Friday, September 17, 2021

State of WMD: How 9/11 impacted the mission of national security laboratories

The Trident laser produces neutron bursts, used in the detection of clandestine nuclear materials and treaty verification. LANL photo.


In 2001, Los Alamos National Laboratory was several years into the stockpile stewardship program – developing physics and computational tools to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons in the absence of testing. We weren’t sure what the future held. While we knew that nuclear weapons were still an important part of the nation’s military and diplomatic strategy, the end of the Cold War meant that the role they would play in national defense policy was unclear.


After September 11, the reality that not only did threats still exist but they could easily land on our shores hit hard. Soon after, a renewed sense of urgency emerged around the need to secure our nuclear weapons and ensure their readiness at a moment’s notice. On the top of many minds at Los Alamos were the what-if questions, specifically: What if the terrorists had used an improvised nuclear device? What if they might still? Could they potentially get a hold of a nation-state’s weapon of mass destruction? What about the potential for bio-attacks? (Full Story)


Los Alamos National Lab works on hydrogen-powered trucks


Recent data estimates diesel-powered trucks spew more than 200 tons of CO2 into the air every year. That's why Los Alamos National Lab is working on a new project to replace the diesel-powered trucks – with hydrogen-powered ones.


"As you try to get all of the carbon out of transportation infrastructure, you gotta do both light-duty vehicles, and heavy-duty vehicles,” said Rob Borup, a researcher at Los Alamos National Lab. Hydrogen-powered vehicles are --by definition-- an electric vehicle -- but there's no battery inside. Instead-- they use a fuel cell to combine hydrogen gas with oxygen to make electricity. (Full Story)


Also from KRQE-TV


Abrasion patch Bellegarde


NASA's Perseverance Mars rover used its abrasion tool to grind down the rock surface at this target, nicknamed "Bellegarde," on Aug. 29, 2021, the 188th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This close-up image was produced by Perseverance's SuperCam instrument in natural color, as it would appear under daytime lighting conditions. 


SuperCam is led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where the instrument's Body Unit was developed. That part of the instrument includes several spectrometers as well as control electronics and software. (Full Story)



A deadly fungal disease on the rise in the West has experts worried


UC Irvine graphic.


few years ago, Morgan Gorris, an Earth systems scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, decided to investigate an important question: What makes a place hospitable to Cocci? She soon discovered that the fungus thrives in a set of specific conditions. U.S. counties that are endemic to Valley fever have an average annual temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and get under 600 millimeters of rain a year. 


“Essentially, they were hot and dry counties,” Gorris told Grist. She stuck the geographic areas that met those parameters on a map and overlaid them with CDC estimates on where Cocci grows. Sure enough, the counties, which stretch from West Texas through the Southwest and up into California (with a small patch in Washington State) matched up. (Full Story)


News from Mars comes to downtown Los Alamos


Part of the LANL Mars team, from the Daily Post.


Mars is closer than you think. A stroll down Central Avenue in downtown Los Alamos can transport you to the surface of Mars via a slide show of pictures taken by the Perseverance Rover, which is exploring Mars. A video screen is attached to a building that is part of Central Park Square, across the street from the former CB Fox Kidz and around the corner from Bennett’s Fine Jewelry. This effort is a collaboration between Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Central Park Square owner Philip Kunsburg.


“We are proud to display the accomplishments of this astounding project,” Kunsburg said. Residents of Los Alamos may remember a previous streaming of pictures from Mars taken by the previous Mars Rover, Curiosity, a few years ago. (Full Story)


Siddharth Komini Babu receives electrochemical society Toyota young investigator fellowship


Siddharth Komini Babu of Los Alamos National Laboratory has received an Electrochemical Society (ECS) Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship for Projects in Green Energy Technology.


The $50,000 fellowship supports young electrochemical researchers as they develop battery and fuel cell technology, including research topics that may result in further technological innovation. It is offered by the Electrochemical Society and the Toyota Research Institute of North America, a division of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.(Full Story)


Santa Fe company builds teardrop trailers even a subcompact car can pull


Customers check out a T300 model, New Mexican photo.


Angel Irlanda designed and built his own lightweight trailer, weighing just 250 pounds (minus hitch and axle) for the carbon fiber-Kevlar-Corecell T250 edition or 300 pounds for the T300 version with the use of resin-reinforced chicken feathers.


He collaborated with material science and dynamic extremes scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory to determine the variance of strength in chicken feathers. This was through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program and the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership. (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, September 10, 2021

Mars rover grabs first rock sample, a major step in hunt for alien life

This small cylinder of rock—shown here within the rover’s drill rig—is the first sample of dozens, NASA image.


"We are going to be surprised," says Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist and team lead for Space and Planetary Exploration at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "We are going to learn things that we never could have imagined."


The sampled boulder appears similar to other rocks poking up from the crater floor, sometimes called "high-standing rocks," says Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and principal investigator of Perseverance's SuperCam. Early on, the team planned to sample one of these high-standing rocks as well as the paver stones. “But we wanted to start with what we thought would be the easiest, which would be the softer ones—and, uh, oops,” Wiens laughs. (Full Story)





The impact of switching research fields

Karissa Sanbonmatsu gives a TED talk on
epigenetics in 2018.  From TED. 


When Karissa Sanbonmatsu joined the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as a postdoctoral researcher in 1997, she was eager to apply her plasma physics training to problems in space physics and laser fusion. Shortly after becoming a principal investigator, however, she became intrigued by the life sciences and decided to shift to studying biophysics. “I made it happen by leveraging transferable skill sets,” she says. Now she enjoys success as a structural biologist, combining wet lab biochemistry with computational biophysics and cryoelectron microscopy. “When you switch fields, you bring a fresh perspective that people haven’t heard about before,” she says. (Full Story)




Answering The Call: How New Mexico’s national laboratories used science and technology after 9/11 to help keep the country safe


Los Alamos Director Thom Mason (left) and Sandia Director James Peery.


The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed all of us in ways big and small — from our sense of security to how we travel. For New Mexico’s two national security laboratories, it meant quickly pivoting our scientific, engineering and technological resources to respond. As we reflect on the 20th anniversary, we’re reminded of the continuing need to be ready and equipped to counter the evolving threats that face our nation.


Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories had already been doing important work for the U.S. government to keep Americans safe when the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked 20 years ago. But it became immediately clear that, in addition to the innovation needed to protect the country from attacks by adversarial nations with defined borders, we must also develop tools to protect Americans from attacks by terrorist groups who operated in multiple countries and were driven by many agendas. (Full Story)




Los Alamos lab working on hydrogen-powered truck project

Rod Borup, LANL photo.

Diesel engines have been the norm for heavy-duty long-haul trucks since the mid-20th century. But the black smoke belching from the big rigs has become a growing concern as research shows diesel pollution is bad both for public health and the warming climate.


Some Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers are working on a technology to clear this noxious pollutant from the roadways. The lab is part of a consortium working to develop hydrogen fuel cells that would work well on big trucks and eventually replace the diesel-burning engines.


“Really, the time to get [hydrogen fuel] trucks out on the road is now,” said Rod Borup, lab scientist and fuel cell program manager. (Full Story)


Also from Hydrogen Fuel News




Colloidal quantum dot laser research overcomes challenges


Colloidal quantum dot diodes.  LANL image.


In a new review article published in the journal Nature Photonics, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL; Los Alamos, NM) assess the status of research into colloidal quantum dot lasers with a focus on prospective electrically pumped devices, or laser diodes. The review analyzes the challenges for realizing lasing with electrical excitation, discusses approaches to overcome them, and surveys recent advances toward this objective.


“Colloidal quantum dot lasers have tremendous potential in a range of applications, including integrated optical circuits, wearable technologies, lab-on-a-chip devices, and advanced medical imaging and diagnostics,” says Victor Klimov, a senior researcher in the Chemistry division at LANL and lead author of the Nature Photonics article. (Full Story)

Friday, September 3, 2021

Understanding pyrocumulonimbi, aka ‘Fire Clouds’


Fire cloud south of Canberra, Australia. Photo from SciAm.


With a goal of refining and calibrating computer models for wildfire and climate, we are studying pyrocumulonimbus clouds from the B.C. and Australia fires at several scales, from the molecules in the hot gases of a fire, to how the blaze moves across a specific landscape, to how smoke evolves in the atmosphere, and finally to how smoke travels around the glove. Our work also includes laboratory experiments and field observations about smoke gathered by our Center of Aerosol-gas Forensic Experiments (CAFÉ), where we study black-carbon emissions and their mixing with organic gases from fire. (Full Story)


Plenty of evidence for recombination in SARS-CoV-2


Early on in the pandemic, research suggested recombination likely played a pivotal role in SARS-CoV-2’s emergence as a human pathogen. In a study published in July 2020, for instance, Bette Korber, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and colleagues reported that a portion of the receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein—the part of the spike that directly interacts with the ACE2 receptor that the virus uses to gain entry into cells—came from recombination with pangolin coronaviruses.


It’s no surprise, then, that the virus continued to recombine after it began infecting people. “It should be happening because it’s a very important evolutionary mechanism for these viruses,” explains Korber. At the same time, she adds, “quantifying how much it’s there can be tricky because . . . it’s computationally not easy to look at vast data sets,” and the search can be confounded by genetic changes that can come about in the lab. (Full Story)


Predicting mosquito populations before a surge


At Los Alamos National Laboratory, we’re studying mosquito populations to understand how they grow, how they change with the seasons and, in particular, how they spread infectious diseases to humans and other animals. The goal is to create a computer-based model that will accurately simulate mosquito populations based on data about precipitation, temperature, water levels and other environmental factors in a given area, so people will know ahead of time about an increased risk of disease transmission.


For this project, we’re looking specifically at West Nile virus, which birds transmit to humans via mosquitoes. We analyzed 15 years of data from several different locations in the United States and Canada, making it one of the largest modeling studies of mosquito populations over time ever conducted. Previous studies have looked at temperature and precipitation, but this is the first to use stream. (Full Story)


Paving the path to electrically-pumped lasers from colloidal-quantum-dot solutions


Colloidal quantum dot diodes can be created on the laboratory benchtop, LANL graphic.


In a new review article in Nature Photonics, scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory assess the status of research into colloidal quantum dot lasers with a focus on prospective electrically pumped devices, or laser diodes. The review analyzes the challenges for realizing lasing with electrical excitation, discusses approaches to overcome them, and surveys recent advances toward this objective.


"Colloidal quantum dot lasers have tremendous potential in a range of applications, including integrated optical circuits, wearable technologies, lab-on-a-chip devices, and advanced medical imaging and diagnostics," said Victor Klimov, a senior researcher in the Chemistry division at Los Alamos and lead author of the cover article in Nature Photonics. (Full Story)


Also from PhysOrg this week:


A shock-induced mechanism for the creation of organic molecules


Erik Watkins inside the Matter in Extreme Conditions/Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC.  LANL photo.


Complex carbon-based molecules are everywhere in the Cosmos.  How many of these molecules are formed is still something of a mystery, particularly for carbon molecules formed by nature on primordial Earth that gave rise to life on this planet.


Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, using a laser-driven compression technique and x-ray diffraction interrogation at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) facility in California, have recently discovered a mechanism for the formation of complex carbon sheet-shaped solid molecules in liquid benzene, a common hydrocarbon, that could unravel some of the carbon formation mystery. (Full Story)


Also from the Los Alamos Reporter


DOE/NNSA leader visits LANL, praises mission dedication and perseverance during COVID-19


Jill Hruby Thursday during a tour at Technical Area 55, LANL photo.


Recently confirmed Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration Jill Hruby lauded the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and praised several significant infrastructure improvements in an address to all employees and Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office staff on Aug. 26. She also touted the Lab’s dedication to mission delivery and discussed her top priorities for Los Alamos as the new NNSA administrator.


“We are fortunate to have support at the highest levels of government for three simultaneous mission priorities — science, product and infrastructure — across all three of NNSA’s portfolios: nuclear weapons stockpile management, nuclear nonproliferation, and naval reactors,” Hruby said to an audience of about 50 at the Lab. (Full Story)


Also from the Reporter this week:


LANL team brings expertise in atmospheric aerosols to new snowpack study


LANL’s EES ARM project manager Heath Powers, left, sets up SAIL radiometers with technician Wessley King. Photo by David Chu


team from Los Alamos National Laboratory is about to launch research high in the Colorado Rockies that will help demystify water availability and support predictions across the arid West. 


Los Alamos is supporting the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Atmospheric Radiation Measurement’s (ARM’s) Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) campaign that kicks off September 1 near Crested Butte. SAIL will collect data from the East River Watershed in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Los Alamos team will oversee the SAIL observatory for this period, which ends in June 2023. (Full Story)



LANL’s test launch successful, begins 5 years of data collection


Scientists from Los Alamos are testing suborbital satellites at Spaceport America. The Los Alamos National Laboratory partnered with UP Aerospace in Colorado for an experimental launch last month.


They sent an 800-pound rocket more than 60 miles into the atmosphere at six times the speed of sound. The rocket sends back flight diagnostics, like temperature and acceleration which will be used to develop national security technology. (Full Story)


Investors and scientists converge at 2021 DisrupTECH


Kirti Bhardwaj and Ian Cummings are winners of 2021 DisrupTECH awards.


Cutting-edge technologies including more comfortable radiation therapy, ultrasonic aerospace testing, and advancements in hydrogen fuel cells were among 13 presentations to investors made by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientists as part of the 2021 DisrupTECH event.


“The technology, medicine, and public-safety projects presented at DisrupTECH are compelling innovations and a great outcome of the Laboratory’s mission-focused work,” LANL Director Thom Mason said. “I look forward to widespread use of these innovations in New Mexico and beyond.” (Full Story)


Also from Albuquerque Business First



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


Please visit us at