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Lab Notes: Supercomputer challengers come to town

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By Roger Snodgrass

Students from around the state will visit Los Alamos Monday and Tuesday to face off for the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge. Los Alamos National Laboratory will host more than 250 students from New Mexico’s high schools and middle schools. The occasion is the 18th Annual Supercomputing Challenge, the culmination of months of effort by the students and their teachers. Projects will be judged Monday and an awards ceremony will take place 9-11 a.m. Tuesday in the Church of Christ auditorium, 2323 Diamond Drive.Two teams from Albuquerque Academy, and teams from St. Pius/La Cueva, Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos Middle School and Sandia Prep have been selected as first-round finalists based on their written reports.Topics by these contestants include such subjects as nanoscale assembly, hydrodynamic modeling, supersonic shockwaves, modeling spacecraft reentry for the high school students and energy efficiency and comparing numerical integration methods for the middle schoolers.Information about the challenge, including written reports can be found at www.challenge.nm.org/finalreports.   Budget talks feature lab directors 

The nuclear weapons laboratories have lost more than 4,000 jobs in the last 18 months, while weapons appropriations have grown slightly, three lab directors told a Senate committee Wednesday.Scientific and engineering jobs have accounted for half of the voluntary reductions at Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to Director Michael Anastasio.Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director George Miller, which is about to impose involuntary cuts, said the California weapons laboratory had a smaller budget and about $180 million in additional costs. Some of the costs were associated with fees, taxes and benefits associated with the new management contract for the laboratory, he said.Thomas Hunter of Sandia National Laboratories said losses had been in the 500 to 600 range, while new work had been added from non-Department of Energy sources.Energy and water development appropriations subcommittee chair Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., requested reports from Miller and Anastasio on the added costs associated with their for-profit contracts.Sen. Pete Domenici and Dorgan sparred over funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, (RRW), the concept for redesigning the nation’s nuclear weapons that was nearly eliminated from the budget last year.“I supported zeroing out the funding in ‘08,” Dorgan said. “It is not my intention to fund the administration’s $10 million request in ‘08.” At the same time, he said, he supported maintaining critical skills at the national laboratories.Dorgan said the RRW program should await an overall analysis of strategic defense that would weight the program’s affect on international non-proliferation efforts.Domenici countered that other nuclear weapons countries had already begun to upgrade their weapons programs.Dorgan asked Anastasio about his confidence in the reliability of the stockpile of nuclear weapons.“I am confident in the stockpile today,” Anastasio said. “The concerns I have are related to going forward to the future.”He said some of the concerns were significant and have “caused us to restrict the scope of certification of some of the weapons we have in the nuclear stockpile.” 

Bingaman, Udall want answers on cleanup 

A report by the Department of Energy Inspector General continued to make waves during the week. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. said they were puzzled about information in the report, including how the Department of Energy could negotiate a binding contract for a comprehensive cleanup program at Los Alamos National Laboratory, “knowing that it was working with grossly inadequate information about the cleanup requirements.”A joint announcement by the senator and representative questioned why DOE “has made no serious attempt to adequately fund the cleanup efforts.”They said they had asked Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to explain which, if any, milestones in the Consent Order with the state of New Mexico were at risk of not being met. They also asked when the department expects to meet those milestones, whether other milestones are at risk and how much additional funding is needed to meet the deadlines.