FBI/Forensic Science Center to fight terrorism

During Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's recent visit to Lawrence Livermore, he joined FBI Deputy Director Randall Murch, Representative Ellen Tauscher, and Laboratory Director Bruce Tarter in announcing a partnership between the FBI and the Laboratory's Forensic Science Center to fight terrorism from weapons of mass destruction, protect U.S. infrastructure, and support law enforcement.
By partnering with the Laboratory, the FBI is broadening its technical foundation for responding to threats from weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the partnership will allow emerging Laboratory technologies developed for the Department of Energy's Stockpile Stewardship Program at the Forensic Science Center to be quickly shared with the FBI.
Referring to recent terrorist bombings in Africa, Richardson said that "America has seen the way that terrorism strikes at the very core of the American way of life. Today, I am proud to say that the Department of Energy will play a role in striking back, by giving the FBI additional high-tech tools in the fight against high-tech terrorism."
Formed in 1991, the Laboratory's Forensic Science Center provides expertise in analytical chemistry, nuclear science, biochemistry, and genetics useful for supporting law enforcement and for verifying compliance with international treaties and agreements. Using sophisticated analytical equipment, much of it developed at Livermore, center experts in organic, inorganic, and biological chemistry determine the composition and often the source of the most minute samples of material.
Contact: Brian Andresen (925) 422-0903 (andresen1@llnl.gov).

Promising leads in dark matter search

An international team from four continents, including researchers from Lawrence Livermore, has reported a possible solution to the mystery of "dark matter," the unseen material believed to make up 90 percent of the Milky Way's mass. Interpreting observations made at Australia's Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra, Livermore astrophysicist Charles Alcock has reported increased evidence that some or all of our galaxy's dark matter consists of huge lumps-whimsically called MACHOs, for massively compact halo objects-believed to be unlit stars about half the mass of the sun.
The total mass of all the matter that can be observed or inferred in the universe is far from enough to provide the gravity needed to keep the universe from expanding infinitely. Several theories are under investigation to explain the unseen mass, among them MACHOs.
Alcock and his team recently completed more than 1,600 nights gathering data in Australia and detected more than 16 peculiar and hitherto invisible objects within a vast halo surrounding the Milky Way. They believe these objects to be MACHOs.
Their method of detection is gravitational microlensing. When an otherwise unobserved MACHO passes in front of a star being observed by the telescope, the MACHO's gravitational field acts like a lens, bending the star's light rays and making the star appear brighter. The star's sudden brightening signals the presence of a MACHO.
Alcock has conceded that "substantial uncertainty and controversy" surround the MACHO findings. Yet, he and his team have recorded and analyzed terabytes of data using computers at Livermore and more recently at the Mount Stromlo telescope. "We now have two and a half times as much data, and so the results are much more secure than when first reported [several years ago]," commented Alcock. For more information on MACHO research, see S&TR, April 1996, pp. 6-11, and http://wwwmacho.mcmaster.ca/.
Contact: Charles Alcock (925) 423-0666 (alcock1@llnl.gov).


Lab gives high-tech help in tire fire

Scientists from Lawrence Livermore's Atmospheric Release Advisory Capability (ARAC) program recently had yet another opportunity to use technology developed to study radiation releases and nuclear fallout for a different environmental safety purpose. At the request of the California Environmental Protection Agency, they used computer simulations to monitor the intensity and direction of the smoke billowing from millions of burning tires at a 30-acre tire graveyard near Tracy, California, a community about 20 miles from the Laboratory.
James Ellis, ARAC program deputy director, and his team worked through the night shortly after the fire began to simulate the smoke cloud and project particle concentrations in the air, plotting according to wind direction where the elements would disperse. "We were able to make projections . . . and give that information to environmental agencies so they could use the data to calculate health risks and long-term effects of the fire," said Ellis.
The ARAC team's computer models predicted that more than half of the smoke would move north and rise high in the atmosphere, away from human contact. Other smoke would stay lower and drift to the east. These predictions proved generally accurate and helped health officials determine that the immediate public health risk would, fortunately, be low.
Atmospheric modeling capabilities similar to those used in the Tracy tire fire have also been used to monitor the impact of radiation dispersal accidents, to study air conditions after natural disasters, and to track the course of environmentally hazardous releases to the atmosphere.
Contact: James Ellis (925) 422-1808 (ellis6@llnl.gov).
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