Friday, October 2, 2015

Big trees first to die in severe droughts
Image from SciAm.

Physics and gravity are factors large trees have to deal with. Imagine trying to suck up water from a straw that is 5 feet tall versus a few inches, said Nathan McDowell, a researcher with the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“Being tall, it’s harder to suck water,” said McDowell, a co-author of the paper. In fact, he said, big trees do a lot for a forest ecosystem that their smaller counterparts cannot. Some species, such as the spotted owl, only live in big trees. Large trees provide shade for the forest ecosystem and keep the understory of forests cool and more humid. (Full story)

Also from Smithsonian Science News

Study reveals urban smoke absorbs sunlight, exacerbating climate warming
Downtown Los Angeles, from EPA.

The new measurements resolve carbon particles that are of several types, each with its own effect on climate,” said project leader Manvendra Dubey of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“Black carbon, from both city-related biomass combustion, is the most sunlight absorbing. Brown carbon, from sources such as residential wood combustion and forest fires, is the component that is missing in most climate models and can be a significant absorber of sunlight, making it as bad for climate warming as black carbon,” Dubey said. (Full story)

Physicists observe weird quantum fluctuations of empty space—maybe
NASA image.

Empty space is anything but, according to quantum mechanics: Instead, it roils with quantum particles flitting in and out of existence. Now, a team of physicists claims it has measured those fluctuations directly.

"There are many experiments that have observed indirect effects of vacuum fluctuations," says Diego Dalvit, a theorist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico who was not involved in the current work. "If this [new experiment] is correct, it would be the first direct observation of the field [of fluctuations] itself." (Full story)

Titan helps unpuzzle decades-old plutonium perplexities
Comparison of prediction (right) with
experimental observations (left) from ORNL.

Lead scientist Marc Janoschek of Los Alamos National Laboratory and his team performed neutron scattering experiments to obtain physical confirmation to prove once and for all that plutonium's dynamical magnetism wasn't just a theory. In his recent paper published in the journal Science Advances, Janoschek discussed the team's findings.

From the ARCS measurements, the team determined the fluctuations carry varying numbers of electrons in plutonium's outer valence shell. This determination also explained why abnormal changes occur in the differing phases of plutonium's volume. (Full story)

Why Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and others are betting on fusion
Tri-Alpha Energy in Irvine, Calif., has reportedly
raised $140 million. Tri-Alpha photo 

At this point no one knows which—if any—of these private-sector ventures will prevail, and achieving fusion won’t be easy. Says Glen Wurden, a team leader at the plasma physics group at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“To get funding, small companies have to promise the moon. There’s a long history where promises have been made and not kept. When you hear a private company say it will have a technology in five years, you roll your eyes.” Critics also say these startups are building on technology that was rejected decades ago by government labs or that still hasn’t been proved. (Full story)

Enzymatic fuel cells are creeping slowly along thanks to gold nanoclusters
Gold clusters, LANL image.

Los Alamos tackled one key problem, which is the ability of the enzyme-active sites to accept and donate electrons. The problem is that the active sites are typically “buried” under the surface of the enzymes, making it difficult to transfer electrons back and forth to the electrode.

The solution was to develop a mediator or “relaying agent” that would enhance electron transfer, and more specifically, one that requires the least amount of energy input to get the job done. (Full story)

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Computational model provides new insights into HIV-1 vaccine design

HIV attacking a T cell, LANL image.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a computational model that could change the way that researchers look at possibilities for an HIV-1 vaccine.

“An effective HIV-1 vaccine has proven elusive, partly due to the difficulty of causing an immune response that can neutralize the diverse viral strains circulating in the human population,” said Alan Perelson, of Los Alamos’ Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group. “Harnessing the power of broadly neutralizing antibodies, which emerge years into a chronic HIV infection, could help overcome this challenge.” (Full Story)

Telltale antineutrinos could reveal rogue nuclear programs

Iran’s Arak nuclear facility, from IEEE Spectrum.

There’s a real need for them [advanced monitoring technologies] says Nancy Jo Nicholas, associate director for threat identification and response at Los Alamos­ National Laboratory (LANL). “There is talk about a global renaissance in the nuclear industry,” she says. “There will be more facilities, so giving inspectors tools that allow them to do their job in an efficient and effective way is a clear benefit.” (Full Story)

Scientists explore hybrid ultrasmall gold nanocluster for enzymatic fuel cells

Gold nanoclusters (~1 nm) are efficient mediators
of electron transfer, LANL image.

With fossil-fuel sources dwindling, better biofuel cell design is a strong candidate in the energy field. In research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Los Alamos researchers and external collaborators synthesized and characterized a new DNA-templated gold nanocluster (AuNC) that could resolve a critical methodological barrier for efficient biofuel cell design. (Full Story)

Also in the Daily Post

Atmospheric Research Lab Bound For Antarctic

Kim Nitschke and Paul Ortega scouted Antarctica
with co-investigator Johannes Verlinde.

A big production is about to take place in a remote part of the world starting in November. A team of logistics specialists assembled from Los Alamos National Laboratory and several other national science labs brought key props and principal actors together for two months this summer in Pagosa Springs, Colo. for walk-throughs and rehearsals.

“We’ve been in a lot of places, but we’ve never been anywhere like Antarctica,” said Heath Powers LANL’s operational director for the project. (Full Story)

LANL to team with P&G on clean energy

Clean energy manufacturing efforts will get a boost, thanks to a new national laboratory-industry collaboration pilot announced this week by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative.     

Los Alamos National Laboratory and Procter & Gamble will form one of the seven ‘innovation pairs’ working to bring sustainable ideas from some of the nations top scientists into the day-to-day world of manufacturing. (Full Story)

Also from the Monitor this week:

Nonprofits benefit from LA National Security help

More than 225 nonprofit organizations received $162,650 from Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which manages Los Alamos National Laboratory. The LANS contributions are determined by the number of volunteer hours logged by Laboratory employees and retirees through an organization called VolunteerMatch.

“The genuine care and commitment Laboratory employees and retirees have for their communities are clearly demonstrated by the number of hours volunteered to these nonprofit organizations,” said Kathy Keith, director of Los Alamos’ Community Programs Office, which oversees the volunteer program. (Full Story)

LANL looks to community for next generation workforce
Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan with County
Council Chair Kristin Henderson. LANL photo.

An implicit theme of a community breakfast meeting at the pueblo conference center Wednesday had to do with work, workers and the variables that make employment attractive and possible at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Current concerns include the federal budget, the pace of laboratory projects and priorities, the race between recruitment and retention, and the ongoing tussle between jobs available and attracting and preparing the best people possible. (Full Story)

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Science on the Hill: For cybersecurity, in quantum encryption we trust

Raymond Newell, LANL photo.

As everyone becomes more interconnected on the Internet, personal information like bank and investment accounts, credit card numbers, home addresses and even social security numbers becomes more vulnerable to cybertheft. The same goes for the corporate world.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has specialized for decades in security and pushed the limits of computing. With that background, it’s only natural that we made it our business to improve data security with a solution from outside traditional computing. (Full Story)

 Mission: Mars, Lobos look to space

Nina Lanza in her Lab at Los Alamos, Mirage photo.

Looking through a telescope one night in Boston blew 7-year-old Nina Lanza’s mind. She declared it totally awesome and was off on a life-long fascination with spaceships, aliens, and science fiction.

Since even before she began her Ph.D. at UNM in 2006, Lanza has been focused on Mars geology.  Her master's thesis at Wesleyan University was on Martian landforms.  She worked on a Los Alamos National Laboratory project using data from the Mars Odyssey orbiter. (Story begins on page 18)

Van Andel Research Institute, Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop lung cancer model

Illustration from NIH.

A multidisciplinary team, led by Jeffrey MacKeigan, Ph.D., associate professor at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), in collaboration with William Hlavacek, Ph.D., of Los Alamos National Laboratory, is designing a mathematical model for autophagy in lung cancer that will be used to develop novel cancer treatment strategies.

MacKeigan's lab in Grand Rapids will conduct the experimental research for the study and will send their results to Hlavacek's lab in New Mexico for model-guided computational analysis. Los Alamos is home to state-of-the-art large-scale computing systems that are an integral component in the development of mathematical models for complex biological systems. (Full Story)

Also from EurekAlert!

And two more stories from PhysOrg this week:

Scientists use lasers to simulate shock effects of meteorite impact on silica

Arianna Gleason making final adjustments at the Stanford Liner Accelerator facility.

A postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory is part of a research team that simulates the shock effects of a meteorite impact in silica.

Scientists used high-power laser beams at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to simulate the shock effects of a meteorite impact in silica, one of the most abundant materials in the Earth's crust. They observed, for the first time, its shockingly fast transformation into the mineral stishovite – a rare, extremely hard and dense form of silica. (Full Story)

Ultrafast photodetectors allow direct observation of multiple electrons generated by a single photon

Andrew Fidler of Los Alamos National Laboratory examines an ultrafast photodetector, LANL photo.

Detecting and quantifying this multiplication process in working devices has proven challenging, however, as noted by Victor Klimov, director of the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "The key advance is a newly developed capability which allows us to follow the fate of photogenerated electrons on ultrafast timescales directly in the photocurrent measurements. Research in our team and elsewhere had previously focused on using optical spectroscopy for detecting carrier multiplication and quantifying its efficiency," he said. (Full Story)

Quantum Dots to power buildings in the future

Quantum dots under UV light, LANL photo.

The University of Milan-Bicocca in Italy, and the Los Alamo’s National Laboratory, led by Victor Klimov at the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics, have teamed up over the past two years to develop a new technique that produces nanoparticles, or “semiconductor quantum dots,” in windows to produce solar energy.

In what will be a boon to architects and engineers seeking to create carbon neutral buildings, Quantum Dots absorb sunlight as it passes through the newly-designed window panes, emitting an infrared wavelength that is captured at the window’s edge and transformed into energy. (Full Story)

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Does quantum cryptology offer hack-proof security?

Quantum Key Encryption device developed at LANL, LANL image.

Whitewood Encryption Systems and Los Alamos National Laboratory are also collaborating on another area of quantum cryptology research and development: the Entropy Engine, which is a random number generator (RNG) that harvests entropy from a quantum field. LANL claims the RNG is so efficient, it can fit on a USB key drive at an exceptionally low cost. (Full Story)

DHS moves another security technology to the commercial market

According to DHS, the PathScan technology is an anomaly detection tool developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and has been licensed to Ernst & Young as part of the agency’s Transition to Practice program.

PathScan uses statistical models to screen network behavior and quickly detects the movement of hackers after they breach a network, allowing operational teams to defend sensitive information. (Full Story)

LANL, private firm partner on cybersecurity

Los Alamos National Laboratory has formed a partnership with multinational professional services firm Ernst & Young LLP to bring an advanced cybersecurity tool to the commercial market. Both have announced that LANL is licensing its PathScan technology to Ernst & Young for use in the private sector. (Full Story)

Carbon nanotubes open new path toward quantum information technologies

Oxygen (red) attached to a nanotube produces a single photon, LANL illustration.               

In optical communication, critical information ranging from a credit card number to national security data is transmitted in streams of laser pulses.

By demonstrating that incorporation of pristine single-walled carbon nanotubes into a silicon dioxide (SiO2) matrix could lead to creation of solitary oxygen dopant state capable of fluctuation-free, room-temperature single photon emission, Los Alamos researchers revealed a new path toward on-demand single photon generation. Nature Nanotechnology published their findings. (Full Story)

Perovskite quantum dots emit single photons

Perovskite quantum dots of many colors, LANL image.                 

Individual perovskite quantum dots can operate as efficient room-temperature single-photon sources (or quantum emitters) that emit photons one by one, according to new work by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico.

“Our research group specializes in the development and spectroscopic study of nanoscale semiconductor particles, known as nanocrystals or quantum dots,” says team leader Victor Klimov of Los Alamos. (Full Story)

Experiments illuminate supersonic radiation flow

Pleiades target installed on a NIF target, LLNL photo.

A multi-institutional team of scientists fired the 26th and final shot of the Pleiades experimental campaign at the National Ignition Facility last month. The campaign has created a new scientific foundation for the study of supersonic radiation flow in astrophysical phenomena and in inertial confinement fusion physics.

Begun in 2011, the campaign was fielded by Los Alamos National Laboratory in collaboration with the U.K.’s Atomic Weapons Establishment and supported by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (Full Story)

Descartes lab shows shrinking U.S. corn crop

Corn field deviation in 2014, from Descartes Labs.        

From an analysis of more than 1 million corn fields daily, Descartes Labs’ infrared satellite images showed U.S. production is 2.8 percent smaller than the government estimates.

The firm started as a project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2007. Brumby said the labs are developing programs to forecast all major crops in the U.S. and plan to make projections for global crops. New satellite images available next year will enhance the view from space. (Full Story)

RLUOB team gets award from DOE

The DOE Secretary’s Achievement Award is presented to the RLUOB Transfer Team. LANL photo.     

The Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) Transition Team at Los Alamos National Laboratory received the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary’s Achievement Award for its teamwork and performance. LANL made an announcement of the award Tuesday.

“What the National Nuclear Security Administration achieved with its contract partner on the RLUOB/REI Project is our goal — safe, high-quality, state-of-the-art facilities that provide a great value to the taxpayer,” said NNSA Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management Bob Raines. (Full Story)

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