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January/February 2002

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
C. Bruce Tarter

Fifty Years of
through Nuclear
Weapon Design

Turbulence in
Magnetic Fusion

Present at the

Rapid Field Detection of
Biological Agents



The Laboratory
in the News

DNA technique makes cancer diagnosis fast, accurate
A DNA diagnostic technique developed by Laboratory scientists promises to improve the accuracy and speed of cancer diagnosis.
The advance is described in a paper published in the December 2001 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper’s principal author is Allen Christian, with Melissa Pattee, Christina Attix, Beth Reed, Karen Sorensen, and James Tucker.
With the new technique, researchers can detect mutations in individual cells and make numerous copies of the DNA in the genes that are important for cancer’s progression in the cell.
Previously, DNA testing inside cells lacked the resolution needed to detect a localized mutation in the DNA. The best resolution for detecting genetic abnormalities inside a single cell was the identification of a flawed or missing region the length of about 1,000 DNA base pairs out of the 6.6 billion base pairs in each human cell. Furthermore, finding these abnormalities usually took several days.
“Now, with the Lab advance, researchers can locate a single flawed DNA base pair within a cell in a couple of hours,” says Tucker. “This technique could greatly speed efforts to measure the effectiveness of treatments in killing tumors and would improve the ability of physicians to individualize cancer treatments,” he adds.
For example, when doctors try a particular cancer therapy, they can now evaluate its effectiveness much more rapidly, allowing alternative therapies to be considered earlier if the selected one is not working.
The Livermore technique also has potential applications in genetic screening of plants for agricultural uses, in genetic evaluation of birth defects, in basic cell research, and in determining if a person has been exposed to radiation.
Contact: James Tucker (925) 423-8154 (

Solid-state laser weapon successfully tested
In mid-December, program engineers at the Army’s High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility (HELSTF) at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico successfully test-fired a new 10-kilowatt solid-state heat-capacity laser (SSHCL). During the 6-second test, the laser burned a hole through quarter-size samples of steel.
Developed at Lawrence Livermore, the SSHCL has been fired several times since it was transferred to the Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) for further testing and development at HELSTF.
Under the Army’s solid-state laser plan, weapon development begins with a 10-kilowatt laser and moves toward a 100-kilowatt solid-state laser that could be mounted on the back of a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (Humvee).
The SSHCL has the potential to be the first high-energy laser that is light and compact enough to be integrated as a direct-fire element of the Army’s future combat system, according to Randy Buff, SMDC solid-state laser program manager.
Contact: Brent Dane (925) 424-5905 (

Lab scientists create virtual star over Hawaii
Livermore scientists, in collaboration with scientists at the W. M. Keck Observatory, have created a virtual guide star over Hawaii. This virtual guide star will be used with the adaptive optics on the Keck II telescope to greatly improve the resolution of images of astronomical objects.
Installed in 1999, Keck’s adaptive optics system allows astronomers to minimize the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere, producing images with unprecedented detail and resolution. The adaptive optics system uses light from a relatively bright nearby star to measure atmospheric distortions and correct for them. However, only about 1 percent of the sky has stars sufficiently bright and close to be of use. The new virtual guide star allows Keck astronomers to study nearly the entire sky with the high resolution of adaptive optics.
The virtual guide star, which achieved “first light” on December 23, 2001, was created using a 20-watt dye laser to illuminate a diffuse layer of sodium atoms present 95 kilometers above Earth’s surface. When activated by the laser, the sodium atoms produce a source of light less than a meter in diameter and thus allows the adaptive optics system to measure the distortions of the atmosphere. The virtual star has a magnitude of 9.5, about 25 times fainter than anything the unaided eye can see but bright enough to operate the adaptive optics system.
Using Keck adaptive optics, for which Livermore scientists developed the real-time control system, astronomers are obtaining infrared images with four times better resolution than images from the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits high above Earth’s atmosphere. Many significant discoveries have already been attributed to Keck’s adaptive optics, and the Keck virtual guide star will lead to many more.
Additional support was provided to the Keck–Livermore collaboration by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation’s Center for Adaptive Optics.
Contact: Claire Max (925) 422-5442 (














































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UCRL-52000-02-1/4 | March 8, 2002