March 26, 2004

Livermore Research Highlighted at Annual American Chemical Society Meeting

LIVERMORE, Calif. - The study of nanoparticle contaminants traveling through water and soils. A pathogen detector smaller than a human hair that can detect chemical and biological toxins. An atom-counting technique that can detect very small amounts of long-lived radioactive elements like plutonium and uranium.

These are just a few of the research projects highlighted as more than 50 scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory descend on Anaheim next week for the 227th American Chemical Society National Meeting.

Annie Kersting of Livermore's Chemistry and Materials Science Directorate is co-organizer of a symposium on "Colloid-Facilitated Transport of Contaminants in the Subsurface: The Life and Death of a Colloid."

Colloids are particulates less than a micron in size found to transport contaminants. "We really want to characterize these nano-particles, understand how they travel and the human hazards associated with them," Kersting said. "This has huge implications for Yucca Mountain and the international community."

Congress approved Yucca Mountain as the nation’s single nuclear waste depository site. Kersting said there is international interest in the work that Livermore as well as other nations are conducting in this field. Her session will take place from 1 to 5:20 p.m. on Monday (March 29).

Micro sensor to detect chemical and biological toxins
Brandon Weeks, Jim De Yoreo, Aleksandr Noy, Julio Camarero and Abigail Miller of Livermore's BioSecurity and Nanosciences Laboratory will be showcasing a cantilever-based micro sensor, smaller than the size of a human hair, which can detect chemical and biological toxins in fluids.

"The idea is to make an autonomous type instrument that would eventually be placed in water sources to detect any chemical or biological pathogens," Weeks said.

To date, the instrument has been used for the detection of specific strains of salmonella by coating one side of the cantilever with antibodies. The device can detect as few as 25 organisms at a time. Week's talk will take place Tuesday (March 30) from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. during the Bio-Colloids session.

Measuring trace amounts of uranium and plutonium
At Livermore's Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Alfredo Marchetti and a team of Livermore scientists have developed an accelerator- based system to measure very small amounts of long-lived radionuclides, specifically Uranium 238 and Plutonium 239-244, in a wide variety of sample types including urine, soils and other biological and environmental samples. Conventional radiometric methods cannot detect quantities this small, Marchetti said.

"A current application of this technique to measure Pu-239 and Pu-240 in people who may have been exposed either occupationally or environmentally," he said. "This is also a potential counter-terrorism tool that can be used to detect if someone was exposed to actinides while making a dirty bomb."

Marchetti's talk will place at 9 a.m. Wednesday (March 31) during the Analytical Chemistry in Nuclear Technology session.

Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technology
Greg Rau of Livermore's Energy and Environment Directorate will discuss how the accelerated weathering of limestone can serve as a low-tech, inexpensive, environmentally friendly carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technology.

Significant climate and environmental risks are posed by the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that are emitted annually to the atmosphere by the industrialized world. One possible remedy is to capture waste CO2 and sequester it from the atmosphere.

Working along with Livermore’s Ken Caldeira and Kevin Knauss. Rau’s research involves a simple geochemical process that hydrates CO2 with water to form a weak acid solution that is then reacted with limestone to form dissolved calcium bicarbonate. This solution is then released into the ocean, adding minimally to the large pool of calcium bicarbonate already present in seawater. The addition of these ions may, in fact, be beneficial to marine life.

"In coastal settings where seawater and limestone are plentiful, this form of CO2 mitigation would be quite cost-competitive with other technologies that the Department of Energy is contemplating," Rau said.

Rau's talk, "CO2 Mitigation Via Accelerated Limestone Weathering" will be from 8 to 11:40 a.m. Thursday (April 1) during the Carbon Dioxide Capture and Sequestration session.

Another Livermore project showcased during the poster session on Sunday (March 28) is research investigating the effects of dietary carcinogens on cell proliferation in breast cancer.

For more information on other Livermore presentations, go to and search under Lawrence Livermore.

The 227th ACS National Meeting and Exposition will take place from Sunday, March 28, through Thursday, April 1, at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The ACS is the world's largest scientific society and includes more than 161,000 members. The society’s 33 technical divisions cover the entire spectrum of the chemical world.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.