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March 2001

The Laboratory in
the News

Commentary by Michael Anastasio

Plutonium
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in the Superblock

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The Laboratory
in the News

Lab scientists revoke status of space object
A space object found near the Big Dipper, formerly thought to be a galaxy, was stripped of its status as the "most distant object known" by Laboratory astrophysicists Wil Van Breugel and Wim De Vries and colleagues from several universities and observatories. They published their findings in the November 30, 2000, issue of Science, showing that the initial distance estimate for the object, also known as STIS 123627+621755, was not correct. In fact, Van Breugel says that "It is even optimistic to say it is a galaxy—it could be a star in our own galaxy."
A group at the State University of New York at Stony Brook earlier had reported observations of this object using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Hubble Space Telescope. Based on the extremely red colors of the object and a single emission line in its spectrum, thought to be hydrogen, they had deduced the object was a galaxy approximately 12.5 billion light years away. If it were a very distant galaxy, it should essentially be invisible in the optical wavelengths and relatively bright at the near-infrared.
Contrary images were obtained by the Laboratory astrophysicists and their collaborators. Using the Keck telescopes in Hawaii to take their own images of deep space, they detected the object in optical light at a level 100 times brighter than expected and did not find it visible in the infrared. These results meant that the emission line, thought to be based on hydrogen gas, is more likely to be based on oxygen. Accordingly, the object's distance should be revised to a much closer 9.8 billion light years, and its classification to that of a small dwarf galaxy, similar to Earth's neighboring Magellanic Clouds visible from the Southern Hemisphere.
With STIS 123627+621755 no longer the most distant object, the title apparently belongs to a quasar, an active black hole that is 12.4 billion light years away. And the most distant galaxy would be one first observed by Livermore researchers in December 1998, designated as TN J0924-2201.
Contact: Willem Van Breugel (925) 422-7195 (vanbreugel1@llnl.gov).

Maglev technology may be used for urban transit
Livermore senior scientist Richard Post is working with a General Atomics-led team investigating the use of magnetically levitated (maglev) trains in urban settings. Post's Inductrack technology is one of the levitation techniques being evaluated for such trains. Inductrack is based on a system of magnets called the Halbach array, which produces a magnetic field underneath the train to induce strong currents in circuits on the track. Those currents repel the magnets, thereby creating a levitation effect (see S&TR, June 1998, "A New Approach for Magnetically Levitating Trains—and Rockets").
The transit project is a comprehensive study of propulsion and levitation technologies for low-speed, maglev systems. It is being performed under a contract from the Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration. On the team, besides Lawrence Livermore, are Carnegie Mellon University and Booz Allen & Hamilton, Inc., among others.
The information gathered in the study is to assist in technology choices and decisions for siting urban maglev systems anywhere in the U.S. A pilot program is being proposed for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which, with its challenging terrain and established infrastructure, is a good place to prove the workability of such a system. The proposed Pittsburgh Airborne Shuttle System, or PASS, would run 10 miles through the city to connect Carnegie Mellon University, hospitals, shopping centers, and the downtown area.
Contact: Richard F. Post (925) 422-9853 (post3@llnl.gov).

Smart Probe detects breast tumors instantly
At selected sites in northern California this spring, human studies will begin on a device that promises to provide early and accurate detection of breast cancer. A collaboration of Lawrence Livermore and San Jose–based BioLuminate, Inc., has developed the Smart Probe, a tool that can detect malignancies in a minimally invasive way and approach the accuracy of surgical biopsies. It provides several specific measurements of known cancer indicators in real time, thereby improving diagnosis and treatment.
The Smart Probe device is smaller than a needle used in routine blood tests. It is inserted into breast tissue after an initial screening indicates a suspicious area. Sensors at its tip measure optical, electrical, and chemical properties that are known to differ between healthy and cancerous tissue. The probe can detect multiple (five to seven) known indicators of breast cancer.
From the moment the probe is inserted into tissue, the sensors begin gathering information that a computer program then compares against known, archived parameters that indicate the presence or absence of cancer. The results are instantly displayed on the computer screen.
"The key technology and experience that Lawrence Livermore has to offer will allow the Smart Probe to be much smaller than first conceived and acquire data more accurately," said Luiz Da Silva, Livermore's associate program leader for Medical Technology and primary investigator for the device.
Contact: Luiz Da Silva (925) 423-9867 (dasilva1@llnl.gov).




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UCRL-52000-01-3 | March 26, 2001