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.

Aug. 21, 2015

NIF’s target chamber is where the magic happens – temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures extreme enough to compress the target to densities up to 100 times the density of lead are created. Photo by Damien Jemison/LLNL

Hit me with your best shot

Last week, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) fired its 300th laser target shot in fiscal year (FY) 2015, meeting the year’s goal more than six weeks early. In comparison, the facility completed 191 target shots in FY 2014. NIF is the world’s most energetic laser.

Increasing the shot rate has been a top priority for the Inertial Confinement Fusion Program and in particular the NIF team at LLNL. The greater than 50 percent increase in NIF shots from FY 2014 to FY 2015 is a direct result of the implementation of an efficiency study conducted in FY 2014 for NIF.

The chief mission of NIF is to provide experimental insight and data for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program in the area of high-energy-density physics, a scientific field of direct relevance to nuclear deterrence and national nuclear security.

An artistic conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet, 51 Eri b, seen in the near-infrared light that shows the hot layers glowing through clouds. Image by Danielle Futselaar and Franck Marchis/SETI Institute

I spy an alien planet

Astronomers have spied a new alien world, 51 Eridani b, that they believe strikingly resembles a young Jupiter. With a mass only about twice that of our solar system's king planet, 51 Eridani b stands as perhaps the coldest and smallest exoplanet ever to be directly imaged. What's more, it bears the strongest exoplanetary signatures so far of the gas methane, which is prominent in Jupiter's atmosphere.  

51 Eridani b is the first world discovered using the Gemini Planet Imager, an international project led by Bruce Macintosh, of Stanford University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and lead author on a paper appearing in the journal, Science.

Using a new advanced adaptive optics device on the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) on the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, the team took an image of the planet, which is about twice the size of Jupiter. The newfound world orbits its parent star at a distance a bit farther than that of Saturn around the sun. Overall, the planet and its star are just 20 million years young — compared to our 4.6-billion-year-old solar system.

Using the ultra-short-pulse Callisto laser system at LLNL’s Jupiter Laser Facility, a team of scientists from LLNL and UCLA revealed new, never-before-seen electron ring formations. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Electron formations ring true

In recent experiments, a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed never-before-seen electron ring formations in addition to the typically observed beams.

The team described electron acceleration experiments performed at the Laboratory’s Jupiter Laser Facility. Using the ultra-short-pulse Callisto laser system, a plasma was produced in a low-density gas cell target. The interaction of the high-intensity laser with the gas created a relativistic plasma wave, which then accelerated some of the electrons in the plasma to more than 100 MeV energies.

These electron beams are usually directed along the laser axis and have fairly low divergence. In these experiments, the typical beams were observed, but in certain cases were also accompanied by a second, off-axis beam that had a ring-like shape. This new feature's origin was unclear until the UCLA collaborators finished computationally intensive 3-D calculations of the experimental conditions.

Former LLNL physical chemist George Farquar, who led a Lab team that invented DNATrax, demonstrates how the product can be applied to food to identify it down the food chain. If the food turns out to be tainted, DNATrax can trace it back to the source. Photos by Julie Russell/LLNL

A tracer for tainted food

Between the reports of E. coli-tainted spinach and Listeria-laden ice cream, it’s easy to become paranoid about what to eat.  One in six Americans will get a food-borne illness this year. But a number of new and soon-to-exist food-monitoring technologies can help keep the fridge contaminant-free, flag when something should be tossed and tell you exactly what’s on your plate.

When it comes to produce, a number of food-borne illnesses can come along with that farm fresh peach. When food-borne illness breaks out, it can take months to follow the bug back to the source. A food-safe spray called DNATrax, developed at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, uses DNA extracted from plants to create a traceable molecular bar code that’s unique to fresh produce’s farm of origin.

Lawrence Livermore engineers Eric Duoss (left) and Tom Wilson use an additive manufacturing process called direct ink writing to develop an engineered “foam” cushion. Photo by George Kitrinos/LLNL

Designing a better helmet

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore and Autodesk have partnered to explore how design software can accelerate innovation for 3-D printing of advanced materials.

LLNL and Autodesk have selected next-generation protective helmets as a test case for their collaboration, studying how to improve design performance.

Under an 18-month Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), LLNL will use Autodesk software for generative design as it studies how new material microstructures, arranged in complex configurations and printed with additive manufacturing techniques, will produce objects with physical properties that were never before possible.

In the project, LLNL researchers will bring several key technologies, such as additive manufacturing, material modeling and architected design (arranging materials at the micro and nanoscale through computational design).