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'├ętudes 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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