Lab Report

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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.

Mar. 03, 2017

dark matter
One of the most complicated and dramatic collisions between galaxy clusters ever seen is captured in this image of Abell 2744. The blue shows a map of the total mass concentration (made up mostly of dark matter). Image courtesy of NASA.

To catch a thief

What do dark matter and catching someone who steals nuclear material to make a dirty bomb have in common?

The same detector. The retired Large Xenon detector, originally made to detect elusive dark matter that physicists think makes up 25 percent of the universe's mass, also could be adapted to look for missing nuclear material.

"From a distance, they seem like two totally different occupations," according to Lawrence Livermore physicist Adam Bernstein. "But intellectually, making a dark matter detector is very similar to making a nuclear security detector."

Watchdog agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency can use dark matter detectors to look for missing nuclear material.

LLNL scientists only need an inch of hair to accurately identify the amino acids and peptides and tie the hair to a specific person.

Mane expression

Just one inch of those flowing tresses could provide all the evidence necessary to tie you to a crime.

Scientists from Lawrence Livermore have created a forensic technique in which accuracy is one in a million.

"We've leveraged the fact that protein in your body is essentially an echo of your DNA," says Brad Hart, director of the Lab's Forensic Science Center. "Your DNA is a blueprint for the proteins produced by your body."

In the past, hair evidence was collected at crime scenes but could only be used to identify a suspect with a microscope and an expert opinion comparing samples.

"Instead of relying on someone's opinion about whether something matches, you can make a measurement," says chemist Deon Anex.

Using only an inch of hair, Hart and Anex can identify the amino acids and peptides that make up your hair. So far, the degree of accuracy is one in a million after the hair is broken down into its parts.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ranked No. 25 on the ranking of the Top 25 global innovators in government.

World's most innovative

Reuters' second annual ranking of the Top 25 Global Innovators - Government, is a list that identifies and ranks the publicly funded institutions doing the most to advance science and technology.

Lawrence Livermore ranks No. 25.

The United States is tied with Germany for the most institutions in the top 25, with five each; France and Japan each have four; and Australia, Canada, China, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and the United Kingdom have one. Viewed on a regional basis, European institutions dominate the list, with 11 ranked institutions compared to eight in Asia-Pacific and six in North America.

The rankings were compiled in partnership with Clarivate Analytics, formerly the Intellectual Property Science business of Thomson Reuters, and are based on proprietary data and analysis of indicators including patent filings and research paper citations.

Hydrogenation forms a mixture of lithium amide and hydride (light blue) as an outer shell around a lithium nitride particle (dark blue) nanoconfined in carbon.

Nano-size me

Lawrence Livermore scientists have collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories, to develop an efficient nano-sized hydrogen storage system that could be a boon for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Hydrogen is an excellent energy carrier, but the development of lightweight solid-state materials for compact, low-pressure storage is a huge challenge.

The team developed tiny particles of carbon riddled with miniature pockets, which hold particles of the compound lithium nitride. Previous research shows that lithium nitride acts like a chemical "sponge" to absorb and release hydrogen. The challenge is to develop an efficient platform for managing the reaction between the two, and it looks like carbon fits the bill.

A carbon fiber composite ink extrudes from a customized direct ink writing (DIW) 3D printer, eventually building part of a rocket nozzle. Photo by Kate Hunts/LLNL

The first of its kind

Lawrence Livermore researchers have become the first to 3D print aerospace-grade carbon fiber composites, opening the door to greater control and optimization of the lightweight, yet stronger than steel material.

The research represents a significant advance in the development of micro-extrusion 3D printing techniques for carbon fiber.

"The mantra is 'if you could make everything out of carbon fiber, you would' -- it's potentially the ultimate material," explained Jim Lewicki, principal investigator on the project. "It's been waiting in the wings for years because it's so difficult to make in complex shapes. But with 3D printing, you could potentially make anything out of carbon fiber."

Carbon fiber is a lightweight, yet stiff and strong material with a high resistance to temperature, making the composite material popular in the aerospace, defense and automotive industries, and sports such as surfing and motorcycle racing.