Science and Technology Making Headlines

Sept. 15, 2023

Jose Herandez

NASA Astronaut and former LLNL engineer Jose Hernandez is the subject of a new biopic coming out in September. Photo courtesy of NASA.

A star who's seen stars is born

A film is set to debut about Jose Hernandez of Manteca, a one-time farmworker who fulfilled his dream of flying into space.

“A Million Miles Away” will stream on Amazon Prime Video starting today (Sept. 15). Michael Pena plays the adult Hernandez, who went on to become an aerospace consultant.

The movie recounts how a 10-year-old Hernandez was first inspired by a 1972 telecast of the Apollo 17 moonwalk. At the time, he was helping his Mexico-born parents pick crops up and down the Central Valley.

A year ago, Hernandez, who worked at LLNL as an engineer, talked about the film project with The Modesto Bee. “The message there is that it’s OK to dream big as long as you’re willing to work hard and convert that dream into reality,” he said.


Cyclotron Radiation Emission Spectroscopy (CRES), seen here, is the key to a totally new method that aims to pin down the mass of the elusive neutrino. Photo by Alec Lindman, courtesy Project 8.

Unraveling mysteries of the universe

Humble neutrinos — electrically neutral particles that glide through the universe, unaffected by the forces of nature — have helped to shape the cosmos. They play a role in nuclear fusion, radioactive decay and the dispersal of heavy elements around the universe when stars go supernova.

Yet they’re elusive. Grabbing one to get a closer look is like grabbing a handful of nothing.

Since 1998, when scientists proved that neutrinos could oscillate and therefore must have mass, physicists around the world have devised elaborate experiments aimed at getting an accurate neutrino mass measurement.

One of those experiments, Project 8, a long-term collaboration of international scientists including Lawrence Livermore and Yale researchers, just proved the viability of a new method to measure neutrino mass.

In a new, Project 8 researchers report that they can reliably track and record a relatively infrequent natural occurrence called beta decay. Each beta decay event emits a tiny amount of energy when a rare radioactive variant of hydrogen — called tritium — breaks apart, creating three new subatomic particles: a helium ion, an electron and a neutrino.

Neutrinos are major players in the universe’s evolution from a sea of hot, dense matter to the landscape of galaxies we see today. Once we know the neutrino mass, that number will enter into calculations that describe the universe’s history and predict its future.

The Tech Edvocate


Sierra, one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, will serve the National Nuclear Security Administration’s three nuclear security laboratories, providing high-fidelity simulations in support of NNSA’s core mission of ensuring the safety, security and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Photo by Randy Wong/LLNL

We got the power

The field of computing has grown by leap and bounds over the years, and the demand for high-end computers that can process large amounts of data has become increasingly prevalent in the modern world. Here are some of the most powerful computers in the world.

Coming in at #1 is the Summit Supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It currently is the most powerful computer in the world. With a processing speed of 200 petaflops, it can perform over 200,000 trillion calculations per second. Summit’s primary use is in scientific research, particularly in cancer research and the development of new materials.

Standing in at the third most powerful computer in the world is the Sierra Supercomputer, located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. With a processing speed of 71.6 petaflops, it serves the purpose of simulation making the stockpile safe.

India Education Diary


Layers of Earth's atmosphere are shown in a view looking across Earth's surface from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA.

It’s all clear up there

Human-driven climate change has caused large and concerning temperature decreases in the stratosphere since at least 1986, according to a Lawrence Livermore and UCLA study published recently.

That sustained stratospheric cooling, the authors report, is evidence that the warming of Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere is not a natural occurrence.

In particular, the study confirms the effects of human causes on the overall climate: The temperature changes in the stratosphere were 12 to 15 times greater than what could have been caused by nature.

The analysis for the first time demonstrates that extending “fingerprinting” techniques — used to identify the human effects on climate — to the mid-to upper stratosphere (25-50 kilometersa bove Earth’s surface) improves the detection of human effects on climate by a factor of five.


A school building damaged from shelling in the city of Chernihiv, Ukraine. Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images.

Seismometers have a sense for explosions

Existing seismometers in Ukraine — normally used to monitor nuclear weapons tests or detect earthquakes — have been repurposed to detect the times and locations of more than 1200 explosions in provinces near Kyiv. The explosive power registered by the seismometers also provides clues about the ammunition or weapons behind each blast.

Seismic monitoring holds the promise of tracking the number, timing and relative sizes of explosions, said Michael Pasyanos at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. But he cautioned that the explosive yield estimates may not yet be precise enough to definitively identify a particular weapon behind each blast.

Seismic monitoring of conflicts also would be more difficult in the Middle East, Africa and South America, where there are relatively few seismic arrays, Pasyanos said However, other researchers suggest that portable seismic sensors might fill the gap.

Computer with email graphic

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.