Thursday, December 24, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic news


Bette Korber on CNN.


Why is it evolving slowly, or why is it good news? 


Korber:  It has a proofreading mechanism when it copies itself. It proofreads. Not all viruses have that. HIV doesn't have that. So it is evolving. It changes its amino acids and its proteins and its genetic material slowly, and there's -- this is good news for a vaccine because you put in a copy of some part of the virus, the spike protein, that little bit that sticks off the coronavirus is what people are using. If that is not changing much, then the vaccine is going to look like the viruses out in the world. So when you make an antibody response to that or an immune response, that antibody response will carry over and recognition the other variants that are out in the world, is the hope. (Full Story)



Los Alamos study hopes to characterize and optimize ventilator treatment for Covid-19


Mathematical visualization shows the velocity of air entering the lungs from a high-frequency pulsating ventilator, LANL image.


Researchers, using some of the same modeling and experimental techniques from the Laboratory’s nuclear weapons mission, are working to discover the underlying science and engineering principles behind this process and have developed a preliminary machine learning algorithm that could someday assist pulmonary doctors in treating Covid-19 patients with IPV.


"People who have contracted the SARS-Cov2 virus may develop respiratory distress in which their lungs fill with mucus as a response to the viral infection.  As the lungs fill with mucus, the person may ultimately require mechanical ventilation," said John Bernardin, principal investigator for the project in the Laboratory's Mechanical and Thermal Engineering group. (Full Story)


Distributing December’s most anticipated new release – The COVID-19 vaccine


Graphic from the Reporter.


At Los Alamos, scientists are using mathematical models and computational simulations enabled by LANL’s supercomputing capabilities to understand how best to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to minimize impacts on the healthcare system and the overall population. This information can help decision makers determine which mitigation strategies to implement and how to safely reopen various parts of the community as the vaccine is rolled out.


To understand the different outcomes based on how the vaccine will be distributed, researchers are looking at various what-if scenarios. (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


Groundbreaking software helps tame blazes


Sara Brambilla demonstrates QUIC-Fire, LANL image.


Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and their collaborators invented QUIC-Fire to meet that need. The team included researchers in the Earth and Environmental Sciences and Analytics, Intelligence, and Technology divisions at Los Alamos along with partners at the United States Forest Service and Tall Timbers Research Station.


This near real-time simulation software offers 3D modeling of fire progression that incorporates critical influences: 3D vegetation structure, variable winds, and complex topography. QUIC-Fire’s most important capability is running on a laptop, offering mobility and rapid information for fire managers. (Full Story)




Garbage to gas: Using biodigesters to create energy wins 2020 New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge


Student scientists at Monte del Sol Charter School earned a $4,500 cash prize awarded by Los Alamos National Laboratory judges in the New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge with their project, “Garbage to Gas: Using Biodigesters to Create Energy.”


“The STEM Challenge’s team-based approach of applying science, technology, engineering and math to address real needs is a microcosm of what we do at the Laboratory every day,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “I congratulate the teachers and student scientists of Monte del Sol Charter School and thank our partners for organizing this innovative contest.” (Full Story)


New calculation of the Hubble Constant


Collision of two neutron stars, from SciTech Daily.


Acombination of astrophysical measurements has allowed researchers to put new constraints on the radius of a typical neutron star and provide a novel calculation of the Hubble constant that indicates the rate at which the universe is expanding.


“We studied signals that came from various sources, for example recently observed mergers of neutron stars,” said Ingo Tews, a theorist in Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)


Also from Space Daily


New radionuclide enables PET imaging of targeted alpha cancer therapies


Cerium-134 enables clinicians to visualize the therapeutic effects of actinium and thorium on cancer in the body through PET imaging, LANL image.


Scientists in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Isotope Program have developed a radionuclide that enables PET imaging of actinium and thorium, alpha emitters used for cancer therapy. 


“This advancement offers new possibilities for medical staff and drug developers to better characterize new actinium and thorium therapeutics,” said Stosh Kozimor, lead Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher on the joint project with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California, and the University of Wisconsin, in statement. (Full Story)


NNSA successfully removes radioactive samples from Lovelace Biomedical Research Institute


Following this successful transfer, NNSA and LANL will recommend to either re-use the materials or identify a final disposition strategy for the removed samples. Until a final decision is made, the materials are being stored safely and securely.


“The success of the Lovelace project depended on technical ability; close collaboration at the local, state, and federal level; and careful attention to nuclear and worker safety regulations,” said Thom Mason, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. “I congratulate everyone involved for a safe, smooth effort.” (Full Story)



Employee holiday gift drive raises $58,000 and buys more than 2,500 gifts

Los Alamos National Laboratory is teaming up with local nonprofits to distribute holiday gifts bought with record-breaking employee donations. Partners include organizations like Barrios Unidos, Gerard’s House, Help NM, and New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department.


“It is heartwarming to see such an outpouring of generosity in a year when many of our neighbors across Northern New Mexico are facing added hardship,” said Thom Mason, Laboratory director. “I am grateful the Laboratory has joined efforts with our community partners to make the holidays a little brighter for people in the region.” (Full Story)


Procurement at Los Alamos National Laboratory goes digital


Kelly Beierschmitt, LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking action to make it easier for New Mexico businesses to contract with it by upgrading to a new procurement software system.


In FY2019, the Laboratory spent more than $396 million in procurement and contracts in New Mexico. Of that $269 million was with the small business community and the Lab is striving to increase those numbers year after year, LANL Deputy Director of Operations Kelly Beierschmitt said in a recorded message during last week’s virtual community conversation. (Full Story)



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Friday, December 18, 2020

At Los Alamos National Lab, supercomputers are optimizing vaccine distribution


Image from HPCwire.


Over the course of the year, LANL has pitted its supercomputing prowess against every aspect of the pandemic, from modeling the virus and its spread to investigating various pharmaceuticals that might mitigate or prevent infections. Now, LANL finds itself facing what may be one of the final challenges posed by SARS-CoV-2: optimizing distribution of the new vaccines that may signal the beginning of the end of COVID-19.


LANL was no stranger to this kind of analysis: earlier in the year, the lab had used supercomputer-powered tools like EpiCast to simulate virtual cities populated by individuals with demographic characteristics to model how COVID-19 would spread under different conditions. (Full Story)


A COVID-19 vaccine is here. But it's not a 'magic bullet,' experts warn


Image from KUNM.


Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have been using mathematical models and computer simulations to get a clearer picture of how the pandemic will progress once the vaccination process begins. Ben McMahon, a mathematical epidemiologist and a member of the laboratory's Theoretical Biology Group, says the most important finding is about what the vaccine won't do.


"The vaccine is not going to be a magic bullet that makes all of this go away in the time scale of a couple of months," McMahon said. "It's going to help enormously, but it's going to be really important to continue the other methods of control throughout the vaccination process." (Full Story) 


Answering the ‘what-if’ questions on COVID interventions with MEDIAN


Covid illustration, LANL image.


This is where Los Alamos shines, in assessing complex data and making sense of it for decision-makers. Los Alamos’ Modeling Epidemics for Decision Support with Infrastructure Analysis (MEDIAN) project evolved to help identify asymptomatic people in the population.


“With the significant asymptomatic spread of the virus, plus without a vaccine (yet) and pharmaceuticals, the best feasible strategies for testing and diagnostics, contact tracing and quarantine need to be explored and used to the best advantage,” said project lead Jeanne Fair (Biosecurity & Public Health Group). (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


LANL Director addresses Lab’s economic impact, COVID impact and employee giving campaign results


LANL Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.


Mason said LANL directly or indirectly supports some 25,000 jobs in the state and that the number is growing. In FY2020, he said 1,152 new employees were hired which is on pace with the level of hiring over the last several years. The previous year, 1,250 were hired and Mason noted that there was a little bit of a drop off when COVID first started while the Lab adapted to doing things differently. About half the new hires are replacements for people retiring or going to other jobs while the other half are being hired because the Lab budgets are growing which means missions are growing.


“As we look to the future, growth is going to continue and depending on what happens with the budget this year things could significantly accelerate. We’re hopeful the budget will be resolved before Christmas and there’s significant increase that’s been proposed for Los Alamos that’s on the table for discussion,” Mason said. (Full Story)


And from the Los Alamos Daily Post.


Garrett Kenyon: Some AI systems may need sleep


Los Alamos National Laboratory's Garrett Kenyon appears live with KHOW Radio talk show host Ross Kaminsky to talk about Artificial Intelligence systems, what they are and how they work, and how biologically-patterned AI systems might need sleep to function properly. (Listen Here)

Superbolts and megaflashes — scientists study souped up lightning


Image from CBC.


Michael Peterson, a scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been crunching data from two Earth observing satellites. One study used data from the FORTE satellite the the other used images from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument on the GEOS-R satellite.


In all, he was able to spot two million 'superbolt' lightning strikes, which are 100 to 1000 times more electrically powerful and optically brighter than an ordinary lightning bolt. They are, however, relatively rare, representing only about 0.3 per cent of all lightning strikes picked up by the satellites. (Full Story)


New estimates of neutron star size and Hubble constant


Graphic from Tech Explorist.


A combination of astrophysical estimations has permitted scientists to put new constraints on the radius of a typical neutron star and give a novel calculation of the Hubble constant that demonstrates the rate at which the universe is expanding.


Ingo Tews, a theorist in Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said, “Combining signals to gain insight into distant astrophysical phenomena is known in the field as multimessenger astronomy. In this case, the researchers’ multimessenger analysis allowed them to restrict the uncertainty of their estimate of neutron star radii to within 800 meters.” (Full Story)


Shots in the dark – Learn about those explosions you might have heard or seen last week


Explosion on Dec. 3, just west of White Rock. LANL photo.


Last week, local social media was abuzz with comments about loud booms and flashes coming from the Lab. That’s because on four nights, a total of eight explosive tests were detonated at Minie firing site on Threemile Mesa, just a few miles from White Rock.


“These were unusually visible and audible explosives experiments,” said Peter Dickson, group leader for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Explosive Applications and Special Projects, which was responsible for the experiments. In fact, Dickson, while making sound level measurements on a ridge just west of White Rock, took the photo you see here with a regular DSLR camera. (Full Story)

Nuclear Power in a Six-pack


Small-scale nuclear reactors could help wean us off fossil fuels, but first they need to overcome the public fear shaped by nuclear accidents. (Listen Here)


Study shows cerium-134 could help advance targeted cancer treatment


Veronika Mocko processing cerium-134 in the “Hot Cells” at LANL, LANL photo.


The targeted nature of this treatment allows for the radioisotope to destroy tumors but leave healthy tissue untouched, said Los Alamos National Laboratory principal investigator Stosh Kozimor.


“We all know someone who’s had cancer and went through some sort of non-targeted treatment,” Kozimor said. “The side effects can be gruesome, but if you’re applying a medication that only kills the diseased tissue and not killing healthy tissue, that minimizes negative side effects.” According to Kozimor, two targeted alpha therapeutics that are getting a lot of attention are actinium-225 and thorium-227.  (Full Story)


Also from the Los Alamos Reporter

Can science solve the plastic glut?


Plastic on a beach, photo from the Taos News.


Recently, Los Alamos National Laboratory announced a new consortium that will harness the technical and research capabilities of four Department of Energy research laboratories and four universities.


The program is being dubbed BOTTLE – calling to mind the ubiquitous plastic water bottle – and stands for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment.


BOTTLE is a project of the Bioenergy and Biome Group, part of the Bioscience Division at LANL, according to Taraka Dale, BOTTLE program lead for the lab. (Full Story)



Colleges introduce new collaborations


As momentous as this new project is, it is only one example of how we are collaborating and innovating across the state. For example, Northern New Mexico College and Santa Fe Community College already have begun discussions with CNM about coordinating and specializing in career technical programs.


Similar coordination and distribution of emphasis areas already has paid dividends in our partnerships with Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Northern focuses on radiological control technician education and training, and SFCC specializes in machinist-engineering pathways. (Full Story)



Second Annual New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge


High school students from 33 schools will be competing for $5,000 in prize money from 18 employers in the 2nd Annual New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge. Employer partners from around the state include Los Alamos National Laboratory and N3B Los Alamos.


Employer partners have provided judges to rate the solutions based on quality, creativity, presentation, and how they match up with skills that employers need for future hires in their own industries. Selected teams will receive $500 per student in cash. (Full Story)



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Friday, December 11, 2020

Lack of sleep could be a problem for AIs


Image from SciAm.


One of the distinguishing features of machines is that they don’t need to sleep, unlike humans and any other creature with a central nervous system. Someday though, your toaster might need a nap from time to time, as may your car, fridge and anything else that is revolutionized with artificial intelligence technologies. At least that’s the implication of new research that we are conducting in Los Alamos National Laboratory to understand systems that operate much like the neurons inside living brains. Our realization came about as we worked to develop neural networks that closely approximate how humans and other biological systems learn to see. (Full Story)


Los Alamos examines impact of vaccines


A possible COVID-19 vaccine, photo from the Journal.


Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are using computer models to study how the timing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines might shape the course of the pandemic – work that may influence policymakers in New Mexico and across the country.


The researchers say wearing masks and taking other steps to limit the spread of the disease will remain critical for months to come, even as the first vaccines reach New Mexico, perhaps next week.


“People don’t realize how much power they have in what’s going on,” mathematical epidemiologist Sara Del Valle said in a Journal interview. “It’s up to us as individuals. Our collective behavior has a great impact on how we fight this disease.” (Full Story)


How long will it take for the COVID-19 vaccine to reach New Mexicans?


New Mexico ordered more than 17,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine which could be authorized next week. Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists are using a unique type of modeling to figure out when life in New Mexico could start going back to normal. 


“To understand how to distribute [sic] vaccine, so that we can measure the impact on the healthcare system and also analyze when we can reopen the schools safely and the overall impact on the population including cases, how we can reduce cases and deaths,” said Mathematical Epidemiologist Sara Del Valle. (Full Story)


State officials provide more details about vaccine distribution plan


Pending FDA approval, 17,550 vaccine doses will come to New Mexico in a little more than a week. Researchers at Los Alamos National Labs are working to map out the path. 


"This project is about using mathematical models and computation simulations to understand how to distribute the vaccine,” said Sara Del Valle, a mathematical epidemiologist at LANL.  Scientists like Del Valle are working to identify the most effective and efficient way to stop the spread with a vaccine. (Full Story)


Also from the Santa Fe Reporter

Los Alamos National Lab chronicles its multifaceted computing battle against COVID-19


Covid-19, NIH image.


Well before COVID-19 struck New Mexico, New Mexico was striking COVID-19. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) began its research on COVID-19 in late January, one of several national labs to position itself as an early mover in fighting the pandemic research with high-performance computing.


Some LANL researchers, like scientist Dave Osthus, had an easy pivot to COVID-19 thanks to ongoing virus research that preceded the pandemic. Osthus and his colleagues provide weekly infection forecasts during flu season using a model so successful that it had won awards in previous flu seasons.  (Full Story)


Breakthrough material makes pathway to hydrogen use for fuel cells under hot, dry conditions


Proton conductor for fuel cells based on polystyrene phosphonic acids, LANL graphic.


Acollaborative research team, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Stuttgart (Germany), University of New Mexico, and Sandia National Laboratories, has developed a proton conductor for fuel cells based on polystyrene phosphonic acids that maintain high protonic conductivity up to 200 C without water. 


They describe the material advance in a paper published this week in Nature Materials. Hydrogen produced from renewable, nuclear, or fossil fuels with carbon capture, utilization, and storage can help to decarbonize industries and provide environmental, energy resilience and flexibility across multiple sectors in the economy. (Full Story)

AI reveals first direct observation of rupture propagation during slow quakes


Using a trained neural network and data from the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey, a research team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory revealed the first direct observation of rupture propagation during a slow earthquake. 


“The deep-learning approach we developed makes it possible to automatically detect the small and transient deformation that occurs on faults with unprecedented resolution, paving the way for a systematic study of the interplay between slow and regular earthquakes, at a global scale,” said Bertrand Rouet-Leduc, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and leader of the research team. (Full Story)


‘Let’s talk exascale’: storing and managing exa-class data volumes


Jim Ahrens, LANL photo.


In this new edition of “Let’s Talk Exascale” from the Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project, the ECP’s Scott Gibson talks with Jim Ahrens of Los Alamos National Laboratory about the project’s data and visualization portfolio.


As Ahrens said in this interview, “We can compute much faster than we can save and store data these days – specifically, exascale system concurrency is expected to grow by five or six orders of magnitude, yet system memory and IO bandwidth is only expected to grow by one or two orders of magnitude. And this discrepancy is really front and center for us to address. We need to figure out methods to address this issue.” (Full Story)


Breakthrough of the Year finalists: Thin-film perovskite detectors slash imaging dose


Perovskite thin-film X-ray detector, LANL image.


To Wanyi Nie and colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory for using thin-film perovskites to create an extremely sensitive X-ray detector. Using a synchrotron beamline to characterize their thin-film perovskite detectors, the researchers found that the X-ray absorption coefficients of the perovskite materials were on average 10 to 40 times higher than that of silicon for higher-energy X-rays. They also demonstrated that the new X-ray detectors are 100 times more sensitive than conventional silicon-based devices. This new type of solid-state X-ray detector could enable medical and dental imaging at extremely low radiation dose, enabling the same quality image to be generated using a much-reduced X-ray dose, making scans safer for patients. (Full Story)


James Owen: From Peñasco to leader of weapons engineering


James Owen, LANL photo.


Growing up in Peñasco, in rural Taos County, Los Alamos seemed like a far-off world to James Owen and his friends. But a school field trip to the Bradbury Science Museum when he was a high school sophomore abruptly changed all that.


“A Los Alamos National Lab staff member presented to us and introduced this concept of implosion and it absolutely caught my attention,” James remembers. “It’s a relatively easy concept to understand now, but as a high school sophomore, I was really perplexed by this idea of implosion versus explosion. I became interested and really enthralled with Los Alamos from that point forward.” (Full Story)


Also from the LA Reporter this week:


Bioscience Division teams up with a New Mexico small business to test antibacterial face masks


Chris Cooper of Green Theme Technologies assesses the treated masks that are ready for distribution, LANL photo.


Around the country scientists and business leaders are thinking creatively about out-of-the-box ways to tackle the coronavirus, but closer to home a former Los Alamos National Laboratory chemist and a Bioscience Division staff member are applying known concepts to the simple face mask.


While seeking to develop a face mask that could not only block, but kill both bacteria and viruses, Gary Selwyn needed to have the antibacterial and antiviral assessments done independently.  An NMSBA coordinator connected Selwyn with Laverne Gallegos-Graves of the Bioenergy and Biome Sciences group at Los Alamos to test the antibacterial properties, while staff at University of New Mexico handled the viral work. (Full Story) 


LANL Spotlight: Derrick Key … caught In the camera eye


Photo by Derrick Key.


Among the lowrider aficionados enjoying the bright colors and hopping rhythms during a summertime car show in Española, Derrick Key, a fabrication technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory, wanders about the many “low and slow” vehicles on display.


But Key isn’t really at this event to check out the custom cars. A tell-tale camera in his hand, Key is here to take in the people and the lowrider culture that began with Mexican-American youths in the late 1940s and has since spread into other cultures, including African-American hip-hop culture and Japan’s custom-car scene. (Full Story)


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