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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