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The Laboratory
in the News

Diagnostic kit uses Lab technology
A Hawaii-based company is producing chemical diagnostic kits, based on a Laboratory technology, that permits the U.S. military to check the safety of munitions. Known as field-portable thin-layer-chromatography (TLC) units, the kits are produced by Ho’olana Technologies of Hilo, Hawaii. Technology for the TLC kits was developed by researchers in the Laboratory’s Forensic Science Center and licensed in July 2001 by Alu Like Enterprises LLC to be manufactured by its subsidiary, Ho’olana Technologies LLC.
The new kits check whether munitions are safe for handling and storage. They analyze propellant mixtures found in munitions for the presence and quantity of stabilizers. Stabilizers normally comprise 2 to 5 percent of the propellant mixture found in munitions, and they protect against the propellant undergoing accidental rapid decomposition or burn. As the propellant ages, the stabilizer is slowly consumed until its ability to stabilize is severely reduced. The propellant is then past its useful life and must be destroyed. Propellant stabilizers are used in artillery shells, mortars, missile warheads, and bombs. Former Laboratory employee Jeff Haas led Livermore researchers at the Forensic Science Center in developing the TLC technology. The team included analytical chemists Jeanne Bazan, Greg Klunder, Pete Nunes, and Richard Whipple.
The test kits contain all the components necessary to perform TLC in the field, including miniaturized laboratory equipment such as battery-operated stir boxes and heating plates. The kits perform quantitative analysis by using digital imaging tools to determine quantities and ratios of stabilizers in the propellant. The field kits also require a much smaller sample size than traditional laboratory TLC processes to determine if targeted chemicals are present. Ho’olana Technologies has just completed its first contract, delivering 50 complete TLC kits to Lawrence Livermore for research and development for the U.S. Army.
Contact: Richard Whipple (925) 422-6314 (whipple2@llnl.gov).

Marine plankton’s role in stabilizing modern climate
A trio of scientists, including a researcher from the Laboratory, has found that humans may owe the relatively mild climate in which their ancestors evolved to tiny marine organisms with shells and skeletons made out of calcium carbonate.
In an article titled “Carbonate Deposition, Climate Stability and Neoproterozoic Ice Ages,” in the October 31, 2003, issue of Science, University of California at Riverside researchers Andy Ridgwell and Martin Kennedy, along with Livermore climate scientist Kenneth Caldeira, reported that the increased stability in modern climate may be due in part to the evolution of ocean plankton with shells and skeletal material made out of calcium carbonate. They conclude that these marine organisms helped prevent the ice ages of the past few hundred thousand years from turning into a severe global deep freeze. “The most recent ice ages were mild enough to allow and possibly even promote the evolution of modern humans,” Caldeira said. “Without these tiny marine organisms, the ice sheets may have grown to cover the Earth like in the snowball glaciations of the ancient past, and our ancestors might not have survived.”
The researchers used a computer model describing the ocean, atmosphere, and land surface to look at how atmospheric carbon dioxide would change as a result of glacier growth. They found that, in the distant past, as glaciers started to grow, the oceans would absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making the Earth colder and promoting an even deeper ice age. When marine plankton with carbonate shells and skeletons were added to the model, glacial growth was buffered because the ocean was chemically not able to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In Precambrian times (which lasted until 544 million years ago), marine organisms in the open ocean did not produce carbonate skeletons. Around 200 million years ago, calcium carbonate organisms became critical to helping prevent Earth from freezing over. When the organisms die, their carbonate shells and skeletons settle to the ocean floor, where some dissolve and some are buried in sediments. These deposits help regulate the chemistry of the ocean and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Contact: Kenneth Caldeira (925) 423-4191 (caldeira2@llnl.gov).

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UCRL-52000-04-1/2 | January 6, 2004