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The Laboratory
in the News

Lab captures a record seven R&D 100 awards
Livermore researchers garnered seven R&D 100 awards
this year. Each year, R&D Magazine presents these awards to
the top 100 industrial, high-technology inventions submitted
to its competition for outstanding achievements in research
and development.
The seven Livermore inventions honored are as follows:
• Sonoma Persistent Surveillance System, an end-to-end systems approach to monitoring a large field of view 24/7 with sufficient resolution and frame rate to track all moving vehicles in the field.
• UltraSpec, an ultrahigh-resolution gamma and neutron spectrometer that can be configured to characterize and identify gamma-ray or neutron sources.
• Babel, a high-performance language interoperability tool that enables software pieces written in different programming languages to seamlessly call each other.
• E.L.I.T.E.™, a pocket-sized trace explosives test that is robust, sensitive, cheap, and simple enough to be used by security forces everywhere.
• Sapphire Scientific Data-Mining Software, a software toolkit for analyzing massive, complex data sets arising from scientific experiments, observations, and computer simulations.
• Externally Dispersed Interferometry, a novel interferometer–spectrograph system used to measure precision Doppler velocities of stars or sunlit targets.
• High-Average-Power Wavelength Converter, a device for efficiently changing the “color” of laser light, enabling large-aperture, high-average-power lasers to operate at wavelengths different than the wavelength set by the laser medium.
S&TR’s October issue will feature short articles on these award-winning inventions and the teams that created them.
Contact: Karena McKinley (925) 423-9353 (mckinley3@llnl.gov).

Nanotube membranes may reduce desalinization costs
A team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore and the University of California at Berkeley has created a membrane made of carbon nanotubes and silicon that may offer a less expensive way to remove salt from water. The nanotube membranes are more permeable than conventional membranes used in reverse osmosis and could reduce the energy costs of desalination by up to 75 percent.
The permeable membrane is composed of carbon nanotube pore holes on a silicon chip. The nanotubes are hollow and more than 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. Billions of these tubes act as membrane pores. The extremely smooth inside of the nanotubes allows liquids and gases to rapidly flow through, while the tiny pore size blocks larger molecules. The gaps between the aligned carbon nanotubes are filled with a ceramic matrix material. “The gas and water flows that we measured are 100 to 10,000 times faster than what classical models predict,” says Livermore physicist and team leader Olgica Bakajin. Another potential application of the membranes is gas separation. The team’s research appeared in the May 19, 2006, issue of Science.
Contact: Olgica Bakajin (925) 422-0931 (bakajin1@llnl.gov) or Aleksandr Noy (925) 424-6203 (noy1@llnl.gov).

Scientists tackle long-standing questions about plutonium
Plutonium behaves like no other element in nature. In metallic form, its crystal structure is uneven, similar to that of a mineral. In addition, its nucleus is unstable, which causes the metal to spontaneously decay over time and damage the surrounding metal lattice. When the first batches of the metal were made during the Manhattan Project, scientists found the metal too brittle to machine because of the minerallike structure of the crystal. Scientists then added aluminum and found they could retain the ductile face-centered-cubic, or delta, phase. Shortly thereafter, they discovered that gallium also worked to stabilize the delta phase of plutonium, but scientists have not understood why for 60 years. Recently, a team of researchers from Livermore and Carnegie Mellon University has added to the understanding of why gallium is effective.
According to lead researcher Kevin Moore in Livermore’s Chemistry and Materials Science Directorate, the metal has a high propensity to adopt a low-symmetry structure because the bonds between plutonium atoms are uneven. However, when a gallium atom is put in the plutonium lattice, the bonds become more uniform, leading to a high-symmetry cubic structure.
“Previous experiments tell us that the plutonium lattice exhibits very slight distortions, but there was no clear explanation as to why this happens,” says Moore. “Our calculations explain the observations. They show the distortions are the response of plutonium and its uneven bonds to defects produced in the crystal. The calculations strongly illuminate why gallium stabilizes the ductile cubic structure to room temperature.”
The work of Moore, Livermore colleagues Per Söderlind and Adam Schwartz, and David Laughlin of Carnegie Mellon appeared in the May 26, 2006, online edition of Physical Review Letters.
Contact: Kevin Moore (925) 422-9741 (moore78@llnl.gov).

Study shows sperm genetic quality declines with age
A study led by scientists at Lawrence Livermore and the University of California at Berkeley indicates that the genetic quality of sperm worsens as men get older, increasing a man’s risk of being infertile, fathering unsuccessful pregnancies, and passing along dwarfism and possibly other genetic diseases to his children.
Earlier research by the same team indicated that male reproductive ability gradually worsens with age, as sperm counts decline and sperm lose mobility. In the current study, the researchers analyzed DNA damage, chromosomal abnormalities, and gene mutations in semen samples from the same subjects—97 healthy, nonsmoking Livermore employees and retirees between 22 and 80 years old. The researchers found that sperm mobility showed a high correlation with DNA fragmentation, which is associated with increased risk of infertility and a reduced probability of fathering a successful pregnancy.
“This study shows that men who wait until they’re older to have children are not only risking difficulties conceiving, they could also be increasing the risk of having children with genetic problems,” says co-lead author Andrew Wyrobek of Livermore. The study appeared in the June 20, 2006, online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Contact: Andrew Wyrobek (925) 422-6296 (wyrobek1@llnl.gov).

Ancient galaxy cluster could shed light on dark matter
Astronomers announced the discovery of the most distant cluster of galaxies ever found. The cluster may also be the most massive one yet seen at such an early era in the universe. Almost 10 billion light years from Earth, the cluster contains hundreds of galaxies surrounded by superheated, x-ray-emitting gases. The X-Ray Multi Mirror (XMM) Cluster Survey team used observations from the European XMM-Newton satellite to discover the cluster. They determined its distance using the 10-meter W. M. Keck telescope in Hawaii.
The total mass of the cluster is enough to contain 500 trillion stars comparable in mass to our Sun. That’s a surprising stellar mass for a galaxy cluster to have achieved at such an early era in the evolution of the universe, according to lead researcher Adam Stanford, a research scientist at Livermore and the University of California at Davis. Most of the mass is thought to be dark matter, a mysterious, invisible form of matter that dominates the mass of all galaxies in the universe. The team presented its findings at the 208th American Astronomical Society Meeting held June 4–8, 2006, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Contact: Adam Stanford (925) 423-6013 (stanford3@llnl.gov).

NNSA announces new mark for BlueGene/L
The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and IBM announced on June 22, 2006, that Livermore’s BlueGene/L supercomputer has achieved a new mark. The world record for a scientific application was set by achieving a sustained performance of 207.3 trillion floating-point operations per second (teraflops) on the Qbox computer code. Ranked the world’s fastest supercomputer by the Top500 organization, BlueGene/L is used to conduct materials science simulations for NNSA’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Program. The computer simulation capabilities developed by the ASC Program provide analyses that NNSA needs to keep the nuclear weapons stockpile safe, secure, and reliable.
Qbox is a first-principles molecular dynamics (FPMD) code, designed to predict the properties of metals under extreme temperatures and pressures. FPMD codes are used for complex simulations at the atomic level in a number of scientific areas, including metallurgy, solid-state physics, chemistry, biology, and nanotechnology. The “Q” in Qbox is for “quantum,” a reference to the quantum mechanical descriptions of electrons. The ability to accurately model changes to the electronic structure of atoms distinguishes FPMD codes from classical molecular dynamics codes.
The three-dimensional FPMD code was run on BlueGene/L to study how molybdenum atoms behave under pressure. The simulation represents one of only a handful of “predictive science” simulations successfully modeling 1,000 atoms. Although classical molecular dynamics calculations are frequently run with billions of atoms, routine quantum runs, which are both very complex and accurate, have been restricted to about 50 atoms until now.
Contact: Mark Seager (925) 423-3141 (seager1@llnl.gov).

 



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UCRL-52000-06-9 | September 15, 2006