Richardson confirmed as DOE Secretary

On July 31, 1998, Bill Richardson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new Secretary of the Department of Energy. Richardson, a former representative to Congress from New Mexico, leaves his post as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to succeed former Energy Secretary Federico Peña, who resigned in June. "I am very grateful that the Senate has moved forward expeditiously and unanimously to confirm my nomination," Richardson said. "I look forward to taking on the significant responsibilities and challenges of leading the department-protecting our national security, advancing the frontiers of science and technology, helping to solve the challenge of global climate change, cleaning up waste sites throughout the country, working to bring down the cost of electricity to the American people, and ensuring a balanced energy portfolio for our nation."
President Clinton said that he was "confident that Ambassador Richardson's tremendous energy, creativity, and leadership will help secure our nation's energy future so that America continues to prosper."
Laboratory Director Bruce Tarter said, "I was very glad to learn of Ambassador Richardson's confirmation by the Senate. . . . [H]e understands national laboratories and particularly DOE defense labs. He has been a leading figure in America's efforts to bring stability to some of the world's most dangerous regions. He has indicated his support for science, technology, and environmental responsibility-in short, the broad range of efforts that this Laboratory is engaged in. We look forward to working with him."

Livermore x-ray microscope aids dental research

Physicist John Kinney is using an x-ray microscope developed at Lawrence Livermore to help dental researchers at the University of California at San Francisco better understand the composition and structure of teeth, particularly the porous, bonelike material called dentin. Kinney and his collaborators are using the x-ray microscope to produce high-resolution, three-dimensional images of dentin at the cell level. Their goal is to create a scientifically detailed model that leads to significant advances in dental health-in particular, better methods and materials for creating more permanent bonds between the tooth and the plastic-based fillings now being used to repair most cavities.
Contact: John Kinney (925) 422-6669 (kinney3@llnl.gov).

National Laser Technology Alliance formed

Livermore's Laser Programs Associate Director Michael Campbell and L. Raymond Hettche, director of the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at Pennsylvania State University, recently signed an agreement forming a National Laser Technology Alliance. Like Lawrence Livermore, ARL is recognized as an international leader in laser technology and applications. The alliance marries ARL's expertise in laser processing of materials, developed through over 50 years' experience conducting defense work, with Livermore's expertise developing new laser systems.
Among the projects the alliance is considering are programs to develop new lasers for medical applications in cooperation with Penn State's College of Medicine. The alliance is also considering projects using high-powered lasers for high-speed metal drilling in the construction of military equipment and for cutting up obsolete weapons without the risk of explosion.
Contact: Richard Solarz (925) 422-6218 (solarz1@llnl.gov).

Lab reports on downside of gas additive

In mid-June, Laboratory scientists filed a report of their comprehensive assessment of the extent to which the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) has contaminated groundwater in California. MTBE is a chemical widely added to California gasoline since 1992 to reduce toxic emissions from gasoline-burning engines. Commissioned by the California State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Energy, and the Western States Petroleum Association, the Livermore report concludes that MTBE has contaminated groundwater at more than 10,000 sites, spreads quickly through the water supply, and "may prove a cumulative contamination hazard" as it builds up in groundwater. At low concentrations, MTBE gives water a turpentinelike odor and a bitter taste. Its primary source in groundwater is leakage from underground storage tanks; in surface water, a major source is two-stroke watercraft engines that spill up to a quarter of their fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified MTBE as a "possible human carcinogen." Livermore scientists found MTBE in nearly 80 percent of the 1,858 monitoring wells examined throughout the state. Groundwater provides 40 to 60 percent of the state's water supply.
Contact: Anne Happel (925) 422-9203 (happel1@llnl.gov).

B-Factory achieves major milestone

The B-Factory at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in Menlo Park, California, achieved a major milestone on July 23, 1998, when high-energy (electron) and low-energy (positron) particle beams were brought into collision for the first time in the Positron-Electron Project-II accelerator. PEP-II is a key component of the B-Factory, a $300-million expansion of the linear accelerator at SLAC. The milestone was accomplished two months ahead of schedule, resulting in the completion of the PEP-II phase of the project on cost and ahead of schedule.
The B-Factory project is a collaboration of SLAC and Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. The B-Factory is a high-energy particle-physics research facility, which will provide important clues about what happened moments after the Big Bang to account for the preponderance of matter over antimatter in the universe.
For more information on the B-Factory, see S&TR, January/February 1997, pp. 4-13.
Contact: Karl Van Bibber (925) 423-8949 (vanbibber1@llnl.gov).

New model may explain gamma-ray bursts

Scientists from the Laboratory and Notre Dame University have announced a new model that may, for the first time, explain a large class of gamma-ray bursts, one of the universe's most unyielding mysteries.
Gamma-ray bursts are tremendous releases of energy in the distant cosmos viewed daily by satellites in Earth orbit as brilliant flashes of gamma-ray light. Scientists have long theorized that the gamma-ray bursts may result from the collision of twin burned-out, collapsed stars, known as binary neutron star systems, that orbit around each other hundreds of times per second. But the difficulty is explaining how the tremendous energy from a binary star collision translates into a gamma-ray burst.
Livermore scientist Jay D. Salmonson and Grant J. Mathews of Notre Dame University recently presented to the American Astronomical Society a new hypothesis to explain gamma-ray bursts, based on studies by Mathews and Livermore's James R. Wilson, that occurs not from the collision of the neutron stars but moments before it. Using computer simulations of neutron binary star systems that incorporate Einstein's general theory of relativity, Mathews and Wilson found that the stars are observed to be compressed several seconds before merging. The general relativistic gravitational effect of two neutron stars rapidly revolving around each other squeezes and heats both stars. The squeezing and heating cause the stars to radiate a staggering number of elusive subatomic particles called neutrinos, a small fraction of which collide, creating innumerable electron-positron pairs.
A superhot cloud of these pairs then expands off the surfaces of the neutron stars and rapidly accelerates into space. In the midst of this expanding fireball, the electrons and positrons in turn collide to create gamma-ray photons, and the massive conversion of electrons and positrons to photons produces the gamma-ray burst.
"We're theorizing that the gamma-ray burst is not the observable effect from the collision of the in-spiraling neutron binaries, but the result of heating and the subsequent neutrino-to-photon radiation process that occurs in a few brief seconds before such a collision," said Salmonson.
Contact: James R. Wilson (925) 422-1659 (wilson33@llnl.gov) or Jay D. Salmonson (925) 423-0752 (salmonson1@llnl.gov).
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