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.

Dec. 08, 2017

Polar bears aren’t the only ones in trouble from the Arctic’s melting ice.

Unbearable news about the Arctic

Polar bears are not the only animals suffering from Arctic sea ice loss. New research by Lawrence Livermore shows that the loss of Arctic sea ice could dry out California and the Southwest in the future.

The findings show that Arctic sea ice loss of the magnitude expected in the next few decades could impact California’s rainfall and exacerbate future droughts.

The study identifies a new link between Arctic sea ice loss and the development of an atmospheric ridging system in the North Pacific. This atmospheric feature also played a significant role in the 2012-2016 California drought and is known for steering precipitation-rich storms northward into Alaska and Canada, and away from California. The team found that sea ice changes can lead to convection changes over the tropical Pacific. These convection changes can in turn drive the formation of an atmospheric ridge in the North Pacific, resulting in significant drying over California. 

Lawrence Livermore researchers are tracking the spawning grounds of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.

Something’s fishy in unexpected rivers

The most treacherous journey of any salmon’s life is from its natal river to the ocean when it is still a juvenile, usually when the fish is only a few months old. For endangered salmon, this early journey is a matter of life and death for the whole population.

In a new study from the Metropolitan Water District, University of California, Davis, the NOAA Fisheries Service and Lawrence Livermore, researchers trace this journey in the bones of endangered adult Chinook salmon that return from the ocean to spawn and renew the cycle. The surprising finding was that in their youth, on average, half of these successful adult salmon had wandered beyond their natal reach of the Sacramento River to feed and grow before making their way to the ocean. Many of these salmon used unexpected rivers along the way.

The researchers took advantage of California’s diverse geology to find a tracer for the salmon migration to the sea. They used natural differences in strontium isotopes released from weathering rocks to develop a map of river strontium-87 signatures called an “isoscape.” The researchers used the abundance of strontium-87 in the bones of the salmon as a tracer to track where the salmon went as juveniles as they migrated to the ocean. 

Lawrence Livermore scientists have found a way to make marine grade stainless steel via 3D printing.

3D stainless steel makes waves

“Marine grade” stainless steel is valued for its ability to stave off corrosion and its high ductility (the ability to bend without breaking under stress), making it a preferred choice for oil pipelines, welding, ships, kitchen utensils, chemical equipment, medical implants, engine parts and nuclear waste storage. However, conventional techniques for strengthening marine steel typically come at the expense of ductility.

Lawrence Livermore researchers found a way to make marine steel via 3D printing. Their new method, already proven to work for one of the most common forms of marine grade stainless steel -- low-carbon 316L -- could lead to new combinations of high ductility and strength for the ubiquitous alloy.

“We were able to 3D print real components in the lab with 316L stainless steel, and the material’s performance was actually better than those made with the traditional approach,” said LLNL materials scientist Morris Wang. “That’s really a big jump. It makes additive manufacturing very attractive and fills a major gap.”

Steam rises from Great Boiling Spring, a nearly 200-degree natural pool where Lawrence Livermore scientists and colleagues have found the most ancient single-celled bacteria and archaea. Photo courtesy of UNLV.

It’s hot in there

Scientists are looking to a Nevada hot spring for insights into what life was like on early Earth.

The bacteria and archaea living in Nevada’s Great Boiling Spring are some of the most ancient single-celled organisms on the planet. By studying these extremophiles, researchers hope to ascertain the chances of finding alien life in other extreme environments.

“The organisms we’re looking at may be evolutionary relics of ancient lineages in which most members have become extinct and may be unique repositories for primitive traits,” said Jennifer Pett-Ridge, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “What we know to date is that these extreme environments are very similar to what's been found on other planets.”

Research shows that the world is one step closer to prosthetics controlled by the human brain.

Brain-controlled prosthetics lend a hand

Scientists have been hard at work for the past decade on research and development efforts in the field of neural prosthetics, a discipline that links neuroscience with biomedical engineering.

The reality is that the field of neural prosthetics, which provides invaluable support for millions worldwide who, through injury, illness or amputation lose the function of some part of their body, will continue to experience one breakthrough after another.

The use of polymer makes the crucial difference in “the biocompatibility of the implant...[because] polymer is more compatible with the human body than the silicon in conventional neural probes used in neuroscience studies,” said Sarah Felix, an American Society for Mechanical Engineers member and a lead researcher at Lawrence Livermore.