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.

Jun. 19, 2015

Microcapsules containing sodium carbonate solution are suspended on a mesh during carbon dioxide absorption testing. Photo by John Vericella/LLNL

Bubbles battle against global warming

Take some liquefied baking soda in a small capsule and throw it in some soda and the fizz goes away. Lawrence Livermore scientists are using a similar technique to help fight global warming.

"The idea is that it's (soda) full of CO2 in solution and that's what gives it its bubbles, and that's what the capsules are going to soak up," said John Vericella from Lawrence Livermore Lab.

The bubbles contain CO2 or carbon dioxide — the same greenhouse gas that's emitted from power plants across the country. And while a few bubbles in your soda won't cause concern, the Livermore team is working on a way to capture massive amounts of industrial CO2 using the bubbles.

High-speed photographs of a controlled surface explosion at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, similar to the explosions at White Sands Missile Range, were used in a study of seismic signals to detect above-ground explosions. Photo credit: Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Counter-WMD Test Support Division (CXT).

Good vibrations

Two scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have devised a new tool to detect and measure large explosions based on their distant vibrations.

The new technique could help people who are responding to industrial accidents or investigating terrorist actions. A better idea of an explosion’s nature and power can guide rescue efforts and help assign the correct cause.

“Forensic seismologists” Michael Pasyanos and Sean Ford published their technique last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. They calibrated their method using military tests at White Sands in New Mexico, and then successfully tested it on a deadly explosion in the Syrian civil war.

Lightsabers may be common in "Star Wars," but are a long way from becoming reality.

The science behind ‘Star Wars’

Four scientists from Department of Energy national laboratories recently sat down to talk about exactly how much power would be needed to create a "death star" and other "Star Wars"-related physics questions.

Peter Thelin and Chris Ebbers from Lawrence Livermore discussed the science required to run a lightsaber.

Currently, scientists can produce plasma in magnetic fields, but don’t have an “open” form of containment required for a lightsaber blade. Ebbers said that if a lightsaber was comparable to the lasers in use today that can cut through three feet of concrete, it would need to be a 30,000 watt laser, or a 40,000 watt device operating at 75 percent efficiency. One of the biggest challenges in making something like a lightsaber would be making sure that 10,000 watts of heat didn’t radiate into the user’s hand.

A team of researchers have made a cheaper, more efficient fuel cell.

Fuel up

A team of researchers from UCLA and Lawrence Livermore has developed nanostructures made from a compound of three metals that increases the efficiency and durability of fuel cells while lowering the cost to produce them.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells have shown great promise as a clean energy technology with numerous applications including zero-emission vehicles. The fuel cells work by causing hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to react to produce electricity, and the exhaust they create is water — rather than the pollutants and greenhouse gases emitted by traditional car engines.

To create a fuel cell that would be more efficient, more durable and less expensive to produce, the researchers including LLNL’s Morris Wang used a surface engineering technique called “surface doping,” in which they added a third metal called molybdenum to the surface of platinum-nickel nanostructures. The change made the alloy surface more stable and prevented the loss of nickel and platinum over time.

Target area operator Sky Marshall installs new apertures in the Dante 2 X-ray diodes. Photo by James Pryatel/LLNL

Measuring NIF’s inferno

It is fitting that a diagnostic named “Dante” could help tame the National Ignition Facility's (NIF)  inferno of energy, or at least measure it.

The smooth blue sphere of the NIF target chamber bristles with diagnostics — nuclear, optical and X-ray instruments that together provide some 300 channels for experimental data. These diagnostics provide vital information to help NIF scientists understand how well an experiment performed.

Two of these diagnostics, known as Dante 1 and Dante 2, are pressed into service for nearly every shot. These broadband, time-resolved X-ray spectrometers measure the time-dependent soft X-ray power produced by the NIF lasers interacting with the hohlraum — the small gold cylinder that holds the NIF target capsule. The X-rays heat and ablate the outer surface of the capsule and drive the capsule’s rocket-like implosion.

“Dante is one of the workhorse diagnostics of NIF — it participates in almost every shot,” said scientist Alastair Moore. “Even when a hohlraum is not used, it is one of the few absolutely calibrated soft X-ray diagnostics that can provide absolute measurements of the conversion efficiency of laser light into X-rays.”