Friday, August 7, 2020

The deadly history of ammonium nitrate, the explosive linked to the Beirut blast

An aerial view shows the massive damage at Beirut port's grain silos, from NatGeo.

Some internet rumors speculate that because the ammonium nitrate was left to sit in a warehouse for several years, it would have degraded, becoming more volatile and increasingly dangerous over time. But David Chavez, an explosives scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, doubts that scenario. “Ammonium nitrate does not degrade with time under normal storage conditions,” he says.

A more likely explanation is that the ammonium nitrate in Beirut was not alone inside the warehouse. Given the reported amount, Oxley hypothesizes that a vehicle must have been used to carry the compound inside, and that could have contaminated it with oil or gasoline.  (Full Story)

Also in the Washington Post

Neural networks need naps, just like you

Illustration from PopMech.

Neural networks would like a day off. Between powering facial recognition systems, filtering email spam, and even aiding in cancer research, the specialized branch of machine learning deserves a bit of rest and relaxation.

And according to new research from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, neural nets might actually need that shuteye—or at least a machine's version of it.

Yijing Watkins, a computer scientist at Los Alamos, said her team had been studying "spiking neural networks," or systems that learn as much as our own living brains do, when they became inspired to try something a bit unusual. (Full Story)

Finding new ways to the keep the land alive

The Rio Grande Valley, photo by Katrina Bennett.

El agua es vida. Water is life. This concept is universal, but it is particularly applicable in the dry, arid climate of northern New Mexico.

When people think about water in this area, acequias might immediately come to mind. They are an important part of New Mexico history and have been providing water to crops dating back to Native peoples in the 1400s. Year in and year out, the complex irrigation systems literally brought life to people in northern New Mexico.

A team of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory is using computers to model how the land is impacted by changes in temperature and precipitation, taking into account elevation, soil data, geology, vegetation and other factors.  (Full Story)

At Los Alamos, making science fiction a reality

DNA illustration, NIH image.

In Michael Crichton’s 1990 science fiction novel Jurassic Park, scientists working for billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond successfully cloned dinosaur DNA ... at Los Alamos National Laboratory, scientists often mimic Hammond’s mindset when developing radical new ways to use science to help humanity.

Around the world, a discipline known as synthetic biology continues to take baby steps in making the science fiction of tomorrow a reality today. For instance, scientists have assembled DNA components in living cells to produce new types of molecules with characteristics researchers can exploit to solve useful problems. (Full Story)

2020 Mars Rover Perseverance carrying LANL SuperCam launches successfully

Roger Wiens watches the launch from his home in Los Alamos.  From the LA Reporter.

Roger and Gwen Wiens joined millions of people around the world Thursday who watched the 2020 Mars Rover Perseverance launch from Cape Canaveral on its journey to Mars.

“The first thing I did this morning was to run outside at 4:45 a.m. and get a good long look at Mars, our destination! It was shining pale red, directly overhead. As I watched, a bright meteor left a trail right across the Milky Way,” Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for the SuperChem instrument aboard Perseverance said. “Then I went inside and started a Webex with the SuperCam team—many people who worked on the instrument here in Los Alamos, but also a number of scientists around the country and in Europe.” (Full Story)

How the “Department of Exploration” supports Mars 2020 and more

An Atlas V rocket lifts off July 30, NASA photo.

DOE is playing another critical part in the Perseverance mission through the rover’s SuperCam, which was supplied by Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dubbed the “Swiss Army Knife” of instruments and mounted atop the rover’s mast, the SuperCam will be able to determine the minerology, chemistry, and even molecular and atomic composition of rocks and soils, by firing a laser to study targets more than six meters away.

In concert with NASA’s mission objectives, the SuperCam will search for signs of ancient microbial life, as well as identify elements in the Martian dust that may be harmful to future human explorers. It will even be able to dust off rock targets, allowing the rover’s instruments to have a clearer view. (Full Story)

Take a guided ‘tour’ of SuperCam on new Mars rover

Mars Technica is a new podcast.

NASA’s new Perseverance rover, which just started its seven-month journey to Mars, carries on board what is likely the most versatile instrument ever created to understand the planet’s past habitability: SuperCam—and a new podcast will tell listeners all about it.

“SuperCam sits on the rover’s mast and has a laser that can zap rocks up to 25 feet away,” said Roger Wiens, who leads the SuperCam team at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the instrument was developed. “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)

Simulating quantum 'time travel' disproves butterfly effect in quantum realm

Graphic charting how "Alice" transmits quantum information to "Bob." LANL image.

Using a quantum computer to simulate time travel, researchers have demonstrated that, in the quantum realm, there is no "butterfly effect." In the research, information - qubits, or quantum bits - "time travel" into the simulated past.

"On a quantum computer, there is no problem simulating opposite-in-time evolution, or simulating running a process backwards into the past," said Nikolai Sinitsyn, a theoretical physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and coauthor of the paper with Bin Yan, a post doc in the Center for Nonlinear Studies, also at Los Alamos. "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)

Keeping supercomputers cool

Jim Lujan, LANL photo.

Talk about infrastructure. The National Nuclear Security Administration has completed what might be called five of the world’s largest refrigerators. They’ll eventually keep the chill on some mighty supercomputers to be constructed nearby. It’s all taking place at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. With more of what’s going on, the program manager for advanced simulation and computing, Jim Lujan, joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Tom Temin: Now this picture that I’m looking at, five gigantic air conditioners, tell us what you’ve done so far here. There was a ribbon cutting for it.

Jim Lujan: Right. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty came out and was able to do the ribbon cutting ceremony on our new cooling project. What you can see from outside of the building are five large evaporative cooling towers. This is the first step in taking water temperature and starting to cool it down. (Full Story)

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