Tuesday, March 31, 2009

6 Scientists on the Cutting Edge of Energy and Environmental Research

Phil Hugenholtz and Falk Warnecke: From Termites to Biofuels

The concept is appealingly simple: Termites have specialized enzymes in their guts that digest wood and grass. Advanced biofuels, made from wood and grass, require enzymes to break down the starting material. At the moment, such enzymes are costly and, despite improvements, somewhat inefficient. Natural enzymes—termite enzymes—may offer a path to more efficient biofuels. In 2007, Phil Hugenholtz and Falk Warnecke of the Energy Department’s Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif., took a step in that direction with a paper in the journal Nature identifying more than 500 genes in termite guts associated with enzymes that break down wood’s main structural component, cellulose. More>

Technology Seeds Reap Bumper "Crops" for Idaho

[Nanotechnology Now] For the past several decades, Idaho's chief export has not been the versatile, starch-loaded spud America has come to identify with the state. Instead, it is achieving renown with high-tech scientific goods, which accounts for nearly seven times more sales than all agriculture products combined. One such project is a collaboration between the University of Idaho and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Backed by a $732,000 grant from the Department of Energy, scientists are seeking to use magnetic nanoparticles to recycle high level nuclear waste. More>

Berkeley Lab Checkpoint Restart Improves Productivity

[HPC Wire] A combustion researcher may run a huge simulation of a laboratory-scale flame experiment on a supercomputer to better understand the turbulence-chemistry interactions that affect fuel efficiency. But if the system crashes, then all the data from the run is lost and the user has no choice but to start over. The new version Berkeley Lab Checkpoint Restart (BCLR) software, released in January 2009, could mean that scientists running extensive calculations will be able to recover from such a crash -- if they are running on a Linux system. More>

Monday, March 30, 2009

Top scientists pay future lab a visit

[Black Hills Pioneer] A reception was held for scientists from several large national physics labs gathered in the Black Hills to tour the former Homestake Mine in Lead, future site of the Sanford Lab. South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds made an appearance to meet the visiting scientists. Lawrence Berkeley lab is heavily involved in the Homestake project. Dr. Kevin Lesko, senior physicist at Lawrence Berkeley, is one of the two principal investigators for South Dakota's underground lab project. More>

Forget turning off the lights - shut down the friggin' computer

As people turn off the lights for Earth Hour this evening and ponder their electricity use, one of the world's most rapidly growing power guzzlers - for which nearly everyone carries responsibility - is largely hidden from view. It's the network of data centres and their servers that are the invisible backbone of the Internet. U.S. researcher Jonathan Koomey from California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has done some of the most extensive calculations on electricity use at data centres, and estimated that they accounted for about 1 per cent of total world electricity consumption in 2005. More>

'On Being a Scientist' Offers Guidance for Early-Career Researchers

How should credit for a discovery be allocated among a team of researchers? How should a scientist respond if he discovers errors -- his own or others’ -- in a published analysis? And how can a researcher recognize when a conflict of interest could bias the results of a study she hopes to undertake?These and other questions are explored in the third edition of On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, new from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. "This document will be an important catalyst of discussions among students and their professors, academic and industrial scientists and engineers, managers, administrators and policymakers alike" said Carolyn Bertozzi, chair of the committee that wrote the report and director of the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. More>

Lawrence Berkeley Lab Gains Federal Funds

[Daily Cal] Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will receive $115 million as part of President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as announced by Secretary of Energy and former director of the lab Steven Chu last week. The funding comes from a portion of the $787 billion act Obama signed in February aimed to move research forward at major science institutions, while creating new jobs at the same time. "Most of these projects (being funded by the act) have to do with infrastructure upgrades, and a number of those have been approved, but we have not received any of the money yet," said Jeff Miller, a spokesperson for the lab. More>

Webinar Offers Energy-Saving Architectural Solutions

[iStockAnalyst] Alcoa announced today that an upcoming webinar co-sponsored by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Alcoa’s Kawneer architectural aluminum products business will provide architects and building contractors with insights and strategies for designing high performance buildings using energy efficient architectural solutions. The webinar, “Energy-Saving Architectural Solutions for High-Performance Buildings,” will take place on Thursday, April 16, 2009, at 12 noon ET. Participation is free for all architects, building contractors and media. Berkeley Lab's Steve Selkowitz will make a presentation. More>

Friday, March 27, 2009

Canada-US scientists isolate brain-aging gene

[canada.com] A research team has identified an ``important gene'' that regulates the aging process in the brain. Bernier said age is the primary risk factor for diseases such as macular degeneration, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. About 30 per cent of all people over 80 years old will develop Alzheimer's, he said. Bernier partnered with researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California in a study that identified a mutation in mice that dramatically accelerates the process of aging in the brain and in the eye. More>

Problems in the Uranium Bioremediation Avenue Identified

[Physorg.com] The overall mobility of in the environment is determined by its , which is either hexavalent - U(VI) - or tetravalent - U(IV). In its hexavalent state, uranium is usually more soluble and travels with water. But in the tetravalent state, uranium is insoluble and practically immobile. The goal for researchers is to reduce uranium and keep it stabilized in its tetravalent state. "We want to find a way to immobilize uranium in contaminated groundwater so it doesn't move around," said Tetsu Tokunaga, a researcher from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "However, some of our earlier work, led by Jiamin Wan [also with Berkeley Lab], has shown that this can be problematic." More>

Graphene at the Edge: Stability and Dynamics

[Science Magazine] Although the physics of materials at surfaces and edges has been extensively studied, the movement of individual atoms at an isolated edge has not been directly observed in real time. With a transmission electron aberration–corrected microscope capable of simultaneous atomic spatial resolution and 1-second temporal resolution, we produced movies of the dynamics of carbon atoms at the edge of a hole in a suspended, single atomic layer of graphene. The rearrangement of bonds and beam-induced ejection of carbon atoms are recorded as the hole grows. We investigated the mechanism of edge reconstruction and demonstrated the stability of the "zigzag" edge configuration. This study of an ideal low-dimensional interface, a hole in graphene, exhibits the complex behavior of atoms at a boundary. More>

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Columnist Says Innovation Needs Our Government

[Contra Costa Times] Many of us think that innovation is strictly the province of business and requires little help from government. This hands-off view of government's role in innovation may have been true decades ago, but, in today's highly technological and hyper-competitive global economy, this view is obsolete. A recent study about the sources of major innovations found that in the period between 1970 and 2006, the government played a substantial role in the development of the top 100 technological innovations, assisted by its network of science laboratories, like Berkeley Lab. More>

EPA Issue Permits for Carbon Sequestration Injection Project

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have issued permits authorizing the West Coast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (WESTCARB) to inject 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide into an underground saline formation in Joseph City, west of Holbrook. The WESTCARB injection project is sponsored by the APS power plant in Joseph City and Berkeley Lab, with funding from the Department of Energy. More>

Household cleaners could undermine indoor air quality

[Washington Energy Services] A new study from the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is warning consumers that everyday household cleaners can pose health risks that undermine indoor air quality. The study finds that under certain conditions, a variety of different products can present health risks. The study was authored by William Nazaroff, with Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. More>

Judge Halts Construction at National Laboratory Site

[Berkeley Daily Planet] A federal judge has ordered a halt to work on a $113 million computer lab at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), saying UC officials may have tried to evade federal environmental law. U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup handed down a 20-page preliminary injunction Wednes-day, March 18, siding with Save Strawberry Canyon, a Berkeley citizen’s group formed to challenge the university’s building plans along the canyon. His action halts any work at the site of the proposed Compu-tational Research and Theory (CRT) building until after a September trial in his San Francisco courtroom. More>

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A License to Print Gadgets

[New Scientist] Wallpaper with changing designs, bulbless lamps that shed light from their shades, mediaeval-looking scrolls that unroll to become flexible full-color displays... These are just a few of the new devices the approaching era of printed electronics could bring. "Printed electronics potentially has tremendous advantages in terms of costs — perhaps up to three orders of magnitude cheaper than silicon," says Berkeley Lab materials scientist Vivek Subramanian. More>

The Internet's Hidden Energy Hogs: Data Servers

Server farms are growing fast, fed by an apparently recession proof demand for electronic information. The energy implications of this growth are huge. Energy costs for the companies that operate these constantly running machines are climbing. And with increasing concern about greenhouse gases, server farms are attracting scrutiny.In 2005, Berkeley Lab researchers found that "a single high-powered rack of servers consumes enough energy in a single year to power a hybrid car across the United States 337 times." More>

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

First Americans Brought Anthrax?

Humans were dying of anthrax in North America much earlier than thought—perhaps after scavenging the remains of infected animals while migrating from Asia during the Ice Age—a new study says. While some parts of the new theory are speculative, it "makes a lot of sense" overall, said Gary Andersen, a microbial ecologist at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who was not involved in the study. "I think a lot of scientists will be convinced on the strength of the DNA evidence." More>

Berkeley Lab Get Millions From Stimulus

[San Francisco Chronicle] Energy Department laboratories at UC Berkeley and Stanford University have been awarded more than $184 million for new research and laboratory construction as part of the $1.2 billion the department will spend on science under the Obama administration's economic stimulus program, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Monday. Berkeley Lab said a large part of its $115.8 million share will be used to speed completion of a building for scientists working with the Advanced Light Source. The new money for Berkeley will also go toward building a laser-based accelerator facility to boost the speed of electrically charged particles for experiments exploring the nature of atomic nuclei. More>

Stories on this topic also appeared in the Associated Press, Physicsworld.com, the San Mateo County Times, and HPCwire, among other outlets.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Knoxville area, state poised for solar power

Our state, soon to be home to two of the world's largest manufacturing facilities of the basic building block of solar panels, is clearly poised to become a major link on the supply chain of one of the world's fastest-growing energy sources. As is often the case with new technology, solar power is expensive, and up-front costs currently present real financial barriers to consumers. However, as the industry matures and manufacturers benefit from economies of scale, prices will come down. They already have. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that from 1998-2007, the average installed cost of solar PV (photovoltaic) systems declined by 3.5 percent per year. More>

Energy Secretary Serves Under a Microscope

[New York Times] As a physicist, Steven Chu has seen atoms suspended in a powerful laser beam and DNA stretched out in a vacuum chamber. But in his new job as energy secretary, Chu is observing phenomena he never saw in the science laboratory. For a slight, soft-spoken Nobel laureate, Washington has been an initiation that he has likened to being “dumped in the deep end of the pool.” Dr. Chu, 61, former director of Berkeley Lab, has been forced to backtrack on some ill-informed comments about OPEC and ordered to spend quickly tens of billions of dollars in stimulus money with virtually no top-level help. More>

Friday, March 20, 2009

Students Test Clean Energy by Degrees

Moving clean energy innovations from the lab to the marketplace is one of the biggest challenges in the technology industry. But students at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business are getting a crash course on how to achieve it. A partnership between scientists at Berkeley Lab and students of the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative, an organization founded by Haas students, is working to push new technology into the private sector or into the hands of the right venture capitalist. More>

Judge delays UC's computer research center

A federal judge has at least temporarily blocked the University of California's plans for a $113 million computer research center in the hills above the Berkeley campus, a victory for a local group that says the project would damage the environment. U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued an injunction Wednesday prohibiting any work on the center, the possible new home of U.S. Energy Department supercomputers, until a trial in September on whether the university must conduct a new environmental study. The proposed Computational Research and Theory Facility, a joint project of UC and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is to be built on laboratory property near Strawberry Canyon. More>

Stories on this topic also appeared in the San Jose Mercury News and Law 360.

Lab Scientists Give Featured Talks at American Chemical Society

[Nanotechnology Now] The American Chemical Society (ACS) will host its annual meeting in Salt Lake City this week, featuring the theme of nanoscience. Several Berkeley Lab scientists will make presentations on nanoscale research in such areas as energy, the environment, biology, catalysis, biomimetics and artificial photosynthesis. Among those scheduled to talk are Gabor Somorjai, Graham Fleming, Interim Lab Director Paul Alivisatos, Darleane Hoffman, and Jim De Yoreo. Reports on some of the Lab’s ACS presentations will be posted here throughout the week. More>

Building Better Clean-Energy Subsidies

[Wall Street Journal] Responding to the clean-energy industry’s pleas for a better brand of subsidy, the recently passed stimulus package overhauled the way renewable-energy projects get help. What will that mean for clean-energy companies on the ground? Researchers at Berkeley Lab and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory set out to see, with a new report called “PTC, ITC, or Cash Grant? An Analysis of the Choice Facing Renewable Power Projects in the United States,” which looks at the provisions of the stimulus that could have a significant impact on how U.S. renewable power projects are financed over the next few years. More>

PTC, ITC or Cash Grant: What Developers Should Choose?

[Renewable Energy World.com] Berkeley Lab and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have released a joint report that could help developers make their way through the new options they have when it comes to the federal renewable energy tax credits. The report, “PTC, ITC, or Cash Grant? An Analysis of the Choice Facing Renewable Power Projects in the United States” takes an in-depth look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law last month, which contains a number of provisions that could have a significant impact on how U.S. renewable power projects are financed over the next few years. More>

Keasling, Chu Make Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Agents of Change’ List

Rolling Stone magazine has ranked 100 artists and leaders, policymakers, writers, thinkers, scientists and provocateurs who they say are fighting every day to show us what is possible — whether it's engineering a new electrical grid, reinventing the way movies are made or challenging us to let go of our illusions and face the brave new world that stands before us. At #40 on the list is Berkeley Lab Physical Bioscience Division Director Jay Keasling, who was lauded for his work to develop synthetic artemisinin and biofuels. Former Lab Director Steve Chu was ranked at #24 (scroll down).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Ways to Save Your Eyes

Two new studies from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggest that regular vigorous exercise can help prevent vision loss from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. In the first study, being fit and engaging in vigorous exercise such as running was found to reduce the risk of developing cataracts by up to 50%. In the second, runners who averaged between 1.2 and 2.4 miles a day had a 19% lower risk for macular degeneration than people who ran less. More>

Evidence Mounts for Exotic Supersolid

[Science News] Hallmarks of an exotic state of matter called a supersolid have been spotted in a gas of ultracold rubidium atoms. In the same piece of matter, researchers found signs of the seemingly disparate properties of both solidity and superfluidity, the frictionless flow of atoms. Reporting at the March 18 meeting of the American Physical Society, Berkeley Lab materials scientist Dan Stamper-Kurn described two telltale signs that suggest this weird state of matter may indeed be a supersolid. More>

Five Future Technologies That Will Slash Home Energy Use

Consumers have heard for years that solar, wind, and geothermal power might soon cut their monthly energy bills. But in a decade or two, scientists envision homes that will generate their own power in basement plants, and windows and paint will change color to harvest sunlight or reject it. But cutting home energy use means changing consumer behavior. "It'll be interesting to see 10 or 20 years from now how much progress is technology oriented and how much is education based," says Dariush Arasteh, with Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. More>

Researchers Create a Nano-sized Photocatalyst for Artificial Photosynthesis

For millions of years, green plants have employed photosynthesis to capture energy from sunlight and convert it into electrochemical energy. A goal of scientists has been to develop an artificial version of photosynthesis that can be used to produce liquid fuels from carbon dioxide and water. According to a report from U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), researchers at the institute have now taken a critical step towards this goal with the discovery that nano-sized crystals of cobalt oxide can effectively carry out the critical photosynthetic reaction of splitting water molecules. More>

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Berkeley professor debunks popular wisdom about future of energy

[Forbes] In his driveway in the heart of ultraliberal Berkeley, Calif., Berkeley Lab physicist Richard Muller has an unsurprising possession: a hybrid-electric Toyota Prius. What's surprising is his motivation for owning it. "It doesn't save me money," he explains. "It doesn't help slow global warming. I just love the technology." It's a measure of how popular this physicist's lectures are that he can get away with such unpopular views. More>

Evan Mills To Appear on Discovery Channel's Climate Program

Evan Mills, a researcher with the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, will appear on the Discovery Channel feature, "Global Warming: The New Challenge with Tom Brokaw." The program is set to air tonight at 9 p.m. (Check your cable provider for local time and channel). Mills speaks about the implications of climate change on the financial services sector, a topic he and others at the Lab have been working on for over a decade. The insurance industry has of late begun to embrace climate science and modeling techniques, and to launch a host of green insurance products and services.

Behold the Appearance of the Invisibility Cloak

[Wall Street Journal] Magicians make things on stage vanish with mirrors and sleight of hand. Physicists are learning to make objects disappear by crafting artificial blind spots from strange new fabrics that deflect revealing electromagnetic waves. By last summer, researchers led by Berkeley Lab materials scientist Xiang Zhang had taken the idea another step. They produced an experimental mesh that could reverse the normal direction of visible and near-infrared light. More>

Lightweight metallic glass is strong as steel

[MSNBC] As anyone who lives too close to a baseball field knows, glass can be frustratingly fragile.But a new type of glass, made from opaque titanium and zirconium instead of transparent silicon, is harder and tougher — and weighs less — than stainless steel. The California scientists who developed and tested the opaque glass hope it could one day replace steel and aluminum in a wide variety of products, from golf clubs to airplanes. "The problem with most [types of] glass is that they have very bad fatigue resistance," meaning they break easily, said Maximilien Launey, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who, along with Douglas Hofmann, William Johnson, and Robert Ritchie, detail their new material in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More>

White Roofs Could Help Environment, Save Money

[KFOX 14] Could the color "white" be the new green? It appears that a centuries-old concept in light reflection could help with today's climate change. With all the high-tech solutions that have been proposed to help fight global climate change, one idea gaining traction is thousands of years old.It begins with a basic principle: lighter colors reflect more light, and lighter rooftops keep cities cooler. Dark-tiled commercial and residential roofs can reach a blistering 180 degrees on a sunny, windless day. According to researchers Hashem Akbari and Dr. Arthur H. Rosenfeld at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, just changing the color and reflectivity of roofs could lower the cost of air conditioning by up to 20 percent or one billion kilowatt-hours during hot months. More>

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Batteries That Charge in a Flash

[Science] An improved cathode could lead to lithium batteries that fully charge in seconds and discharge equally rapidly--providing a quick power boost for electric cars. What's more, the advance relies on materials that are already commercialized. So the high-speed refinements could make it to market within a few years. "It's a very nice concept," says Marca Doeff, a materials scientist and battery expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. More

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tissues That Build Themselves

[MIT Technology Review] Cells coated with sticky bits of DNA can self-assemble into functional three-dimensional microstructures. This bottom-up approach to tissue engineering, developed by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, provides a new solution to one of field's biggest problems: the creation of multicellular tissues with defined structures. More>

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The New Science of Making Anything Disappear

[Discover] Berkeley Lab materials scientist Xiang Zhang remembers the day he recognized that something extraordinary was happening around him. It was in 2000, at a workshop organized by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to explore a tantalizing idea: that radical new kinds of engineered materials might enable us to extend our control over matter in seemingly magical ways. More>

Thinking Small About The Grid

[Forbes] Here's a term you don't see too often: microgrids. We may be reading about them a lot more this year. Chris Marnay, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been working on microgrids for 10 years. He's been working with Prof. Robert Lasseter at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who came up with one concept of a microgrid that involves small generators that monitor voltage and frequency nearby in the microgrid and use the information to maintain safe and stable operation when "islanded" from the larger grid. More>

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nuclear Power Industry Sees Opening for Revival

[San Francisco Chronicle] With the Obama administration staking the nation's energy future on clean sources, the U.S. nuclear power industry aims to make a comeback by building dozens of new reactors that supply plentiful, carbon-free electricity. "Many people are gritting their teeth and beginning to look at nuclear energy because the problems appear to be more manageable," said Per Peterson, with Berkeley Lab. More>

Canada-U.S. Scientists Isolate Brain-Aging Gene

Bernier partnered with researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California in a study that identified a mutation in mice that dramatically ...More>