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.

Nov. 22, 2019


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Sierra supercomputer sits at the No. 2 spot on the Top500 fastest supercomputers in the world.

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Sitting on top of the world

The Top500 project has announced the latest list of the fastest supercomputers. The top 10 systems are unchanged since the last list, with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit computer holding onto the top spot and Lawrence Livermore Lab’s Sierra computer in second place.

Summit and Sierra are both IBM systems with Power9 CPUs and NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs. Summit recorded a speed of 148.6 petaflops on the High Performance Linpack (HPL) benchmark. China took spots 3 and 4 with the Sunway TaihuLight system at 93 petaflops and the former champion Tianhe-2A at 61.4 petaflops.

Overall, the aggregate performance for the systems on the list was 1.65 exaflops and the minimum to enter the list was 1.14 petaflops. The share of Chinese systems continues to rise; 227 of the top 500 systems reside in China. The US had the second-most with 118, and Japan was third with 29.


Penguin Computing, along with its partners Intel and CoolIT, has shipped a LLNL's Linux-based cluster, known as “Magma,” to the Laboratory.

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Magma flows at LLNL

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is welcoming the newest addition to its already powerful supercomputing lineup, a commodity cluster system built by Penguin Computing Inc. that will perform vital calculations for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Penguin Computing, along with its partners Intel and CoolIT, announced it has shipped LLNL’s latest Linux-based cluster, known as “Magma,” to the Laboratory. Procured through the Commodity Technology Systems (CTS-1) contract with the NNSA, Magma is one of the first deployments of Intel’s Xeon “Cascade Lake” Platinum 9200 series processors, which are specifically designed for high-performance computing machines.

On the latest TOP500 List of the world’s fastest  supercomputers released on Nov. 18, Magma ranked at No. 69, with 3.24 petaflops of maximum sustained performance. The cluster’s theoretical peak is 5.313 petaflops.

Funded through NNSA’s Advanced Simulation & Computing (ASC) program, Magma will support mission simulations critical to ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons in the absence of underground testing.


LLNL scientists found that lead under pressure is stronger than steel.

Exsqueeze me

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have put the squeeze on lead and found it grows 250 times stronger.

By putting lead under pressure, the team found that the lead is stronger than steel.

Lead is dense and super heavy, but it’s also easily malleable and soft. Under a barrage of many powerful lasers, the condensed lead grew 250 times stronger than before.

Condensed-matter physics is the study of all solids, but some solids only exist in special conditions under pressure. Studying the pressurization of gases into, for example, liquid nitrogen or the condensed form of breathable gas used by scuba divers can help scientists imitate conditions in the center of the Earth or on planets with extremely strong gravity compared to Earth.

Studying extremes in all materials can reveal hidden strengths and applications.


Visible volcanic lightning can occur throughout the ash plume, like this one above Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, in 2010. Invisible sparks may occur in the low-pressure region of standing shock waves formed in the near-vent region. Credit: Sævar Helgi Bragason

Monitoring a spewing volcano

The Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption disrupted air travel for 6 days, grounding flights from Europe to North America. The Icelandic volcano is far from the only plume producer: There are about 1,500 active volcanoes around the world.

“Ash can damage turbines of planes and also affect visibility,” said Jens von der Linden, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “It’s very hazardous for commercial aviation to fly through areas that may have ash.”

He explained that because of the danger there’s interest in understanding how much ash is ejected and where weather patterns might carry it.

Von der Linden and his colleagues want to make better, early predictions of ash content after an eruption. To do this, they decided to use a scaled-down lab-created version of a volcanic eruption: shock tube experiments ejecting ash into a large expansion chamber where discharges occur.


Ultra-lightweight gold, copper and silver foams are lighter than a parakeet feather. Illustration by Amy Henke/LLNL

semiconductor engineering

New gold foam lightens up

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has developed what researchers say is the world’s lightest gold foam.

LLNL has devised gold aerogel foam. The foam is light enough where it could be carried on the back of tiny insects. Applications for the technology include electronics, catalysis, sensors and energy conversion and storage.

An aerogel is based on a solid framework of gel. Aerogels are a diverse class of porous, solid materials that exhibit an uncanny array of extreme materials properties. Most notably aerogels are known for their extreme low densities.


LLNL Report takes a break

The LLNL Report will take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. It will return Friday, Dec. 6.