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.

April 10, 2015


Lawrence Livermore Engineer Xiaoyu "Rayne" Zheng studies a macroscale version of the unit cell, which constitutes the ultralight, ultrastiff material. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

Strong as an ox, light as a feather

Since 2001, the MIT Technology Review has released a list of the 10 most important technological innovations that emerged each year. The editors select each item based on its potential to change the world.

Lawrence Livermore made this year's list for its nano-architecture.

Conventional wisdom dictates that heavy materials are strong and light materials are more flexible. Nano-architectures prove that it’s possible to turn those rules on their head.

Engineers can fabricate materials with a complex web of metal trusses. In the future, super strong and light materials could improve a variety of products. Currently researchers at Lawrence Livermore, MIT and Caltech are examining how to use these materials in high-density batteries and insulation.


The Antarctic Ocean is a remote place where icebergs frequently drift off the Antarctic coast and can be seen during their various stages of melting. Image by Andrew Meijers/BAS

Carbon emissions go overboard

The main reason soaring greenhouse gas emissions have not caused air temperatures to rise more rapidly is that oceans have soaked up much of the heat.

For decades, Earth’s oceans have soaked up more than nine-tenths of the atmosphere’s excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists have learned that the ocean has gained more heat, and at greater depth, than they had realized.

The long-term heat gain in the top 700 meters of the world’s oceans has likely been underestimated by as much as half, according to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory research scientist Paul Durack. Earlier measurements had lowballed heat accumulation due to historically sparse observations for large parts of the ocean. The figures were especially low for the Southern Hemisphere, which contains about 60 percent of the planet’s oceans.


This tractor trailer truck was tested with drag reducing devices in the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex at NASA Ames.

Aerodynamics are not a drag

Even though suppliers in Europe and the United States continue to see huge potential in using aerodynamic devices to reduce the drag on semi-trailers, uptake in the industry is still patchy. Now science has committed to bringing more transparency to the market.

Consumers in both regions are still skeptical as to whether the use of drag reduction devices will actually generate a measurable return of investment – especially since most of the research that is publically available has been financed by those who benefit from selling them.

A San Francisco-based team managed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory senior scientist Kambiz Salari stepped to the plate to find out just how efficient the different technologies for sale really are. Salari’s team conducted a survey of 256 U.S. fleets and found that 5 percent of them are using a gap reduction or boat tail device, while 4 percent have tried trailer skirts to reduce fuel consumption.


Steven Leahy, a Marine Corps corporal who served in Iraq, spent a summer doing computer modeling at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Pulsed Power Lab. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

A fast track to the workplace

A group of student veterans recently spent the morning on Reddit answering questions about a new program to help vets find desirable, lucrative careers. This group is part of the West Coast pilot called Troops to Technology Workforce Development Initiative, a new type of veteran employment initiative, which launched last year.

The veterans engaged in the Reddit post are all individuals who separated from the military within the past two years.

Despite the lack of clarity, everyone in the group — who all entered the pilot through Las Positas College in Northern California — managed to get internships working at Lawrence Livermore, one of the most advanced technology labs in the country. Now they are receiving the training and education they need for a lucrative career.


A new study answers a long-standing mystery about why Mercury’s surface — shown here in an image from the MESSENGER mission — is darker than the moon’s surface. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Mercury in the black

Mercury's dark surface was produced by a steady dusting of carbon from passing comets, a recent Lawrence Livermore study says.

Mercury reflects very little light but its surface is low in iron, which rules out the presence of iron nanoparticles, the most likely "darkening agent." First, researchers modeled how much carbon-rich material could have been dropped on Mercury by passing comets. Then they fired projectiles at a sugar-coated basalt rock to confirm the darkening effect of carbon.

Their results support the idea that Mercury was "painted black" by cometary dust over billions of years.

"It's long been hypothesized that there's a mystery darkening agent that's contributing to Mercury's low reflectance," said Megan Bruck Syal of Lawrence Livermore. “One thing that hadn't been considered was that Mercury gets dumped on by a lot of material derived from comets."