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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