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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.”
The Top 10 LANL science and technology developments of 2010:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 that greatly benefited the national’s Stockpile Stewardship Program.
4. Challenging conventional wisdom about solar wind—a new take on existing data: Research published this year by LANL’s Joseph Borovsky indicated that the world scientific community may be fundamentally wrong about the behavior of solar wind—the plasma particles flowing from the sun and blasting past Earth. Borovsky determined that solar wind seems more likely configured as a network of tubes rather than a relatively simple stream of uniform structure. Understanding solar wind allows us to better understand geomagnetic storms, which can damage electrical power grids, satellites, and cell phone transmission.
5. Making radio waves travel faster than light: A Los Alamos researcher’s perturbation of radio waves has made them travel faster than the speed of light—perhaps explaining the mysterious behavior of pulsars in the process. Using a polarizing synchrotron to combine radio waves with a rapidly spinning magnetic field, LANL’s John Singleton developed a mechanism that could explain why radio emissions from pulsars are so bright and travel so far through space.
6. Boosting output for nuclear physics experiments by 240 percent with a new spallation target scheme.
7. Shedding new light on climate change.
8. Learning to design stronger materials better suited for use in generating nuclear energy.
9. Gaining insight to more efficiently convert plant biomass into biofuels.
10. Developing transparent light-harvesting materials.