Friday, August 28, 2020

Hidden webs of fungi protect some forests from drought—but leave others vulnerable

Mycorrhizal fungi (bright gray) penetrate root cells in this electron micrograph.  From Science.

Sanna Sevanto, a biophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, watched the fungi in action by dousing seedlings’ roots in heavy water, which served as a tracer. Water moved into the drought-tolerant roots infected with their fungus much faster than when they were sterile, reported Catherine Gehring, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University.

She and her colleagues are working with local researchers to replant pines in the Navajo Nation, not far from Sunset Crater, and they are applying what they learned. Because genetic differences among the trees seem to determine which of the two groups of EM fungi colonizes them, the team will be careful to plant seedlings with the right genotype to attract the drought-resistant fungi.  (Full Story)

Three big threats to satellites — and what to do about them

Space junk illustration, from

Our solar system is bathed in a continuous shower of cosmic rays and salvos of energetic particles from solar storms — all of which can penetrate a satellite, microscopically fry its electronics, and, in extreme cases, render it useless.  One solution is to predict space weather to give satellite operators the chance to temporarily shut down part or all of a spacecraft to protect it. 

For example, at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a new machine-learning computer model accurately predicts damaging radiation caused by the intensification of Earth's Van Allen radiation belts two days prior to the storm, the most advanced notice to date.  (Full Story)

Scientists dispel Coronavirus mutation fears, say ‘Malaysia Strain’ no cause for concern

Illustration from The Wire.

In July, a study in the journal Cell by scientists, including Bette Korber from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, noted that a variant of the novel coronavirus, dubbed ‘D614G’, can infect more lab-grown cells than other strains.

The study said this mutant – in which a molecule aspartic acid’ (denoted as D) is replaced by another building block glycine’ (G) – had quickly taken over as the dominant strain across the world soon after it first appeared, and grew more rapidly in lab-grown cells. (Full Story)

Fast spreading mutation now Australia's most common strain of COVID-19

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19, from the Herald.

In a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell last month, researchers found the G-variant quickly became the dominant form of the virus around the world, suggesting it may be more transmissible than the original form from Wuhan.

“All over the world, even when local epidemics had many cases of the original form circulating, soon after the D614G variant was introduced into a region it became the prevalent form,” Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and lead author of the study, said in a press release. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory computer scientists develop AI system to foil illicit cryptocurrency mining

LANL Illustration.

Legitimate cryptocurrency miners often assemble enormous computer arrays dedicated to digging up the digital cash. Less savory miners have found they can strike it rich by hijacking supercomputers, provided they can keep their efforts hidden. 

“Based on recent computer break-ins in Europe and elsewhere, this type of software watchdog will soon be crucial to prevent cryptocurrency miners from hacking into high-performance computing facilities and stealing precious computing resources,” said Gopinath Chennupati, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of a new paper in the journal IEEE Access.  (Full Story)

Also from Government Computing News and the Los Alamos Daily Post

Life after landing on Mars 

A new podcast episode talks about a day-in-the-life of the Perseverance rover on the Red Planet

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars in February after its seven-month-long journey, the mission will only just be beginning. What will a day in the life of the rover look like as it traverses the dusty surface of the Red Planet, looking for signs of past life? And what features of the landing site are most of interest? In a new episode of the Mars Technica podcast, three experts explain.

“A lot of people think we drive the rover with a joystick back on Earth like a video game,” said Roger Wiens, who leads the team for the SuperCam instrument aboard the Perseverance rover.  (Full Story)

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Friday, August 21, 2020

Why some people get terribly sick from COVID-19

Illustration from SciAm.

Women are inclined toward more protective conduct. They were about 50 percent more likely than men to wear a face mask, wash their hands and avoid public transit during earlier respiratory disease epidemics such as bird flu and SARS, according to a 2016 meta-analysis by Kelly Moran and Sara Del Valle, both at Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

Such gender differences in attitude and behavior have continued in the current pandemic, according to a survey conducted in March and April by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Responses from 21,649 people in eight developed nations indicated that women are more likely to take COVID-19 seriously and agree to comply with public safety measures. (Full Story)

Cats and llamas could offer a path to coronavirus therapies

Covid-19 cell infection, NIH image.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, structural biologist Julian Chen is modeling the interactions between the spike protein and the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) on the human cell surface that is the path to infection. “We know that viruses make use of the path of least resistance to get into the cell,” he says. 

“SARS-CoV-2 certainly did not evolve specifically to bind to a human ACE2 receptor, so it’s a good enough interaction, but likely not an optimal one.” It should be possible to design molecules that can outcompete the virus in binding with ACE2, thereby preventing infection, he says. (Full Story)

Does the Butterfly Effect exist? Maybe, but not in the quantum realm

Illustration from Discover. 

Two researchers at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, created a simulation where a qubit, a quantum bit, moved backwards and forwards in “time” on a quantum computer. Despite being damaged, the qubit held on to its original information — instead of becoming unrecognizable like the time traveler’s world after he killed the butterfly. In the study, the process used to simulate time travel forwards and backwards is known as “evolution.”

“From the point of view of classical physics, it's very unexpected because classical physics predicts that complex evolution has a butterfly effect, so that small changes deep in the past lead to huge changes in our world,” says Nikolai Sinitsyn, a theoretical physicist and one of the researchers who conducted the study. (Full Story)

Also from Vice

Machine learning unearths signature of slow-slip quake origins in seismic data

Machine learning model used historical data from the Cascadia region, Shutterstock image.

"The machine learning model found that, close to the end of the slow slip cycle, a snapshot of the data is imprinted with fundamental information regarding the upcoming failure of the system," said Claudia Hulbert, a computational geophysicist at ENS and the Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study, published today in Nature Communications. 

"Our results suggest that slow-slip rupture may well be predictable, and because slow slip events have a lot in common with earthquakes, slow-slip events may provide an easier way to study the fundamental physics of earth rupture." (Full Story)

Also from Cosmos Magazine

Photonic instruments, components driving (and steering) NASA’s Mars rover

SuperCam is attached to the Perseverance rover at JPL, NASA photo.

The SuperCam is one of several major instruments that make up Perseverance. Its optical sensing capabilities ensure its aptitude for determining chemical composition and mineralogy. Enhanced Raman and TRF spectroscopy technologies employ a transmission spectrometer with a volume phase holographic (VPH) grating and gated detector. 

Roger Wiens, from Los Alamos National Laboratory, designed and built the spectrometer itself. The laboratory also built the laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument for SuperCam, from a design based on the ChemCam used in a previous mission that found spectroscopic evidence of water on Mars.  (Full Story)

Scientist with local roots is key to device on Mars rover

Sam Clegg with a lab-based version of ChemCam, LANL photo.

The Perseverance rover is somewhere along its nearly seven-month trip to Mars, carrying with it a piece of machinery that was developed by someone with roots in the Yuba-Sutter area.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Senior Scientist Sam Clegg grew up in Yuba City and has worked at the lab since 2003. For most of the last 17 years he has been working with Los Alamos Principal Investigator Roger Wiens on a technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).  (Full Story)

Searching Mars for signatures of life

Today, Mars is an arid, dusty, and frigid landscape with an average temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit—inhospitable to life as we know it. But it wasn’t always that way. NASA’s Perseverance rover is headed straight for a spot scientists believe was an ancient river delta billions of years ago to search for signs that life once existed on the Red Planet. A new episode of the podcast Mars Technica will talk to three experts about what these signs are, and what they might mean.

“The rocks on Mars tell us that, not only did freshwater lakes once exist there, but the water was habitable,” said Roger Wiens, who leads the team for the SuperCam instrument, which is now headed to Mars aboard the Perseverance rover. (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory builds an AI system to detect illicit crypto miners

Los Alamos National Laboratory, partly-owned by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, has developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based system to detect illicit cryptocurrency miners.

The system is specifically designed for malicious actors that target supercomputers to mine cryptocurrencies like bitcoin (BTC) and monero (XMR), the laboratory announced on Thursday. Recent reports have indicated that academic supercomputers are targeted by would-be attackers to install crypto mining hardware. (Full Story)

Also from Cryptopolitan

Going with the flow: Computer tool tracks water’s changing impact in the warming Arctic

Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra on Alaska’s Arctic Coast. USGS photo.

Understanding how water moves through the permafrost landscape is vital to understanding permafrost-carbon-climate feedbacks. Water carries nutrients; it carries energy. It can increase not only the rate of permafrost thaw, but the carbon dioxide and methane output, too. 

To understand the impact of these hydrologic feedbacks, Los Alamos National Laboratory, with collaborators from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, led the development of a new open-source simulation tool called Amanzi-ATS. (Full Story)

Melting permafrost could mean return of ancient diseases

Aedes aegypti mosquito, CDC image.

Jeanne Fair from the Los Alamos National Laboratory said, "mosquitoes moving their range north are now able to overwinter in some temperate regions...[with] longer breeding periods." The Aedes aegypti carries diseases such as dengue, zika, malaria, and eastern equine encephalitis.

Since 2010, the Europe Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has reported 40 cases of locally transmitted dengue. Experts fear that over the next few years, Europe may report more cases of tropical diseases and have dengue seasons due to climate change. (Full Story)

Heavy metal Psyche: Biggest main belt asteroid might be planet remnant

Artist’s conception of asteroid Psyche, NASA image.

New 2D and 3D computer modeling of impacts on the asteroid Psyche, the largest Main Belt asteroid, indicate it is probably metallic and porous in composition, something like a flying cosmic rubble pile. 

“This mission will be the first to visit a metallic asteroid, and the more we, the scientific community, know about Psyche prior to launch, the more likely the mission will have the most appropriate tools for examining Psyche and collecting data,” said Wendy K. Caldwell, Los Alamos National Laboratory Chick Keller Postdoctoral Fellow and lead author on a paper published recently in the journal Icarus.  (Full Story)

Recovering record-setting lightning strikes obscured by a software glitch

The world-record single stratiform lightning flash.

Back in 2016, NASA built its Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), a single-channel, near-infrared optical transient detector, then put it on the GOES-16 satellite in a geostationary orbit. 

To see if there was more information that could be pulled from GLM’s sliced and diced images, Los Alamos National Laboratory had one of its software experts, Michael Peterson, develop a software program to repair the data.

Once Peterson got it running and he stitched several large flash events together, he discovered two “megaflashes” that were declared world records—one for flash distance and the other for flash duration—by the World Meteorological organization. (Full Story)

LANL astrophysicist Didier Saumon chats with Los Alamos Reporter

Astrophysicist Didier Saumon, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory astrophysicist Didier Saumon is one of a large group of international researchers who have developed an experimental technique to measure the basic properties of matter by using lasers to compress hydrocarbon samples to 100 to 450 million times the Earth’s atmospheric pressure – the highest pressures achieved to date in a controlled laboratory experiment.

Saumon said his main research interest is the properties of matter such as that found in stars, in giant planets like Jupiter and also in experiments like inertial confinement fusion which he said is a very large national project that tries to achieve the fusion of deuterium and tritium to reproduce the energy source that powers the sun in the laboratory. (Full Story)

Also from the LA Reporter this week:

Deniece Korzekwa named Los Alamos National Laboratory Senior Fellow

Deniece Korzekwa, LANL photo.

Deniece Korzekwa, of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Sigma Division, has been named Senior Fellow for outstanding leadership and seminal contributions to nuclear weapons manufacturing science, global security initiatives and international scientific exchanges involving plutonium and uranium.

Korzekwa is a world recognized expert in actinide casting with significant technical contributions across the entire Weapons Program including manufacturing, Directed Stockpile Work and Science Campaigns. Her insights have been critical for the Intelligence Community on the topic of weapon manufacturing proliferation.  (Full Story)


LANL and EspaƱola-based contractor win three DOE Small Business Awards

Eric Quintana, left, and Thom Mason, celebrate the signing of the company’s contract last year. LANL photo.

“The Laboratory spent $289 million on New Mexico small business contracts last year because we know regional collaborations are a winning proposition for us and for the local economy,” said Director Thom Mason. “My hat goes off to Performance Maintenance for its spectacular sense of duty. 

When the company won a Laboratory contract for janitorial services and supplies, we never expected a pandemic to elevate cleaning standards to current levels. Performance Maintenance rose to the occasion and is a key reason that the Laboratory can safely conduct its mission for the country. Thanks to the Department of Energy for recognizing the Laboratory and Performance Maintenance with these Small Business Awards.” (Full Story)

Grandparents’ letters, photos tell the story of Evanston couple’s small part in the Manhattan Project 

Fred Fragassi Sr. during his time with the Manhattan Project, from the Sun-Times

It was only by happenstance that this modest Italian American couple [Fred and Clara Fragassi]  from Evanston ended up living in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and working on “history’s biggest secret” for two years, between 1944 and 1946.

“People will think about Nobel laureates and all these famous scientists who were obviously very important, but the Manhattan Project simply would not have happened without all these other people, like construction workers and secretaries," according to Alan B. Carr, senior historian of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

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Friday, August 14, 2020

COVID-19 presents unique challenges for tracking data

Mathematical epidemiologists with Los Alamos National Laboratory say the fact that there are so many asymptomatic carriers of this virus, make for unique challenges. “That of course makes it challenging to track people who might be spreading it, and to understand how many total infections we have,” explained Carrie Manore, Mathematical Epidemiologist for LANL.

“If you’re looking at one model you might not be getting the whole picture,” explained Sara Del Valle, Deputy Group Leader for LANL. “But when you’re looking at a compilation of models and all of them agree, it seems like the state is probably doing the best that it can do,” she added. (Full Story)

Is there a deadlier COVID-19 mutation in Venezuela?

Covid research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.  From the Pulitzer Center.

Among the coronavirus mutations so far identified by scientists, the D614G mutation (the same that was found in the three genomes from Venezuelan patients) seems to be the one that has generated more concern. It was first documented on April 30, in a study by a group of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In this study, the scientists, led by Dr. Bette Korber, looked at mutations affecting the virus’ protein spikes, which are used to recognize and invade the body’s cells. Using data from amino acid changes in the virus’ spike protein, the study shows how the D614G spike mutation quickly became dominant around the world, after being first detected in Italy, on February 20.  (Full Story)

Simulating crash into asteroid reveals its heavy metal psyche

New 2D and 3D computer modeling of impacts on the asteroid Psyche, the largest Main Belt asteroid, indicate it is probably metallic and porous in composition, something like a flying cosmic rubble pile. Knowing this will be critical to NASA’s forthcoming asteroid mission, Psyche: Journey to a Metal World, that launches in 2022.

“This mission will be the first to visit a metallic asteroid, and the more we, the scientific community, know about Psyche prior to launch, the more likely the mission will have the most appropriate tools for examining Psyche and collecting data,” said Wendy K. Caldwell, Los Alamos National Laboratory Chick Keller Postdoctoral Fellow and lead author on a paper published recently in the journal Icarus.  (Full Story)

Another ray gun heads for Mars. We hear It working.

SuperCam mast unit, LANL photo.

First there was ChemCam on Mars rover Curiosity. Now, SuperCam is on its way to the Red Planet aboard Perseverance. We’ll talk with principal investigator Roger Wiens about the new and improved, laser-firing instrument that delivers rock spectra and other science from a distance. SuperCam’s microphone will finally let us listen to the Martian wind and more. Mastcam-Z is right next to SuperCam on the Perseverance mast. You’ve turned it into great acronyms that we’ll share in What’s Up. (Full Story)

Listen up

Los Alamos National Laboratory's seven-series podcast, Mars Technica, explores LANL's role in the Mars Perseverance mission. NASA's new Perseverance rover just began its seven-month journey to Mars, carrying on board the SuperCam, developed at the lab. "SuperCam sits on the rover's mast and has a laser that can zap rocks up to 25 feet away," Roger Wiens, who leads the SuperCam team at LANL, says in a news statement. "It analyzes the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks on Mars, which can tell us a lot about whether the planet could have once harbored life." (Full Story)

Quantum mechanics is immune to the butterfly effect

Illustration from The Economist.

The “butterfly effect” describes the high sensitivity of many systems to tiny changes in their starting conditions. But while it is a feature of classical physics, it has been unclear whether it also applies to quantum mechanics, which governs the interactions of tiny objects like atoms and fundamental particles.

Bin Yan and Nikolai Sinitsyn, a pair of physicists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, decided to find out. As they report in Physical Review Letters, quantum-mechanical systems seem to be more resilient than classical ones. (Full Story)

Questa High School new class focuses on skilled building trades, partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory

LANL photo.

Described as a "public-private partnership," Questa High School is partnering with Los Alamos National Laboratory, UNM-Taos, New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council, UA 412 Local Plumbers and Pipefitters and the Questa Economic Development Fund to help make this program a reality.

Los Alamos director Thom Mason said that the labs expect to add around 1,200 skilled craft jobs over the next five years, according to the press release. Mason added that these jobs are critical to the success of the labs. (Full Story)

Also from the Los Alamos Daily Post

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