Computer Errors Caused by Cosmic Rays from Outer Space


This video shows Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist's work on researching the cosmic causes of errors to supercomputers. Cosmic rays from outer space are causing errors in supercomputers, known as single event upsets.

The neutrons that pass through the CPU may be causing binary data to flip leading to incorrect calculations. Los Alamos National Laboratory, including Nathan Debardeleben, a LANL scientist with an NMC affiliation, has developed detectors to determine how much data is being corrupted by these cosmic particles.

Watch the video to learn more.


Citizen Scientists Help Discover New Type of Aurora!

The aurora known as Steve seen over Lake Minnewanka in Alberta. Photo by Paulo Fedozzi

Notanee Bourassa knew that what he was seeing in the night sky was not normal. Bourassa, an IT technician in Regina, Canada, trekked outside of his home on July 25, 2016, around midnight with his two younger children to show them a beautiful moving light display in the sky -- an aurora borealis. He often sky gazes until the early hours of the morning to photograph the aurora with his Nikon camera, but this was his first expedition with his children. When a thin purple ribbon of light appeared and starting glowing, Bourassa immediately snapped pictures until the light particles disappeared 20 minutes later. Having watched the northern lights for almost 30 years since he was a teenager, he knew this wasn’t an aurora. It was something else.

From 2015 to 2016, citizen scientists -- people like Bourassa who are excited about a science field but don't necessarily have a formal educational background -- shared 30 reports of these mysterious lights in online forums and with a team of scientists that run a project called Aurorasaurus. The citizen science project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, tracks the aurora borealis through user-submitted reports and tweets.

The Aurorasaurus team, led by Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, conferred to determine the identity of this mysterious phenomenon. MacDonald and her colleague Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary in Canada talked with the main contributors of these images, amateur photographers in a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers, which included Bourassa and lead administrator Chris Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff gave the phenomenon a fun, new name, Steve, and it stuck.
But people still didn't know what it was.
Scientists' understanding of Steve changed that night Bourassa snapped his pictures. Bourassa wasn't the only one observing Steve. Ground-based cameras called all-sky cameras, run by the University of Calgary and University of California, Berkeley, took pictures of large areas of the sky and captured Steve and the auroral display far to the North. From space, the European Space Agency's Swarm satellite just happened to be passing over the exact area at the same time and documented Steve.
For the first time, scientists had ground and satellite views of Steve. Scientists have now learned, despite its ordinary name, that Steve may be an extraordinary puzzle piece in painting a better picture of how Earth's magnetic fields function and interact with charged particles in space. The findings are published in a study released today in Science Advances.
"This is a light display that we can observe over thousands of kilometers from the ground,” said MacDonald. “It corresponds to something happening way out in space.Gathering more data points on STEVE will help us understand more about its behavior and its influence on space weather.”
The study highlights one key quality of Steve: Steve is not a normal aurora. Auroras occur globally in an oval shape, last hours and appear primarily in greens, blues and reds. Citizen science reports showed Steve is purple with a green picket fence structure that waves. It is a line with a beginning and end. People have observed Steve for twenty minutes to one hour before it disappears.
If anything, auroras and Steve are different flavors of an ice cream, said MacDonald. They are both created in generally the same way: Charged particles from the Sun interact with Earth's magnetic field lines.
Specifically, the aurora and Steve creation process starts with the Sun sending a surge of its charged particles towards Earth. This surge applies pressure on Earth’s magnetic field, which sends the Sun's charged particles to the far side of Earth, where it is nighttime. On this far, night side of Earth, Earth's magnet field forms a distinctive tail. When the tail stretches and elongates, it forces oppositely directed magnetic fields close together that join in an explosive process called magnetic reconnection. Like a stretched rubber band suddenly breaking, these magnetic field lines then snap back toward Earth, carrying charged particles along for the ride. These charged particles slam into the upper atmosphere, causing it to glow and generating the light we see as the aurora – and now possibly Steve. The uniqueness of Steve is in the details. While Steve goes through the same large-scale creation process as an aurora, it travels along different magnetic field lines than the aurora. All-sky cameras showed that Steve appears at much lower latitudes. That means the charged particles that create Steve connect to magnetic field lines that are closer to Earth's equator, hence why Steve is often seen in southern Canada.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about Steve appeared in the satellite data. The data showed that Steve comprises a fast moving stream of extremely hot particles called a sub auroral ion drift, or SAID. Scientists have studied SAIDs since the 1970s but never knew there was an accompanying visual effect. The Swarm satellite recorded information on the charged particles' speeds and temperatures, but does not have an imager onboard.
"People have studied a lot of SAIDs, but we never knew it had a visible light. Now our cameras are sensitive enough to pick it up and people's eyes and intellect were critical in noticing its importance," said Donovan, a co-author of the study. Donovan led the all-sky camera network and his Calgary colleagues lead the electric field instruments on the Swarm satellite. 
Steve is an important discovery because of its location in the sub auroral zone, an area of lower latitude than where most aurora appear that is not well researched. For one, with this discovery, scientists now know there are unknown chemical processes taking place in the sub auroral zone that can lead to this light emission.
Second, Steve consistently appears in the presence of auroras, which usually occur at a higher latitude area called the auroral zone. That means there is something happening in near-Earth space that leads to both an aurora and Steve. Steve might be the only visual clue that exists to show a chemical or physical connection between the higher latitude auroral zone and lower latitude sub auroral zone, said MacDonald.
"Steve can help us understand how the chemical and physical processes in Earth's upper atmosphere can sometimes have local noticeable effects in lower parts of Earth's atmosphere,” said MacDonald. “This provides good insight on how Earth's system works as a whole."
The team can learn a lot about Steve with additional ground and satellite reports, but recording Steve from the ground and space simultaneously is a rare occurrence. Each Swarm satellite orbits Earth every 90 minutes and Steve only lasts up to an hour in a specific area. If the satellite misses Steve as it circles Earth, Steve will probably be gone by the time that same satellite crosses the spot again.
In the end, capturing Steve becomes a game of perseverance and probability.
"It is my hope that with our timely reporting of sightings, researchers can study the data so we can together unravel the mystery of Steve's origin, creation, physics and sporadic nature," said Bourassa. "This is exciting because the more I learn about it, the more questions I have."
As for the name "Steve" given by the citizen scientists? The team is keeping it as an homage to its initial name and discoverers. But now it is STEVE, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.
One of the main supporters of this work is the New Mexico Consortium. “Aurorasaurus, and the STEVE
discovery, probably wouldn't exist without the Consortium,” MacDonald stated in an email to the NMC.
Other collaborators on this work are: the University of Calgary, Boston University, Lancaster University, Athabasca University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group.
If you live in an area where you may see STEVE or an aurora, submit your pictures and reports to Aurorasaurus through or the free iOs and Android mobile apps. 
Author: Kasha Patel, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Los Alamos Daily Post: Mystery of Purple Lights in Sky Solved With Help From Citizen Scientists


Science Adances Article: New Science in Plain Sight: Citizen Scientists Lead to the New Discovery of Optical Structure in the Upper Atmosphere


National Geographic: Meet 'Steve' A Totally New Kind of Aurora


The Atlantic: Canadian Amateurs Discovered A New Kind of Aurora  Meet 'Steve', The Aurora Like Mystery Scientists Are Beginning to Unravel

Neuromorphic Computing Research Highlighted in Discover Magazine


February 2018, Discover Magazine featured an article on Garrett Kenyon and his team’s neuromorphic computing research titled, Computers Learn to Imagine the Future. Garrett Kenyon, a Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and New Mexico Consortium (NMC) scientist does research on creating computers that can process things and learn in the same way the way as the human cerebral cortex. Other members of this project include Boram Yoon of the Applied Computer Science group at LANL, and Peter Schultz of the NMC.

In working to create artificial intelligence, scientists have their work cut out for them. So far, no computer can match the computing power of the human brain. The simplest tasks, such as distinguishing one object from another, or being able to tell a moving car from a static background and predict where the car will be in the next half second, are complex challenges for a computer.

Kenyon and his team’s research are changing all this. By using supercomputers, which possess a staggering amount of computational power, Kenyon has been able to simulate biological neural networks, and the result is that these machines are now able to learn about their surroundings, interpret data and make predictions in much the same way as the human brain.

In testing the ability to model neural processing, these researchers have created a “sparse prediction machine” that operates a neural network on the Trinity supercomputer. This machine is designed to work like a human brain. Researchers expose it to data, or video clips, and the machine learns about the visual world simply by watching thousands of video sequences, similar to how a human child learns about their world. Eventually, the sparse prediction machine was able to predict what would happen next in each video. The computer could imagine the future.

To see the full article:

Discover Magazine: Computers Learn to Imagine the Future

Terwilliger: Model-Building Using cryo-EM Maps


Tom Terwilliger, a Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientist and New Mexico Consortium (NMC) senior scientist, gave a seminar Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the NMC Biolab titled, Model-building using cryo-EM maps.

Tom Terwilliger has helped make macromolecular structure determination by X-ray crystallography easier for generations of scientists by creating easy-to-use tools that automate the entire process. He is a founding member of the Phenix team. Recently he has created Phenix structure determination tools for fully automatic analysis of cryo-EM maps.

Understanding macromolecular structures is very useful and forms a foundation for understanding biology. Usually, these structures are revealed by using X-ray crystallography or cryo-electron microscopy to show a picture of the macromolecule.

Recent developments in cryo-electron microscopy have spurred a rapid increase in the rate scientists can determine the structure of large molecules. However, model-building at lower resolutions remains challenging due to the lack of detail in the density maps. Cases where both protein and RNA are present and the interpretation of density must include the choice of chain type are also challenging.

Terwilliger and his Phenix team have developed tools for carrying out all the steps necessary for interpreting low-resolution cryo-EM maps. The map-to-model tool chooses optimal map sharpening, divides a map into small contiguous regions of density, builds protein or RNA/DNA into each, optimizes geometry by finding segments that appear to have secondary structure, combines all the models of each chain type together, identifies which chain type fits each part of a map best, and fits all these together into a partial model for the structure.  Any symmetry present in the structure can be included in the model-building process.

More information can be found at 

Pebble Labs Creates Biotechnology for Disease Control

The New Mexico Consortium (NMC) hosts a bi-weekly seminar series held at the NMC Biological Laboratory at 100 Entrada Drive. The latest seminar was held Tuesday, February 13th, by Dr. Richard Sayre on the Los Alamos start-up company Pebble Labs, Inc.

Dr. Sayre's talk was titled, Pebble Labs; designing continuous, sustainable, RNA-mediated disease control systems for multiple host systems.

The Pebble Labs family of companies (Little Fly LabsIron Leaf, and Mermaid Bio) uses a common platform technology to control disease and pests in diverse host systems ranging from mosquitoes, to crop plants and shrimp. The Pebble Labs disease control strategy is based on the production of RNA interference molecules by bacteria living within the host. These RNA interference molecules are designed to suppress the expression of essential pathogen genes.

In the case of animals, such as the mosquito or shrimp, Pebble Labs researchers utilize enteric or endosymbiotic bacteria as the delivery system. In plants, they engineer endophytic bacteria to deliver interfering RNAs.

Recently, Pebble Labs has demonstrated proof-of-concept for the transbiotic control of viruses in mosquitoes, tobacco, and shrimp. Dr. Sayre discussed several of the potential advantages of the technology being developed. In contrast to exogenous application of interfering RNAs to control pathogens, transbiotics should allow for low cost production and an easy delivery of interfering RNAs to the host often assisted by factors that enhance their delivery, mobilization and effectiveness.

Most importantly, Pebble Labs’ transbiotics disease control systems are capable of being deployed over a widespread area very quickly, which is essential when dealing with persistent and emerging diseases and pests in real time.

This method of using interference RNA technology is not only environmentally sustainable, low cost, and rapidly deployable, it also is considered extremely precise and safe, more so than any other pathogen and pest control strategies currently used. In other words, this new technology will selectively incapacitate the disease causing viruses without environmental impact or the eradication of the species. 

This technology is now being developed to address viral, fungal, bacterial and other diseases and pests in multiple host systems.

Pebble Labs will soon have 20 staff working at the NMC Biolab developing new control technology for a variety of human, animal, and plant diseases.

To learn more about this important research go to 

© 2018 New Mexico Consortium