Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Amanda Askin

Amanda Askin

Global Security Systems Analyst and the 2022 S&TR Scientific Editor

Creative Teams Solving Real-World Problems

The past year as scientific editor of Science and Technology Review (S&TR) has enlightened me to the incredibly broad array of technical accomplishments at the Laboratory and the diverse and talented teams of people behind them. In seeking out articles for each issue, I’ve had the privilege and responsibility to reach out to members of the Laboratory community far beyond my own research area. The team and I have sought to ensure that readers learn about topics that are important for our national security missions and the community, reflect significant accomplishments and impacts, and share the diversity of the Laboratory’s workforce and capabilities. I am delighted that this issue, coming near the end of my scientific editor assignment, presents outstanding examples of creative researchers working together and applying unique skills to further scientific knowledge and solve real-world problems.

The feature article, Joining the Fight to Cure Neurodegenerative Disease, showcases how researchers from across the Laboratory are engaged in research to tackle a debilitating disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases have devastating effects and touch thousands of new patients every year. Yet the cause of ALS remains unknown, and no cure exists. Laboratory experts leverage capabilities established to support Lawrence Livermore’s diverse mission areas to partner with clinicians and others researching ALS and develop novel methods for understanding disease mechanisms and identifying potential treatments.

For example, machine-learning techniques supporting applications as diverse as high-energy-density experiment design and modeling, nuclear proliferation detection, and forensic science can also search medical records for drugs that could be repurposed to fight ALS and to investigate in vitro drug responses based on cell image data. Computational physicists use multiscale physics modeling frameworks from materials science applications to understand a protein that leads to one of the few consistent ALS indicators. Biologists who developed a brain-on-a-chip platform to study the effects of chemicals, viruses, and drugs now extend the platform to an ALS-on-a-chip technology that characterizes ALS-related protein aggregation. Experts who developed capabilities to study astronaut’s microbiomes seek to apply those skills to examine environmental factors associated with disease progression. These projects take on the challenge of understanding a complex disease from multiple angles using diverse technical approaches reflecting the breadth of capabilities at the Laboratory.

The first of three research highlights in this issue, Small Things Considered, recognizes research on another complex problem: achieving the most precise measurements of the weak nuclear force ever conducted. Nuclear experimentalists and theorists work together to advance confirmation that the W boson is solely responsible for beta decay, deepening understanding of a fundamental force of nature that plays a key role in nuclear fission and fusion. Measurements of the weak nuclear force are extremely challenging as the force operates at distances on the order of 10-18 meters. Only by significantly improving experimental design in parallel with adapting theoretical predictions were researchers able to validate their results.

The second research highlight, From Plasma to Digital Twins, describes how the Laboratory’s Nondestructive Characterization Institute pulls together experts in different diagnostic technologies to address improved defect detection in high-Z materials and streamline the qualification process for additively manufactured components. The researchers apply new laser-plasma acceleration techniques to develop higher resolution imaging for high-density materials, develop methods to integrate multimodal data for enhanced images, and build platforms to generate 3D visualizations that allow researchers to better distinguish material defects in imaging data.

The third highlight, Sheltering Science Saves Lives, outlines ways that radiation and health physics expertise combined with an understanding of nuclear fallout and the movement of aerosolized particles enabled Laboratory researchers to characterize the benefits of sheltering in the aftermath of a chemical, biological, radiological, or other airborne hazard. For the first time, researchers could assess the protective value of individual building attributes to identify which buildings provide the best protection for different hazards. The team also took a regional view to characterize the distribution of highly protective buildings and help real-time emergency response planning and execution.

The articles in this issue exemplify the Laboratory’s ability to flexibly build technically diverse teams to tackle research challenges. This strength is something that I have appreciated in my own research, and I believe it will continue to enhance our ability to tackle evolving national security challenges.