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. 17, 2015

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

The ins and outs of nanotubes

Lawrence Livermore researchers led a team that has been able to make both artificial and natural membranes of cells permeable by inserting carbon nanotubes that work like little tunnels.

The membrane is a really important part of a cell — it keeps the organelles and useful chemicals in, and other things out. The researchers found that, if they coated the tubes with lipids, they slid right through the cell membrane, puncturing it without destroying it. Most impressively, the tube insert doesn't appear to leak around the edges. By giving the nanotubes a slight charge, the researchers found that they could selectively transport certain molecules, just like channels in natural membranes do.

The researchers plan to look into biological applications, such as artificial lungs or kidneys, though the channels may have to become a bit more selective before that is possible, as well as improvements to artificial membranes.

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The Featherstone geothermal power plant in the Imperial Valley of California.

Pump it up

An emerging technology is making it possible to extract lithium from the hot, mineral-rich brine that geothermal power plants pump out of the ground to generate energy. And the technology is not limited to extracting lithium — it also can recover a variety of other rare earth elements and valuable metals out of what is now being treated as wastewater.

Simbol Materials, a 7-year-old company based in California, is working on it. In 2010, it received a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy and pumped $6.7 million of its own money into a pilot project aimed at showing the financial feasibility of extracting high-quality lithium from geothermal brine.

Since 2011, it’s been taking the mineral-extraction technology developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and applying it at its demonstration plant that uses brine from the 49.9-megawatt Featherstone geothermal power plant in the Imperial Valley of California.

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Dick Post worked at the Laboratory for 63 years. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

A legend of our times

Dick Post, an energy scientist and prolific inventor at Lawrence Livermore, has died. He was 96.

During World War II, Post, a civilian scientist for the Navy, was summoned from his bunk in Hawaii to go immediately to Guam and help upgrade U.S. submarine sonar systems and train sailors to use them in an attack in the Sea of Japan.

It was an early signal that U.S. leaders saw Post as a technical genius, a hunch that would be proven over the next seven decades when Post became among the leading scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Just last year he had more inventions to his credit than any of the 3,000 members of the lab's technical staff. His name is on 34 patents.

Post joined LLNL in December 1952, about three months after the Laboratory's founding, to conduct research on magnetic fusion energy.

He worked at LLNL until his retirement in 1991. Though technically retired, Post continued to work up a week before his death.

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This is a real-time photo of an X-ray laser being irradiated (i.e., pumped) by the Novette laser. You can’t see the X-rays, but they would be coming out of a small hole in the curved mirror on the left side. Photo by Gary Stone, circa 1984.

A bRAYve new future

More than 50 years ago, when the laser was a mere 5 years old, laser physicists dreamed of the development of an X-ray laser to expand the frontier of knowledge.

That concept turned into reality in the 1980s when Lawrence Livermore Lab founder Edward Teller came up with a concept in support of the Strategic Defense Initiative (commonly referred to as “star wars”).  

The X-ray laser eventually made it to the Laboratory in 1984 when the first demonstration of an X-ray laser occurred on Novette, the precursor of the Nova laser. Eventually the same diagnostics used for X-ray lasers would be implemented at the National Ignition Facility.

“Our group was the first one to demonstrate the X-ray laser,” said Dennis Matthews, who was seminal to achieving the feat.

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Bruno Van Wonterghem, NIF operational manger, peers at a target in the National Ignition Facility.

Beauty in the eye of the National Ignition Facility

Last month, Gizmodo took a look at the headquarters of the most beautiful science laboratories and research institutes in the world. Now it's time to go inside. As it turns out, scientists and their machines, labs and tools are even more amazing then the buildings they work in.

One such example: the target chamber at Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility.

NIF can create conditions similar to those in stars and nuclear weapons — temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures 100 billion times that of the Earth’s atmosphere. NIF is a cornerstone of the experimental element of stockpile stewardship. Stockpile stewardship maintains the reliability and safety of the U.S. nuclear deterrent without the need for full-scale testing.