Friday, March 26, 2021

Perseverance begins its science on Mars with a laser zap 

SuperCam before it was mounted on Perseverance, CNES photo.


Perseverance has already made its mark on scientific history by taking the first audio recording ever on Mars.  But the instrument with the microphone, known as the SuperCam, wasn’t done there.


SuperCam itself is the brainchild of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a consortium of European research universities with the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) leading the way.  


There are 5 main recording instruments integrated into the SuperCam that accomplish its primary mission of understanding the chemical makeup of rocks and soil.  These instruments include the microphone, a visible and infrared sensor (VISIR), and a Raman spectrometer, which uses a green laser to zap rocks and analyze the signal emitted from the chemical bonds the laser zap breaks. (Full Story)


LANL scientist studies sounds on Mars


Wiens on KRQE-TV.


scientist from Los Alamos National Lab is studying sounds on Mars. Sound is recorded through the super cam on Mars Rover Perseverance. Roger Wiens’ job is to investigate those sounds at the lab. Through the Super Cam, they can listen to the sound of the wind, the rover moving, and the sound of a laser being fired at rocks.


That simple sound tells Wiens a lot about the Red Planet that was previously unknown. “That light that we get back from these laser techniques tells us a lot about the property of rocks. (Full Story)


Integrating diverse satellite images sharpens our picture of activity on Earth


Imagery from ESA's Sentinel-1 satellite shows flooding (red) in Mozambique, ESA image.


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we've developed a flexible mathematical approach to identify changes in satellite image pairs collected from different satellite modalities, or sensor types that use different sensing technologies, allowing for faster, more complete analysis. It's easy to assume that all satellite images are the same and, thus, comparing them is simple. But the reality is quite different. Hundreds of different imaging sensors are orbiting the Earth right now, and nearly all take pictures of the ground in a different way from the others. (Full Story)


Solving ‘barren plateaus’ is key to quantum machine learning


Many machine learning algorithms on quantum computers suffer from the dreaded "barren plateau" of unsolvability, where they run into dead ends on optimization problems. This challenge had been relatively unstudied -- until now. Rigorous theoretical work has established theorems that guarantee whether a given machine learning algorithm will work as it scales up on larger computers.


“The work solves a key problem of useability for quantum machine learning,” said Marco Cerezo, lead author on the paper published in Nature Communications today by a Los Alamos National Laboratory team. (Full Story)


Also from HPC Wire


New class of versatile, high-performance quantum dots primed for medical imaging, quantum computing


New class of quantum dots excel as single-photon emitters, LANL photo.


new class of quantum dots deliver a stable stream of single, spectrally tunable infrared photons under ambient conditions and at room temperature, unlike other single photon emitters. This breakthrough opens a range of practical applications, including quantum communication, quantum metrology, medical imaging and diagnostics, and clandestine labeling.


"The demonstration of high single-photon purity in the infrared has immediate utility in areas such as quantum key distribution for secure communication," said Victor Klimov, lead author of a paper published today in Nature Nanotechnology by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists. (Full Story)


How single particles of light can protect power grids


Quantum physicist Raymond Newell,LANL photo.


As hackers increasingly try to infiltrate our computer-dependent systems—even those that direct energy into homes—a new method of encrypting information could end this risk.


Rather than running this race by developing more and more complex codes, for the past eight years Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a new method for protecting information sent through the nation's grid system called Quantum Ensured Defense (QED). Instead of math, this method is based on immutable laws of physics and uses single particles of light, or photons, to protect information. (Full Story)


What's the difference between rational and irrational numbers?


In the technologically advanced 21st century, irrational numbers continue to play a crucial role, according to Carrie Manore. She's a scientist and a mathematician in the Information Systems and Modeling Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.


"Pi is an obvious first irrational number to talk about," Manore says via email. "We need it to determine area and circumference of circles. It's critical to computing angles, and angles are critical to navigation, building, surveying, engineering and more. Radio frequency communication is dependent on sines and cosines which involve pi." Additionally, irrational numbers play a key role in the complex math that makes possible high-frequency stock trading, modeling, forecasting and most statistical analysis — all activities that keep our society humming. (Full Story)



New manufacturing tech for 16.06%-efficient mini perovskite solar modules


Mini perovskite module, LANL image.


group of scientists from the US Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Taiwan University (NTU) has developed a new manufacturing process for mini perovskite solar modules that is claimed to overcome key bottlenecks in large-scale production.


The research group has created a new spin coating method which they claim can be applied in the mass production of mini perovskite panels. The scientists used sulfolane as an additive in the perovskite precursor to convert the perovskite phase via a new reaction route. (Full Story)


Next-generation technologies for biofuels refining


Smart Chutes discards problematic biomass material with high-moisture content, from J&J.


collaboration between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Jenike & Johanson, a bulk solids storage company, and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office through the Feedstock-Conversion Interface Consortium, has developed new technologies, called Smart Transfer Chutes, with integrated acoustic moisture sensors that greatly improve the operational reliability of biorefineries.


“The Achilles heel of biorefineries is the operational reliability,” said Troy Semelsberger, a senior research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Currently the operational reliability of biorefineries is estimated to be around 30 percent, meaning that for 70 percent of the year they have to stop operation." (Full Story)


Los Alamos team develops CICE software package for modeling changes in sea ice


The complexity of variables at play in sea-ice physics, LANL graphic.


With funding from the Department of Energy, a Los Alamos National Laboratory team developed a software package known as CICE that calculates the complex physics of sea ice, such as how it freezes, melts, and moves across the ocean’s surface, and how it is influenced by external forces such as the ocean’s currents and winds.  Research and forecasting organizations in more than 20 countries have incorporated CICE into their work. The software program is managed by the CICE Consortium, an international group of institutions formed to maintain and develop CICE in the public domain. (Full Story)


Also from the LA Reporter this week:


Astrophysicist Nicole Lloyd-Ronning inspires science in future generations across Northern New Mexico


Nicole Lloyd-Ronning leads an activity forthe Santa Fe Indian School, LANL photo.


On a clear summer evening, Nicole Lloyd-Ronning of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Computational Physics and Methods group steps outside her house and looks at the stars in the sky.  She imagined herself one day venturing into outer space and exploring the moon and the planets beyond.


Lloyd-Ronning’s outreach includes PASEO 2018: Indigenous Cosmology Meets Particle Physics Youth Workshop, STEMarts Lab, the program Agnes Chavez founded to deliver sci-art installations and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) programming for schools, art and science organizations, festivals, and events. (Full Story)




Lindquist and Pasqualoni receive Los Alamos Public Safety Association awards


Dr. Sara Pasqualoni awarded by the Los Alamos Public Safety Association, LAPSA photo.


The Los Alamos Public Safety Association has presented Public Safety Dedication Awards to Dr. Beth Lindquist and Dr. Sara Pasqualoni, Medical Director for Los Alamos National Laboratory.


As the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Medical Director, Dr. Pasqualoni has worked diligently and tirelessly to protect the health and safety of all LANL personnel since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the beginning stages of the pandemic, she had the vision and foresight to establish and chair a LANL Pandemic Advisory Team. (Full Story)



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Friday, March 19, 2021

Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible 

Brazil began widespread distribution of CoronaVac vaccine in January, from Nature.


Even as vaccine roll-out plans face distribution and allocation hurdles, new variants of SARS-CoV-2 are sprouting up that might be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines. “We’re in a race with the new variants,” says Sara Del Valle, a mathematical and computational epidemiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The longer it takes to stem transmission of the virus, the more time these variants have to emerge and spread, she says.


Non-pharmaceutical interventions will continue to play a crucial part in keeping cases down, Del Valle says. The whole point is to break the transmission path, she says, and limiting social contact and continuing protective behaviours such as masking can help to reduce the spread of new variants while vaccines are rolling out. (Full Story)


Bridge the knowledge-to-action gap to fight the next outbreak now


Researchers test materials for N95-like respirators, DOE image.


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, when COVID-19 broke out, we were called on to answer difficult science questions: from the efficacy of different testing methods, to how aerosols are dispersed in different environments, to forecasting the spread of the virus. As a Department of Energy national security laboratory with expertise in bioassay, fluid dynamics, and agent-based computer modeling, we were able to quickly pivot our focus to answer those questions. We have also answered questions about how to best store and transport testing kits, how the variants mutate, how different mitigation strategies impact school reopenings, and how to prioritize certain populations for vaccination to maximize the benefits. We continue to answer these questions and others. (Full Story)


Also from Homeland Security Today this week:


R&D collaboration leads to award-winning chemical weapons detection tech


SEDONA (SpEctroscopic Detection of Nerve Agents) is the result of a joint research and development effort between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and our partners at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). 


“SEDONA works by scanning and analyzing liquids to check for the presence of specific chemical elements that are key components in organophosphorus nerve agents and related chemical threats,” said Dr. Bob Williams, LANL Bioscience Division team lead. “These elements respond in very specific ways when they are exposed to SEDONA’s electromagnetic field. Each one has a unique radio frequency, also known as a ‘signature,’ at which they resonate when SEDONA’s electromagnetic radiation passes through them.” (Full Story)


A month on Mars: what NASA's Perseverance rover has found so far


Máaz is one of the rocks that Perseverance has studied with SuperCam. NASA image.


Perseverance has used a laser-based instrument to determine that several of these rocks, including two that team scientists named Máaz and Yeegho, are chemically similar to basaltic rocks on Earth, which form from molten rock. The instrument zaps rocks with a laser to vaporize small portions and study their chemical makeup. 


Through this analysis, the scientists see that Yeegho shows signs of having water locked up in its minerals, said Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico who is head of the laser instrument team. These discoveries fit with what scientists had expected from Jezero — that it might have volcanic rocks on the crater floor, which could have interacted with water over time. (Full Story)

Mars exploration: First data shows Perseverance's SuperCam is in excellent shape


The first drive of NASA’s Perseverance rover, NASA image.


The SuperCam, built by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a consortium of 14 French laboratories, is the eyes and ears of the rover. It is equipped with a powerful laser and detection instruments for conducting five different types of analysis of the Martian rocks and soil. 


These include the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy that involves analysing the light from the plasma formed after the infrared laser hits a target rock up to seven meters away. 


The second technique is Raman spectroscopy for determining the mineral composition of the rocks. This is carried out with the help of a green laser that's generated from the same laser source. (Full Story)


Perseverance records sound of its rock-zapping laser instrument


This mosaic (upper right) shows a close-up view of the rock target ‘Yeehgo,' NASA image.


Early data from the SuperCam instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover — including the first audio of laser zaps on another planet — are intriguing, according to the mission’s scientists.


SuperCam is a suite of instruments composed of three spectrometers, a camera and a microphone.


“It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well on Mars,” said SuperCam principal investigator Dr. Roger Wiens, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.“When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious.” (Full Story)


Also from the Los Alamos Reporter


Why a powerful planet-warming gas is surging in Earth's atmosphere


Earth's atmosphere, from Mashable.


"Methane levels are going up but our community does not have a clear answer about why," said Manvendra Dubey, an atmospheric chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Many natural and anthropogenic [human-caused] sources are contributing." 


Methane can come from some disparate, indirect, awfully hard-to-monitor sources. "Methane is a much more complicated beast," said Dubey. To track and estimate these emissions, scientists collect emission data from world nations, observe emissions from space, take readings from aircraft, towers, and cars, and more. (Full Story)


Hydrogen may power the future of commercial trucking


Picture a couple of semitrucks hauling cargo down a highway. Do you see clouds of black smoke left in their wake?No, you don’t. These trucks are powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The only waste product is water.


Hydrogen fuel cell motors are powered by hydrogen to create electricity for cars and trucks. Unlike solely electric vehicles, which can take eight hours to charge a sedan, hydrogen fuel cell motors can be refueled as quickly as a regular gasoline vehicles and drive for just as long.


Developing a dependable, long-lasting hydrogen fuel cell for trucks is the focus of a new Department of Energy consortium called the Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck, known as M2FCT, which is co-led by Los Alamos National Laboratory and kicked off at the beginning of the new year. (Full Story)


Study determines the origin of highest energy cosmic rays


Infrared image of the dust clouds in the Cocoon region, HAWC image.


"The origin of the highest-energy cosmic rays in the galaxy has been an open question in astrophysics for more than 60 years. Very few regions of the galaxy have both the power to produce high-energy particles and the necessary environments to boost those particles to the petaelectronVolt (PeV) energies that are seen in the highest-energy cosmic rays. And most of the expected regions to produce the particles have been ruled out in recent years by high-energy observatories," Said Patrick Harding, a Los Alamos astrophysicist.


The algorithms employed to examine the highest energy HAWC photons, which were used in a paper published recently in Nature Astronomy, were designed by Kelly Malone, a Los Alamos postdoctoral researcher. (Full Story)


Also from AZO Quantum

New machine harnesses Earth’s magnetic field to detect chemicals


Derrick Kaseman works on the ERDE, LANL photo.


Los Alamos National Laboratory-designed spectroscopy instrument allows scientists, industry, and governments to decipher even trace amounts of chemicals using the Earth’s own magnetic field. Called the Earth-field Resonance Detection and Evaluation device (ERDE, which is German for “Earth”), the instrument is the most sensitive, affordable, and portable technology of its kind, with the ability to detect a range of chemicals, including those commonly used in scientific labs, biological weapons, and even slight traces of insecticides in drinking water. 


Using the Earth’s magnetic field allows us to do several things that were not possible before,” said Derrick Kaseman, a scientist at Los Alamos and ERDE project co-lead. “It provides a perfect magnetic environment for highly accurate detection and identification of chemicals while allowing the spectrometer to be much smaller and, therefore, easily portable compared to other spectrometers currently available on the market that do similar detailed analyses.” (Full Story)


New fabrication method paves way to large-scale production of perovskite solar cells


New dipping process creates high-performing solar cells, LANL image.


new, simpler solution for fabricating stable perovskite solar cells overcomes the key bottleneck to large-scale production and commercialization of this promising renewable-energy technology, which has remained tantalizingly out of reach for more than a decade.


“Our work paves the way for low-cost, high-throughput commercial-scale production of large-scale solar modules in the near future,” said Wanyi Nie, a research scientist fellow in the Center of Integrated Nanotechnologies. Nie is the corresponding author of the paper, which was published today in the journal Joule. (Full Story)


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Friday, March 12, 2021

Perseverance rover sends back sounds of zapping rocks on Mars

SuperCam instrument in action on Mars, NASA illustration.


New audio returned from the rover's SuperCam includes the popping sound of the instrument as it zaps rocks with its laser. It's the first time we've heard what it sounds like when a laser interacts with a rock on another planet.


The instrument was developed by a joint team from both the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales in France.


Capturing audio is just one of the SuperCam's capabilities. It's a 12-pound sensor head on the rover's mast, or neck, that can analyze the intriguing geology on Mars in five different ways. The instrument includes a camera, laser and spectrometers that can identify the chemical and mineral composition of rocks and soil. (Full Story)


Hear NASA's Mars Perseverance rover zap its SuperCam laser


The rover's SuperCam instrument was jointly developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico alongside French research laboratories. Ultimately, it delivered the data to a French Space Agency operations center in Toulouse.


Roger Wiens, principal investigator for the SuperCam instrument from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said: "It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well. When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious. Now it is up there working like a charm." (Full Story)


The Perseverance rover has recorded the 1st laser sound on Mars. It's a 'snap!' not a 'pew!'


A close-up view of the rock target named "Máaz" from the SuperCam instrument, NASA image.


SuperCam fired on a target named Máaz, the Navajo word for Mars, on March 2. (Perseverance is exploring a part of Jezero the team has dubbed Canyon de Chelly, after a national monument on Navajo land in northeastern Arizona.)


The SuperCam observations allowed the team to determine that Máaz has a basaltic composition. Basalts are igneous, or volcanic, rocks that are common on Mars as well as Earth. But it's unclear at the moment if Máaz itself is volcanic, said SuperCam principal investigator Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy facility in New Mexico.


It's also possible that Máaz "is a sedimentary rock composed of igneous grains that were washed downriver into Jezero Lake and cemented together," Wiens said during today's update. (Full Story)


Also from Inverse and PhysOrg

Finding the needles in ‘big data’ haystacks


SmartTensors can make massive data streams understandable, LANL illustration.


seemingly bottomless ocean of “big data” has flooded our world. Bits and bytes are pouring in from sources ranging from satellites and MRI scans to massive computer simulations and seismic-sensor networks, from security cameras to smartphones, from genome sequencing of SARS-Cov-2 to COVID-19 test results, from social networks to texts zipping from phone to phone.


Making sense of this ever-increasing racket is vital to national security, economic stability, individual health and practically every branch of science – and the job is getting easier, thanks to the SmartTensors artificial intelligence tool we have developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)


New Los Alamos generator system delivers large radiation doses directly to cancer cells


Cancer tissue being bombarded by targeted alpha particles, LANL graphic.


Improved options for cancer treatment are on the way, thanks to a new system developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for producing alpha-emitting medical radioisotopes intended to target and overpower diseased tissue while sparing the healthy tissue around it.


“The new system is based on a uranium-230/thorium-226 pairing, where the thorium-226 is supplied in a form suitable for medical applications,” said Michael Fassbender, the lead researcher at Los Alamos. “The thorium-226 emits multiple alpha particles as it decays, delivering a powerful blow to diseased cells. This is similar to actinium-225, another promising alpha therapy isotope. The DOE Isotope Program is committed to making multiple options, or a variety of radioisotopes available to accelerate the development of therapeutics that could be used to treat different cancers.” (Full Story)


Physics experiment boosts evidence for sterile neutrinos


MiniBooNE at Fermilab, LANL image.


Analysis of results from an experiment called MiniBooNE at Fermilab has provided yet more evidence that particles called “sterile neutrinos” could indeed exist, supporting results from a 1990s Los Alamos National Laboratory experiment that indicated an update to the Standard Model of physics might be in order.


“We believe that this paper vindicates the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) results and that the community accepts that both LSND and MiniBooNE observed more events than expected,” said William Louis of Los Alamos National Laboratory, a member of the MiniBooNE collaboration. “The question is what is causing the excess: Is it a Standard Model background that no one has thought of, or is it a new Beyond the Standard Model process involving sterile neutrinos? (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


HAWC Gamma Ray Observatory discovers origin of highest-energy cosmic rays in the Galaxy


Infrared image of the dust clouds in the Cocoon region, HAWC image.


Along-time question in astrophysics appears to finally be answered, thanks to a collection of large, high-tech water tanks on a mountainside in Mexico. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) data shows that the highest-energy cosmic rays come not from supernovae, but from star clusters. 


“The origin of the highest-energy cosmic rays in the galaxy has been an open question in astrophysics for more than 60 years,” said Patrick Harding, a Los Alamos National Laboratory astrophysicist doing research using HAWC. “Very few regions of the galaxy have both the power to produce high-energy particles and the necessary environments to boost those particles to the petaelectronVolt (PeV) energies that are seen in the highest-energy cosmic rays. (Full Story)




Lab volunteer Matt Williams mentors high school robotics team participants


Carla Pacheco, Matt Williams and Shayna Gomez at UNM-Los Alamos, LANL photo.


Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Matt Williams says his small-town high school required just one STEM class to graduate: math/science. If you could add and subtract — and spell the word “science” — you passed.


Williams never thought much about robotics until he became a father.


Although he was a whiz with supercomputers, he began to fret that he didn’t know anything about electronics, didn’t want his kids to grow up not knowing about it. At the invitation of his daughter’s teacher, he plunged into Lego robotics at Chamisa Elementary School in Los Alamos and soon became a classroom volunteer and helper at science nights and science fairs. (Full Story)


LANL touts work with NM small businesses


Even as many small businesses in New Mexico struggled as the economic grip of the pandemic tightened, Los Alamos National Laboratory upped its spending with small businesses in the state by 30%, according to an economic impact report released by the lab last month.


LANL increased spending with New Mexico small businesses by nearly $125 million to $413 million during fiscal year 2020, which ended Sept. 30, 2020, and covered roughly the first six months of the COVID-19 outbreak.


In all, the lab reported having 7,315 projects with small businesses in the state, 202 more than the year before. (Full Story)


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