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.

March 26, 2021

Globe_3.26.21

Sea surface temperature anomalies illustrating the current La Niña (courtesy of NOAA Coral Reef Watch) blended with the NASA January Blue Marble image.

Climate outlook is fairly variable

New research by Lawrence Livermore scientists shows that naturally occurring climate variations help to explain a long-standing difference between climate models and satellite observations of global warming.

Satellite measurements of global-scale changes in atmospheric temperature began in late 1978 and continue to the present. Relative to most model simulations, satellite data has consistently shown less warming of Earth's lower atmosphere. This has led some researchers to conclude that climate models are too sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions, and are not useful for making future climate change projections.

Instead, the model-versus-satellite difference is largely driven by natural variations in the Earth's climate. The main driver of natural year-to-year variations in global climate is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Every few years, ENSO produces an El Niño event, which results in widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean lasting several months. The cold phase of ENSO is La Niña, which cools the atmosphere and gives rise to a distinct pattern of cooler-than-usual sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, with warmer waters to the north and south.

star

Astronomers used a computer and data about the star AB Doradus to make this image of what the star might look like. Image courtesy A. Cameron, M. Jardine and K. Wood/University of St. Andrews.

Something in the air

In the quest for habitable planets beyond our own, NASA is studying a mission concept called Pandora, which could eventually help decode the atmospheric mysteries of distant worlds in our galaxy.

Pandora would study approximately 20 stars and exoplanets -- planets outside of our solar system -- to provide precise measurements of exoplanetary atmospheres.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is co-leading the Pandora mission with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. LLNL will manage the mission and leverage capabilities developed for other government agencies, including a low-cost approach to the telescope design and fabrication that enables this groundbreaking exoplanet science from a SmallSat platform.

NASA's Pioneers program, which consists of SmallSats attached to the International Space Station and scientific balloon experiments, fosters innovative space and suborbital experiments for early-to-mid-career researchers through low-cost, small hardware missions.

universal

Companies worldwide, including LLNL, are working to make a universal vaccine covering all coronaviruses.

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A universal vaccine

The vaccination of the world’s population against COVID-19 is well under way in many parts of the globe, and its success is providing a ray of hope for a way out of the pandemic that has gripped humankind for more than a year.

Despite the use of several vaccines to battle COVID-19, scientists are seeking to develop a different vaccine that will provide protection in the long run, even from coronaviruses we haven't yet seen.

ConserV Bioscience is one of several biotech companies in Europe taking steps toward a commercial universal coronavirus vaccine. The company formed a joint venture with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and once the vaccine has been proven in animals, they are expecting to start phase-one trials in early 2022.

target chamber 03.26.21

Several scenes in the movie “Star Trek: Into Darkness” were filmed in the target chamber of LLNL’s National Ignition Facility.

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NIF in the movies

While many Star Trek fans know a lot about the universe, there are some details that only movie fans would ever know.

Star Trek has not just influenced pop culture over the years, but it has actually influenced real-world technology. Cellphones have obviously developed along a path that strongly resembles communicators in Star Trek. As such, many scientists are fans of sci-fi — and, vice versa, many people who work to make sci-fi movies are big fans of science.

The real world of science and the science fiction universe of Star Trek collided in “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” as the warp core in the movie was actually a real-world laser system called Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility, or NIF. The real scientists working there are actually trying to make nuclear fusion real. This also was the first time that NIF actually got clearance to be used as a movie set, making this moment all the more special.

supercapacitor

A porous carbon aerogel improves the low-temperature performance of supercapacitors, which could help supply energy for space missions and polar activities.

Possible new power source for a mission to Mars

Lightweight composite materials containing more than 99 percent air could prove key to powering future space missions. The materials, known as porous carbon aerogels, make up the electrodes of a supercapacitor developed by researchers at the NASA-sponsored Merced Nanomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing, the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), the University of California, Merced and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The device’s ability to operate at extremely cold temperatures also could make it a good power source for polar expeditions on Earth.

Many spacecrafts require heating systems to operate in their inhospitable environment. NASA’s Perseverance Rover, for example, recently began a two-year mission to look for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars, where the average temperature is –62 °C, dropping below –125 °C in the winter. Onboard heaters keep the electrolytes in the rover’s batteries from freezing, but the heaters and the energy sources required to power them add weight to the spacecraft payload.

In the trade-off between charge/discharge speed and energy storage capacity, supercapacitors fall somewhere between batteries and conventional capacitors. Supercapacitors have advantages over batteries. They can charge and discharge in minutes – unlike batteries, which take hours. They also have a much longer lifespan, lasting for millions of cycles rather than thousands. And unlike batteries, which work through chemical reactions, supercapacitors store energy in the form of electrically charged ions that assemble on the surfaces of their electrodes.