Friday, April 30, 2021

LANL director fields questions about nuclear weapons, growth


Thom Mason, LANL photo.


Los Alamos National Laboratory’s primary mission will remain national security into the foreseeable future — with the nuclear weapons program as the mainstay — even as the lab branches further into medical science, ecology and space exploration, Thom Mason, the lab’s director, said during an online forum with residents Thursday.


While national defense is still the hub of operations, Mason grew animated when he talked about the lab’s other scientific ventures, such as computer modeling that helps measure the coronavirus’s spread, a high-tech tool that gauges whether wildfire smoke warms the climate and the plutonium heat source powering the Mars Perseverance rover. (Full Story)

New LANL study looks at how COVID misinformation spreads


COVID was not the only thing spreading for the past year. Researchers at Los Alamos National Labs said they’ve been looking into how misinformation spreads, too. LANL information scientists like Ashlynn Daughton are trying to dive a bit deeper into why and how COVID conspiracy theories came to be. 


“For this study my team and I used machine learning and artificial intelligence to track different conspiracy theories related to COVID-19,” she said.The team gathered a huge amount of data—1.8 billion COVID-related tweets—and built a machine model that could analyze the tweet and determine whether it was true or false. (Full Story)


Colorado River Basin could see more intense heat, drought


The Animas River in Farmington is part of the Colorado River Basin system, Journal photo.


Climate change is projected to increase such simultaneous extreme events as heat waves, droughts and flooding across the massive Colorado River Basin, according to new research from a Los Alamos National Laboratory hydrologist.


“The way that humans and our human systems are going to experience climate change is through extreme events,” said hydrologist Katrina E. Bennett. “Slow changes in temperature are noticeable in ecology, but a flood or a drought or a heat wave is really a very big shock to our system.” Bennett’s research, conducted with Carl Talsma and Riccardo Boero, was published earlier this month in “Water,” a peer-reviewed academic journal. (Full Story)


As a hotter, drier climate grips the Colorado River, water risks grow across the Southwest


Lake Mead in 2019, at 40% of its capacity, from the AZ Republic.


group of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory recently looked at how interconnected extremes influenced by climate change — from floods to droughts and heatwaves — are expected to intensify in the future in the Colorado River Basin. They found these sorts of concurrent extreme climatic events “are projected to increase in the future and intensify” in key regions of the watershed.


“Heat waves and drought are both strongly driven by increases in temperature, which is really where we have the greatest confidence in those types of predictions,” said Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist and lead author of the study. “Droughts are projected to increase as we move ahead in the future.” (Full Story)


How climate change moved Earth's axis


When glaciated lands melt they lose mass and, consequently, some of their gravitational pull. This means ocean water is then tugged towards other places, ultimately resulting in even more sea level rise in regions far from areas like Greenland or Antarctica. "There’s definitely global winners and losers due to these changes," explained Matthew Hoffman, a glaciologist and computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who had no role in the new research. "Some cities will be hit harder if West Antarctica collapses relative to other cities," he said, referencing the accelerated melting and potential collapse of colossal Antarctic glaciers. Cities along the eastern U.S. coastline are some of these vulnerable places. (Full Story)


Prescribed burns tamp down wildfire threat


ABQ Journal photo.


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we study climate change and its impact on the environment – both natural and human – because they have a direct impact on the things we care about: national security, economic security, energy security, societal security – in the sense of protecting people from social disruption – and environmental protection, which includes preserving nature and natural resources.


For decades, the Lab has been studying wildfire behavior and its close cousin, prescribed burns. Our work with FIRETEC, a computer modeling tool, springs from related research into the complicated field of fluid dynamics. That branch of science focuses on the motions of gases and liquids, which has applications to our mission of stockpile stewardship science, or assuring the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear weapons. (Full Story)


Using cosmic-ray neutron bursts to understand gamma-ray bursts from lightning


HAWC Cosmic Ray Observatory in Mexico.


Analysis of data from a lightning mapper and a small, hand-held radiation detector has unexpectedly shed light on what a gamma-ray burst from lightning might look like -- by observing neutrons generated from soil by very large cosmic-ray showers. The work took place at the High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Cosmic Ray Observatory in Mexico.


"This was an accidental discovery," said Greg Bowers, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the study published in Geophysical Research Letters. "We set up this system to study terrestrial gamma-ray flashes -- or gamma-ray bursts from lightning -- that are typically so bright you can see them from space. The idea was that HAWC would be sensitive to the gamma-ray bursts, so we installed a lightning mapper to capture the anatomy of the lightning development and pinpoint the lightning processes producing them." (Full Story)

Los Alamos National Laboratory touts biothreat detecting device


Optical biosensor, LANL photo.


Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) researchers are espousing the benefits of a device capable of detecting biothreats from samples such as blood, water, CSF, food, and animal samples.


“The ability to detect pathogens, biological threats or toxins, quickly and accurately, without prior knowledge of the agent, would lead to improved human and environmental health outcomes,” Harshini Mukundan, lead researcher, said. “This is an important step toward understanding what an emergency responder is dealing with and providing them with quick results.” (Full Story)


TinMan helps protect aircraft semiconductor parts


new technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Honeywell is providing needed atmospheric environment information to the aerospace industry. The device, called TinMan, has quantified the number of thermal neutrons – particles created by natural solar radiation — giving the aerospace industry a standard by which it can evaluate its semiconductor parts.


Unlike protons and electrons, neutrons aren’t charged and can pass through the atmosphere and solid objects like the metal hull of a plane. When these neutrons strike something like a microprocessor, the energy it deposits in the system can result in a single effect event, which may impact component reliability. (Full Story)


Two Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers named Fellows by the American Statistical Association


James Wendelberger, left, and Earl Lawrence, LANL photos.


Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers Earl Lawrence and James Wendelberger, both in the Lab’s Statistical Sciences group, were named fellows by the American Statistical Association (ASA).


“I am pleased to see Earl and James recognized by the American Statistical Association and I congratulate both of them,” said Irene Qualters, associate Laboratory director for Simulation and Computation. “Less than one percent of ASA members are elected as fellows, and this honor reflects their contributions to the field of statistical science. Peer recognition is an important aspect of science and no one is more deserving than Earl and James.”  (Full Story)


To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.


Please visit us at 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Mars didn't lose all of its water at once, based on Curiosity rover find

The higher regions of Mount Sharp on Mars. NASA image.


The latest study, gathered from data captured by one of the rover's instruments, suggests that Mars actually transitioned back and forth between wetter and drier times before losing its surface water completely around three billion years ago.


An instrument called a ChemCam sits on the rover's mast and includes a high-resolution camera and laser that can vaporize rocks to help the rover analyze their chemical composition. 


"A primary goal of the Curiosity mission was to study the transition between the habitable environment of the past, to the dry and cold climate that Mars has now," said Roger Wiens, study co-author on the paper and ChemCam team scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)


Also from Sci-News


Los Alamos researchers study how wildfire smoke impacts climate


Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a first-of-its-kind tool to learn if smoke from wildfires is warming the climate. The humidified single-scattering albedometer will analyze moisture levels in wildfire smoke plumes and study how water binds with soot particles.


Manvendra Dubey, a researcher at the laboratory for more than 20 years, said the impacts of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are “without a doubt” affecting our climate. “Given the drought and the La Niña conditions, the forecast indicates this will be an active year [for fires] that we need to prepare for,” he said. (Full Story)


Simulations reveal how dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain binds to host, succumbs to antibodies


The G form of SARS-CoV-2 more easily attaches to host receptors, and is more susceptible to antibodies, LANL graphic.


Large-scale supercomputer simulations at the atomic level show that the dominant G form variant of the COVID-19-causing virus is more infectious partly because of its greater ability to readily bind to its target host receptor in the body, compared to other variants. These research results from a Los Alamos National Laboratory-led team illuminate the mechanism of both infection by the G form and antibody resistance against it, which could help in future vaccine development.


"We found that the interactions among the basic building blocks of the Spike protein become more symmetrical in the G form, and that gives it more opportunities to bind to the receptors in the host -- in us," said Gnana Gnanakaran, corresponding author of the paper published today in Science Advances. (Full Story)


Also from AZO Life Sciences


Also from Science Daily this week:


New pulsed magnet reveals a new state of matter in Kondo insulator


recent series of experiments at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (National MagLab) at Los Alamos National Laboratory leveraged some of the nation's highest-powered nondestructive magnets to reveal an exotic new phase of matter at high magnetic fields. The experiments studied the unusual Kondo insulator ytterbium dodecaboride (or YbB12) and were the first results from the new 75-tesla duplex magnet housed at the National MagLab's Pulsed Field Facility at Los Alamos.


"This magnet and the resulting experiments are the first fruits of the National Science Foundation-supported pulsed magnet surge," said Michael Rabin, director of the Pulsed Field Facility at Los Alamos. (Full Story)



Tweet analysis uncovers how COVID conspiracy theories evolved


Building a machine learning model to filter analyze 120 million tweets showed researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory how COVID-19 conspiracy theories evolved over time. The tool could someday help public health officials combat misinformation online, lab representatives said.


“We wanted to create a more cohesive understanding of how misinformation changes as it spreads,” said Courtney Shelley, a postdoctoral researcher in the Information Systems and Modeling Group at the lab. “Because people tend to believe the first message they encounter, public health officials could someday monitor which conspiracy theories are gaining traction on social media and craft factual public information campaigns to preempt widespread acceptance of falsehoods.” (Full Story)


Also from the LA Reporter and Medical News


Ultra-high-energy gamma rays originate from pulsar nebulae


HAWC gamma ray detector in Mexico.  HAWC photo.


The discovery that the nebulae surrounding the most powerful pulsars are pumping out ultra-high-energy gamma rays could rewrite the book about the rays' galactic origins. Pulsars are rapidly rotating, highly magnetized collapsed stars surrounded by nebulae powered by winds generated inside the pulsars.


"We took advantage of the wide field-of-view and survey capabilities at the High Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory (HAWC) to search around a collection of powerful pulsars. We found significant evidence that ultra-high-energy gamma-ray emission is a universal feature found near these objects," said Kelly Malone, an astrophysicist in the Nuclear and Particle Physics and Applications group at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the HAWC Collaboration's new study of gamma radiation from pulsars. (Full Story)


Also from Newswise

New biosensor designed to detect toxins and more


PEGASUS optical biosensor, LANL photo.


device from Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers is not quite the Star Trek “tricorder” medical scanner, but it’s a step in the right direction. The Portable EnGineered Analytic Sensor with aUtomated Sampling (PEGASUS) is a miniaturized waveguide-based optical sensor that can detect toxins, bacterial signatures, viral signatures, biothreats, white powders and more, from samples such as blood, water, CSF, food, and animal samples.


“The ability to detect pathogens, biological threats or toxins, quickly and accurately, without prior knowledge of the agent, would lead to improved human and environmental health outcomes,” said lead researcher Harshini Mukundan. “This is an important step toward understanding what an emergency responder is dealing with, and providing them with quick results.” (Full Story)


Machine learning model generates realistic seismic waveforms


new machine-learning model that generates realistic seismic waveforms will reduce manual labor and improve earthquake detection, according to a study published recently in JGR Solid Earth.


“To verify the ecacy of our generative model, we applied it to seismic field data collected in Oklahoma,” said Youzuo Lin, a computational scientist in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Geophysics group and principal investigator of the project. “Through a sequence of qualitative and quantitative tests and benchmarks, we saw that our model can generate high-quality synthetic waveforms and improve machine learning-based earthquake detection algorithms.” (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


LANL employees donate more than $40,000 to Santa Fe’s food depot


Los Alamos National Laboratory employees donated $41,723 to The Food Depot as part of their annual food drive last week, estimated to provide more than 166,000 meals to Northern New Mexicans facing food insecurity. Laboratory employees have also contributed 233 community service hours to the organization in the last 12 months.


“In the past year, The Food Depot has experienced a 30 percent increase in the number of Northern New Mexicans needing their services,” said Laboratory Director Thom Mason. “I am pleased to know that Laboratory employees have risen to the occasion with their donations and community service.” (Full Story)


And two more:


Ellen Cerreta named president of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society


Ellen Cerreta, LANL photo.


Ellen Cerreta, the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s division leader for Materials Science and Technology, has been named president of The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society (TMS), a professional society for scientists and engineers in those fields.


“TMS aspires to be the professional society where global materials, science, and engineering practitioners come together to scope the future of materials engineering and technology,” said Cerreta. “As such, I am honored to have been selected by the membership of this society to serve as president.”


The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society connects minerals, metals, and materials scientists and engineers who work in industry, academia, and government positions around the world. (Full Story)


LANL’s Terry Miller is enmeshed in the depths of Earth science


Terry Miller, LANL photo.


Terry Miller lives near a park that boasts a waterfall, a jaw-dropping gorge and the remains of ancient lava flows. Down steep switchbacks to the Rio Grande and through grassy fields with mountain views, she trains search-and-rescue dogs.


She’s often drilling dogs or responding to wilderness rescues when she’s not shaking up earth science at Los Alamos National Laboratory.


Miller is a Subsurface Modeling Research Technologist for the Computational Earth Science group. She commands — and develops — special tools that allow her to peel back and render the hidden layers of geology for subsurface simulations. Her work benefits research into environmental health, cleaner energy and national security. (Full Story)



To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.


Please visit us at

Friday, April 16, 2021

How New Mexico became the state with the highest rate of full vaccinations


Photo from the NYT.


As vaccinations continue — the state recently made anyone 16 and older eligible — epidemiologists in New Mexico are debating whether some form of herd immunity could be achieved in the state in the coming months, and what that could look like.


“It’s still quite early to know when herd immunity in the state could potentially happen,” said Sara del Valle, a mathematical epidemiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who is part of a team that meets weekly with the state health department.


Ms. del Valle, who said she was impressed by how public health officials took the team’s recommendations “very seriously,” nevertheless cited challenges ahead such as disparities in vaccine acceptance in parts of the state. (Full Story)


Vaccines that can protect against many coronaviruses could prevent another pandemic


A pancoronavirus vaccine might contain a nanoparticle carrier shown in gray, Science illustration.


cells are also central to the vaccine quest of Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She designs algorithms to scour the genome sequences of beta coronaviruses, looking for regions of viral proteins that can trigger T cell responses, and that vary little among the different coronaviruses. Those conserved T cell epitopes, Korber says, might make a good vaccine.


“You need to show the immune system what it needs to recognize to have breadth,” says Korber, who has applied similar techniques to designing vaccines for HIV, flu, and Ebola. Her collaborators plan to convert the sequences she selects into mRNA vaccines. (Full Story)


LANL director highlights lab’s ‘other’ work


Thom Mason, LANL photo.


Los Alamos National Laboratory’s hand in the Perseverance mission was on display as lab Director Thom Mason highlighted work LANL performs that doesn’t have to do with national security during a briefing conducted over Webex on Wednesday.


Research at LANL has led to the development of what Mason said some are calling a smart bomb against cancer. Led by LANL researcher Michael Fassbender, the new isotope treatment dispenses large amounts of radiation through a generator system while doing minimal damage to normal cells.


Mason said the lab has done extensive work in computer modeling and simulations, highlighting the work researcher Nitin Daphalapurkar and his team do in modeling brain trauma that can be used to help predict life-threatening brain injuries. (Full Story)


For one LANL scientist, there's no I in team


Roger Wiens, LANL photo.


Roger Wiens, 61, has been part of two hugely successful NASA projects that have flown to Mars, first with the Curiosity mission that landed on the planet in 2012 and most recently with the ballyhooed Perseverance rover that got there last month.


Perseverance — an interstellar sports car; new, hot and outfitted with all the bells and whistles you can fit onto a rover that’s going to another planet — is getting all kinds of well-deserved attention. But last week, research co-authored by Wiens in the journal Geology showed Mars had a much more interesting climate — significant fluctuations between drier and wetter eras — before going dry a few billion years ago. (Full Story)


Colorado River basin due for more frequent, intense hydroclimate events


The Colorado River, from ENN.


In the vast Colorado River basin, climate change is driving extreme, interconnected events among earth-system elements such as weather and water. These events are becoming both more frequent and more intense and are best studied together, rather than in isolation, according to new research.


“We found that concurrent extreme hydroclimate events, such as high temperatures and unseasonable rain that quickly melt mountain snowpack to cause downstream floods, are projected to increase and intensify within several critical regions of the Colorado River basin,” said Katrina Bennett, a hydrologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author of the paper in the journal Water. “Concurrent extreme events of more than one kind, rather than isolated events of a single type, will be the ones that actually harm people, society, and the economy.” (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Lab first to receive Nvidia ‘Grace’ Arm CPU-based  supercomputer


Oceanic particle trajectories near the tip of Africa. LANL image.


Los Alamos National Laboratory will be the first United States customer to receive a supercomputer based on Nvidia’s new “Grace” Arm-based CPU, announced today, with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as the system provider. Delivery is targeted for early 2023.


“With an innovative balance of memory bandwidth and capacity, this next-generation system will shape our institution’s computing strategy,” said Thom Mason, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director. “Thanks to NVIDIA’s new Grace CPU, we’ll be able to deliver advanced scientific research using high-fidelity 3D simulations and analytics with data sets that are larger than previously possible.” (Full Story)


Also from Next Platform and NextGov


Physicists on verge of discovering new subatomic particle


Photo from Fermilab.


Fermilab will continue to conduct experiments in years to come to gather more data on the anomaly. William Louis, who works at Los Alamos National Laboratory, says that work in New Mexico will be influenced by the Fermilab experiments.


“It will spur, you know, additional experiments,” Louis said. “I work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and it certainly already I think is affecting people at Los Alamos planning new experiments. And this will also be true at universities around New Mexico, at New Mexico State, at the University of New Mexico, and so forth. And, you know, physicists here in New Mexico can do experiments locally, but also they'll be involved in experiments at national labs around the world.” (Full Story)


New method measures super-fast, free electron laser pulses


An optical shutter allows an ordinary camera to measure a femtosecond FEL pulse. LANL graphic.


New research shows how to measure the super-short bursts of high-frequency light emitted from free electron lasers (FELs). By using the light-induced ionization itself to create a femtosecond optical shutter, the technique encodes the electric field of the FEL pulse in a visible light pulse so that it can be measured with a standard, slow, visible-light camera.


"This work has the potential to lead to a new online diagnostic for FELs, where the exact pulse shape of each light pulse can be determined. That information can help both the end-user and the accelerator scientists," said Pamela Bowlan, Los Alamos National Laboratory's lead researcher on the project. (Full Story)


DNA breakthrough could finally make tape storage obsolete


Researchers based out of Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a new codec that minimizes the error rate when writing to molecular storage, as well as making any potential issues easier to correct.


“Our software, the Adaptive DNA Storage Codec (ADS Codex), translates data from what a computer understands into what biology understands,” explained Latchesar Ionkov, who heads up the project. “It’s like translating English to Chinese, only harder.” (Full Story)



New partnership to advance high-temperature PEM fuel cells; focus on heavy-duty applications


new partnership comprising Los Alamos National Laboratory, Advent Technology Holdings Inc., Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will work over the next few years to bring to market high-temperature proton exchange membrane (HT-PEM) fuel cells.


Traditional PEM fuel cells have a relatively low operating temperature, which makes for a low tolerance to hydrogen fuel impurities and makes waste-heat rejection a challenge for vehicles. (Full Story)



LANL offers startups $400k to relocate to northern New Mexico for new fellowship


new fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory offers entrepreneurs and startups hundreds of thousands of dollars and the chance to relocate to northern New Mexico.


Companies working to solve national security challenges using advanced materials, advanced computing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and space tech are welcome to apply for the two-year fellowship. The fellowship offers participants a yearly stipend of up to $100,000 in addition to health insurance and a travel allowance. Each project also receives $100,000 worth of technology-advancement support per year in collaboration with LANL and its network. (Full Story)

Twelve Los Alamos teams recognized for exceptional accomplishments


Twelve teams at Los Alamos National Laboratory were recipients of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Safety, Infrastructure and Operations’ 2020 Excellence Awards, which recognizes exceptional accomplishments made in support of efforts to achieve NNSA’s mission.


“The Laboratory is proud of its many exceptional teams that were acknowledged with this award,” said Kelly Beierschmitt, deputy director of operations at Los Alamos. “Their successes demonstrate commitment to our core values of service, integrity, teamwork and excellence, which define our Laboratory and are directly responsible for the organization’s success. The fact that these employees’ achievements were recognized at such a high level is testament to that.” (Full Story)



To subscribe to Los Alamos Press Highlights, please e-mail and include the words subscribe PressHighlights in the body of your email message; to unsubscribe, include unsubscribe PressHighlights.


Please visit us at