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.

Oct. 2, 2015

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brain
Lawrence Livermore engineers are using new technology to help rewire the brain to prevent memory loss—and recover thousands of misplaced memories lying dormant in neurons.

Jogging the memory

Lawrence Livermore researchers are developing a brain implant to help restore memory by interfacing with one neuron at a time.

The LLNL team is developing an implantable neural device that may help prevent memory decay in people suffering from debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injuries.

With memory ailments on the rise —135 million people worldwide are projected to suffer from dementia-like conditions by 2050 — research into curing these diseases is at an all-time high.

Operating under a $2.5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the LLNL project seeks to improve the basic understanding of how the brain functions. If the brain implant works, it could halt or even cure memory-related conditions.

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dark matter
Lawrence Livermore scientists have devised a new model of dark matter. It identifies it as naturally "stealthy" today, but would have been easy to see via interactions with ordinary matter in the early universe.

Crux of the matter

Lawrence Livermore particle physicists have devised a new model of dark matter, which suggests that, although it's difficult to detect today, dark matter could have been easy to see through its interactions with ordinary matter in the high-temperature plasma that pervaded the early universe.

Pavlos Vranas of Lawrence Livermore said: “These interactions in the early universe are important because ordinary and dark matter abundances today are strikingly similar in size, suggesting this occurred because of a balancing act performed between the two before the universe cooled.”

Dark matter makes up 83 percent of all matter in the universe and is effectively invisible, but interactions with gravity make its presence clear.

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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

Thinking with their heads

LLNL researchers and Autodesk have joined forces to explore how design software can accelerate innovation for three-dimensional printing of advanced materials.

Specifically, the team is looking at building the next generation of protective helmets by improving design performance. Through the application of goal-oriented design software tools, LLNL and Autodesk expect to generate and analyze the performance of very large sets – thousands to tens of thousands – of different structural configurations of material microarchitectures.

In addition to benefiting from the use of computer software, helmet design also stands to receive considerable advantages from additive manufacturing.

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Natalia Zaitseva, an LLNL materials scientist, leads a team of Livermore researchers that has developed the first plastic material capable of efficiently distinguishing neutrons from gamma rays.

Crystal clear

Lawrence Livermore’s Natalia Zaitseva received worldwide recognition for developing a process that led to growing the largest single optical crystal ever produced. It measured more than 3 feet long and weighed nearly 500 pounds.

The fast-growth method used to grow the crystal was pioneered by Zaitseva at Moscow State University and perfected at Lawrence Livermore by Zaitseva and Laboratory scientists over several years. It allowed scientists to grow the record crystal in six weeks, an achievement that would have required a growing period of 12 to 24 months using traditional methods.

Crystals grown using this process have been extremely useful in research performed at Livermore’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), the largest and most energetic laser in the world. There, scientists use crystals created with this method to enable fusion ignition using the NIF. Zaitseva’s research also has contributed to important breakthroughs used in the detection of radioactive materials, which could have important security applications such as preventing the smuggling of so-called “dirty bombs.”

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core
This model shows planetesimals (objects formed from dust, rock and other materials that can be anywhere in size from several meters to hundreds of kilometers) accreting to a growing Earth 4.56 billion years ago. Image courtesy of Antoine Pitrou/Institut de Physique du Globe de Parise Physique

Hard core

There is more oxygen in the core of Earth than originally thought.

Lawrence Livermore geologist Rick Ryerson and international colleagues discovered some new findings about Earth’s core and mantle by considering their geophysical and geochemical signatures together.

This research provides insight into the origins of Earth’s formation.

Based on the higher oxygen concentration of the core, Ryerson’s team concludes that Earth must have accreted material that is more oxidized than the present-day mantle, similar to that of planetesimals such as asteroidal bodies. A planetesimal is an object formed from dust, rock and other materials and can be anywhere in size from several meters to hundreds of kilometers.