Friday, December 23, 2011

Los Alamos National Laboratory announces top 10 science stories of 2011

Los Alamos National Laboratory's top 10 science stories of 2011 illustrate the broad variety of scientific excellence that's the hallmark of the Laboratory. This year's stories include alternative energy research, world record magnetic fields, disease tracking, the study of Mars, climate change, fuel cells, solar wind, and magnetic reconnection. (Full Story)

Scientists monitor Santa’s journey

Scientists expect Santa to arrive in Northern New Mexico about midnight on Christmas Eve

Los Alamos National Laboratory trackers will use state-of-the-art technology to mark the course taken by St. Nick and his eight tiny and highly efficient reindeer. Visit for a live link beginning at 6 a.m. Dec. 24 to see his whirlwind journey. (Full Story)

Scientists model brain structure to help computers recognize objects

Garrett Kenyon. LANL photo.

A team of scientists are modeling a brain structure to help computers recognize shapes and objects as humans do.

While a humans’ visual performance gets worse when an image is shown for a shorter period of time and when shapes are more complicated, scientists are expecting computers to recognize shapes faster than humans.

After measuring human performance, researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Chatham University, and Emory University created a computer model based on human neural structure to recognize shapes. (Full Story)

Seven laboratory scientists honored

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has awarded the distinction of Fellow to seven scientists from LANL for advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished. (Full Story)

Economy, energy, and entrepreneurship: Los Alamos National Laboratory

David Pesiri. LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s David Pesiri speaks on topics including funding, peer review, entrepreneurship, nanotechnology research, and communicating research missions in a social networking environment.

Los Alamos is a capabilities-based national security science laboratory. For topics that deal with national security, I think the role of the federal program office is central. And, that means that whether it is DOD (Department of Defense), or the intelligence community, or DHS (Department of Homeland Security), or other agencies, what's prescribed andwhat is assigned really has to do with the federal program. (Full Story)

Cutting edge chemistry in 2011

Typical polyaromatic hydrocarbon. From Wikimedia.

Several teams were trying to work out how prebiotic molecules found themselves encased in cells in the first place. James Boncella, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, made primitive vesicles to investigate how the first cell-like structures might have harnessed energy. The team made the vesicles from fatty acids and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and trapped metal ions in the central void. (Full Story)

Soyuz launch will return ISS to full staff

Former LANL scientist Donald Pettit gestures as he boards the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft. From USA Today.

"I told my family it's like going back home, or at least my second home," said Pettit, a 56-year-old married father of two who spent six months on the outpost in late 2002 and early 2003.

It also will mark a key milestone for the chemical engineer who began his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1983.

"I was there 13 years," Pettit said. "And I find it interesting that I worked the early part of my career at a nationallaboratory, and now I'm going back into space on the space station, and again, it's a national laboratory asset. (Full Story)

Los Alamos, EMC ink deal to develop new HPC technology

Alan Bishop (PADSTE) and Percy Tzelnic, senior vice president at EMC Corp., sign a supercomputing CRADA on Dec. 1 LANL photo.

Los Alamos National Laboratory today announced the signing of a new Umbrella Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with EMC Corporation. Together, LANL and EMC will enhance, design, build, test, and deploy new cutting-edge technologies in an effort to meet some of the nation’s most difficult information technology challenges. (Full Story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Report, please e-mail and include the words subscribe losalamosreport in the body of your email message; to unscubscribe, include unsubscribe losalamosreport.

Please visit us at
And follow us on
Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr

Friday, December 16, 2011

First physics experiments soon to move into former Homestake mine

The Majorana Demonstrator will search for one of the rarest forms of radioactive decays—neutrinoless double-beta decay. Majorana could help determine whether subatomic particles called neutrinos can act as their own anti-particles, a discovery that could help physicists better explain how the universe evolved.

“We’re pushing very hard so we can hit the ground running when we move into the Transition Cavern,” Majorana spokesperson Steve Elliott of Los Alamos National Laboratory said (full story).

The Higgs boson and the LHC: at last, a clue to the universe?

Neutrinos are particles with almost no mass and no electrical charge (neutrino is Italian for “little neutral one”). They were first detected in the Fifties by Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in an experiment nicknamed Project Poltergeist because it was trying to detect the undetectable. Neutrinos are sometimes called “ghost particles”, as they hardly ever interact with solid matter. There are billions passing through your body right now (full story).

Seven Los Alamos Scientists Earn AAAS Honors

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has awarded the distinction of Fellow to seven scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory for advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished. New Fellows will be recognized in February at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., Canada (full story).

Scientists report first solar cell producing more electrons in photocurrent than solar photons entering cell

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have reported the first solar cell that produces a photocurrent that has an external quantum efficiency greater than 100 percent when photoexcited with photons from the high energy region of the solar spectrum. . . .

The mechanism for producing a quantum efficiency above 100 percent with solar photons is based on a process called Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG), whereby a single absorbed photon of appropriately high energy can produce more than one electron-hole pair per absorbed photon. . . .

MEG, also referred to as Carrier Multiplication (CM), was first demonstrated experimentally in colloidal solutions of quantum dots in 2004 by Richard Schaller and Victor Klimov of the DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (full story).

At Los Alamos Lab, mobile security gets picky

Large government agencies with many internal organizations face a conundrum when they plan to deploy new mobile systems or upgrade existing ones.

The steps the Los Alamos National Laboratory took to deploy wireless in its complex and highly security conscious environs show how a big organization picks and chooses systems and services to meet the requirements of different user groups.

Research at Los Alamos covers a range of areas, from basic science to highly sensitive nuclear weapons work. Because of its broad range of research and a large population at varying security levels, the lab wanted to develop a more flexible and secure wireless capability, according to Anil Karmel, a solutions architect at Los Alamos.

There are currently some 20,000 wireless devices running on Los Alamo’s existing network. For very secure applications, the lab issued BlackBerry 160 Bold devices to selected personnel, Karmel said (full story).

Guest Column: Ten ways to fool the masses when giving performance results on GPUs

The performance potential of Graphics Processing Unit or GPU computing has produced significant excitement in the HPC community. However, as was the case with the advent of parallel computing decades ago, the nascent technology does not equally benefit all applications, says Scott Pakin of Los Alamos National Laboratory (full story).

LANL holiday drive a hit

More than 1,100 children and seniors will have more gifts under their tree this year because of a holiday gift drive at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“More than 1,000 children and seniors from around Northern New Mexico will have a brighter holiday because LANL employees enthusiastically participated in the holiday gift tag program,” said Tim Martinez of LANL’s Community Programs Office. “I’m so proud to be part of such a worthwhile program.” (full story)

Also from the Monitor this week:

LANL employees make record number of pledges

Los Alamos National Laboratory employees have pledged a record $1.81 million to United Way and other eligible nonprofit programs. Los Alamos National Security, LLC, which manages and operates the laboratory for the National Nuclear Security Administration, plans to prorate its $1 million match among the selected nonprofit organizations, bringing the total donation to $2.81 million.

“Our Los Alamos employees can take pride in this accomplishment,” said Carolyn Zerkle, LANL’s associate director for Information Technology and this year’s campaign champion (full story).

Staying Power

Like cities, academic medical centers appear destined to last

The modern academic medical center . . . resembles another of mankind's oldest organizations — a city. . . .

In the September 2011 issue of Scientific American, West and Luis M.A. Bettencourt, both theoretical physicists at the Santa Fe Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory, observed that, rather than "unnatural human conglomerations blighted by pathologies[,] … cities do more with less … because they concentrate, accelerate and diversify social and economic activity." (full story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Report, please send an email and include the words "subscribe losalamosreport" in the body of your email message; to unscubscribe, include "unsubscribe losalamosreport".

Please visit us at

and don't forget to follow us on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Proton beam experiments open new areas of research

Ph.D. student Despina Milathianak, performs experiments at the TRIDENT Laser Facility. LANL photo.

y focusing proton beams using high-intensity lasers, a team of scientists have discovered a new way to heat material and create new states of matter in the laboratory.

Using the Trident sub-picosecond laser at Los Alamos, the team generated and focused a proton beam using a cone-shaped target. The protons were found to have unexpectedly curved trajectories due to the large electric fields in the beam. (
Full Story)

e2v imaging sensors launched into space on NASA mission to Mars

Launch of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. NASA image.

he Mars Science Laboratory is a long-term robotic exploration to assess if Mars is, or ever has been, an environment that can support life. It will be the biggest, most capable robot to ever land on another planet.

e2v imaging sensors equip both the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) which was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Chemistry & Camera instrument (ChemCam) which was developed by the Los Alamos National Lab under an agreement with NASA’s JPL.

CheMin will identify and measure the minerals on the planet using sophisticated x-ray detection techniques. The ChemCam instrument consists of a laser, which will be used to vaporise rock samples, and a camera which will then use Laser Induced Breakdown (LIB) spectroscopy to analyse the material produced. (
Full Story)

National science award for Taos’ David Chávez

David Chávez. Photo by Dorie Hagler.

aos Municipal School Board member and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientist David Chávez has been awarded the prestigious Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award.

“Just to have been nominated by the Lab as their person to put forward — that was an honor in itself for me,” Chávez said. “I didn’t have any expectations at all to make it past any kind of competitive application process.” (
Full Story)

MIIS student transforms nuclear intelligence

Frank Pabian. LANL Photo.

Monterey graduate student is adding another dimension to nuclear intelligence and attracting the interest of high-ranking defense officials.

“It’s seeing nuclear infrastructure in a different way, that is more real to people,” said Frank Pabian, a visiting lecturer at MIIS and senior geospatial information analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. (
Full Story)

Former colleagues remember Manhattan Project scientist

Lawrence H. Johnston during his time at Tinian Island. LANL photo.

n 2006, Lawrence Johnston visited Los Alamos to speak about his wartime experiences. Johnston flew on the first mission for the Trinity test and then both missions that dropped Little Boy and Fat Man.

Alan B. Carr, laboratory historian, revealed that no copy of the talk exists, but he still remembers it vividly. “The auditorium filled up, so approximately 30 people listened from the foyer.” (
Full Story)

To subscribe to Los Alamos Report, please e-mail and include the words subscribe losalamosreport in the body of your email message; to unscubscribe, include unsubscribe losalamosreport.

Please visit us at

And Follow us on
Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why does Mars Curiosity rover have a laser raygun?

Yes, NASA's Mars rover has a laser gun. But there are no plans for Curiosity to zap Martians. This cool little laser – and it is tiny – is known as the "ChemCam."

The idea for putting a laser on a Mars rover is traced by NASA back to 1997. At the time, Roger Wiens was a geochemist with the US Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was working on an idea for using lasers to investigate the moon (full story).

Los Alamos instrument to shine light on Mars habitability

With the successful launch of the Mars Science Laboratory on Saturday, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers and scientists from the French space institute IRAP are poised to begin focusing the energy of a million light bulbs on the surface of the Red Planet to help determine whether Mars was or is habitable.

The international team of space explorers that launched the Mars Science Laboratory last week is relying in part on an instrument originally developed at Los Alamos called ChemCam, which will use blasts of laser energy to remotely probe Mars’s surface. The robust ChemCam system is one of 10 instruments mounted on the mission’s rover vehicle, named Curiosity (full story).

The same writeup appeared here.

LIBS spectrometer from LANL to seek life on Mars

Los Alamos, NM--On the successful November 26 NASA launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, the car-sized Curiosity rover was equipped with a remote-detection instrument originally developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) called ChemCam that will use blasts of laser energy to remotely probe Mars’s surface, determining whether Mars is or was habitable.

The LANL researchers and scientists from the French space institute IRAP will analyze data from a telescope that views the flash of glowing plasma created by vaporized material from the laser and record the colors of light contained within it for spectroscopic analyses.

The Curiosity rover is expected to land on Mars in August 2012 after traveling nearly 354 million miles and roam the surface of Mars for about 98 weeks, the period of one Martian year (full story).

ChemCam to probe Martian surface for habitability clues

When Curiosity rover lands on the red planet next year, one of the 10 instruments onboard that form the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will start zapping the surface to help determine whether Mars is or was habitable.

Known as ChemCam, it will focus the energy of more than 1 million light bulbs in powerful laser pulses lasting five-billionths of a second that can vaporize an area the size of a pinhead, reaching up to 23 feet (7 meters) away from Curiosity (full story).

N.M. aids Mars trip

Solar panels manufactured by the Emcore Corp. will be powering instruments aboard the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during its cruise stage to the Red Planet.

New Mexico’s other connections include the rover’s ChemCam laser, developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, that is to be remotely operated by scientists at the University of New Mexico. There also is a rock from Socorro inside the rover to serve as a geologic sample to ensure a second instrument managed by a UNM-based team is working properly (full story).

Two LANL scientists win E.O. Lawrence Awards

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced Monday that Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Mark Chadwick and David Chavez are winners of 2011 Ernest Orlando Lawrence Awards. The award recognizes their outstanding contributions in research and development supporting the Department of Energy and its missions.

"We could not be prouder of Mark and David for achieving this tremendous honor," said Charlie McMillan, LANL director. "Their contributions help us not only understand today’s national security challenges but prepare us for those of tomorrow. This Laboratory would not be what it is today without people like Mark and David." (full story)

Also in the Monitor:

LANL names new head of weapons programs

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan announced the selection of Bret Knapp as the new principal associate director for Weapons Programs Thursday. Knapp has been acting in that position since June 2011 when McMillan left the post to become Laboratory director.

As the head of LANL’s Weapons Programs, Knapp is responsible for the leadership, development, and execution of the Laboratory’s primary mission: ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The programs have a $1.5 billion annual budget that is split between two directorates with a workforce of more than 1,400 (full story).

Christmas Burst Reveals Neutron Star Collision

A strangely powerful, long-lasting gamma-ray burst on Christmas Day, 2010 has finally been analyzed to the satisfaction of a multinational research team. Called the Christmas Burst, GRB 101225A was freakishly lengthy and it produced radiation at unusually varying wavelengths. But by matching the data with a model developed in 1998, the team was able to characterize the star explosion as a neutron star spiraling into the heart of its companion star.

The paper, "The unusual gamma-ray burst GRB 101225A from a helium star/neutron star merger at redshift 0.33," appears in a recent issue of the journal Nature. Christina Thöne of Spain's Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía is the lead author, and Los Alamos computational scientist Chris Fryer is a contributor.

Fryer, of the Lab's Computer, Computational, and Statistical Sciences Division, realized that the peculiar evolution of the thermal emission (first showing X-rays with a characteristic radius of ~1011 cm followed by optical and infra-red emission at ~1014 cm) could be naturally explained by a model he and Stan Woosley of the University of California at Santa Cruz had developed in 1998 (full story).

Why quantum dots blink

Random fluctuations in light emission from semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots, are driven by two photoluminescence mechanisms, according to researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The findings, which were revealed by a new spectro-electrochemical technique, uncover the causes of the “blinking,” a well-known phenomenon that limits the stability of quantum dot-based devices such as solar cells and light-emitting diodes (full story).

Is sustainability science really a science?

The idea that one can create a field of science out of thin air—just because of societal and policy need—is a bold concept. But for the emerging field of sustainability science, sorting among theoretical and applied scientific disciplines, making sense of potentially divergent theory, practice, and policy, the gamble has paid off.

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Santa Fe Institute, and Indiana University analyzed the field’s temporal evolution, geographic distribution, disciplinary composition, and collaboration structure.

"We don't know if sustainability science will solve the essential problems it seeks to address, but there is a legitimate scientific practice in place now," says Luís Bettencourt of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Santa Fe Institute, first author on the paper, "Evolution and structure of sustainability science.” (full story)

How Did Martian Polar Gullies Form?

Gullies on Mars have been pointed to as evidence for the presence of flowing liquid water. However, gullies also exist in Mars' polar regions, where temperatures are too low to support liquid water.

Other processes have been proposed to explain the origin of gullies but have not been confirmed. For instance, sediment lying on top of a seasonal accumulation of carbon dioxide frost could flow like a fluid if the frost sublimes (turns to gas directly from the solid stage) sufficiently quickly. This fluidized sediment could form gullies.

To determine whether conditions are suitable for such fluidization to occur in Mars' polar regions, Cedillo-Flores et al. calculated the carbon dioxide sublimation rate needed to fluidize sand and dust lying on top of the carbon dioxide frost.

They then used a thermal model of Mars' surface and subsurface to determine whether buried carbon dioxide frost could potentially sublimate at that rate. The researchers confirm that sediment fluidization could indeed occur in Mars' polar regions, and thus, Martian gullies can form without the presence of liquid water (full stories: Mars Today and Geophysical Research Letters).

Q&A: A few minutes with Willie Padilla

After earning your doctorate at the University of California San Diego, you were selected for a Director’s Fellowship for post-doctoral study at Los Alamos National Laboratory. How did that experience influence your work?

The Director’s Fellowship allows you not only to do post-doctoral work with Los Alamos scientists, but also gives you the chance to conduct independent research. I took that opportunity to work on what was then the emerging field of metamaterials (full story).

NSTecs' new president a veteran in field

A veteran of the nation's weapons labs who currently is head of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University will take over the reins for running the Nevada National Security Site.

Previously, Raymond J. Juzaitis served as an associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (full story).

To subscribe to Los Alamos Report, please send an email and include the words "subscribe losalamosreport" in the body of your email message; to unscubscribe, include "unsubscribe losalamosreport".

Please visit us at

And don't forget to follow us on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr!