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

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.

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

Sequoia Throws Petaflops at Fusion Simulation

by Txchnologist Staff

One of the world’s fastest supercomputers has performed a record number of simulations to help physicists in their quest to produce fusion energy.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers set all of their Sequoia supercomputer’s 1,572,864 processors (known as cores) on a single problem: modeling the motion of charged particles after a powerful laser beam strikes a dense cloud of ionized gas, called plasma. Using all of its cores, Sequoia can process 16.3 quadrillion calculations per second.

The machine is letting the team follow the simultaneous evolution of tens of billions to trillions of individual particles and the electromagnetic interactions between them. Such simulations are used extensively in plasma physics.

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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Dick Post passed away recently at age 96. We met with him several months ago to chat about his most recent work - that’s right, he was STILL working. In fact, Dick had some of the most productive years of his career after he reached 90 years of age.

Few scientists have had a career as long as Post’s. He joined the Livermore Lab within weeks of its founding and then worked faithfully, day in and day out, for 63 years — the Laboratory’s entire history.

Even fewer scientists can be said to be one of the three founders of magnetic fusion energy research in the United States.

In our final interview with Dick, he told us what made him tick all these years.

RIP to a wonderful man and a great mind.

Read about his amazing career.


What looks like frozen smoke and is the lightest solid material on the planet?