Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Made That Radiation Symbol?

For hundreds of years, the image of a skull and crossbones was all we needed to communicate the concept of poison. That is, until we started experimenting with radioactive compounds. The symbol we commonly associate with radiation or radioactive materials was devised in late 1946 by an unspecified group of individuals working at the RADIATION LABORATORY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY (now Berkeley Lab). At the time, the negative effects of radiation were only beginning to be understood well enough to warrant any kind of warning label. In fact, the symbol was originally intended only for local use at Berkeley, primarily in the form of hang tags (like the one above) and stickers. More>

Japan quake: Tiny levels of radiation in Bay Area

NUCLEAR ENGINEERS AT UC BERKELEY reported Wednesday they are detecting "extremely small" levels of radiation from the stricken Fukushima power plant in Japan, but the levels barely reach the limits of detection by their highly sophisticated monitoring equipment, they said. Rainwater in their collector atop Etcheverry Hall on the campus, water samples from Strawberry Creek as it flows through historic Sather Gate, and locally purchased milk all show clear signatures of the radioactive material coming from the Fukushima reactors, said Berkeley Lab's Kai Vetter, who is leading a team of specialists monitoring the radiation. More>

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment: On Track to Completion

The Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment brings Chinese and American scientists together with colleagues from Russia, Taiwan, and the Czech Republic to investigate perhaps the most important unanswered question relating to the phenomenon of neutrino oscillation. What they find will bear on some of the most intriguing questions in basic physics. How much do different kinds of neutrinos weigh? And which kind is the heaviest? More>

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shedding more light on graphene

A new technique for manipulating the way light scatters in graphene has been proposed by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the University of California in the US. They say the breakthrough could help to uncover more information about the structure of the "wonder material" and could lead to the development of nanodevices such as medical sensors. More>

Q&A: Japan's nuclear cleanup

The nuclear crisis in Japan is far from over. In recent days, highly radioactive water has been discovered in tunnels under reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and radioactive plutonium has been found in the soil nearby. Efforts to contain the leaking radioactive material are still underway, and cleanup will take far longer. Here are answers to some basic questions....

What will workers do to clean up the radioactive water?

Over the short term, they won't be able to do much. "You move people out of the way, and then you take stock," said Berkeley Lab's Thomas McKone.


Japan Nuke Accident Seen From Seattle

Radioactive particles wafting eastward over the Pacific Ocean from Japan have been spotted in Seattle and used by a forensic team of physicists as a window into recent events inside the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant 5,000 miles away. Working backward from these nuclear byproducts, the physicists have confirmed that contaminated steam is the source of this radiation, not spent fuel rods or material ejected directly from the reactor core. “We’d like to confirm that what’s coming over here is at a level which is tolerable,” says Berkeley Lab's Ed Morse. “So far that’s consistent with what we’re seeing.” More>

Scientists keep watch on Japan radiation levels from a campus rooftop

Five thousand miles from Japan, UC BERKELEY SCIENTISTS don't have to read the headlines to know what is happening at a crippled nuclear power plant. They just need to glimpse at their computer screens. There, a steady stream of data from Berkeley's air, rain and creekwater samples shows peaks and troughs of radioactive contamination -- posing no threat to Californians' health, but telling a tragic tale of Japan's struggle to contain the threat. More than two weeks after an earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, little official information has come from Japanese authorities about what exactly is being released, and how it is likely to behave. But the UC Berkeley team, led by Kai Vetter, also with Berkeley Lab, publishes its daily analysis on the department's website. More>

Friday, March 25, 2011

Oakland vying for Lawrence Berkeley lab campus

Oakland is among several Bay area cities vying for a proposed new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus that could generate $700 million in local economic activity. Oakland officials are touting the city's proximity to public transit and its weather and workforce among other factors in an attempt to lure the campus. More>

Thursday, March 24, 2011

UC Berkeley's national lab in Oakland? Could be

Oakland is pulling out all the stops in its quest to land a new Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory campus by offering options enough to satisfy any picky buyer. Oakland's package, which includes a five-page letter from Oakland Mayor and UC Berkeley graduate Jean Quan, among others, touts the city's weather, amenities, proximity to public transit, diversity, green energy movement and well-educated workforce as selling points.
Oakland City Council President Larry Reid in his letter left no doubt that he is "keenly aware" that a new campus in Oakland would bring prestige, professional jobs and an economic catalyst to Oakland. More>

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nuclear's Future in the U.S.


Japan’s nuclear power crisis is renewing debate over the topic of safety at nuclear power plants. Andrea Kissack talks with two men with very different opinions on the issue: Bill Magavern, head of the Sierra Club California and Ed Morse, UC Berkeley professor and researcher at Berkeley Lab.

Japanese nuclear crisis boosts interest in at-home radiation monitoring

Some people are so concerned about the possibility of harmful radiation from Japan they have started their own do-it-yourself backyard radiation monitoring system — just like weather-watchers — except these folks are equipped with handheld Geiger counters and a strong distrust of the government. “I think that people who are out to go and get hysterical will fulfill their mission,” said Berkeley Lab's Ed Morse. Morse says that the devices might confuse people who will find small amounts of background radiation in ordinary things like kitty litter, salt substitutes or granite countertops. To detect the kind of nuclear isotopes produced by nuclear fission requires a device that can sample large quantities of the air over time and then analyze the results in an accredited laboratory. Morse and other experts say these small Geiger counters might come in handy if you live next to a nuclear plant, but not if you are trying to detect radiation from far away. More>

Safer, Cleaner Hydrogen Fuel Storage

The Molecular Foundry's Jeff Urban was interviewed Tuesday on CNN’s Newsroom broadcast as part of the show's Big I (idea, innovation, intelligence) segment, titled "Are Americans Ready for Hydrogen-Fueled Electric Cars." Urban discussed his recent research breakthrough in using a nanocomposite material for hydrogen storage, as well as the issues involved in using this potential fuel safely and effectively.

Slip a Banana Peel in Your Drink For Purity

Brazilian researchers have found an unexpected helper in the struggle against contaminated drinking water: Bananas. In a new study, minced banana peels were able to bind and accumulate trace amounts of lead and copper in river water, making the toxic metals 20 times easier to detect with crude equipment. Banana peels can't actually be used to remove metals from water or to clean up contamination, said Ashok Gadgil, an environmental engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. Instead, their value lies in their ability to gather together trace amounts of copper and lead and make the metals easier to detect. More>

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scientists Await Radiation Plume Headed For West Coast

Scientists try to determine the local impact of the radiation plume headed to the West Coast. Includes interviews with Berkeley Lab's Kai Vetter and Tom McKone. More>

Japan's Leaked Radiation May Soon Become Harmless

Berkeley Lab's Per Peterson, chairman of the nuclear engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley, says this tells him a lot about the nature of the accident that led to those releases. "Because there's iodine, this certainly was material that had come out of the reactors, not the spent fuel pools, because in those cases the iodine-131 is pretty much completely gone," he says. Iodine-131 decays quickly — it has a half-life of just eight days. That means that over the course of two or three months, virtually all of it will be gone. Because the used fuel has been sitting in its pools for months or even years, it clearly can't be the source of this material. That's reassuring news for engineers concerned about the condition of those pools. More>

Monday, March 21, 2011

On West Coast of U.S., much ado about very little radiation, so far

Sensors in the United States stood ready Friday to detect any trace of radioactive material blowing across the Pacific from Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, 5,000 miles away. So far, they've pretty much found nothing. UC Berkeley set up its own independent monitoring Wednesday on top of the campus' Etcheverry Hall. The system looks for gamma rays with energy "signatures" corresponding to isotopes such as cesium-137, iodine-131 and tellurium-132, which would have been emitted by Japan's plant, said Berkeley Lab's Kai Vetter. As of Friday morning, Vetter said, they hadn't seen any evidence of suspicious radiation either. More>

Options are few to prevent Japan nuclear catastrophe

Workers struggling to contain radioactive releases from the Fukushima power plant face two critical tasks to avoid turning a nuclear disaster into a catastrophe: preventing a runaway chain reaction into the nuclear fuel and maintaining a massive flow of seawater through the damaged pools and reactor vessels. There are few options, none of them good. But Berkeley Lab's Per Peterson said he believes that most of the rods will not burn even if they are not covered by water. Only a few extremely radioactive rods may be vulnerable, said Peterson, who is advising U.S. officials on their response. More>

Vampire Loads: Powering a Standby World

There was a time when off meant off and a darkened room didn't glisten with tiny pinpricks of red, blue, and green light.There was a time when vampires only existed in the world of fiction. But those days are gone, and vampires - energy vampires or vampire loads - are everywhere. There are likely vampire loads of some sort in every room of your house. You may also know it as phantom load, it is less dramatically (and more accurately) called standby power. Standby power is the new "off" for most modern devices and appliances. It depends on the device, but according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, standby power is generally defined as the minimum electricity consumed by an appliance while plugged into an AC outlet while switched off, doing nothing, or "not performing their primary" function. More>

Friday, March 18, 2011

Experts watch radiation levels, try to calm fears

Officials are trying to calm nerves in California by reassuring everyone there is no serious threat of radiation from Japan after reports from some scientists that radiation particles in the jet stream will reach Los Angeles by Friday. The federal government has moved more monitoring stations to the west coast to help in that effort. If or when any radioactive particles from Japan reach California, little plastic filters will tell scientists exactly what is floating in the air. One such filter was installed Wednesday on the roof of UC Berkeley's Department of Engineering building. Downstairs in the basement, nuclear engineers monitor the readings around the clock. "We want to tell the public and you and everyone what radiation, if there is any, what radiation we have to deal with," Berkeley Lab's Kai Vetter said.

Detecting Earthquakes

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

On January 12, 2010, as all the world knows, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Yet fewer realize that just two years earlier, the quake had been forecast with amazing accuracy. In exclusive coverage, NOVA scienceNOW accompanies a team of U.S. geologists into Haiti after the tragedy, trying to determine if more quakes are coming. The film team then heads to California, where scientists are uncovering hints of massive destruction yet to come. Story includes quote from Ernie Majer of Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

Obama's Energy Policy Faces Pressure

Japan's nuclear disaster is putting new pressure on President Barack Obama's energy strategy, which has relied on calls to expand nuclear power to win support for a broader effort to promote alternatives to coal and oil. Per Peterson, chairman of the nuclear-engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley, said the events that have caused the accident now challenging one of Japan's nuclear plants are unlikely to befall the U.S. for several reasons. While the U.S. does have some nuclear plants in earthquake zones—as in the case of California—they are near "slip-strike" fault lines that lack the potential to cause very large tsunamis as the Japanese "thrust fault" has, he said. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Dr. Peterson said, the government required nuclear-plant owners to ensure that their facilities could accommodate portable diesel pumps to provide electricity to the facilities. More>

Japanese Atomic Plume Doesn’t Pose Health Threat to U.S. Coast

Radiation wafting toward the U.S. from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan presents less of a danger than 1950s-era atomic weapons testing or the 1986 Chernobyl accident, weather experts and government officials said yesterday. Even in the worst-case scenario of a reactor meltdown at the Fukushima plant, dilution of the radiation by the Jet Stream and Pacific winds is likely to prevent harmful radiation from reaching the West Coast, said Thomas McKone of Lawrence Berkeley Lab. More>

Attack on Climate Studies Would Shutter Entire DOE Biology Program

Scientists were caught by surprise when they found out that the Department of Energy's (DOE's) office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) would be shut down if a 2011 spending bill passed last month by the House of Representatives holds sway (Science, 25 February 2011, p. 997). The new Republican House majority has pledged to trim the federal deficit by cutting spending—and to be sure, House leaders are not fans of government-funded climate change research. BER-funded researchers don't always toil in obscurity, however. The Joint Bio-Energy Institute (JBEI) at LBNL has been something of a rock star in the biofuels community. Directed by Jay Keasling, JBEI has made significant progress in developing more efficient conversion of cellulosic biomass into liquid fuels. That progress “would grind to a halt” under the House bill, says Keasling, a chemical engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has also achieved fame for large-scale production of synthetic artemisinin to treat malaria. More>

Regents Approve Salary Increase for Berkeley Lab Director

The UC Board of Regents voted this morning to approve a merit increase in the salary of Paul Alivisatos, the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The 3.2 percent increase will retroactively affect Alivisatos' base annual salary starting October 2010, increasing it from $417,155 to $430,504. The Department of Energy funds the director's salary. Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the lab, said the decision to increase Alivisatos' salary came before President Barack Obama called for a salary freeze on federal employees. The reason he is only now receiving the increase is due to the scheduling of the regents' meeting as well as the evaluation process for the increase, Miller said. More>

High-Energy Physics Experiments in Japan Weather the Crises

During an earthquake, tsunami, or nuclear meltdown, the safest place to be is in a mine. So says Stuart Freedman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's spokesperson for the KamLAND neutrino experiment, whose 1879 glass photomultiplier tubes emerged from the earthquake unscathed. Both KamLAND and the Super-Kamiokande experiment, which contains 11,146 glass bulbs each 20 inches in diameter, are ensconced 3300 ft underground in the Mozumi mine. This is to protect both American-Japanese collaboration experiments from solar radiation that would obscure their data. Although the KamLAND detector uses Japanese nuclear reactors as its neutrino source, Freedman says that the loss of the Fukushima reactor and ensuing radiation will affect the experiments little. More>

Bay Cities Are Courting Berkeley Lab

The quest by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to find a site for a second campus has prompted cities around the East Bay to go to great lengths to outshine one another. Richmond prepared a five-minute video with uplifting music and heartfelt testimonials about what a great place it was to work. The Dublin City Council passed a resolution supporting the lab. The competition is fierce because the stakes are huge. A recent economic study showed that Berkeley Lab pumps $690 million into the Bay Area economy each year and spurs the creation of 3.3 new jobs for every full-time position. The second campus is expected not only to create hundreds of jobs but to spin off technology companies too. More>

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The danger of old U.S. nuclear plants

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the thoughts of many Americans when she said Wednesday what's happening in Japan raises questions about the safety of nuclear plants here in the United States. CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports that nine major American cities are within 50 miles of a reactor. At Fukushima those spent rods have caused big problems.There was some hydrogen that's generated in the spent fuel somewhere in that facility that ignited and blew the roof off," said Thomas McKone, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. More>

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan nuclear health risks minimal, experts say

Radiation levels haven't climbed high enough to cause immediate health problems, which could include symptoms like nausea, vomiting and burns associated with large, one-time bursts of radiation. But the threat from long-term exposure to lower levels of radiation remains a worry, especially for workers inside the nuclear plant. Such exposure could cause cancers and genetic damage decades from now. "In Japan, this is very serious. And if I were in the area, I'd be moving out of there," said Thomas McKone, an environmental health sciences adjunct professor at UC Berkeley. More>

Biggest risk to U.S. residents? Stress

A nuclear expert in the United States says the main risk for U.S. residents from the nuclear crisis in Japan is high stress, not radiation disease. Have a look at Stacey Delo’s interview with Thomas McKone of Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

Contamination Cleanup a Daunting Prospect

What could be more daunting than a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a killer tsunami and leaking nuclear power plants? Cleaning up all that radioactive contamination. Thomas McKone, a senior environmental scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says cleaning things up from Japan's crippled nuclear power plants will be a complex, expensive task. "It's happening at slow enough motion that we can take actions. But the actions we have to take to prevent people from being exposed are enormously expensive and complicated," McKone told Discovery News. More>

Monday, March 14, 2011

Coal Fires Burning Bright

China has won international plaudits for its commitment to green goals. It has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 percent per economic unit by 2020 and is also adding alternative energy sources such as wind farms and nuclear power plants faster than any other country. But the nation is also in the midst of unprecedented economic growth—and an unprecedented surge in the use of energy, which for China means coal. The country burns more coal than the U.S., Europe and Japan combined, the main reason why it is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. “Will China’s carbon dioxide emissions overwhelm the world?” asks Mark D. Levine, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who works in the country on energy-efficiency measures. “That’s the question.” More>

Researchers illuminate laminin's role in cancer formation

Laminin, long thought to be only a structural support protein in the microenvironment of breast and other epithelial tissue, is “famous” for its cross-like shape. However, laminin is far more than just a support player with a “pretty face.” Two studies have shown how laminin plays a central role in the development of breast cancer. Mina Bissell, a "Distinguished Scientist" with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is famous for having discovered the critical role in breast cancer development played by the extracellular matrix (ECM), the network of fibrous and globular proteins surrounding a breast cell. Her “dynamic reciprocity” theory holds that the fate of cells hinges on the chemical signals exchanged between the ECM and a cell’s nucleus. In these latest studies, Bissell and her collaborators focused on laminin and its connections with two other proteins—actin, a cytoplasmic protein that has been linked to nuclear activities; and MMP9, an enzyme that is secreted outside the cells and is known to break down ECM constituents. More>

Woman injured when trapped under Berkeley Lab bus

Two women were hit by a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shuttle bus Monday afternoon, one of them seriously enough to be sent to a local trauma center. The incident began at 4:30 p.m. when the bus hit one of the women at the corner of Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, police reported. As the woman became trapped under the vehicle, a female friend she was walking with pounded on the side of the bus to get the driver's attention, injuring her arm. More>

Berkeley lab gets 21 proposals for second site

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Berkeley hills has received 21 proposals from developers around the Bay Area to create a second campus on 2-million square feet where 800 scientists and other employees would work. Land owners in Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, Oakland, Alameda, Dublin Richmond and Walnut Creek submitted proposals. The labs are out of space in the Berkeley hills. About 20 percent of the approximately 4,200 employees are at four other sites in Oakland, Emeryville, Walnut Creek and Berkeley. The second campus would consolidate all of those. The lab, giving no explanation, refused to release a list of all 21 proposals. Spokesman Jon Weiner said the organization hopes to have a shortlist of three to five acceptable sites by mid April. The deadline for proposals was Friday. More>

Friday, March 4, 2011

Golden Gate Fields and two other Berkeley sites in the running for new Berkeley Lab campus

When officials from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory open proposals for a second campus today, there will be three Berkeley-based offers: one at Golden Gate Fields, and two separate projects near Aquatic Park, according to informed sources who asked not to be named. The fact that there are three sites proposed in Berkeley may give the city a good shot at snaring the Lab's expansion, since it is more than any other city is offering. Alameda, Emeryville, Dublin, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Albany and Richmond are also vying to grab the second campus, which is expected to generate thousands of jobs in the coming years. More>

Woman gets surprise proposal while touring lab

An Emeryville woman got quite the surprise on a recent tour of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The tour was her fiancé, James Larmer's idea. The lab offers visitors a chance to look through high-powered electron microscopes. When Debra Winter looked through a microscope, she saw something pretty dazzling, an engagement ring. That is when Larmer got down on one knee and popped the big question.

The lab helped him set the whole thing up.

Winter said yes. More>

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PolyPlus: Water Batteries Could Be Comin’ Soon

Batteries made of lithium and seawater (or just plain tap water for that matter) could be on their way to a marine market near you. That’s courtesy of a technology made by a 11-year-old company called PolyPlus and various partnerships, which hails out of Lawrence Berkeley Labs and has a grant from the Department of Energy’s high risk, early-stage ARPA-E program. At the annual ARPA-E Summit this week, PolyPlus was highlighted as a potential game-changer by ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar, and I got a chance to sit down with PolyPlus CTO Steven Visco on Monday. More>

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PolyPlus: Water Batteries Could Be Comin’ Soon

Batteries made of lithium and seawater (or just plain tap water for that matter) could be on their way to a marine market near you. That’s courtesy of a technology made by a decade-old company called PolyPlus, which hails out of Lawrence Berkeley Labs and has a grant from the Department of Energy’s high risk, early-stage ARPA-E program. At the annual ARPA-E Summit this week, PolyPlus was highlighted as a potential game-changer by ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar, and I got a chance to sit down with PolyPlus CTO Steven Visco on Monday. More>