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Ray Newell, an atomic physicist at Los Alamos National Labs, will explain how his team is working on coding that might help prevent computer attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure, similar to the one that recently took out the Colonial Pipeline. (Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)

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One of the issues Ray Newell thought he might face in describing his current project as a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory was to get people interested in it.

Then, hackers gained control of the Colonial Pipeline’s operating computers and, all of a sudden, Newell’s project gained very real-world emphasis.

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Newell will be speaking – and fielding questions – Wednesday at 6 p.m. during the labs’ quarterly Frontiers in Science program, presented by the Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows through the Bradbury Science Museum. This series includes presentations by scientists, engineers and others on the most innovative developments in science.

“When we first started planning this, almost two, three months ago, we were trying to set up how to get anybody to care about it,” Newell said. “Unfortunately, that piece of the talk has been largely cut out as it has been made very clear, nationwide, why it is important to secure our critical infrastructure.”

The shutdown in early May disrupted gas supplies along the East Coast and caused panic buying, 1970s-like gas lines and empty fuel stations.

“We have seen with the Colonial Pipeline attack, how impactful these issues can be on our daily lives,” Newell said.

Newell and his team have been concentrating on protecting electrical grids, with technology already in use at the lab and the connecting Los Alamos grid.

With the changing nature of electrical generation to incorporate more input from such green sources as solar and wind, it becomes ever more important to ensure control, Newell said, particularly when considering the greater…

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