Friday, January 29, 2021

How to see in the dark—and why we need to

Satellite images of the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh after Myanmar government attacks, ESA image.


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we analyzed public SAR data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite acquired during 2017 and 2018 in north Rakhine to detect the government’s demolition of Rohingya villages conducted in the wake of the August 2017 attacks. 


Since typical Rohingya villages consist of thatched-roof houses surrounded by palm trees, we used a simple change-detection algorithm to detect deforestation at the locations of villages. That allowed us to identify land being cleared at the locations of destroyed villages, which supported reports of government forces’ methods to erase any trace of the villages. (Full Story)


Are visualizations the future of science?


As supercomputers expand the ability to combine complex models, these scientific visualizations will play an increasingly crucial role in science itself. Because as the questions posed grow more complex – whether that’s a potential meteor strike or melting ice shelves.


John Patchett is a staff scientist in the Information Sciences group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he does research in data science at scale, large-scale visualization and analysis, data-parallelism, and in-situ visualization and analysis. (Full Story)


Science and plastics: Solutions for pollution in the works


The wasteful habits of humans are harming the planet. That’s without dispute. One of the worst offenders is the worldwide glut of plastics — with millions of tons polluting oceans and land across the globe.


Solutions might be in the works, courtesy of science. And Los Alamos National Laboratory is helping lead the charge ... the initiative is called BOTTLE for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment and aims to find ways to use enzymes to break down plastics and, at the same time, create recyclable plastics to stop making the problem bigger. (Full Story)

New “Fast Forward” algorithm could unleash the power of quantum computers


new algorithm that fast forwards simulations could bring greater use ability to current and near-term quantum computers, opening the way for applications to run past strict time limits that hamper many quantum calculations.


“Quantum computers have a limited time to perform calculations before their useful quantum nature, which we call coherence, breaks down,” said Andrew Sornborger of the Computer, Computational, and Statistical Sciences division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and senior author on a paper announcing the research. “With a new algorithm we have developed and tested, we will be able to fast forward quantum simulations to solve problems that were previously out of reach.” (Full Story)


Also from Brinkwire

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Dana Dattelbaum wins prestigious 2020 E.O. Lawrence Award


Dattelbaum, LANL photo.


Dana Dattelbaum of Los Alamos National Laboratory is a recipient of the Department of Energy’s prestigious E.O. Lawrence award for 2020.


Dattelbaum is honored for “several transformative scientific and intellectual achievements, including her pioneering work providing physical insights into shock and detonation physics, her innovations in the development of the Equations of State of a spectrum of energetics and polymers, and providing critical data for hydrodynamic simulations essential to the nuclear weapons program,” according to the DOE announcement made earlier this month.


“Dana’s outstanding contributions to the Laboratory’s core mission have significantly advanced our fundamental knowledge of the science of detonation, shock physics, and capabilities needed for our weapons systems,” Laboratory Director Thom Mason said. (Full Story)

Bring on the burn


Pacheco Canyon fire, SF National Forest photo.


Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are studying how the future climate will impact ideal prescribed burn conditions. And they're developing tools that could help fire managers on the ground plan for even safer and more effective prescribed burns.


Alex Jonko, a scientist at LANL engaged in both climate and fire research, says changes in the climate might lead forest managers to conduct many more burns in the winter in coming years—including the types of broadcast burns that are usually conducted in the spring and fall. Jonko uses modeling to understand long-term trends in climate data and the kinds of changes that are likely to occur in the future. (Full Story) 


Forests with diverse tree sizes and small clearings hinder wildland fire growth


Wildfires are becoming more prolific and devastating, NPS photo.


new 3D analysis shows that wildland fires flare up in forests populated by similar-sized trees or checkerboarded by large clearings and slow down where trees are more varied. The research can help fire managers better understand the physics and dynamics of fire to improve fire-behavior forecasts.


“We knew fuel arrangement affected fire but we didn’t know how,” said Adam Atchley, lead author on a Los Alamos National Laboratory-led study published today in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. “Traditional models that represent simplified fuel structures can’t account for complex wind and varied fire response to actual forest conditions. (Full Story)


Also from the LA Reporter this week:


Newly identified tiny mineral named for Los Alamos and UW scientists


Newly named mineral, xuite, LANL photo.


vanishingly tiny mineral is being named for two scientists who have revolutionized the analysis of mineral samples. Xuite (pronounced “zoo-ite”), the newest member of the nano-mineral pantheon, is named in honor of Los Alamos National Laboratory mineralogist Hongwu Xu and the University of Wisconsin’s Huifang Xu.


“It is a wonderful honor to see a new mineral named for Hongwu Xu and his colleague Huifang Xu. The rare mineral, which typically forms in cooling lavas and scorias, is a member of the garnet group of minerals,” said Terry Wallace, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, who is also a noted geologist. (Full Story)


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Friday, January 22, 2021

COVID-19: What do we know about the new coronavirus variant?


Image from MNT.


Recently, global media has been abuzz with news and speculation about a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19


One of the most widely talked about mutations has resulted in the D614G variant. Research by Dr. Bette Korber, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, and colleagues suggests that this change allows the variant to infect people more easily.


The team’s data indicate that people with the D614G variant of the virus may have higher levels of viral RNA than people with the original variant. But no evidence indicates that this causes more severe COVID-19. (Full Story)


Ten computer codes that transformed science: Preprint powerhouse - (1991)


Submissions can exceed 15,000 per month, graphic from Nature.


In the late 1980s, high-energy physicists routinely sent physical copies of their submitted manuscripts to colleagues by post for comment and as a courtesy — but only to a select few. “Those lower in the food chain relied on the beneficence of those on the A-list, and aspiring researchers at non-elite institutions were frequently out of the privileged loop entirely,” wrote physicist Paul Ginsparg in 20117.


In 1991, Ginsparg, then at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, wrote an e-mail autoresponder to level the playing field. Subscribers received daily lists of preprints, each associated with an article identifier. With a single e-mail, users across the world could submit or retrieve an article from the lab’s computer system, get lists of new articles or search by author or title. (Full Story)


Garbage to Gas


Monte Del Sol biodigester, from the SF Reporter


Ateam of Monte del Sol students won $4,500 in December in the New Mexico Governor's STEM Challenge for their "garbage to gas" biodigester project.  Because of technical problems with a prototype and challenges posed by COVID-19, the team didn't achieve the exact outcome they were aiming for ... but the experience taught them that getting something right the first time may not always be as valuable as the ability to problem-solve and the willingness to keep trying.


Benigno Sandoval, a mechanical engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory who served as one of the judges in the competition, tells SFR the students' tenacity in the face of the setbacks helped them win the prize. (Full Story)


Chemistry and Metallurgy facility replacement subproject at LANL completed ahead of schedule, under budget


Technical Area 55, LANL photo.


The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR) Project completed construction and turnover activities for the Plutonium Facility (PF-4) Equipment Installation Phase 1 (PEI-1) Subproject at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) on Jan. 8.


This capital line item is a crucial step in relocating analytical chemistry and material characterization capabilities into the TA-55 PF-4 facility at LANL. The subproject was completed 15 months ahead of schedule and $110 million under budget, marking another major milestone for CMRR. (Full Story)



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Friday, January 15, 2021

Los Alamos National Laboratory 2020 year in review


Looking back over 2020, Director Thom Mason said it is the 13,000 Laboratory employees that he is most proud of … how they have stepped up and met the challenges of a global pandemic.


“We have a lot of important work to do … we got through 2020 and made good progress, Mason said, and that is great news for the region and Northern New Mexico.”


While COVID-19 dominated headlines in the science world, LANL made its mark on 2020 with successes across the board. From innovation in education to nonreactive nuclear energy, COVID-19 forecasts to jet fuel produced from corn, the Laboratory spent the year impacting the nation — and New Mexico. (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Laboratory part of team working to help wildfire management


QUIC-Fire model on KRQE.


The Los Alamos National Laboratory is part of a team working to combat wildfires. They’re developing a tool, called QUIC-Fire, to help make prescribed burns more efficient, which can help prevent more serious wildfires down the line.


“By helping decision-makers and prescribed fire managers decide when, where, and how to, to burn safely and effectively, we expect or hope that we’re allowing them to more efficiently put fire on the landscape in a good way and thus reduce the chance of catastrophic fire on the landscape at a later time,” said Rod Linn, Senior Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of the lead developers of QUIC-Fire. (Full Story)


Science can help ease local wildfire threats


Cerro Grande fire in 2000, image from the Taos News.


As drought and wildfires continue to devastate forests in Northern New Mexico and across the Western United States, it's natural to wonder if we're doing enough to keep our communities and lands safe. Smoky summer skies over Los Alamos and other surrounding communities provide yet another reminder that danger is just a spark away.


With that in mind, Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking measures to prevent wildfires and the dangers they present by carrying out unique firefighting strategies across its 42 remote square miles. The laboratory has a long history of using advanced science to analyze wildfires and expose hidden risks associated with fire-related air quality issues resulting from smoke and soot. (Full Story)


NM identifies first case of new variant


Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, from the ABQ Journal.


Bette Korber, a theoretical biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Wednesday that it isn’t surprising to see the variant surface in New Mexico. It was first detected in the United Kingdom but has been identified in the United States, too.


The presence of the variant, she said, is all the more reason for New Mexicans to wear face coverings, continue social distancing and take other steps to prevent transmission of the disease. “The appropriate response,” Korber said, “is to be extra careful and be sure to wear your masks.”


Korber said New Mexicans should not panic at news of the new variant. Scientists are studying the variant and other mutations carefully, she said, to determine the impact. (Full Story)



Gene Team: Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Bette Korber leads a team tracking the virus that causes COVID-19


Bette Korber, LANL photo.


Jan. 6 New York Times story reported US scientists' call for a national surveillance program to monitor the coronavirus genomes for new mutations, particularly in light of a new variant.


One of the scientists studying those genomes is Bette Korber, a Los Alamos National Laboratory fellow in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group. Korber leads an interdisciplinary team that provides bioinformatics, theoretical and statistical support in collaborative efforts with experimental researchers, focusing on the areas of HIV-1 viral diversity, the human immune response to infection and vaccine design. Korber's own mosaic HIV vaccine concept is currently being evaluated in human clinical trials. (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Laboratory approved by state to provide employees with COVID-19 vaccines


Los Alamos National Laboratory has announced to employees that the Laboratory has been approved by the state of New Mexico to provide COVID-19 vaccines to employees on-site and has tested the process with vaccinations of frontline medical staff while the general rollout plan is being finalized.


The Laboratory has been developing the plan since last summer and the process will be similar to one used for the flue vaccination on-site last fall. State guidelines for distribution which include prioritization of healthcare providers, first responders and emergency response teams are in place. (Full Story)


Experts: STEM workers to drive NM’s future


LANL Director Thom Mason, LANL photo.


The need for STEM employees increasingly is being filled from within the state, thanks to new educational partnerships. Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said that although 40% of current staff members were recruited from out of state, 75% of last year’s hires came from New Mexico.


“Part of the reason for that is because we’ve been able to work with the educational institutions to kind of set up pipelines that meet those needs,” Mason said. “And we’re going to need to do more of it.” Mason said many LANL employees got their start as interns during their time as graduate or undergraduate students. (Full Story)


What did the U.S. Department of Energy achieve at New Mexico nuclear sites in 2020?


Aerial view of the LANSCE facility, from the Current-Argus


Soil remediation at Los Alamos was completed in multiple areas contaminated with radiation that posed risk to local groundwater.


The facility also improved its ability to characterize and process waste destined or WIPP, installing two glovebag process lines in Technical Area 54 dedicated to the storage and remediation of waste.


The new process lines allowed for the processing of about 1,500 containers of waste for disposal, and by the end of fiscal year 2020, 553 containers in about 25 shipments were ready to be shipped to WIPP. (Full Story)


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Friday, January 8, 2021

Halfway there? NM eyes pandemic finish line


Nurses care for a COVID-19 patient at Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa.  Journal photo.


Aforecast by Los Alamos National Laboratory suggests New Mexico will have falling case totals through early January, with the possibility of an uptick after that. Holiday travel and social gatherings could contribute to the growth.


Vaccination efforts should start to reduce cases and deaths early this year, according to Los Alamos. The first effects of the Pfizer vaccines – which started being administered to health care workers in mid-December – could affect New Mexico’s virus growth curves before the end of January. (Full Story)


Also from the Journal:


Study: Session risk depends on format, testing, masks


An almost empty NM House chamber in November. Journal photo.


Aproposal to hold legislative committee hearings at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center would create a “medium high” risk for an outbreak of COVID-19 infections, according to statistical modeling by Los Alamos National Laboratory.


One option analyzed by Los Alamos scientists, for example, estimated that a 60-day session with in-person floor meetings but online committee hearings would result in more than new 30 infections, based on certain assumptions.  (Full Story)


COVID-19 vaccine critical but it's not silver bullet


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we’re using mathematical models and computational simulations enabled by the laboratory’s supercomputing capabilities to understand how best to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. And what we’ve learned is: While the vaccine is a critical weapon in fighting this virus, it’s not a silver bullet — at least not yet.


Our models look at individual communities based on government data. To understand the different outcomes based on how the vaccine will be distributed, we create various what-if scenarios that were developed in collaboration with local, state and federal governments to help them effectively plan for vaccine distribution and complementary mitigation strategies. (Full Story)


LANL shifting gears to fight COVID-19


From KRQE.


Los Alamos National Laboratory is turning from national defense to helping fight COVID-19. LANL researchers are looking at ways to help clear mucus from blocking airways in the lungs, which can be common in COVID-19 patients.


Using different modeling, they are learning how a method called “intrapulmonary percussive ventilation” – which drops aerosols in the lung – could help do this. The goal is to help COVID-19 patients on ventilators. “So that’s what we’re trying to do, give it the one-two punch. Use a ventilator to help bring in air and use IPV with its aerosols that it generates to pulse and to break up the mucus that’s plugging the way for the airflow,” said John Bernardin, Engineer at the labs. (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Laboratory study hopes to characterize and optimize ventilator treatment for COVID-19


3D printed "manifold" mimics lung structure.  LANL photo.


Cross-disciplinary scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are working to learn how Intrapulmonary Percussive Ventilation (IPV) helps clear mucus from blocking the airways of the human lung, a common reaction to the COVID-19 virus. 


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. (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter:


15 Ways LANL made an impact in 2020 — COVID-19 and beyond


From innovation in education to nonreactive nuclear energy, COVID-19 forecasts to jet fuel produced from corn, the Laboratory spent the year impacting the nation — and New Mexico.


Beginning in March and still going strong, Laboratory experts in computer modeling and disease forecasting have been some of our most-quoted scientists of 2020. Computational epidemiologists Sara Del Valle, David Osthus and Carrie Manore, theoretical biologists Bette Korber and Ruian Ke, and manager in Biosecurity and Public Health Jeanne Fair are just a few who shared their knowledge with the nation. (Full Story)


LANL-developed technology offers promise of safer X-rays


Perovskite X-ray detector. LANL photo.


The Los Alamos prototypes offer a hundred times more sensitivity than conventional silicon-based detectors. And unlike their silicon cousins, the perovskite versions don’t require an outside power source — instead the energy of the X-rays themselves is enough to run the detectors.


High-sensitivity perovskite detectors will enable dental and medical images that require a tiny fraction of the exposure that accompanies conventional X-ray imaging. Reduced exposure decreases risks for patients and medical staff alike. (Full Story)


Using machine learning to study anatomy, weather and earthquakes


Illustration from TechCrunch.


The most recent discovery, made by researchers at Los Alamos National Labs, uses a new source of data as well as ML to document previously unobserved behavior along faults during “slow quakes.” Using synthetic aperture radar captured from orbit, which can see through cloud cover and at night to give accurate, regular imaging of the shape of the ground, the team was able to directly observe “rupture propagation” for the first time, along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey.


“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 Los Alamos geophysicist Bertrand Rouet-Leduc. (Full Story)



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