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  • richardmitnick 1:02 pm on July 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new twist on data storage - DNA, , NNSA,   

    From Sandia: “A new twist on data storage” 

    Sandia Lab

    July 07, 2016

    SANDIA BIOENGINEERS Marlene and George Bachand show off their new method for encrypting and storing sensitive information in DNA. Digital data storage degrades and can become obsolete and old-school books and paper require lots of space. (Photo by Lonnie Anderson)

    Z machine, just one of Sandia’s research and test facilities, generates 100-200 gigabytes of data per year. That is a lot of digital data to inscribe on hard drives or beam up to the “cloud.”

    Sandia Z machine
    Sandia Z machine

    George Bachand (1132), a bioengineer at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnology, is exploring a better, more permanent method for encrypting and storing classified data: DNA. Compared to digital and analog information storage, DNA is more compact, more durable, and never becomes obsolete. Readable DNA was extracted from the 600,000-year-old remains of a horse found in the Yukon.

    Seven miles of bookshelves

    Tape- and disk-based data storage degrades and can become obsolete, requiring rewriting every decade or so. Cloud- or server-based storage requires a vast amount of electricity; in 2011 Google’s server farms used enough electricity to power 200,000 US homes. Furthermore, old-school methods require lots and lots of space. IBM estimated that 1,000 gigabytes of information in book form would take up seven miles of bookshelves. In fact, Sandia recently completed a 15,000-square-foot building to store 35,000 boxes of inactive records and archival documents.

    “Historically, the national laboratories and the US government have a lot of highly secure information that they need to store long-term. I see this as a potentially robust way of storing classified information in the future to preserve it for multiple generations,” says George. “The key is how do you go from text to DNA and do that in a way that is safe and secure.”

    George was inspired by the recording of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets into 2.5 million base pairs of DNA — about half the genome of the tiny E. coli bacterium. Using this method, the group at the European Bioinformatics Institute could theoretically store 2.2 petabytes of information — 200 times the printed material in the Library of Congress — in one gram of DNA.

    Marlene Bachand (1132), a biological engineer at Sandia and George’s wife, adds, “We are taking advantage of a biological component, DNA, and using its unique ability to encode huge amounts of data in an extremely small volume to develop DNA constructs that can be used to transmit and store vast amounts of encrypted data for security purposes.”

    The Bachands’ project, funded by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research & Development program, has successfully moved from the drawing board to letterhead. Using a practically unbreakable encryption key, the team has encoded an abridged version of the famous Truman letter establishing Sandia into DNA. They then made the DNA, spotted it onto Sandia letterhead, and mailed it — along with a conventional letter — around the country. After the letter’s cross-country trip, the team was able to extract the DNA out of the paper, amplify and sequence the DNA, and decode the message in about 24 hours at a cost of about $45.

    Text to DNA and back again

    To achieve this proof-of-principle, the first step was to develop the software to generate the encryption key and encrypt text into a DNA sequence. Andrew Gomez worked on this while he was an intern at Sandia; he is now at Senior Scientific, a nanomedicine company at the University of New Mexico’s Science and Technology Park.

    DNA is made up of four bases, commonly referred to by their one-letter abbreviations: A, C, G, and T. Using a three-base code, exactly how living organisms store their information, 64 distinct characters, letters, spaces, and punctuation, can be encoded, with room for redundancy.

    For example, spaces make up on average 15 to 20 percent of the characters in a text document, an encryption key could specify that TAG, TAA, and TGA each code for “space” while GAA and CTC could code for “E”. This would reduce the amount of repetition — technically challenging for making and reading DNA — and make brute-force hacking more difficult.

    The team’s first test was to encode a 180-character message, about the size of a tweet. Encoding the message into 550 bases was easy; actually making the DNA was hard.

    “Our initial approach was very expensive, very time-consuming, and didn’t work,” says George with a chuckle. However, “there’s a new technology that’s come out and made the ability to take synthetic DNA, what are called gene blocks, and stitch them together into these artificial chromosomes. These changes have just happened within the last few years, which has made it pretty extraordinary. Now it is possible to readily make these gene blocks right on the bench top and it can be done in large, production-scale pretty quickly.”

    Identifying potential national security applications

    Since successfully encoding, making, reading, and decoding the 180-character message and the 700-character Truman letter, George and Marlene are now working on even longer test sequences. However, what the Bachands really want to do is move beyond tests and apply their technique to national security problems.

    “We have achieved the proof-of-principle. Yes, it is possible. Now the big challenge for us is identifying the potential applications,” says George. “Using DNA to store information is pretty cool, it’s science-fiction-y, but the real question is it really good for anything? Can it really supplant any of the current technology and where we’re headed in the future?”

    Two possible applications the team has identified are storing historical classified documents and barcoding/watermarking electromechanical components, such as computer chips made in MESA, Sandia’s DoD-certified fabrication facility, prior to storage.

    George imagines encoding each component’s history — when it was manufactured, the lot number, starting material, even the results of reliability tests — into DNA and spotting it onto the actual chip. Instead of having to find the serial number and look up that metadata in a digital or paper-based database, future engineers could swab the chip itself, sequence the DNA, and get that information in a practically tamper-proof manner.

    Recoverable for 100s of years

    To test the feasibility, Marlene spotted lab equipment with a test message, and was able recover and decode the message, even after months of daily use and routine cleaning. DNA spotted onto electronic components and stored in cool, dark environments could be recoverable for hundreds of years.

    Another, more straightforward application for the Bachands’ DNA storage method would be for historical or rarely accessed classified documents. DNA requires much less maintenance than disk- or tape-based storage and doesn’t need lots of electricity or tons of space like cloud- or paper-based storage. But conversion of paper documents into DNA requires the “cumbersome” process of scanning, encrypting, then synthesizing the DNA, admits George. Making the DNA is the most expensive part of the process, but the cost has decreased substantially over the past few years and should continue to drop.

    “I hope this project progresses and expands the biological scope and nature of projects here at Sandia. I believe the field of biomimicry has no boundaries. Given all of the issues with broken encryption and data breaches, this technology could potentially provide a path to address these timely and ever-increasing security problems,” says Marlene.

    See the full article here

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    Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

  • richardmitnick 1:47 pm on April 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NNSA   

    From Brookhaven Lab: “The Science of Detecting and Defeating Radiological Threats” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    April 18, 2014
    Kay Cordtz

    If you were at the Super Bowl in New Jersey in February, or at the concurrent “NFL Experience” in Manhattan, you may have spotted some elite Brookhaven Lab employees. Not cheering in the stands or even inside the stadium, these members of the Lab’s Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) team were working on Super Bowl Sunday and for several weeks beforehand to monitor the metropolitan area for potential radiological threats.

    The RAP team, one of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) radiological emergency response assets, is comprised of a few permanent staff, augmented by highly trained volunteers from many Lab disciplines. Together, they work to stay ahead of any such threats using a palette of detection tools that have become increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly, driven by the evolving mission of the program.

    “The whole profile of the team has changed,” said Kathleen McIntyre, who is the contractor operations manager for RAP Region 1, which covers the East Coast from Maine to Maryland and inland to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. “We used to investigate questionable material found in grandpa’s basement, but since 9/11 the focus has been on search-and-detect missions.”

    Working with first responder partners like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police and fire departments, hazmat units, Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (Air and Army National Guard), and others, the RAP team offers radiological assistance efforts upon the request of federal, state, tribal, and local governments and private groups and individuals for incidents involving radiological materials. In addition to prominent sporting events, the RAP team supports security efforts for high-profile events like the United Nations General Assembly, New Year’s Eve activities in one or multiple locations, the holiday tree lighting ceremony, the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and even Presidential inaugurations.

    During a deployment, researchers and technicians with backgrounds in various aspects of radiological controls and analysis conduct field monitoring and environmental sampling, assessment, and documentation activities to help decision makers choose appropriate protective actions for the safety of both the public and first responders. Between deployments, the team examines issues of coordination between agencies, plans, and procedures, and trains and evaluates the proficiency of individuals using the equipment. Initially, all RAP team members are required to take a specialized course in Albuquerque, NM, and then attend training sessions at least quarterly. Team members are periodically evaluated through their participation in drills and exercises. Occasionally a “No Notice Exercise” is conducted by NNSA that tests the team’s readiness to respond.
    Advances in equipment

    Although some of the equipment now being used is commercially developed, other instruments are developed specifically for the use of DOE assets such as RAP teams, with the expertise of scientists and engineers from the DOE and NNSA complexes. Lab staff has participated in the development, testing, and functional evaluation of numerous pieces of equipment in this category. The evolution of this equipment conforms to the change in the program’s mission.

    Historically the RAP mission was “consequence management” — events and situations along the lines of responding to a spill from a truck carrying medical radioisotopes, for example. But as the profile of terrorism has been raised across the country and around the world, the need for a more preemptive approach in radiological screening was recognized, and RAP has been increasingly called upon to support law enforcement groups conducting directed or random screening for illicit movement of radiological materials.

    “That screening tends to be correlated with the potential for radiological material to be used to threaten a large mass gathering or other high-profile event,” said Chuck Finfrock, principal engineer for RAP team science. “To assist us in doing what we call low-profile missions, we need to be able to blend into crowds and collect radiological data in the field. Some of the equipment that we originally had was extremely bulky, so scientists have been working on equipment that is easier and less cumbersome to use and allows us to do a quicker assessment of our environment.”

    One of the techniques now being applied to the search and crisis response missions is gamma ray spectroscopy (GRS), largely a laboratory technique used for more than 40 years to identify radiological material. Like a fingerprint, a particular radiological material has a particular gamma ray spectrum that is unique to that radioisotope. As a result, this technique can be used to not only detect the radioactivity of a sample, but also to give information identifying that particular material. The instruments can be very large and are delicate items that need very stable temperature control and a constant supply of liquid nitrogen to cool them.

    One example of a Gamma Ray Sectroscope

    Example of a GRS lab room

    As the RAP program moves to emergency response, more portable equipment allows the team to conduct a search operation with greater focus. For example, a construction site may report a missing soil density gauge – a commercial product containing some radioactive material that’s used to measure the density of compacted soil. With a spectroscopic system, the team knows in advance what isotope they’re seeking and can use GRS to search in a more specific way. Also, while the older GRS systems always required a human to take, calibrate, and analyze the data, computer software can now automate some analysis of that gamma ray spectral information.

    “The instruments are also, in effect, becoming ‘smarter’ and better able to help first responder partners with limited knowledge collect the initial on-scene information. This improves the quality of the data collected, which in turn helps a team scientist to understand the event more quickly,” said McIntyre. “Another important technological change that’s taking place is that instruments are being equipped with the ability to communicate by cell phone, satellite or Wi-Fi, allowing us to send data from the field back to a command center in near real time. Operators in the field working in multiple locations can send data back to the command center to be analyzed by one specialist at the command center.”

    Portable GRS Unit

    Other new, more sophisticated algorithms can generate data products, such as maps, at different stages of an event, so technical information can be conveyed to decision makers at a glance.
    Training, teamwork critical

    But McIntyre warns that as sophisticated and user friendly that this gear has become, “we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have an individual who has proficiency in the equipment that is being deployed in the field. Some of the first responders wear many hats, and while they do receive training, they don’t have the kind of in-depth knowledge and access to scientific expertise that members of the RAP team have. There are still important issues related to the fact that we live in a sea of radiation from rocks and soil. Also, we live in a community where radiological materials are used in many medical applications. As an example, we often encounter people who have had a thallium stress test or other medical administration. That person will measure as radioactive for days or weeks.”

    “Construction materials can also offer challenges,” she added. “On the streets of New York City, you’ll see great changes in the background radiation levels as you go from avenue to avenue and street to street. Our team has been trained to be cognizant of those changes and those contributing factors as well as being on high alert for something that might contribute additional information that might be of interest.”

    The context surrounding a measurement needs to be evaluated by someone with some understanding of the world’s background radiation footprint. The DOE community also has a capability called TRIAGE, where highly trained specialists from the NNSA nuclear weapons laboratories provide a scientific confirmation of the measurements made in the field. Advances in equipment communication allow that information to be communicated to specialists who can analyze field measurements that may look ambiguous.

    “The evolution of our capabilities is a combination of advancements in different areas,” Finfrock said “The advancements in detector engineering have caused them to become more field-usable. The advances in communications electronics and computers have enabled the detectors to more easily send data to the right people quickly. Most detectors now have global positioning tagged in with the radiological data, so not only are we getting back radiological measurements but we also know very precisely where that measurement was taken. We can correlate multiple measurements in multiple locations to be able to anticipate situations because we have geospatial awareness as well as radiological awareness.”

    As the radiological landscape continues to evolve, both in this country and abroad, the RAP team and others will continue to refine their search and detection techniques, and scientists at Brookhaven Lab and elsewhere will be working to stay ahead of the technology curve.

    See the full article here.

    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world.Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

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  • richardmitnick 9:46 pm on March 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NNSA   

    From Livermore Lab: “Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility achieves record laser energy in pursuit of fusion ignition” 


    Breanna Bishop

    “The National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s most energetic laser, surpassed a critical milestone in its efforts to meet one of modern science’s greatest challenges: achieving fusion ignition and energy gain in a laboratory setting. NIF’s 192 lasers fired in perfect unison, delivering a record 1.875 million joules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to the facility’s target chamber center.

    This historic laser shot involved a shaped pulse of energy 23 billionths of a second long that generated 411 trillion watts (TW) of peak power (1,000 times more than the United States uses at any instant in time).

    The record-breaking shot was made March 15.

    ‘This event marks a key milestone in the National Ignition Campaign’s drive toward fusion ignition,’ said NIF Director Edward Moses. ‘While there have been many demonstrations of similar equivalent energy performance on individual beams or quads during the completion of the NIF project, this is the first time the full complement of 192 beams has operated at this sound barrier.'”

    Control room staff at the National Ignition Facility monitor the progress of the world’s most energetic laser shot on March 15. From left: Rodrigo Miramontes-Ortiz, Dean LaTray, Scott Phillip Rogers, Dean Steven Felzkowski. Photos by Damien Jemison/NIF

    See the full article here.

    Operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration


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