Friday, July 31, 2020

We need to forecast epidemics like we forecast the weather

Forecast map, LANL image.

Disease-modeling communities around the world have been working tirelessly since January to predict how and where Covid-19 will spread, with some real successes. A host of models have illustrated how, with the right resources, we can create relatively accurate disease forecasts that give communities and public health officials an idea of what to expect — and time to prepare.

Researchers around the world are already working on the foundations of such a tool to forecast epidemics. My colleagues and I at Los Alamos National Laboratory, for example, have been participating in the CDC’s Epidemic Prediction Initiative since 2013, which initially focused on forecasting the flu but has since expanded to other diseases. And we are one of about 24 models or groups forecasting Covid-19 deaths for the U.S. as part of the CDC’s Covid-19 modeling efforts. (Full Story)

Quantum Mechanics proves 'Back to the Future' is B.S.

Scene from "Back to the Future," from PopMech.

In trippy new research, scientists say they’ve confirmed what they call the Avengers: Endgame model of time travel.

They did this by running a quantum time travel simulation that runs backward and forward, letting them “damage” the past and see what resulted. 

In a statement, sponsoring Los Alamos National Laboratory likens the movie Back to the Future, where Marty McFly must carefully not disrupt the timeline of his own inception, to the idea of the “butterfly effect.” The idea is simple: Because of the complex way time moves and how causality “ripples out” in unexpected or just unfathomable ways, stepping on a butterfly in the past could change the entire world you try to return to. (Full Story)

Quantum time travel doesn't follow Back to the Future rules

Illustration from New Atlas

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory used a quantum computer to develop a simulation of time travel. And their results were somewhat surprising.

“On a quantum computer, there is no problem simulating opposite-in-time evolution, or simulating running a process backwards into the past,” says Nikolai Sinitsyn, co-author of the study. “So we can actually see what happens with a complex quantum world if we travel back in time, add small damage, and return. We found that our world survives, which means there’s no butterfly effect in quantum mechanics.” (Full Story)

Also from Science Daily

Mining medical isotopes from nuclear waste

This vial contains traces of actinium within a mixture of thorium and uranium, from C&EN.

No actinium-based drugs are yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but if any get a green light, the medical community will need multiple ways to produce 225Ac and multiple institutions producing it, says Kevin John, project manager for the DOE’s Tri-Lab Effort to produce actinium. Currently, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory are the country’s sole providers of its limited supply of 225Ac. In 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency convened a meeting to discuss a global strategy to meet the rising demand for 225Ac. The resulting report described production via multiple sources, including proton cyclotrons, linear accelerators, and nuclear waste. (Full Story)

How is the Mars Perseverance rover getting to the Red Planet?

The Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (center) on the Perseverance rover, NASA photo.

The Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy with Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have supported the Mars 2020 mission since 2014 when they were tasked to construct the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator and its plutonium fuel to power the Perseverance rover. DOE’s partnership with NASA to provide radioisotope power systems goes back to the 1960s as part of the Apollo missions.

The SuperCam instrument on the rover was designed, built and tested at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with the French space agency, Centre national d'études spatiales. SuperCam uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy to study mineral composition, hardness and texture of Martian rocks and soils and will search for organic compounds related to Mars' geologic past. (Full Story)

Microphone aboard NASA's rover aims to pick up sounds from Mars

Roger Wiens, LANL photo.

The Perseverance rover launches Thursday, the last of three missions leaving in July while the planets' orbits are favorable. It is carrying technology that doesn't often go to space: a microphone.

NPR's Brendan Byrne interviews Los Alamos National Laboratory planetary scientist Roger Wiens about the first-ever sound recording on Mars, made possible by a tiny microphone mounted alongside the SuperCam instrument, located at the top of the Perseverance Rover's mast.  SuperCam is a laser-based spectrometer that will allow scientists to look at Mar's geology for signs of life, and the microphone will help those same scientists understand the fundamental properties of that geology. (Full Story)

We're going to record sound on Mars. It'll be eerie.

The microphone on the rover's SuperCam is circled in red, NASA photo.

Space aboard the rover is limited and valuable, so NASA required the microphone (or most anything on Perseverance) to have a scientific purpose, explained Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who leads the SuperCam. (SuperCam is the laser-shooting instrument atop the rover where the microphone is attached.) Wiens team, however, discovered a scientific purpose for a microphone: When the laser shoots a softer rock it leaves a little pit, which makes a different popping sound than a laser zap on harder rocks. This sound is a way to identify rocks, giving NASA better information about the most promising places to visit in the expansive Martian desert. (Full Story)

Launch of Mars 2020 scheduled for 30 July

Perseverance Rover, NASA illustration. 

The SuperCam spectrometer is also located on the mast of the rover, directly beside the two eyes of the stereo camera. This instrument allows contactless analysis of the chemical composition and mineralogy of the rover’s surroundings. “Like its predecessor ‘ChemCam’ on the Mars rover Curiosity, the spectrometer uses a pulsed laser to investigate the geochemistry of rocks and soil.

The SuperCam is scientifically managed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and IRAP/CNES in Toulouse, France. (Full Story)

Ning Xu selected Fellow of American Chemical Society

Ning Xu, LANL photo.

Ning Xu of the Actinide Analytical Chemistry group at Los Alamos has been selected as a member of the 2020 class of Fellows of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Xu is being recognized for her sustained contributions to actinide analytical chemistry in support of national nuclear defense, technical nuclear forensics, nuclear material safeguards and deep space exploration.

“Being selected as an ACS Fellow is an incredibly prestigious honor and I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Ning,” said Jeanne Robinson, acting associate laboratory director for Chemical, Life, and Earth Sciences. (Full Story)

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Friday, July 24, 2020

Why R0 is problematic for predicting COVID-19 spread

R0 Log Scale, from The Scientist.

To estimate the biological parameters needed to determine R, such as the period over which an infected person can transmit a pathogen and the probability that she will do so, “we try to borrow information from similar viruses,” explains Sara Del Valle, a mathematical and computational epidemiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. To model Brazil’s Zika virus epidemic in 2015, for example, her team used data on the transmissibility of dengue. During the 2011 H1N1 flu pandemic, they turned to data from influenza outbreaks in the 1960s.

For COVID-19, Del Valle, like many other researchers, plugged in parameters documented for other coronaviruses, including MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, to estimate R0. However, the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 turned out to be markedly different from that of these viruses. (Full Story)

Coronavirus: Are mutations making it more infectious?

University College Hospital in London, where the changing virus is being studied, from BBC.

One of the studies' leads, Prof Bette Korber, at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, said there was not a consensus, but the idea the mutation increased patients' viral load was "getting less controversial as more data accrues".

When it comes to looking at the population as a whole, it's difficult to observe the virus becoming more (or less) infectious. Its course has been drastically altered by interventions, including lockdowns. But Prof Korber says the fact the variant now appears to be dominant everywhere, including in China, indicates it may have become better at spreading between people than the original version. Whenever the two versions were in circulation at the same time, the new variant took over. (Full Story)

State enlists LANL to analyze school opening options


Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are helping New Mexico analyze four scenarios for reopening schools – one of which would involve keeping teenagers home so younger students could spread out in high schools.

In briefings to lawmakers and reporters, Human Services Secretary David Scrase said Friday that the calculations are incredibly complex and require massive computing power at the laboratory to determine how each option would affect the spread of COVID-19. (Full Story)

LANL volunteer takes to the skies to help fight COVID-19

Pilot Josh Payne is a scientist at theLaboratory. From the Reporter.

On a typical day, Payne, a scientist in the Laboratory’s Applied Computer Science Group, is writing high performance computer codes or taking his plane out for fun in the skies over Santa Fe. But on this day, Payne is on one of several self-directed missions to make critical supply drops in Arizona and New Mexico to communities hit hard by COVID-19 and lacking resources to fight its spread.

When COVID-19 broke out, Payne began looking for ways to help. Using his Lab-honed computer skills, he initially 3D printed masks and face shields at home, before logistical issues derailed his work. (Full Story)

New Mars rover, with LANL components, to search for life

NASA’s Perseverance rover, NASA illustration.

NASA is now poised to take the next step to answer this question with the upcoming launch of the Perseverance rover.

The mission of this new rover is several-fold. Its primary and unique purpose is to collect samples that a future spacecraft can bring back to Earth. Every time a rover goes to Mars, it stays there, with no way to fly back home. No rock or soil samples have ever been brought back to Earth. This mission proposes to change that by caching rock and soil samples on the Martian surface for a future mission to bring home. (Full Story)

LANL, NNSA honor 75th anniversary of the Trinity Test

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty (center) with Thom Mason (left) and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan at the Laboratory's V-site. LANL photo.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the testing of the nuclear bomb, known as the Trinity test, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) officials along with representatives from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) gathered at V-Site located in the LANL campus Thursday afternoon to honor the milestone that led to the end of World War II.

V-Site was a fitting venue. Before the “Gadget” or the prototype of the nuclear bomb “Little Boy,” exploded in the Alamogordo desert July 16, 1945, it was pre-assembled and had some early testing done at V-Site.

LANL Director Thom Mason and U.S. Under Secretary of Energy for NNSA Lisa Gordon-Hagerty spoke during the event, which was also attended by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujàn, although he did not make a presentation. (Full Story)

NNSA Administrator views Manhattan Project era artifacts

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty (left) views artifacts from the Manhattan Project with Director Thom Mason (center) and Ben Ray Lujan (right).  LANL photo.

Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty spoke Thursday at V-Site on the Los Alamos National Laboratory during a commemoration event for the 75th anniversary of the Trinity Test.

The V-Site buildings and the nearby Gun Site are the last significant structures still standing at Los Alamos associated with the development and assembly of the world’s first nuclear devices. Located away from the main laboratory for safety and security reasons, the V-Site consisted of a cluster of wooden buildings built in January 1944 as a high explosives handling and assembly facility.  (Full Story)

Also from the Reporter this week:

Ribbon-cutting dedicates new building to former LANL director Donald Kerr

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty cuts the ribbon on the new Donald M. Kerr Office Building, LANL photo.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a new modular office building was officially named the Donald M. Kerr Office Building, in honor of the former Laboratory Director.

Department of Energy National Nuclear SecurityAdministrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty and NNSA Los Alamos Site Office Manager Michael Weis were on hand cut the ribbon to dedicate the building, which is the first top-secret facility to be built at the Laboratory in 15 years. (Full Story)

New atomtronic device to probe weird boundary between quantum and everyday worlds

A schematic of an atomtronic SQUID, LANL image.

A new device that relies on flowing clouds of ultracold atoms promises potential tests of the intersection between the weirdness of the quantum world and the familiarity of the macroscopic world we experience every day. The atomtronic Superconducting QUantum Interference Device (SQUID) is also potentially useful for ultrasensitive rotation measurements and as a component in quantum computers.

“In a conventional SQUID, the quantum interference in electron currents can be used to make one of the most sensitive magnetic field detectors,” said Changhyun Ryu, a physicist with the Material Physics and Applications Quantum group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  (Full Story)

Wildfire smoke’s bad – but scientists find a silver lining

USFS photo.

The Los Alamos study measured the chemistry of four large plumes produced by the Woodbury Fire that ravaged the Superstitions, closed the Apache Trail and now threatens road and reservoir damaging erosion off denuded slopes. The scientists measured the plumes both close to the source and as the smoke drifted over New Mexico. They found the center of the plume remained loaded with brown carbon, but oxidation and other chemical changes reduced the brown carbon over time at the edge of the plume.

“Mixing and oxidation lightened the brown carbon, reducing its ability to absorb light and cause warming. This implies that the warming effects of wildfire brown carbon is likely smaller than published model assessments,” the researchers concluded. (Full Story)

Newly-completed weather enclosure at DARHT facility

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty cuts the ribbon on the new enclosure for DARHT, LANL photo.

New weather enclosure improves quality of work life, enhances safety, and increases productivity at the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility.

NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty attended the Weather Enclosure’s ribbon cutting ceremony on July 16, during a visit to LANL. Speaking to the accomplishment, Administrator Gordon-Hagerty noted, “This facility will not only protect millions of dollars of equipment from the elements but will also boost experimental capabilities and provide a safe, year-round working environment for employees to accomplish stockpile stewardship which is at the heart of the LANL’s mission.” (Full Story)

DOE concludes Exascale Cooling Project at Los Alamos National Lab

Gordon-Hagerty cuts the ribbon in front of the new cooling towers, LANL photo.

The Exascale Class Computer Cooling Equipment Project reached the Critical Decision-4 milestone in May and was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at Los Alamos National Laboratory, DOE said the same day. The project concluded 10 months earlier than scheduled with $20 million saved.

“High-performance computing continues to be key to the future of our science-based stockpile stewardship program, and completing this project ahead of schedule allows the enterprise to keep moving forward towards its next milestones,” said Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration. (Full Story)

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Friday, July 17, 2020

75 years ago, 'Trinity' test ushered in nuclear age, changed the world

The only color image from the Trinity Test. LANL photo.

The world entered the nuclear age 75 years ago Thursday at a location in the central New Mexico desert where the U.S. government carried out the "Trinity" test. The test was conducted by the U.S. War Department and designed by the newly created Los Alamos National Laboratory as the closing salvo of the "Manhattan Project."

"I'm not sure if as many people care about it now as much as they did during World War II, but one of the many reasons why Trinity remains significant is that it was the birth of an entirely new era in human existence," said Alan Carr, the official historian at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Nuclear tests have changed, but they never really stopped

The Trinity Test, a few microseconds after detonation, LANL photo.

Mark Chadwick, the chief scientist in the Los Alamos Weapons Physics Directorate, arrived at the national lab in 1990 fresh out of a physics doctoral program at Oxford. At the time, he says, there was a lot of debate among the Los Alamos scientists about the future of the lab, or whether it would have a future at all. “Some thought the labs would really end up struggling to find business and that the nuclear deterrence mission would sort of fade away,” Chadwick recalls. “Overall, the pessimism that the national security mission wouldn’t remain important proved wrong. And fairly quickly, in fact.”

The US conducted its last explosive nuclear test in September, 1992. Today, the nation’s nuclear weapons research is focused on reliability testing and maintenance of the roughly 4,000 active warheads in its arsenal, a program broadly referred to as “stockpile stewardship.”  (Full Story)

U.S. nuclear leader pays tribute to Trinity anniversary at LANL

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty at the historic V-Site, LANL photo.

The Trinity test that detonated the first atomic bomb 75 years ago led to great progress in science, national defense and even peacekeeping, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration said Thursday.

“I hope I can impart how it contributed to the betterment of humanity,” said Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who leads the agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear programs. (Full Story)

NNSA Administrator visits LANL for commemoration of 75th anniversary of Trinity Test

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Administrator of the NNSA (center) walks with Nancy Jo Nicholas (left), Los Alamos’ Associate Laboratory director for Global Security. LANL photo.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) recognized the 75th anniversary of the dawn of the atomic age, which began July 16, 1945, with the “Trinity” test, the world’s first nuclear detonation.

A commemoration of the historic implosion took place Thursday, July 16, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s historic V-Site near Los Alamos, New Mexico, where early testing and some assembly of the Trinity device took place. The V-Site is located in a secure area and is not open to the public. (Full Story)

Countdown to a new world (Part 1)

The Trinity "Gadget," LANL photo.

A savage thunderstorm, flinging lightning from cloud to cloud and dumping walls of rain, rolled like a bad omen across the northwestern corner of New Mexico’s Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range at 2 a.m. on July 16, 1945.

The Los Alamos scientific team included Niels Bohr, a Dane; the Italian immigrants Enrico Fermi and Emilio Segré; the Hungarian-born Edward Teller; Hungarian émigré John von Neumann; and German émigré Hans A. Bethe; as well as such American-born geniuses as Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman. (Full Story)

New Mexico and The Bomb (Part 2)

Little Boy, National Archives photo.

New Mexico was vital to the building of the bomb, but the bomb proved as essential to the building of New Mexico. “It had a huge impact on the state,” said Luis Campos, professor of the history of science at the University of New Mexico. 

Both Little Boy and Fat Man had been designed and built at Los Alamos, as had the Gadget, a plutonium bomb tested at Trinity Site, a portion of the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, 30 miles southeast of Socorro. (Full Story)

The pandemic virus is slowly mutating. But is it getting more dangerous?

A one-base mutation in SARS-CoV-2’s genomewas rare in February but is found in almost every newly sequenced strain today.  From Cell.

The mutation at position 23,403 has drawn the most attention—in part because it changed the virus’ spike, the protein on its surface that attaches to human cells. The mutation changed the amino acid at position 614 of the spike from an aspartic acid (abbreviated D) to a glycine (G), which is why it’s called G614.

In a Cell paper this month, Bette Korber and colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory showed that G614 has become more common in almost every nation and region they looked at, whereas D614 is virtually gone (see graphic, below). That might be a sign that it’s outcompeted by G614, but it could also be a coincidence. (Full Story)

Why this coronavirus mutation is not cause for alarm

Transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, NIAID image.

The authors of the Cell study, led by biologist Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, cut and pasted the coronavirus’s spike protein—either the mutant version, called G614, or the original—onto a completely unrelated germ called a lentivirus.

The resulting “pseudoviruses” are a safe and reproducible way to work with and compare different viral spikes, Korber explains.  In this artificial, lab-based scenario, the researchers found the mutated spike to be more infectious. Coupled with the fact that the G614 mutation had risen to dominance in a matter of months, it sounded like an already scary virus might be getting better at jumping from person to person. Media reports exploded. (Full Story)

Essential Science: Is SARS-CoV-2 becoming more infectious?

A Covid-19 patient in Panama, from Digital Journal.

The research comes from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and it shows that an identified change in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus virus genome, which was earlier linked with increased viral transmission and the spread of COVID-19, has been shown to be more infectious in cell culture. The activity in cell culture, however, does not necessarily mean that the same elevated infectivity will occur in people.

Readers need not be too alarmed about the term ‘mutation’. All viruses mutate, especially RNA viruses (of the SARS-CoV-2 type). Mutations occur due to activities within the virus, such as replication enzymes.  (Full Story)

A new coronavirus mutation is taking over the world. Here's what that means

Coronavirus uses its spike protein (dark blue) to infiltrate host cells, from Live Science.

The mutation piqued interest because it seemed to take over even in areas were the D variation had initially held sway, said Bette Korber, the lead author of the new Cell paper and a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. She and her colleagues at Duke University and the La Jolla Institute of Immunology in California inserted the G mutation and D mutations into pseudoviruses, which are viruses engineered to display the surface proteins of other viruses. Pseudoviruses are useful, Korber told Live Science, because they can't spread disease and because they contain molecular tags that researchers can use to track their movement into cells. (Full Story)

Global COVID-19 cases now dominated by new, more infectious strain

Covid-19 illustration from SciTech Daily.

The D614G variant of Covid-19 quickly took over as the dominant strain soon after it first appeared, with geographic samples showing a significant shift in viral population from the original, to the new strain of the virus.

Researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Duke University in North Carolina, partnered with the University of Sheffield’s Covid-19 Genomics UK research group to analyse genome samples published on GISAID, an international resource for sharing genome sequences among researchers worldwide. (Full Story)

Mars rover equipped with instrument from LANL

Los Alamos National Lab scientists are part of the new Mars Rover mission.

The rover, which launches in late July, will do something its never done before. "That is to collect samples of soil but especially rock samples that will tell us about Mars past history and look for life in ways that we could never do before," said Roger Weins, supercam principal investigator on the Perserverance Rover.

One of the instruments on the rover is called "supercam," a project headed up by Wiens. It was hailed by NASA as a kind of Swiss army knife-type of instrument. Supercam can study the chemistry or rocks and soils around the rover anywhere from 25 feet away. It also studies the mineralogy of the rocks or gems or whatever it finds.   (Full Story)

Shock-dissipating fractal cubes could forge high-tech armor

Fractal structures of increasing complexity dissipate energy from shockwaves, LANL image.

Tiny, 3D printed cubes of plastic, with intricate fractal voids built into them, have proven to be effective at dissipating shockwaves, potentially leading to new types of lightweight armor and structural materials effective against explosions and impacts.

"The goal of the work is to manipulate the wave interactions resulting from a shockwave," said Dana Dattelbaum, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author on a paper to appear in the journal AIP Advances.  (Full Story)

Less impact from wildfire smoke on climate

New research revealed that tiny, sunlight-absorbing particles in wildfire smoke may have less impact on climate than widely hypothesized because reactions as the plume mixes with clean air reduce its absorbing power and climate-warming effect.

"These observations may be useful for those trying to represent organic light absorbing aerosols, or brown carbon, in climate models by identifying how they age, as well as understanding processes affecting how strongly they absorb light and cause warming," said James Lee, lead author on a paper released in JGR: Atmospheres this week and a Los Alamos postdoctoral researcher. (Full Story)

Also from AP

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