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)

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