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January/February 2003

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Glenn Mara

A Question of Quarks

Island Paradise Regained

Understanding Cells in a New Way with Three-Dimensional Models





The Laboratory
in the News

Center of Biophotonics founded
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) have announced the founding of the Center of Biophotonics. This new research center at UC Davis will use light at a variety of wavelengths and intensities to study difficult biological phenomena such as how DNA is created and repaired and how molecules move in cells. The goal is to apply the center’s discoveries to practical ends such as fighting disease and bioterrorism.
Livermore and UC Davis collaborators introduced the center by showing off a portable pathogen detector. This instrument analyzes a small blood or breath sample with light to quickly determine if someone has been exposed to a pathogen in a bioterrorist attack or to a new infectious disease.
“Our hope is to bring the ‘Star Trek’ fantasy of quickly detecting and curing disease closer to reality,” says Livermore’s Dennis Matthews, who will head the new center. “That’s a futuristic, science-fiction version of basically being able to noninvasively detect disease and, if possible, turn around and do something about it.”
The center is funded by a $52-million, 10-year grant from the National Science Foundation. It is one of six new science and technology centers funded in 2002 and collaborates on research and education with a dozen other universities and research centers, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, Stanford University, and Mills College in Oakland, California.
Developments in nanotechnology and a better understanding of how to use lasers make this an opportune time to bring together researchers to explore the medical and biological uses of light. According to Matthews, the center will focus, for example, on understanding how molecules move inside cells; simulating how light and matter interact; creating machines to detect disease pathogens, especially those that bioterrorists are likely to use; and developing ways to treat diseases with light.
Contact: Dennis Matthews (925) 422-5360 (

Livermore partner on sixth R&D 100 win
In addition to the five R&D 100 Awards that the Laboratory won in 2002 as the primary submitter (see S&TR, October 2002), Livermore won another of these prestigious awards as part of a four-institution team led by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois (Urbana–Champaign). The winning invention is the Hierarchical Data Format 5 (HDF5), a file format and software library for storing, managing, and archiving large and complex sets of scientific or engineering data.
HDF5 technology handles any type of data suitable for digital storage, no matter its origin or size. The technology is a fast, portable input/output library that can store trillions of bytes of computational modeling data or millions of bytes of high-resolution electronic images. With the help of lower-level libraries, HDF5 enables hundreds or thousands of processors to operate in parallel and simultaneously write information to a single file.
HDF5 overcomes the limitations of rigid data models for storing and managing most current file formats and is expected to be compatible with future developments in computing and data storage.
Livermore researchers who assisted in developing HDF5 are Robb Matzke, Linnea Cook, Mark Miller, and Kim Yates. A research highlight on HDF5 is scheduled for S&TR in April 2003.
Contact: Linnea Cook (925) 422-1686 (

What stardust could tell us
At this moment, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Stardust space bus is on its way to Wild 2, a comet orbiting the Sun. The space bus’s mission is to collect stardust, remnants of stars that may be able to tell the story of our solar system’s beginnings and possibly the origins of life.
When the Stardust space bus returns to Earth in February 2006, Livermore astrophysicists will play a key role in examining the collected stardust with a new $5-million electron microscope being acquired with NASA funding by the Laboratory’s Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP), which is part of the international consortium involved in the Stardust mission.
John Bradley, IGPP director and a major participant in Stardust, says that one of the big questions Livermore scientists want to answer is whether the stardust from Wild 2 has the same makeup as stardust gathered from the stratosphere. And, says Bradley, “We will have a dedicated microscope specifically to examine these particles.”
Launched in February 1999, Stardust is the first NASA space mission dedicated solely to collecting comet dust and will be the first to return material from a comet to Earth.
Wild 2 is 4 kilometers in diameter and has an elliptical orbit around the Sun between the orbits of Jupiter and Earth. In January 2004, when its orbit will bring Wild 2 closest to the Sun, samples of stardust will be collected in a low-density aerogel stored in panels on the NASA space bus. Interstellar stardust will also be collected. In all, researchers hope to gather a thousand particles weighing a total of less than a microgram. After these particles return to Earth, they will be distributed among the international astrophysics researchers for study.
Contact: John Bradley (925) 423-0666 (

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UCRL-52000-03-1/2 | January 23, 2003