Friday, January 27, 2017

Scientists line up for world’s most controversial quantum computer

D-Wave quantum computer, D-Wave image.

Currently, each qubit in the processor can ‘talk’ to only six others, says Scott Pakin, a computer scientist and D-Wave scientific and technical lead at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which has had a D-Wave computer since August. “The richer the connections, the easier and faster it is to get problems onto the D-Wave. So that’s top of my wish list.”

D-Wave is redesigning its fifth processor to increase connectivity significantly, says ­Jeremy Hilton, the company’s senior vice-president responsible for technology. (Full Story)

What to do with nukes? Blow up dangerous comets, of course

Comet Sliding Spring captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA image.

When the comet Siding Spring was detected early in 2013, initial predictions suggested that there was a "non-negligible chance" that it would hit Mars the following year. Thought to be up to half a mile wide, the comet ended up missing the Red Planet by a cosmic hair's breadth, much to the disappointment of computational geophysicist Cathy Plesko.

"I think I was the most excited person on the planet!" Plesko recalled recently. "Because if it would have hit Mars, I would have had a published thesis with predictions about how that was going to go." (Full Story)

Hundreds of New Mexican startups have one thing in common

Vibrant Corp., which used Los Alamos National Laboratory technology to develop non-destructive testing systems for aircraft parts, has leveraged $5.5 million in SBIR grants to grow into a commercially viable firm with operations in the U.S. and Europe. It reached $2.5 million in revenue in 2015 and now employs 22 people in Albuquerque.

“The government looks for win-win projects to develop technologies it can benefit from and that can be viable commercially,” said Vibrant engineering manager Eric Biedermann. “We’ve used SBIR funding to improve our commercial position in the marketplace.” (Full Story)

The 4 greatest startups of all time. #4 Made in Manhattan

J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The Manhattan Project was originally known as the Manhattan Engineer District, and the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Manhattan District was assigned management of the construction work, because much of the early research had been performed at Columbia University.

But important work was going on around the country including the laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer. (Full Story)

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Weird Mars rock spied by Curiosity Rover is probably a meteorite

“Ames Knob” is an iron-nickel meteorite, image.

The meteorites found by Curiosity — and by the rover's smaller, older cousins, Spirit and Opportunity — could help scientists understand how the Red Planet changed so dramatically over the eons, said ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens, of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"We hope that the meteorites will be able to tell us some information about the Mars environment, such as whether they fell on land or in water, or how dense the atmosphere was when they fell," Wiens told via email. (Full Story)

D-Wave open sources quantum app development software

D-Wave image.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Computer Scientist Scott Pakin built a quantum macro assembler called qmasm that leverages qbsolv to create programs that would otherwise be too large to implement on the D-Wave system. Other national labs are using qbsolv to develop quantum computing frameworks that they hope to open source.

In June 2016, LANL’s Information Science and Technology Institute asked scientists to propose projects involving the use of the D-Wave machine. The goal was to expose as many people as possible to D-Wave software development. (Full Story)

Using neutrons to shed light on diabetes

Amyloid peptides may disrupt the cell membranes of beta cells in the pancreas, from WPI

With neutron reflectometry technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a research team that included Izabela Stroe at Worchester Polytechnic Institute explored the role that amyloid polypeptides may play in the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Using specialized equipment at Los Alamos, the team observed what happened to the model membranes when they came in contact with human IAPP. One of the tools they used, neutron reflectometry, is able to produce images of the membranes with high spatial resolution due to the way neutrons scatter from biological objects. (Full Story)

LANS to fund $2.5 million in community projects

Los Alamos National Security, LLC reaffirmed its investment in the community Wednesday, announcing that its board of directors approved $2.5 million to fund community support projects. The investment will go to support education, economic development and charitable giving in the northern New Mexico region. LANS is the management and operations contractor for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Full Story)

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Science on the Hill: What cosmology tells us about quantum mechanics

Cosmology, the study of the universe at gargantuan distances, has recently become good enough to test our understanding of quantum mechanics, which describes minuscule, subatomic systems. A possibly surprising consequence is that quantum mechanics, in turn, helps cosmologists understand observations of the vastness of space, including those soon to be made with forthcoming “extremely large” telescopes.

Given Los Alamos National Laboratory’s 70-plus years of research in nuclear physics, and its nuclear stockpile mission, the lab has a vested interest in knowing everything about the subatomic world, now and way back then. (Full Story)

Quantum computing is real, and D-Wave just open-sourced it

D-Wave hardware, from D-Wave.

IBM demonstrated a working quantum computer in 2000 and continues to improve on its technology. Google is working on its own quantum computer and also teamed up with NASA to test D-Wave’s system in 2013. Lockheed Martin and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are also working with D-Wave machines. But today’s quantum computers still aren’t practical for most real-world applications.

That’s where the company’s new software tool Qbsolv comes in. Last year Scott Pakin of Los Alamos National Laboratory–and one of Qbsolv’s first users–released another free tool called Qmasm, which also eases the burden of writing code for D-Wave machines. (Full Story)

NASA's bold plan to save Earth from killer asteroids

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), NASA image.

If we don't have 50 years or a fast enough battering ram, we might need to break up an asteroid instead. Catherine Plesko of Los Alamos National Laboratory uses supercomputers to study how to break up asteroids using nuclear explosions and "kinetic impactors," essentially giant space cannonballs.

"Cannonball technology is actually very good technology, because you're intercepting the object at very high speed, so it ends up being more effective than conventional high explosives," Plesko said at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December. (Full Story)

And the Oscar goes to “Organ-On-A-Chip”

Lung module from the PuLMo system, LANL image.

In a world of nanotechnologies and microchips, the ability for large-scale processes to take place on the microscale are becoming increasingly prevalent, even in the environment of combating chemical and biological threats to our warfighters. A research effort by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Joint Science and Technology Office, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Wake Forest University has resulted in an award-winning miniature technology in the eX-vivo Capability for Evaluation and Licensure (XCEL) program, the Pulmonary Lung Model (PuLMo). (Full Story)

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Astrobiology Top 10: NASA rover findings point to a more Earth-like Martian past 

Mars geology, NASA image.

This research also adds important context to other clues about atmospheric oxygen in Mars’ past. The manganese oxides were found in mineral veins within a geological setting the Curiosity mission has placed in a timeline of ancient environmental conditions. From that context, the higher oxygen level can be linked to a time when groundwater was present in the rover’s Gale Crater study area.

“The only ways on Earth that we know how to make these manganese materials involve atmospheric oxygen or microbes,” said Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Now we’re seeing manganese oxides on Mars, and we’re wondering how the heck these could have formed?”

Stunning new image reveals the view from lower Mount Sharp

Mars Curiosity, NASA image.

Another ingredient increasing in recent measurements by Curiosity is the element boron, which the rover's laser-shooting Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument has been detecting within mineral veins that are mainly calcium sulfate. 

'No prior mission has detected boron on Mars,' said Patrick Gasda of the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. 

'We're seeing a sharp increase in boron in vein targets inspected in the past several months.' 

Leaky plumbing impedes Greenland ice sheet flow

Surface meltwater that drains to the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet each summer causes changes in ice flow that cannot be fully explained by prevailing theories. Now a multinational, multidisciplinary team led by ice sheet modelers at Los Alamos National Laboratory is exploring how changes in extensive, sediment-choked subglacial “swamps” actually explain why the ice sheet’s movement slows down in late summer and winter.

Amid transitions, both NM nuke labs get good evaluations

Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, both in the midst of management transitions, got good marks from the federal government in performance evaluations for the 2016 fiscal year that ended in September. 

Los Alamos lab director Charles McMillan, in a memo to his employees obtained by the Journal, said, “As I have stated many times in the past, the people of the Laboratory are and will remain this institution’s greatest asset. The mission and operational successes of 2016 are a tribute to your spirit and character. I continue to anticipate a vibrant future filled with technical challenges worthy of this national laboratory.”

LANL improves in annual federal evaluation

An annual federal evaluation of Los Alamos National Laboratory, made public Wednesday, showed marked improvement in the lab’s overall management practices and its ability to handle nuclear weapons programs and maintain operations.

The new report for Los Alamos showed the lab exceeded expectations in resuming work at the plutonium facility and the weapons engineering tritium facility, which is used to research fusion energy. Strides also were made in cleaning up old facilities contaminated by radiation from weapons production, meeting goals in this area by 75 percent.