Interested in using pond scum to power a jet? What to create your own multi-colored, glow in the dark, grow anywhere tomato plant? Need to study the effects of climate change from the molecular to the ultrascale level?
Then visit the New Mexico Consortium Laboratory in Los Alamos on the fourth Saturday of each month when the lab offers public tours of its facilities.
The New Mexico Consortium Laboratory is a cooperative venture bringing together scientists and researchers from Los Alamos national Laboratory, UNM, NM State University and NM Tech. At present, research projects at NM Consortium center on the use of plants, specifically analyzing the use of various strains of algae as a feedstock for biofuels. Various strains of algae yield varying degrees of energy content.
Believe it or not, the strain of algae presently yielding the highest quantity of lipids to be converted in a fuel source comes from a puddle on the side of a freeway in Texas. A lab tour will show visitors the process of analyzing algae samples for energy content, culturing samples into research-sized quantity, and experimenting with growing these samples under various circumstances that measure heat, light, humidity and temperature using photo bioreactors.
The New Mexico Consortium Laboratory has the second largest collection of these computer-driven instruments in the country. Lab researchers welcome the opportunity to explain the various pieces of equipment involved in the process, including spectrophotometers and centrifuges capable of generating a gravitational force 800,000 times the force of gravity on earth.
The New Mexico Consortium Laboratory also supports research into plant genomics, the development of crop plants designed to grow under sub-optimal condition in both soil and environment. This reduces the need to use pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, and allows crop plants to be grown utilizing less water in climate zones presently not agriculturally productive.
The New Mexico Consortium Laboratory includes a state of the art 4,000 square foot laboratory green house. Designed to control air temperatures, humidity levels, hours and levels of sunlight, the green house allows researchers to field test modified plants. Current experiments include growing the plant camelina, a plant capable of producing significant amounts of plant oil (think canola oil) with the possible goal of replacing many uses of kerosene.
Also underway are experiments to improve a plant’s ability to transport CO2 (atmospheric carbon dioxide) from outside the plant to inside the plant.
The next public tour of the New Mexico Consortium Laboratory is 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 25. Children are welcome if accompanied by an adult. Long pants and closed toe shoes are required. Reservations for the free tour must be booked prior to the tour date. See the website for additional details: newmexicoconsortium.org.