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)