There’s a lot of debris floating around in space, and researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab are using supercomputers, optical sensors and other technology to track even small objects that could damage important satellites.

John Henderson, a space scientist at LLNL, explains:

"Everybody uses GPS to get from here to there. We have satellite television, we have weather reports, farmers use satellite data for monitoring crops. If you have a piece of satellite debris whacking into a satellite, in the worst case you now lose that capability.  In February of 2009, that actually happened where there was an Iridium communications satellite that collided with a dead Russian Kosmos satellite and so that basically took out a $100 million dollar satellite.

There’s somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000 pieces of debris that we would like to be tracking. And so the supercomputing capabilities that we have here at Livermore are one way to keep track of that.”

Watch the video here

Physicists Crush Diamonds With Giant Laser

Physicists have used the world’s most powerful laser to zap diamonds. The results, they say, could tell us more about the cores of giant planets.

"Diamonds have very special properties, besides being very expensive and used for jewelrey etc.," says Raymond Smith, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. “It’s the hardest substance known to man.”

And diamonds aren’t just here on Earth. Diamonds are made of carbon, and carbon is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. Scientists now believe that diamonds might be relatively common, especially at the cores of giant planets.”

Learn more from NPR.

  1. Engineers inspect the fusion chamber at the National Ignition Facility || LLNL
  2. Positioning the target for the National Ignition Facility’s lasers || Eddie Dewald/LLNL
  3. SOURCE: NatureLaser fusion put on slow burn [2012]
  4. LEFT: Schematic ignition target showing a cut-away of the gold hohlraum and plastic capsule with representative laser bundles incident on the inside surface of the hohlraum.
    RIGHT: X-ray image of the actual capsule
    SOURCE: Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature13008Fuel gain exceeding unity in an inertially confined fusion implosion

Laser fusion experiment extracts net energy from fuel
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory / Nature News & Comment 12 February 2014

Using the world’s most powerful assembly of lasers, a team of researchers say they have, for the first time, extracted more energy from controlled nuclear fusion than was absorbed by the fuel to trigger it — crossing an important symbolic threshold on the long path toward exploiting this virtually boundless source of energy.

The latest feat, achieved at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is still a way off from the much harder and long-sought goal of ‘ignition’, the break-even point beyond which a fusion reactor can generate more energy than is put in. Many other steps in the current experiments dissipate energy before it even reaches the nuclear fuel.

Continue reading …


Closing the gap between man and machine

Biological systems depend on membrane receptors to communicate, while technology relies on electric fields and currents to transmit data—but scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a transistor modelled on living cells that it might allow electronic devices to be hooked directly to the nervous system. The transistor consists of two metal electrodes connected by a carbon nanotube, which acts as a semiconductor. The nanotube is layered with both an insulating polymer and a lipid bi-layer that mimics the structure around cell membranes, and the transistor is then powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the energy currency of living cells. When exposed to ATP, a protein in the lipid bi-layer acts as an ion pump, shuttling sodium and potassium ions across the membrane—so when both a voltage and an ATP solution (including the ions) are applied to the device, a current flows through the electrodes. The transistor is the first example of an integrated bioelectric system; a hybrid, half-man half-machine. The technology could be used to construct seamless bioelectronic interfaces, and even help human consciousness merge with technology—imagine being mentally linked to your laptop!

Read the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory press release

The Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array can detect, within 24 hours, viruses and bacteria with the use of 388 thousand probes that fit on a one inch wide, three inch long glass slide.

"All the DNA sequences that it corresponds to, those thousands of viruses and bacteria are printed in this glass slide. So, it’s really a lab on the chip."

That’s biologist Crystal Jaing, part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory team that developed this breakthrough technology. Jaing says it can be used for many different applications.

"Because this device can analyze any of the sequenced pathogens, we can use in biodefense; public health and drug safety and food safety."

The technology is even being tapped to analyze ancient pathogens …

"We recently used this technology to identify a plague victim from 1348. So, that was really interesting because those samples are so degraded and so old and we can pick up that pathogen, which is really amazing.”

Rotating Target Neutron Source (RTNS-II) Door, 1979.

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employee is opening the world’s heaviest door on a hinge – a 97,000-pound concrete filled door—which was used to shield the Rotating Target Neutron Source-II (RTNS-II) at the Laboratory.

RTNS-II was the world’s most intense source of continuous fusion (14 MeV) neutrons. Scientists from around the world used it to study the properties of metals and other materials that could be used deep inside fusion power plants envisioned for the next century.

The door was eight feet thick and nearly twelve feet wide at the outside. The door could be opened or closed both manually or by remote control. A special bearing in the hinge allowed a single person to move the door, which weights as much as 32 automobiles (at 3,000 pounds each).

Now THAT is a big door.


How diamonds and lasers can recreate Jupiter’s core

Understanding what the insides of the biggest planets in the universe has been largely wrapped up in theories.  Now scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab have recreated these conditions with the help of diamonds and the world’s largest laser:

Though diamond is the least compressible material known, the researchers were able to compress it to an unprecedented density, greater than lead at ambient conditions.

The hope is to understand how these planets evolve over time by being able to reproduce their immense pressures.  You can read more about it here.


Powering the world from space

The limitations of using solar power on earth can be anything from bad weather to just the fact that it needs to be daytime.  What if power could be collected both day and night, rain or shine? National Lab researchers at Lawrence Livermore are studying this possibility by launching solar satellites into space.

These orbiting power plants could always be positioned on the day side of earth high above any type of stormy weather.  One of the ways this could work is to have a string of geostationary satellites 35,000km above the earth’s surface that would transmit power back down to earth via microwaves.  Just one of these satellites could power a major US city.  

The challenge comes with both the size and the cost.  A single satellite could be as big as 3-10km in diameter and need around 40 rocket launches to get all the materials into space.

Read more about this technology here 

Inside an underground nuclear explosion created cavity, 1961.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Project Gnome, the first nuclear Plowshare experiment, was designed to explore the feasibility of using a deeply buried explosion in a dry salt bed for energy recovery and scientific nuclear experiments. The 3.1-kiloton device was detonated at a depth of 360 meters near Carlsbad, New Mexico. A researcher explores the created cavity, 23 meters high with a diameter of 49 meters.

photo: llnl/flickr

Livermore researchers developing snakeskin-like ‘smart’ uniforms

“It could be a scene from the battlefield of a sci-fi video game: A soldier lives through a chemical attack, sheds the top layer of his protective uniform like a snakeskin, and goes on to fight again.

For the past three years, scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory have been working with a material that could do just that.

Livermore Lab scientist Francesco Fornasiero and his two other researchers developed the technology to desalinate water, but realized it could fit the bill for a proposal by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a Defense Department arm.”

Nova Laser Beam and Target creating a miniature star.

In 1986, the Nova laser at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory produced the largest laser fusion yield to date—a record 11 trillion fusion neutrons. This miniature “star” was created in the Nova laser target chamber as 300 trillion watts of power hit a 0.5-millimeter-diameter target capsule containing deuterium–tritium fuel. The first Tron movie used the Nova laser for its location shots.

photo: llnl/flickr