Los Alamos Achievements from Supercomputing to Biofuels

Los Alamos National Laboratory (www.lanl.gov) has identified the Top 10 Laboratory science stories of 2009 based on global viewership of online media content and major programmatic milestones.

“Often our top breakthroughs in terms of scientific impact are also the ones that garner the most attention in the media,” said Terry Wallace, Laboratory principal associate director of science, technology, and engineering. “This was certainly the case for Roadrunner and for the Ardi discovery. Sometimes, the best measure of impact is programmatic, such as the successful DARHT two-axis hydrotest, or our teams using nanotechnology for energy breakthroughs. In combination, this collection of advances points to the diverse capabilities at Los Alamos that we harness for national security science.”

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.

The Top 10 LANL Science Stories for 2009 are:

#1: Roadrunner:

The Roadrunner supercomputer at Los Alamos is the first computing system in the world to reach a petaflop, computer jargon for 1 million billion calculations per second, a record that stood for a year and a half. But the real accomplishment is that Roadrunner reached that goal using an entirely new computing architecture.

The secret to its record-breaking performance is a unique hybrid design. The full system consists of 278 server racks containing 6,562 AMD Opteron dual-core processors and 12,240 PowerXCell 8i Cell processors, a special IBM-developed variant of the Cell processor used in the Sony PlayStation3. The node-attached Cell accelerators are what make Roadrunner completely different than typical computing “clusters.”

Roadrunner also is one of the most energy-efficient supercomputers. Using approximately 3 megawatts of power at sustained petaflop performance, the system produces about 500 megaflops per watt, more than twice the efficiency of the average supercomputer.

#2: Ardi:

A Los Alamos National Laboratory geologist is part of an international research team responsible for discovering the oldest nearly intact skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus, who lived 4.4 million years ago.

The discovery reveals the biology of the first stage of human evolution better than anything seen to date. The fossil, nicknamed “Ardi,” is the earliest skeleton known from the human branch of the primate family tree. The discovery provides new insights about how hominids—the family of “great apes” comprising humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans—may have emerged from an ancestral ape.

The discovery and associated research were named Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year for 2009 and selected by Time magazine as the #1 science story of 2009.

#3: Climate modeling & monitoring:

LANL innovations in high-resolution climate modeling and monitoring led to new insights into the impacts of climate change at global and regional scales.

The changing conditions in the ocean due to increased acidity from increased CO2 is one of the unknowns in future climate change projections. LANL’s Climate, Ocean, and Sea Ice Modeling effort for DOE and the National Science Foundation develops the highest-resolution dynamic models of the world’s oceans and polar icecaps.

Although up to 80 percent of the world’s oxygen is generated by photosynthetic processes in ocean phytoplankton and other sea plants, the effects of this photosynthesis on removing CO2 from the atmosphere have not been included previously because of the lack of available computing power.

Harnessing the petaflop capacity of LANL’s Roadrunner supercomputer (see #1 above), Lab researchers recently examined the effect of mesoscale ocean eddies (a few miles in size) on the transport of nutrients crucial for the growth of phytoplankton. These eddies cause vertical transport of nutrients, which is crucial for the growth of phytoplankton.

The model can then calculate surface chlorophyll concentrations, and compare to satellite images. This model is dramatically better than the previous state of the art in resolution and its ability to capture biological complexity.

The regional effects of global climate change on western U.S. forests also are important to understanding future impacts, especially as forests comprise an important CO2 sink. The widespread die-off of piñon trees in the Southwest is now being followed by a larger-scale pine mortality in the Mountain West. LANL scientists documented a new mechanism for this mortality, called carbon starvation. It has been widely presumed that trees die of hydraulic failure (drying out). Instead, they die from closure of the tiny pores on the surfaces of leaves that permit the exchange of gases between the atmosphere and the leaf. When the pores are closed (to prevent water loss during extreme drought), the photosynthetic uptake of carbon also stops, starving the trees. This type of mortality has been documented on all six vegetated continents and is increasing, with climate change, across all biomes (forest, desert, grasslands, tundra, and aquatic ecosystems).

This work is an enormous step forward in demonstrating that regional climate change drives a global-scale response of vegetation mortality. Massive forest die-offs can change vegetated areas from carbon sinks to carbon sources.

#4: MagViz:

LANL’s MagViz team pioneered the use of modified magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) technology to distinguish and alert airport security staff to potentially dangerous liquids and gels in airport carry-on baggage.

Using extremely low magnetic fields and high-powered computer analysis, the MagViz equipment was demonstrated for its Department of Homeland Security sponsors and potential Transportation Safety Administration users at the Albuquerque International Sunport (http://www.youtube.com/LosAlamosNationalLab#p/a/u/4/xT2zncrtU-s).

A new area of development is a bottled-liquid scanner system based on the same technology.

#5: First dual-axis hydrodynamic test:

LANL scientists and engineers fired the first-ever double-viewpoint, multiframe hydrodynamic test at DARHT, the Laboratory’s Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility – leading to future experiments at LANL and across the nation’s nuclear security enterprise, supporting the stockpile stewardship and weapons assurance mission. “Initial data return was excellent,” said the hydrodynamic experiments division leader, David Funk. “The baseline experiment captured five time-dependent X-ray images and a variety of data from other diagnostics of pressure, temperature, and timing. This data provides the nation with one of the most rigorous tests of our capability to predict weapons performance.”

#6: Hurricane prediction:

A system of sensors developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nonproliferation mission has also begun to give meteorologists their most detailed view of the relationship between hurricanes and lightning.

By examining the rate and nature of lightning in the hurricane’s eye wall, scientists may begin to be able to predict the potential strengthening of these destructive storms.

#7: Fuel from plants:

Los Alamos National Laboratory has teamed with Solix Biofuels, Inc. to use an award-winning LANL sound-wave technology to optimize production of algae-based fuel in a cost-effective, scalable, and environmentally benign fashion.

Acoustic focusing—the novel use of sound waves at the heart of the Los Alamos Acoustic Flow Cytometer, a 2007 R&D 100 Award-winning technology—is being commercialized in partnership with Solix to harvest biocrude, or “green gold,” an alternative to crude oil that can be refined into biodiesel, gasoline, or even jet fuel. The technology is to be deployed in 2010 to Solix’s Coyote Gulch Demonstration Facility near Durango, Colorado, for real-world production of lower-cost biofuel.

In addition, research breakthroughs using the LANL Protein Crystallography Station (part of the Lab’s LANSCE facility) to probe the structure of cellulose are making the prospect of affordable, efficient production of cellulosic fuels closer to reality. The Protein Crystallography Station is the only resource of its kind in the United States and the first protein crystallography beam line to be built at a spallation neutron source.

#8: IBEX:

The invisible structures of space are becoming less so, as scientists look out to the far edges of the solar wind bubble that separates our solar system from the interstellar cloud through which it flies.

Using the High Energy Neutral Atom Imager, led by LANL, the NASA Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ibex/index.html) has sent back data that indicates a “noodle soup” of solar material has accumulated at the outer fringes of the heliosphere bubble. The Los Alamos camera detects particles that are heated and stream away from that boundary, specifically the density and temperature of atoms that form the core of that layer.

#9: Laser-particle acceleration for cancer therapy:

Laser-particle acceleration is an emerging area of physics expected to enable significant future advances in cancer radiotherapy. An international team of physicists led by LANL has accelerated protons to world-record high energies that are otherwise only achievable with large accelerator facilities. Proton radiation at the achieved energy range can be used, for example, to treat eye cancer.

The new record-proton-acceleration energies were demonstrated at LANL’s Trident facility—the world’s highest-contrast, high-intensity, high-energy laser. Physicists bombarded specially designed thin films created using nanotechnology with short bursts of laser energy. The electric fields generated from this bombardment were used to accelerate protons to energies higher than ever before achieved—capable of destroying cancer cells.

#10: Nanotechnology for Energy Frontiers:

Two LANL teams were awarded lead roles as DOE Energy Frontier Research Centers to develop new materials for energy.

The Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics will capitalize on recent advances in the science of how nanoparticles interact with light to design highly efficient materials for the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The purpose of this EFRC is to develop novel physics, materials, and architectures for harvesting solar light and converting it into electrical charges with efficiencies above equilibrium thermodynamic limits. Such materials can boost the efficiency of solar-energy conversion.

The Center for Extreme Environment-Tolerant Materials has as its objective to understand, at the atomic scale, the behavior of materials subject to extreme radiation doses and mechanical stress in order to synthesize new materials that can tolerate such conditions. This EFRC will develop a fundamental understanding of how atomic structure and interfaces contribute to defect and damage evolution in materials, with such potential applications as structural materials, fuel cladding, and waste forms in the next generation of nuclear power reactors and structural materials in transportation, energy, and defense.

After running a series of complex supercomputer simulations, researchers have found that flaws in the structure of magnetic nanoscale wires play an important role in determining the operating speed of novel devices using such nanowires to store and process information. The finding*, made by researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Maryland, and the University of Paris XI, will help to deepen the physical understanding and guide the interpretation of future experiments of these next-generation devices.

Magnetic nanowires store information in discrete bands of magnetic spins. One can imagine the nanowire like a straw sucking up and holding the liquid of a meticulously layered chocolate and vanilla milkshake, with the chocolate segments representing 1s and the vanilla 0s. The boundaries between these layers are called domain walls. Researchers manipulate the information stored on the nanowire using an electrical current to push the domain walls, and the information they enclose, through the wire and past immobile read and write heads.

Interpretations of experiments seeking to measure how domain walls move have largely ignored the effects of "disorder"—usually the result of defects or impurities in the structure of the nanowires. To see how disorder affects the motion of these microscopic magnetic domains, NIST researchers and their colleagues introduced disorder into their computer simulations.

Their simulations showed that disorder, which causes friction within the nanowires, can increase the rate at which a current can move domain walls.

According to NIST physicist Mark Stiles, friction can cause the domain walls to move faster because they need to lose energy in order to move down the wire.

For example, when a gyroscope spins, it resists the force of gravity. If a little friction is introduced into the gyroscope's bearing, the gyroscope will fall over more quickly. Similarly, in the absence of damping, a domain wall will only move from one side of the nanowire to the other. Disorder within the nanowire enables the domain walls to lose energy, which gives them the freedom to "fall" down the length of the wire as they move back and forth.

"We can say that the domain wall is moving as if it were in a system that has considerably greater effective damping than the actual damping," says NIST physicist and lead researcher Hongki Min. "This increase in the effective damping is significant enough that it should affect the interpretation of most future domain wall experiments."

The Institute of Physics (IOP) has announced this year's award winners with the Isaac Newton Medal, IOP's international medal, going to theoretical physicist Professor Edward Witten for outstanding, transformative contributions to physics.

As one of the most influential physicists of the past 30 years, he has had impact in areas ranging from the phenomenology of particle physics and cosmology to theoretical areas of string theory and quantum gravity.

Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, president of IOP, said of Professor Witten, "Professor Witten's originality, physical insight and mathematical power have revolutionised the subject. A most creative and productive theoretical physicist, he has had a tremendous impact in the areas of quantum field theory, general relativity and string theory.

"As the third ever winner of our Newton medal, following Anton Zeilinger and, last year, Alan Guth, we are delighted that Edward is coming over from the US to give the Newton Lecture and to receive his medal."

Professor Witten will be giving the Newton Lecture at the Institute of Physics on Friday 2 July.

This year's range of winners also includes pioneers of biological physics such as Professor Dame Athene Donald; architects of paradigm-shifting technologies like Professor Sir Michael Pepper; climate scientist Dr Myles Allen renowned for quantifying the role of uncertainty in predictions of future climate change, and media star Prof Brian Cox.

Jocelyn continued, "The range of winners shows how all-encompassing contemporary physics research is. From Professor Donald's studies into the structure of proteins to Dr Allen's climate models, just two examples of research that are helping us deal with some of the biggest issues our society faces - disease in an ageing population and climate change.

"Every one of our winners, as some of the world's very best physicists, has an incredible story to tell about the advances they are responsible for."

2010 Award Winners

Isaac Newton medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Edward Witten
Institute for Advanced Studies
For his many profound contributions that have transformed areas of particle theory, quantum field theory and general relativity.

Business and Innovation medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Sir Michael Pepper
University College London
For translating advances in semiconductor physics into the commercial arena, including key roles in founding Toshiba Research Europe, Cambridge Laboratory, and TeraView Ltd.

Dirac medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor James Binney
Rudolf Peierls Institute for Theoretical Physics, Oxford University
For his contribution to our understanding of how galaxies are constituted, how they work and how they were formed.

Faraday medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Athene Donald
University of Cambridge
For her many highly original studies of the structures and behaviour of polymers both synthetic and natural.

Glazebrook medal of the Institute of Physics
Professor Peter Roberts
For his leadership in the design, physics and safety of nuclear weapons.

Appleton medal and prize
Dr Myles Allen
University of Oxford
For his important contributions to the detection and attribution of human influence on climate and quantifying uncertainty in climate predictions.

Franklin medal and prize
Professor Thomas Duke
University College London
For the application of physical principles to the development of elegant molecular sorting devices, for providing new insights into the organising principles of cells and for his primary contributions to a new generation of theories of how the inner ear works.

Gabor medal and prize
Professor Pratibha L Gai
The University of York
For her pioneering development of atomic – resolution environmental transmission electron microscopy and its application to instrument manufacture and industrial processing.

Hoyle medal and prize
Professor Carlos S Frenk
Institute for Computational Cosmology, University of Durham
For his major contributions to the development of the now widely accepted cold dark matter model by using cosmological simulations, novel methods for calculating the physics of galaxy formation and analysis of galaxy surveys.

Rutherford medal and prize
Professor Martin Freer
University of Birmingham
For establishing the existence of nuclear configurations analogous to molecules and demonstrating the existence of nucleon-clustering in key light nuclei, a long-standing issue in the field.

Thomson medal and prize
Professor Gaetana Laricchia
University College London
For her contributions to the development of the world's only positronium beam and its use to probe the properties of atoms and molecules

Maxwell medal and prize
Dr Peter Haynes
Imperial College London
For his work on linear-scaling methods for large-scale first-principles simulation of materials based on density-functional theory, in particular his leading role in the development of the ONETEP code used in both academe and industry.

Moseley medal and prize
Professor Jeremy O’Brien
University of Bristol
For his outstanding contributions to experimental quantum optics and quantum information science and in particular for pioneering the field of integrated quantum photonics.

Paterson medal and prize
Professor Stefan Maier
Imperial College London
For his important contributions to the fields of plasmonics and plasmonic metamaterials.

Bragg medal and prize
Peter Campbell
Science Learning Centre London
For his leading role in a wide range of projects that have made a significant impact on the physics curriculum and the teaching of physics.

Kelvin medal and prize
Professor Brian Cox
The University of Manchester
For communicating the appeal and excitement of physics to the general public through the broadcast media.


Voltaire Switches Accelerate Top 4 Supercomputers on Green500 List Demonstrating Performance and Efficiency Leadership


Voltaire Ltd’s switches are connecting the world’s most energy efficient supercomputers, according to the findings of the latest Green500 list announced by Green500.org. Voltaire switches serve as the high-performance interconnect for the top 4 and 26 of the top 100 most energy efficient supercomputers on the list.

“Voltaire is known for delivering performance as evidenced by our InfiniBand leadership position on the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, said Asaf Somekh, vice president of marketing, Voltaire. “This new Green500 list showcases Voltaire’s strength in delivering energy efficient fabrics for high performance systems. Voltaire’s unique combination of performance and efficiency is important for commercial data centers that need to reduce costs and energy usage without compromising on performance.”

Voltaire Grid Director InfiniBand switches deliver 20 or 40 Gb/s bandwidths and low latency with less than 5 watts per port power consumption.

“Insufficient power and cooling continue to dominate as the greatest data center facility problems,” said John Phelps, Research VP, Gartner. “In a recent poll of infrastructure and operations managers, combined power and cooling deficiencies were identified as the greatest data center facility problem for 67% of users.”

The Green500 (www.green500.org) is a list ranking the most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world and serves as a complementary view to the Top500 (www.top500.org) list of the most powerful supercomputers.

More information about Voltaire’s Grid Director InfiniBand switches is available at http://www.voltaire.com/Products/InfiniBand/Grid_Director_Switches and a free whitepaper, “Reducing Data Center Energy Costs Up to 50% by Consolidating and Virtualizing Your Network” is available at http://www.voltaire.com/unifiedfabric.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council today announced a five-year £2.4 billion investment strategy in world-leading multi-disciplinary science and technology, designed to deliver maximum scientific, societal, international and economic benefit for the United Kingdom in the current
tougher financial environment.

"The Council of STFC has approved an affordable, robust and sustainable programme. This has involved tough choices affecting the entire programme including a managed withdrawal from some areas," STFC chairman, Professor Michael Sterling FREng, said.

"This is a major reorganisation of our programme to focus on the top priority items making use of the international subscriptions which, while costly, allow UK scientists critically important access to the world class facilities provided by these international consortia. We have also planned on the basis of the current value of the pound."

Professor Sterling said the strategic consolidation and redirection of the science programme would ensure continued major benefits for the UK.

"Taxpayers can be confident that their significant investment in research will deliver the highest quality, and most inspiring and beneficial, science and technology into the future," he said.

Professor Sterling acknowledged the hard work over many months by the members of Science Board, its science committees and panels, and STFC staff, to ensure Council received the best possible scientific advice.

"Council approved this programme based on the recommendations from Science Board and its advisory bodies, which comprise leading academics from across the disciplines supported by STFC. We also welcomed the advice given to Science Board from other bodies including the Economic Impact Advisory Board," Professor Sterling said.

The five-year programme includes:

-A budget of £461 million near-cash (plus £73m additional capital grants)
in 2010-11, which will allow STFC to make the transition to the new
programme from 2011-12 onward.  This budget assumes international
compensation and the additional £14 million referred to below.

-From 2010-11, ongoing support for our international subscriptions, a 10%
reduction in support for future exploitation grants and a managed
cessation of lower priority areas, 25% reduction in the number of new
studentships and Fellowships mirroring the overall reduction in the
programme since the 2007 baseline, and a rationalisation of our projects
based on prioritisation and affordability.

-Research Councils UK has agreed that the other Research Councils will
make up to £14m available to STFC from within the Science and Research
budget. This exceptional action, in financial year 2010-11 only, will
assist STFC to move to a sustainable new strategy in line with the level
of resource already provided to STFC by Government in CSR07. In particular
it will remove the risk that STFC's existing research grants to
universities, for scientific exploitation activities, would need to be
terminated early.

-£690 million over five years for support for particle physics in the UK,
focussing on work at the European particle physics laboratory CERN in
Geneva where the Large Hadron Collider is expected to start routine
science operations in January 2010, other experiments including into
properties of neutrinos, and grants to university groups in the UK to
exploit this investment.

-£639 million over five years for support for space science in the UK
through membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) including the Cosmic
Vision programme and the Aurora programme of planetary exploration
expected to deliver a robotic mission to Mars within 10 years, other
bilateral missions, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit
this investment. We will seek to achieve an overall lower level of
support, including post launch support, for lower priority missions.

-£267 million over five years for support for ground-based astronomy in
the UK, focussing on access to the world-leading telescopes ALMA, VLT &
VISTA in Chile through membership of the European Southern Observatory
(ESO) organisation, ongoing research & development support for the
proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and European Extremely Large
Telescope (E-ELT), operation of SCUBA-2 on the JCMT until 2012, previously
agreed support for e-MERLIN as part of our strategy for the SKA, and
grants to university groups in the UK to exploit this investment.

-£258 million over five years for access to light sources for the medical,
biological, chemistry, environmental, materials and other sciences and
engineering through the provision and upgrades of the Diamond Light Source
in Oxfordshire and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in

-£236 million over five years for access to neutron sources for the
medical, biological, chemistry, environmental, materials and other
sciences and engineering through the provision and upgrades of the ISIS
neutron-muon facility in Oxfordshire and the Institute Laue-Langevin in
Grenoble, as part of a wider European strategy for the future provision of

-£30 million over five years for support for nuclear physics, focussed on
the NUSTAR project, and grants to university groups in the UK to exploit
this investment.

-£27 million over five years for support for high powered laser research.
In addition we will invest substantial capital in the Vulcan 10 PetaWatt
laser upgrade.

-A refocused accelerator activity at Daresbury to take forward pioneering
work on the application of accelerators to physics, medical, bio-medical,
energy, engineering and other life sciences in the UK, building on the
existing investment in the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre
(ASTeC) and Cockcroft Institute at Daresbury, and previously agreed
support for the John Adams Institute at Oxford.

-Development of the National Science and Innovation Campuses at Harwell in
Oxfordshire, and Daresbury in Cheshire, confirming the two Campuses as
centres for new collaborative engagement between researchers, academics
and industry across the UK and Europe leading to new research outcomes,
new investment, and greater economic return.

-Provision of an extensive range of support and enabling technologies for
the entire research base across the UK and Europe, including the
Microelectronics Support Centre at Harwell delivering training for
engineers across Europe, the e-Science Centre supporting data transfer and
analysis across the entire UK academic network, and computational science
and engineering support for quantum chemistry, molecular simulation,
solid-state physics, materials simulation, engineering and environmental

-Ongoing support for public outreach and science communication, through
continuance of our award schemes and Fellowships, and public engagement
and communications, helping to ensure new generations of children are
enthused and inspired by science, and encouraged to continue study in
science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

As noted above the programme includes the managed withdrawal from a number of projects and programmes including the Gemini telescopes, the NLS, and UKIRT.

Chief Executive Officer, Professor Keith Mason, said discussions would be held in coming months with national and international partners, including universities, departments and project teams, on implementation of the investment strategy. This will include discussions with EPSRC and the University funding councils on the impact of these measures on physics departments in universities.

"We will ensure a managed withdrawal from those activities that we will no longer support, taking into account the fact that the academic and research community of scientists is a national resource. We recognise that ‘economic and societal impact' is a result of scientific achievement, and that scientific achievement is a result of the underlying academic and research community without whose ideas and drive no innovation would emerge," Professor Mason said.

"The programme adopted by Council is extensive and will require both external and internal re-alignment and change. The managed withdrawal from identified projects will allow members of our scientific communities to redirect their efforts, or where possible to seek other sources of funding for their projects.

"We have already initiated this process with our staff, universities; partner Research Councils, the Institute of Physics and Royal Astronomical Society, project leaders, international partners and others."

Professor Mason said the detailed implementation of some measures would, of necessity, await input from these stakeholder discussions. He said STFC was committed to regular assessment of projects and programmes to ensure scientific objectives were being met and value-for-money delivered.

"Our focus on ensuring the highest possible standards of scientific excellence, as well as delivery of maximum benefit for the taxpayer, underpinned the now-concluded programme prioritisation and will continue to be a core principle into the future," Professor Mason said.

This statement, contact information and further detail is available online at http://www.stfc.ac.uk

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