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April 2003

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
C. K. Chou

Finding the Missing Piece in the Climate Change Puzzle

An Elusive Transformation—The Mystery of Oscillating Neutrinos

Toward a Common Data Model for Supercomputing

Into the Vortex—New Insights into the Behavior of Dynamic Fluids

Patents

Awards

 

The Laboratory
in the News

HOPS heads off terrorism
Laboratory researchers have developed a new analysis tool to assist government agencies in preventing and mitigating terrorist attacks. The Homeland Operations Planning System, or HOPS, is a Web-based information system that models buildings, stadiums, convention centers, landmarks, and other potential terrorist targets.
HOPS can assist federal, state, and local agencies in making an inventory of high-value infrastructure such as key buildings, bridges, and convention halls; developing vulnerability assessments; and preparing emergency response plans. Using HOPS, security planners can examine overviews of a facility, including its location and proximity to hospitals, transportation systems, and fire stations. Interior views of facilities can provide information on the functioning of the building itself—for example, entrance and exit locations or power and water sources.
HOPS also contains an information inventory of more than 1,000 toxic substances and provides details about how the substances affect people, treatment methods, and cleanup. With HOPS and modeling technology from Livermore’s National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center, government officials can access assessments of chemical, biological, or radiological attacks on laptop computers. The assessments, requested from anywhere nationwide about any U.S. location, can be displayed in less than 10 minutes on computer-generated maps.
Recently, HOPS assisted the Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s Department in planning for the Democratic National Convention, supported the California National Guard’s security efforts during the 2002 World Series, and was part of a California National Guard exercise in the San Francisco Bay Area in September 2002.
Contact: Tony Farmer (925) 423-2037 (farmer7@llnl.gov).

Constructing an artificial retina
Lawrence Livermore’s Center for Microtechnology is a key contributor to a Department of Energy project to construct an epiretinal prosthesis, or artificial retina. This device could restore vision to millions of people suffering from eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration or who are legally blind because of loss of photoreceptor function.
This three-year project brings together Oak Ridge National Laboratory (the project lead) with Livermore, Argonne, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories; North Carolina State University; the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California; and a private company, Second Sight LLC.
The project has called on Lawrence Livermore’s Center for Microtechnology to develop a flexible microelectrode array that can conform to the curved shape of the retina without damaging delicate retinal tissue.
According to Peter Krulevitch, leader of the Livermore team developing the flexible array, the Center for Microtechnology was selected because of Livermore’s pioneering use of poly(dimethylsiloxane), or PDMS, in fabricating hybrid integrated microsystems for biomedical applications. In particular, Livermore has worked on “metalization”—applying metals for electronics and electrodes to PDMS for implant devices. PDMS-based electronics are flexible, robust enough to withstand damage from the implant procedure, and compatible with human biology.
Says Krulevitch, “We’ve developed a technique for fabricating metal lines that can be stretched. This is really critical for a flexible device designed to conform to the shape of the retina.”
Following up on successful tests with devices based on first-generation Livermore arrays, Livermore engineers are now working on a second-generation microelectrode array with smaller electrodes in greater numbers. They are developing techniques to integrate the electrodes with electronics chips and are also working on strengthening and stabilizing the array.
Krulevitch predicts additional applications for the flexible electrode array, including a cochlear implant for hearing, deep brain stimulation devices for treating diseases such as Parkinson’s, and a spinal cord stimulation device for treating chronic pain.
Contact: Peter Krulevitch (925) 422-9195 (krulevitch1@llnl.gov).

Aging effects on male fertility
A recent study by biomedical researchers at Livermore and the University of California at Berkeley concludes that healthy adult males become progressively less fertile as they age. Published in February in Human Reproduction, the study is one of the first to focus on men with no known fertility concerns. Its goal is to provide researchers and health professionals with a better sense of how aging affects semen quality in a healthy male population.
The researchers recruited 97 men between 22 and 80 years old, all employees or retirees of Lawrence Livermore who had not smoked within 6 months of the study and had no relevant health problems. They found that while age had affected semen volume, the more significant effect was on sperm motility, defined both as “liveliness” and as progressive motility, or the ability of sperm to move forward linearly. The researchers found that motility decreased by 0.7 percent per year.
“Simply put, sperm slow down with age,” says Andrew Wyrobek, head of the Health Effects Genetics Division at Livermore and coauthor of the study. Gradually, beginning in men in their 20s, increasing numbers of sperm (3.1 percent per year) begin to swim around in circles and not move in a linear direction toward collision with the female egg.
The researchers found that unlike the female “biological clock,” which shows a marked decline in fertility in a woman in her mid-30s, the male clock winds down gradually.
Commenting on the larger significance of this study, the authors said that the results mean that men as well as women need to consider fertility issues. Their study results indicate that men who wait until they are older to have children are risking difficulties conceiving.
Contact: Andrew Wyrobek (925) 422-6296 (wyrobek1@llnl.gov).




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UCRL-52000-03-4 | April 16, 2003