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.

Apr. 24, 2015

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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory played a part in the Iran negotiations.

The Manhattan Project in reverse

The Department of Energy’s nine national laboratories, including Lawrence Livermore, are part of a crash program to block Iran’s nuclear progress. The effort remains a technological feat for thousands of lab employees living the Manhattan Project in reverse. Instead of building a bomb, they are trying to stop one.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that the national labs give the United States “the capacity to carry through” one of the most complex arms-control efforts in history.

Anyone traveling to the Iran talks over the past year and a half in Vienna and Lausanne, Switzerland, saw the Energy Department experts working hard as the negotiations proceeded.

But much of the work was done back at the labs, where specialists who had become accustomed to more 9-to-5 days found themselves on call seven days a week, around the clock, answering questions from negotiators and, at times, backing up the answers with calculations and computer modeling.

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A Lawrence Livermore researcher has proposed turning carbon dioxide into an energy storage source.

The energy underground

Lawrence Livermore researcher Tom Buscheck has come up with a project to transform carbon dioxide from  a waste product into a huge battery to help even out the nation’s energy supply.

Buscheck and his colleagues presented a design for this type of energy storage at the European Geosciences Union general assembly last week in Vienna, Austria.

Their design would be able to store the excess energy produced by renewable and conventional power sources when demand is low and, at the same time, lock up the major cause of global warming — carbon dioxide.

"CCS hasn't been utilized because no one has come up with a viable use for that storage," Buscheck said. But if stored CO2 could be used to hold surplus energy, it may give such technology the economic boost it needs.

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An artist's concept of the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around planet Mercury. Credit: NASA

Rethinking how Mercury formed

A versatile instrument developed by Lawrence Livermore scientists and riding on the first spacecraft to ever orbit Mercury is causing researchers to rethink their theories on the planet’s formation.

Known as the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer, or GRS, the instrument is part of a suite of seven instruments onboard NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER (short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft.

The GRS is the result of a collaboration between Livermore and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL). At the heart of the GRS is a high-purity germanium sensor system developed by LLNL scientists.

“One of the biggest contributions of the GRS has been to help scientists understand how Mercury was formed,” LLNL physicist Morgan Burks said.

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Based on Lawrence Livermore technology, a new technology will be able to trace the source of food contamination in produce.

Private eyes in the grocery aisles

The FDA has stopped short of requiring produce safety tests.

DNATrek, a newcomer to the field, sees opportunity in another aspect of food safety testing: the need to quickly pinpoint the source of a pathogen outbreak, to avoid delays and unnecessarily broad recalls. Anthony Zografos, the company’s chief executive, says it soon plans to introduce a test called DNATrax, which will identify the source of contaminated produce within an hour. The test relies on tracer DNA that is dissolved in the liquid coating applied to many types of produce after harvest or added to prepared foods; it provides a unique genetic fingerprint.

George Farquar, a chemist and Zografos’s partner in the company, was looking for ways to trace airborne contaminants as part of a national security project financed by the Defense Department when he realized that the work could be applied to food safety. He and Zografos licensed the technology from Lawrence Livermore, where Farquar was conducting the research.