)

Also from this week:

Meteor that blasted millions of trees in Siberia only 'grazed' Earth, new research says

Tunguska blast flattened a Siberian forest,from

Some lingering questions about this scenario remain, said Mark Boslough, a research professor at the University of New Mexico and physicist with Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

Boslough, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science in an email that if an object "skimmed through the atmosphere" and didn't blow up, the resulting shock wave would be significantly weaker than an explosion's blast wave.

"An object that survived such a transit through the atmosphere could not have descended close enough to the surface for a sonic boom to do the kind of damage that was observed at Tunguska," Boslough said.  (Full Story)

Corn-powered Tomahawk missiles are coming

A Tomahawk cruise missile in flight. DoD photo.

The missiles are powered by JP-10, an especially energy-dense kind of jet fuel, which runs through a turbofan jet engine. 

The process patented by Los Alamos uses a byproduct of ethanol production, letting America's love of fueling vehicles with corn fuel even more dangerous vehicles.

“We’ve patented a production process that makes JP-10 from domestic renewable feedstocks, such as corn bran,” said biomass conversion chemist Andrew Sutton in a release, “which means we can make our own fuel from start to finish in the United States.” (Full Story)

New job training collaboration announced for Taos High School students

Image from the LA Reporter.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council (NMBCTC) Executive Director Brian Condit, and Taos Municipal Schools Superintendent Lillian Torrez have announced a collaboration creating a building-trades course for Taos High School students.

“The Laboratory is pleased to partner with the New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council and Taos High School to offer options to the emerging workforce who are interested in trade careers,” said Director Thom Mason.  (Full Story)

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