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Top 10 Science and Technology Developments of Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2010

Los Alamos National Laboratory has named its Top 10 science and technology developments of 2010 based on major programmatic milestones, strategic potential, scholarly accounts, and associated news coverage.

“The science featured here represents just a fraction of what we the Laboratory accomplished this year. But it does indicate the extreme breadth of national security science work we do here at the Lab as well as the high caliber and dedication of people at Los Alamos in service to our nation,” said Terry Wallace, LANL’s principal associate director for science, technology and engineering. “This year’s compilation ranges from achievements in HIV vaccine research and airport security to stockpile stewardship and biofuels advancement.”

Much of the science and technology at Los Alamos stems from or benefits the Lab’s key national security mission performed for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

“I continue to be impressed by the contributions this lab makes to improve the health and the quality of life of people around the world,” said Kevin Smith, manager of NNSA’s Los Alamos Site Office. “We are very proud of the LANL men and women behind these accomplishments.”

The Top 10 LANL science and technology developments of 2010:

Developing a novel HIV vaccine

Using the Lab’s Roadrunner supercomputer, LANL scientists created the world’s largest evolutionary tree for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Working as part of a consortium led by Duke University Medical Center, LANL researchers used this data to help design a new type of vaccine that’s progressing to human clinical trials. The consortium’s biometric mosaic vaccine approach benefits from computational methods developed at LANL to create sets of highly variable artificial viral proteins. In combination, these proteins provide nearly optimal coverage of HIV’s diverse forms. Studies have shown that the mosaic vaccination strategy expands the breadth and depth of immune responses in rhesus monkeys, the best animal model available.

Advancing a liquid scanner system for use at airports

Los Alamos scientists successfully demonstrated in October a new version of the Lab’s magnetic resonance scanner designed to characterize potentially explosive liquids and gels in bottles and cans. The device, called CoilViz, provides results in under 30 seconds, displaying a simple red-yellow-green light signal. The new prototype is smaller, faster, technologically simpler, and cheaper to produce than its predecessor, adapted from MRI medical technology. Last year’s LANL Top 10 list included the earlier MagViz prototype, developed, like its successor, for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Creating unprecedented imaging capabilities for stewardship of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and other applications

Lab staff this past year won five R&D 100 awards from R&D Magazine. One went to Scott Watson, inventor of the world’s fastest and most flexible movie camera, MOXIE, which captures 20 million frames per second. MOXIE, which stands for Movies of eXtreme Imaging Experiments, can record images from visible light, X-rays, gamma rays and neutron sources. Because each of MOXIE’s pixels has its own detector, amplifier, analog-to-digital convertor, and memory—with thousands of channels operating in parallel—MOXIE achieves high frame rates, a large number of frames, and unprecedented sensitivity required to achieve imaging experiments that other cameras cannot. LANL already uses MOXIE for a wide variety of purposes, which include:

  • taking X-ray movies of full-scale mock explosions at LANL’s DARHT facility (which made LANL’s 2009 Top 10 list), used to verify calculations and certify nuclear weapons without nuclear testing
  • better enabling scientists to study material equations of state, fusion plasma, discharge formation, shock physics and fracture mechanics
  • improving the range of experiments using schlieren photography, X-ray fluoroscopy, neutron radiography, proton radiography and visible light photography
  • recording detailed movies of detonating improvised explosive devices and facilitating ballistic studies.

Taking advantage of MOXIE, LANL technical staff this year conducted experiments at DARHT (the Lab’s Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility) that greatly benefited the national’s Stockpile Stewardship Program. Inside a containment vessel at DARHT, high explosives drive an implosion of a warhead duplicate made from non-nuclear surrogate materials. Two electron accelerators positioned 90 degrees from one another generate high-powered X-rays that yield multiple images of the imploding device’s inner workings, which are then compared with computer predictions.


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