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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