Thursday, September 30, 2021

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover snaps an epic selfie along with 'mission-critical' views of Red Planet


NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie over a rock nicknamed "Rochette," (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)


 A series of images taken on March 17, 2021, captures a detailed view of an escarpment called the "Delta Scarp," which is part of a fan-shaped river delta that formed in the crater.


"This is showing huge boulders. That means there had to have been some huge flash flooding that occurred that washed boulders down the riverbed into this delta formation," Roger Wiens, principal investigator for SuperCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in the statement. 


"These large boulders are partway down the delta formation. If the lakebed was full, you would find these at the very top. So the lake wasn't full at the time the flash flood happened. Overall, it may be indicating an unstable climate. Perhaps we didn't always have this very placid, calm, habitable place that we might have liked for raising some microorganisms," Wiens said. (Full story)



Scientists work to unravel fungus ecology as Valley fever expands throughout West

A scanning electron microscope image of Coccidioides spherules—the parasitic form of the fungus that grows inside its host. Photo by Bridget Barker, NAU.


Understanding the ecology of the fungus, such as where it is found and why, is vital because otherwise, it is hard to know how the impacts of climate change on the landscape might influence the range of the fungus across the United States.


Climate change will likely lead to the spread of the disease to other states where it has yet to surface, said Morgan Gorris, an earth systems scientist and postdoctoral fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.


In 2019, Gorris created a model showing how the known preferred ecological niche of Coccidioides fungus—dry and hot—would spread further across the U.S. over the next 80 years. By 2100, under a “high warming” scenario from model predictions, cases of Valley fever could increase by 50%, and states as far north as Montana and North Dakota could become endemic hot spots.


“Because the western part of the United States is already so dry, and it’s going to get even warmer, the fungus might be able to live in areas further and further north,” Gorris said. In the worst case warming scenario, “we found the endemic region could even reach the U.S.-Canada border,” she added. (Full story)

Also reported in Newsweek



Reducing plastics with proteins


Taraka Dale, BOTTLE Consortium lead.


Plastic waste is a growing existential threat polluting our land and water, but an international group of scientists are working on new ways to make - and break - plastics.


"Our project has two primary goals. One is to develop new and more effective ways of breaking down plastics that already exist as waste in our environment," said Taraka Dale, Biomass and Biodiversity Team Leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory and LANL team lead for the BOTTLE consortium.


"The other goal is to develop new plastics that can be used in the future - as substitutes for our current plastics - that are designed to break down and be recycled and remade into other products, right from the get-go," said Dale.


BOTTLE, which stands for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment, is a multi-institutional research and development consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. (Full story)



Intel Launches 2nd Loihi Neuromorphic Chip; LANL Investigating ‘Trade-offs’ Between Quantum and Neuromorphic Computing


Intel Loihi 2 neuromorphic chip. Courtesy photo.


Intel today released an update on its neuromorphic computing strategy, introducing Loihi 2, its second-generation neuromorphic research chip, and Lava, an open-source software framework for developing “neuro-inspired” applications.


Neuromorphic computing holds the promise of drawing insights from neuroscience to create chips that function more like the biological brain. It’s hoped that it will deliver orders of magnitude improvements in energy efficiency, speed of computation and efficiency of learning across a range of edge applications: from vision, voice and gesture recognition to search retrieval, robotics, and constrained optimization problems.


“Investigators at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been using the Loihi neuromorphic platform to investigate the trade-offs between quantum and neuromorphic computing, as well as implementing learning processes on-chip,” said Dr. Gerd J. Kunde, staff scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This research has shown some exciting equivalences between spiking neural networks and quantum annealing approaches for solving hard optimization problems. We have also demonstrated that the backpropagation algorithm, a foundational building block for training neural networks and previously believed not to be implementable on neuromorphic architectures, can be realized efficiently on Loihi. Our team is excited to continue this research with the second generation Loihi 2 chip.” (Full story)


Upgrade will protect national security and community interests


East side of the White Rock Canyon crossing.


Los Alamos National Laboratory’s critical national security mission is rooted in its ability to analyze and solve some of the most complex challenges facing our nation. We help keep the nation safe by ensuring our nuclear deterrent remains safe and effective, we develop knowledge about the effects of climate change and we investigate deadly disease outbreaks. We do all that more rapidly than ever before using LANL’s on-site capabilities, such as high-performance computing and accelerator and neutron science.


To accomplish today’s missions and make sure we can accomplish tomorrow’s, LANL requires increasing amounts of electricity. Because the need for LANL’s expertise is so great, we anticipate the laboratory’s peak seasonal power demand will exceed operating limits for its and Los Alamos County’s existing transmission lines by 2030. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is proposing to upgrade its electrical power capacity serving this area of New Mexico. The project, referred to as the Electrical Power Capacity Upgrade, or EPCU, would provide the laboratory and Los Alamos County with reliable and redundant electrical power.


In coordination with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Energy is preparing an environmental assessment to evaluate the potential impacts associated with this needed upgrade. This process will include an evaluation of impacts associated with constructing and operating a new overhead power transmission line across a designated utility corridor on the Caja del Rio Plateau and upgrading the laboratory’s existing electrical infrastructure. (Full story)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

A speeding object collided with Jupiter and blew up, cool space footage shows

Image credit: José Luis Pereira.


An asteroid or icy object collided with the gas giant Jupiter on Sept. 13, where it eventually blew up in the planet's thick clouds. The object was around dozens of meters across (possibly some 120 to 160 feet wide, maybe more, maybe less). Traveling at a high speed, it journeyed deeper and deeper into Jupiter's heavy atmosphere, where it experienced strong friction and heated up as it fell through the planet's clouds.


Yet the impact, and resulting explosion, certainly produced a bright flash. Astronomers and other researchers use this brightness to gauge the size of an impacting object, explained Cathy Plesko, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who researches asteroid and comet impacts. A larger object creates a more energetic explosion, and flash.


Even tiny objects produce vivid flashes. The common shooting star is a rice-sized meteor burning up in Earth's atmosphere. "That's pretty bright for a grain of rice," Plesko said. (Full story)


Scientists study microbiomes in soil to develop drought resistant plants

This year’s drought, to say the least, has been pretty bad for New Mexico. Back in April, more than 53% of the state was in the worst category of drought and thanks to a great monsoon season, that number has now dropped to 0%.


Regardless, most of the state is still in some sort of drought and it's something people need to be prepared to deal with, and scientists at Los Alamos National Lab are currently working on this.


"We are studying and trying to develop microbes that could actually help plants grow bigger through the drought, so that you don't need to irrigate your fields as much as before,” said Sanna Sevanto, plant physiologist at Los Alamos National Lab. (Full story)

MOFs help to protect perovskite LEDs


LEDs made from perovskite nanocrystals embedded in a MOF can be created at low cost using earth-abundant materials, and remain stable.


In a paper in Nature Photonics, researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory report that they have prepared stable perovskite nanocrystals for such LEDs. Also contributing to the effort was Academia Sinica in Taiwan.


Perovskites are a class of material with a particular crystalline structure that gives them light-absorbing and light-emitting properties that are useful in a range of energy-efficient applications, including solar cells and various kinds of detectors. (Full story)





LANL Team One of 10 Recipients of $26 Million Department Of Energy Award For Data Science  

LANL Principal investigator Kipton Barros leads the multi-disciplinary data science initiative.


A Los Alamos National Laboratory research team’s project was selected in a highly competitive $26 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant program to advance chemical and materials sciences by using data science. The goal of the funding program is to harness cutting-edge research tools for new scientific discoveries fundamental to clean energy solutions.


“This award is a vote of confidence in Los Alamos National Laboratory expertise, as well in the potential of data science to solve critical problems,” said Deputy Laboratory Director John Sarrao. “Modeling the behavior of complex systems is an exciting challenge, and we’re looking forward to seeing the new chemistries and materials systems that are developed from this project.”


Principal investigator Kipton Barros of the Theoretical division will lead a multi-disciplinary team of researchers on a three-year, $2.4 million project in partnership with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to use data science—including artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML)—to advance the understanding of chemical and materials systems. (Full story)

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)



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