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. 14, 2015

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and National Ignition Facility (NIF) Director Mark Herrmann examine a NIF target while on a tour of the facility. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

National treasure

With responsibility for surety of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is a “national treasure,” Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said after visiting the facility last week.

Touring the lab for the first time since he took office as the DoD deputy secretary, Work said Livermore is one of three such treasures that work with the nation’s nuclear program -- in addition to Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories in Washington, D.C.

The deputy noted the words of President Barack Obama, who said the United States needs to have a safe, effective and reliable nuclear deterrent.

“Livermore is central to making sure that stockpile is safe and reliable,” Work told reporters on his return from a two-day trip to Northern California.

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. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

Follow the food chain

Edible, invisible barcode equivalents are on the verge of revolutionizing traceability in the fresh produce and processed foods industries.

Contaminated fruit and vegetables can be especially problematic from a tracking standpoint. By the time people start feeling the symptoms of Salmonella or E. coli poisoning, tracing the origin of the contamination might be tricky, time-consuming and expensive. The store where the product was purchased may have received produce from multiple farms and already disposed of shipment boxes. The contamination might not even have occurred on the farm, but somewhere en route as part of the distribution process. A typical process to trace food includes interviewing consumers and suppliers and examining every detail of the supply chain — a tedious procedure that takes weeks at best to complete. But a solution to this is in the pipeline.

Lawrence Livermore researchers, in collaboration with the start-up Safe Traces, have developed a cost-effective and highly efficient method to accurately trace contaminated foods (including fruit and vegetables) back to their sources. This SafeTraces (formerly DNATrax) technology was initially designed by LLNL to track indoor and outdoor airflow patterns.

Marc Henry de Frahan is the lead author of the paper, "Experimental and Numerical Investigations of Beryllium Strength Models Using the Rayleigh-Taylor Instability." Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

To the max

Until recently, there were very little experimental data about the behavior of beryllium (Be) at very high pressures and strain rates, with existing material models predicting very different behaviors in these regimes. In a successful example of international research collaboration, a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore and the Russian Federal Nuclear Center-All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics changed this field of knowledge.

In a recent paper published on the cover of the Journal of Applied Physics, the team showed that at extreme conditions, beryllium has very little strength and most models over-predict its material strength.

"This finding has important implications for scientists working with technology where beryllium is subject to extreme pressures and strain-rates," said Marc Henry de Frahan, lead author of the paper. Henry de Frahan began conducting this research as a summer student with LLNL's NIF and Photon Science Directorate and is now a graduate student at the University of Michigan.


Researchers have identified a unique chemical signature left by the earliest stars in the universe with the first direct measurement under stellar conditions of an important nuclear reaction.

Signature analysis

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore are on the case of the missing alpha star signatures. Scientist Brian Bucher recently made a breakthrough in predicting what the universe's first generation of stars might look like -- chemically speaking.

The cosmos' original stars were different than today's stars. They didn't have the plethora of heavy elements common in the modern universe at their disposal. They had to make their own.

Thanks to their inventiveness, the elements that make life possible are now littered throughout the cosmos. But when the first stars were born, just 400 million years after the Big Bang, there was only hydrogen and helium. Fusion in the bellies of these original stars converted the two elements into an array of heavier ones -- oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, iron and others.

But to pinpoint the remnants of these ancient stars, researchers need a more precise understanding of what chemicals will be left over. What chemical patterns will give away their once-presence?

At Lawrence Livermore’s center of excellence, experts will support efforts in national security, including biosecurity, energy security and global warming.

Supercomputing excellence

IBM along with NVIDIA and two U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories announced a pair of "centers of excellence" for supercomputing — one at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the other at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The collaborations are in support of IBM’s supercomputing contract with the U.S. Department of Energy. They will enable advanced, large-scale scientific and engineering applications both for supporting DOE missions, and for the Summit and Sierra supercomputer systems to be delivered respectively to Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore in 2017 and operational in 2018.

As the new supercomputers are being readied for installation, the centers of excellence will prepare the way for their optimum use in scientific research in such critical areas as energy, climate research, cosmology, biophysics, astrophysics and medicine, as well as in national nuclear security and other national security interests.