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OSTIblog Articles in the Los Alamos Topic

The Unbelievable Accuracy of the Monte Carlo Method

Monte Carlo

The year was 1945, the year I was born. That in itself is of great significance to me.  However, it was a momentous year in history. World War II came to its merciful end and the development of the first electronic computer – the ENIAC—was nearing completion. At a post-war Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), mathematician Stanislaw Ulam envisioned the possibilities of reviving statistical techniques that would have a huge impact on science and technology research today. (Read the history of Stanislaw Ulam in the special edition of Los Alamos Science No. 15, 1987.)

Fifteen years earlier, a too-good-to-believe method to predict experimental results by statistical sampling techniques rather than using differential equations had been used by Enrico Fermi while studying neutron transport.  Fermi used his new method to mystify his colleagues with unbelievable accuracy of experimental results. This new prediction method was in its infancy.

By the late 1940s, Ulam was so intrigued with the ENIAC and the increased computing power it offered, he soon realized that Fermi’s computational methods were now appropriate. He began to use random statistical sampling to gain insight into phenomena for which...

Related Topics: eniac, Enrico Fermi, LANL, Los Alamos, Monte Carlo, Stanislaw Ulam


Science and a Movie

Roger Weins. Image Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory / James Rickman

DOE’s ScienceCinema is now showing “A LANL Scientist’s Dream Takes Off to Zap Rocks on Mars” starring Roger Wiens.

At age 9, Roger Wiens and his brother built rockets, a whole fleet of rockets. They also built a telescope that allowed them to draw craters they saw on Mars when  it neared close to earth. Little did Roger know that he would be putting a camera on Mars 40 years later. Roger Wiens is now a LANL planetary scientist and the principal investigator of the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s ChemCam team. The ChemCam...

Related Topics: Los Alamos, Mars, ScienceCinema, Energy Citations Database (ECD)


Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity – ChemCam

Mars Science Lab Rover

How do you run chemical tests at a geologic site millions of miles away from you to see what the rocks and soil are made of? Curiosity’s new instrument ChemCam, developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is designed to determine how much light is emitted at each frequency by a geologic sample when it’s heated by a laser beam. Since different materials have different light-emission patterns, measuring the patterns shows what materials emitted them.

Slide presentations giving a general view of Los Alamos contributions to ChemCam:

Reports and analysis of data: