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The Laboratory
in the News

Device can stop a bomb on wheels
Laboratory researchers recently demonstrated their latest version of a truck-stopping device. Operated by remote control, the shoebox-size instrument is designed to protect sensitive buildings and facilities, such as power plants, that are potential targets for a terrorist attack. For example, at a facility’s inspection point, tamper-resistant devices could be mounted on a truck before the vehicle is allowed on site and removed before the vehicle leaves. If a driver then tried to crash a truck into a building, security personnel could push a remote-control button to set off that vehicle’s air-brake valves.
The Livermore team has also developed a control system that uses antennas placed around a site’s buildings. In the event a runaway truck tries to crash through the gates, the antennas, operating on a continuous signal, will activate the truck’s air brakes as the vehicle passes by. The antenna system is designed to eliminate interference from other radio frequencies, such as from a cell phone, to prevent hackers from interrupting signals or circumventing the system. To have such devices automatically equipped on all commercial transportation vehicles would require legislation.
Livermore’s work on truck-stopping technology receives funding from the California Highway Patrol and the California Energy Commission.
Contact: David B. McCallen (925) 423-1219 (mccallen2@llnl.gov).

Telescope to peer into deep sky
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has approved a collaborative study to build and launch the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Led by the California Institute of Technology, the collaboration also includes researchers from Lawrence Livermore, Columbia University, the Danish Space Research Institute, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and several other institutions.
Laboratory scientists will use the pioneering telescope to understand how stars explode and produce elements such as calcium. With NuSTAR, scientists will for the first time be able to obtain a high-energy (hard) x-ray map of the sky in extraordinary resolution. The telescope can be used to study supernovae phenomena and the accretion of matter by black holes. NuSTAR technologies may also have applications in homeland security because hard x rays are a key method for detecting and identifying nuclear material.
Telescopes have taken images of the deep sky in the optical, infrared, and low-energy (soft) x-ray bands. However, most black holes are obscured by dust and cannot be seen in images of those bands. Hard x-ray telescopes can penetrate this dust to detect even the most obscured supermassive black holes. NuSTAR will be hundreds of times more sensitive than any previous hard x-ray instrument, which will greatly improve the image resolution.
Scientists are particularly interested in the information hard x-ray imaging will provide on the deepest layers of exploding stars and the new chemical elements they produce. For example, titanium-44 is an interesting tracer element for studying what happened in a supernova. Also, when titanium-44 decays, it is dispersed throughout the universe in the form of calcium, which eventually winds up in human bones and teeth.
NASA will review the project in early 2006 to grant an initial confirmation for launch.
Contact: Bill Craig (925) 423-1471 (billc@llnl.gov).

Researchers study the transformation of neutrinos
As part of the international team working on the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment, Livermore scientists hope to study in detail the transformation of neutrinos from one type to another. Neutrinos are relatively massless particles with no electric charge, but they are fundamental to the makeup of the universe. To explore the mysterious nature and properties of neutrinos, the MINOS researchers will use two giant detectors—one at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and a 6,000-ton detector lying in a historic iron mine at Soudan, Minnesota.
One goal of the MINOS experiment is to discover the rate at which neutrinos “change flavors,” or oscillate from one type to another. Neutrinos are difficult to detect because they rarely interact with anything. Although they can easily pass through a planet or solid walls, they seldom leave a trace of their existence.
In the MINOS experiment, a narrow beam of neutrinos is generated and characterized by the near detector at Fermilab. The beam is aimed at a far detector, located in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota. The neutrino beam energy is chosen so that the distance between the two detectors corresponds to an expected maximum in the probability that a neutrino produced at Fermilab will oscillate to another flavor. Studying the elusive neutrino will help scientists better understand particle physics, specifically the role of neutrinos in the formation of the universe and their relationship to dark matter.
Dedication ceremonies for the MINOS detectors were held at Fermilab on March 4, 2005. Livermore’s MINOS research is funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development and Physical Data Research programs. The MINOS experiment as a whole is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
Contact: Peter Barnes (925) 422-3384 (pdbarnes@llnl.gov).



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UCRL-52000-05-5 | May 13, 2005