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

  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 …

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.


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

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.

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.”


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


World’s largest laser produces nuclear fusion!*

No, that’s not giant pencil. It’s the inside of a fusion reactor, where lasers are focused onto a tiny pellet of frozen hydrogen gas (image courtesy of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Those photos at the bottom show the capsule that contains this fuel. Here’s a video that explains how the giant laser system (housed at the National Ignition Facility) works:

*Have we harnessed the energy of the stars? Not quite. Strictly speaking, while more energy came from fusion than went into the hydrogen fuel, only about 1 percent of the laser’s energy ever reached the fuel. The process still used a lot more energy than it generated.

Read all the details, from NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel, here.

NASA simulates how stars are formed 

We’ve been gazing at stars for centuries, but it’s only in the last few decades that technology has allowed us to peer into the evolution of these mysterious figures in the galaxy. 

Recently, scientists at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) used images collected from the Hubble Telescope and other observatories to piece together how stars are formed over a period of 700,000 years. And, with the help of a visualization team and the supercomputer from @nasa, they were able to create this 3-D simulation of multiple star births. 

Beginning with the inward collapse of the molecular gas within these stellar nurseries, the computer simulation illustrates the turbulent spinning and heating of the fragmented dust and gas clumps which ultimately form individual stars.

“A key result, supported by observation, is that some star clusters form like pearls in a chain along elongated, dense filaments inside molecular clouds,” says said Richard Klein, adjunct professor at UC Berkeley and astrophysicist at LLNL.

Their next goal is to improve the computer code to make new, even more advanced simulations. These will allow them to see in finer detail the disks of gas and dust surrounding newly formed stars that are believed to be the first stage of planet formation.

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.”

4 New Elements Are Added To The Periodic Table

For now, they’re known by working names, like ununseptium and ununtrium — two of the four new chemical elements whose discovery has been officially verified. The elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 will get permanent names soon, according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

With the discoveries now confirmed, “The 7th period of the periodic table of elements is complete,” according to the IUPAC. The additions come nearly five years after elements 114 (flerovium, or Fl) and element 116 (livermorium or Lv) were added to the table.

The elements were discovered in recent years by researchers in Japan, Russia and the United States. Element 113 was discovered by a group at the Riken Institute, which calls it “the first element on the periodic table found in Asia.”

Three other elements were discovered by a collaborative effort among the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. That collaboration has now discovered six new elements, including two that also involved the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Classified as “superheavy” — the designation given to elements with more than 104 protons — the new elements were created by using particle accelerators to shoot beams of nuclei at other, heavier, target nuclei.

The new elements’ existence was confirmed by further experiments that reproduced them — however briefly. Element 113, for instance, exists for less than a thousandth of a second.

“A particular difficulty in establishing these new elements is that they decay into hitherto unknown isotopes of slightly lighter elements that also need to be unequivocally identified,” said Paul Karol, chair of the IUPAC’s Joint Working Party, announcing the new elements. The working group includes members of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.

The elements’ temporary names stem from their spot on the periodic table — for instance, ununseptium has 117 protons. Each of the discovering teams have now been asked to submit names for the new elements.

With the additions, the bottom of the periodic table now looks like a bit like a completed crossword puzzle — and that led us to get in touch with Karol to ask about the next row, the eighth period.

“There are a couple of laboratories that have already taken shots at making elements 119 and 120 but with no evidence yet of success,” he said in an email. “The eighth period should be very interesting because relativistic effects on electrons become significant and difficult to pinpoint. It is in the electron behavior, perhaps better called electron psychology, that the chemical behavior is embodied.”

Karol says that researchers will continue seeking “the alleged but highly probable ‘island of stability’ at or near element 120 or perhaps 126,” where elements might be found to exist list enough to study their chemistry.

International guidelines for choosing a name say that new elements “can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist,” according to the IUPAC.

In 2013, Swedish scientists confirmed the existence of the Russian-discovered ununpentium (atomic number 115). As the Two-Way described it, the element was produced by “shooting a beam of calcium, which has 20 protons, into a thin film of americium, which has 95 protons. For less than a second, the new element had 115 protons.”

While you’re not likely to run into the new elements anytime soon, they’re not the only ones with have short existences. Take, for instance, francium (atomic number 87) and astatine (atomic number 85).

As Sam Kean, author of a book about the periodic table called The Disappearing Spoon, wrote of those elements:

“If you had a million atoms of the longest-lived type of astatine, half of them would disintegrate in 400 minutes. A similar sample of francium would hang on for 20 minutes. Francium is so fragile, it’s basically useless.”

As for why scientists keep pursuing new and heavier elements, the answer, at least in part, is that they’re hoping to eventually find an element — or a series of elements — that are both stable and useful in practical applications. And along the way, they’re learning more and more about how atoms are held together.

Image: An artist’s illustration shows element 117, which has now been officially added to the periodic table of the elements.

Credit: Kwei-Yu Chu/LLNL