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.

May. 22, 2015

thelin
Peter Thelin has spent most of his career polishing optics, a trade that few know how to do.

A polished optician

Growing up in a household of artists and engineers, Peter Thelin was destined for a career in which artistry mattered. Only for him, art has come in the form of manipulating the shapes, sizes and qualities of optics. And now, as one of the few remaining Lawrence Livermore practitioners of hand-polishing optics, Thelin is passing his artistry along to the next generation of optics specialists.

Thelin notes that few people today still do what he does, and that hand polishing optics is a curiosity and a topic of discussion at trade shows and among his peers, who always are eager to learn what materials he’s working with.

“For many one-of-a-kind jobs, your hands are the fixtures holding the part,” Thelin says as he explains the evolution of computer-controlled polishing machines in the industry. While manufacturing processes have changed over the years and automation has largely replaced the traditional craftsman-style optician, “it’s time-consuming to write programs for a machine to do work for research,” Thelin says.

reactor
The WATCHMAN can detect the presence of a nuclear reactor that is up to 1,000 kilometer away.

Keeping watch on suspicious reactors

The Water Cherenkov Monitor for Antineutrinos, or WATCHMAN, in which Lawrence Livermore plays a leading role, should be able to spot a suspicious reactor up to 1,000-kilometers away. A network of such devices, set up within range of someone who might not be playing by the rules, should verify whether that person can be trusted.

The WATCHMAN is a neutrino detector — or, to be precise, an antineutrino detector. Neutrinos and their antimatter equivalents are particles that have little mass and no electric charge. They are produced in huge quantities by stars such as the sun, by the explosion of supernovae and by nuclear reactors on Earth, but they interact with other forms of matter so weakly that a piece of lead a light-year thick (around 9 trillion kilometers) would block only half of those passing through.

It is this penetrative power that may make these particles useful. No amount of shielding can stop them escaping from a reactor. If it were possible to tell both where the particles were coming from, and whether that source was natural or artificial, then it would be impossible to hide a reactor.

climate_model
LLNL physicist Chuck Leith created one of the first Laboratory climate models in the 1950s.

Early climate action

Climate models have come a long way since their early predecessors. In a video recently published by the Laboratory, you can see just how much of an update computer-run models have undergone from their humble beginnings in the 1950s.

The video shows one of the first global climate models ever created as it models weather in the northern hemisphere from a polar view. The grainy video is a far cry from the splashy model outputs of today, but all the climate indicators you’d expect are there, from precipitation and high and low pressure systems to the geopotential heights and atmospheric temperature.

Despite its simplicity, the visualization itself was no small feat. Chuck Leith, the physicist who created the model, spent time using cathode ray tubes to translate the numerical information coming out of the model into something a little more engaging.

jaing
LLNL biologists James Thissen and Crystal Jaing, along with researchers from Kansas State University, found that the Microbial Detection Array could help identify diseases in the commercial swine industry.

An array to the rescue

A study by Lawrence Livermore and Kansas State University scientists found that the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA) could help identify diseases in the commercial swine industry.

Many of the diseases affecting the commercial swine industry involve complex syndromes caused by multiple pathogens, including emerging viruses and bacteria.

One pivotal advantage of the Livermore-developed LLMDA over other detection technologies is that it can detect within 24 hours any bacteria or virus that has been previously sequenced.

aerogel
Lawrence Livermore researchers have made graphene aerogel microlattices with an engineered architecture via a 3D printing technique known as direct ink writing. Illustratiion by Ryan Chen/LLNL

Graphene as a source of good things

Graphene could completely change the way we use everyday products like cars, clothes, light bulbs and even water.

Graphene is a thin sheet of carbon atoms — the same element in diamonds and coal — and was the first two-dimensional substance ever created, meaning it's one-atom thick, or about one million times thinner than a human hair. It's 1,000 times stronger than steel, yet 1,000 times lighter than paper. And it's significantly more electrically conductive than silicon.

Lawrence Livermore researchers have developed a revolutionary way to manufacture graphene through 3D printing: specifically a 3D-printed graphene aerogel that could be used for improved energy storage.