Science Highlights

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Each year, scientists with the Office of Science, at our national laboratories, and supported by the Office of Science at the nation’s colleges and universities, publish thousands of research findings in the scientific literature. About 200 of these are selected annually by their respective program areas in the Office of Science as publication highlights of special note.

For the archive of past publication highlights, click here.

November 30, 2020
A new particle accelerator component demonstrates the feasibility of building and operating powerful particle accelerators for industry and medicine at a fraction of the cost of research accelerators.
New Prototype Advances Particle Accelerators for Industry and Medicine
Development of new particle accelerator components can make this niche research technology practical for industrial and medical applications.
November 30, 2020
Layers of zinc and oxygen atoms (in yellow and blue) are deposited onto the surfaces of nanowires of molybdenum disulfide (in purple). These atoms grow into arrays of semiconductor crystals at sites of defects on the surfaces.
Decorating Semiconductors at the Atomic Scale
Crystals grown from layers of atoms arrange themselves on semiconductor surfaces to add new capabilities.
November 30, 2020
Substituting heavier deuterium (red) for hydrogen in methylammonium (blue-orange-red) slows its swaying so it can interact with vibrations that remove heat, keeping charge carriers hot longer.
Some Like It Hot: Boosting Efficiency in Solar Cells
Neutron scattering and isotopic substitution techniques reveal how to block vibrations that could leak heat from a photovoltaic cell.
November 19, 2020
The cell-free prototyping framework can down-select enzymatic pathway candidates to accelerate synthetic biological design in cells.
Cell-Free Technology Accelerates Industrial Biotechnology
New in vitro platform prototypes and rapidly optimizes synthetic enzymes for cellular design.
November 5, 2020
When two nuclei of lead collide, the number of fast particles the collision produces depends on whether the nuclei graze each other, so-called peripheral collisions (colored data points), or have more head-on or central collisions (faint grey lines).
When Tiny, Energetic Worlds Collide
A new analysis provides a clearer picture of the universe by considering the yield of fast particles in grazing versus head-on nuclear collisions.
November 5, 2020
Density peaking increases with decreasing collisionality (blue squares), with the largest increases linked to changes in electron transport (yellow triangles), not in core fueling (red circles).
DIII-D Scientists Identify New Peaks in Fusion Power
Transport effects raise the density in the plasma core.
November 3, 2020
Top: oscillating moments in a spin chain, forming a magnon. Bottom: neutron scattering data (left) and corresponding theoretical models (right) in sodium manganese oxide corresponding to one-, two-, and three-magnon bound states.
Scientists Discover a New Magnetic Quasiparticle
Neutron scattering reveals a new way for magnetic oscillations to stick together.
November 3, 2020
(a,b) Illustrations of two types of atomic vibration patterns termed H1 and K5 modes in hexagonal iron sulfide (h-FeS). Iron (Fe) and sulfur (S) atoms are depicted as brown and yellow, respectively. Red arrows denote the destabilized atomic displacements.
Material Found in Meteorites Portends New Possibilities for Spintronic Computing
Neutron and X-ray experiments illuminate the magnetic transitions in hexagonal iron sulfide that transform it from a conductor to an insulator.
October 23, 2020
Using the first new method in half a century for measuring the size of the proton via electron scattering, nuclear physicists have produced a new value for the proton’s radius.
New Measurement Fits Another Piece in the Proton Radius Puzzle
Physicists get closer to solving the proton radius puzzle with unique new measurement of the charge radius of the proton.
October 23, 2020
Snapshot of a nuclear reaction showing a high-energy neutron causing a carbon-12 atom to break apart into three alpha-particles, leaving a low-energy neutron (left). This is the reverse of how the process would occur in nature (right).
The Life and Death of Stars: Viewing Nuclear Reactions to Understand the Universe Around Us
Studying nuclear reactions using a Time Projection Chamber allows scientists to study stars’ internal processes.
October 23, 2020
Fluid vortices induced by a swarm of synchronized spinning particles in a liquid-like state. The activity of spinning self-assembled particles produces flows that cause neighboring spinning particles to self-organize into lattice-like structures.
Building Materials from Spinning Particles
Swarms of synchronized active spinning particles exhibit complex collective behavior, ranging from liquid-like states to dynamic crystals.
October 15, 2020
A new study of permafrost thawing in Svalbard, Norway, suggests substantial, sustained release of carbon dioxide when these soils decompose.
Young Permafrost Provides New Insights on Climate Change
New approaches shed light on arctic soil microbes and their potential to release greenhouse gases when permafrost thaws.
October 15, 2020
Leaves of the Arabidopsis plant showing the activity of the ANGUSTIFOLIA (AN) plant gene in response to the pathogen, P. syringae. The coloration indicates the severity of the disease.
Optimizing Plant Defense against Pathogens
Elucidating the plant’s ability to tweak its defense response to specific pathogens.
October 7, 2020
Lijuan Ruan stands atop the STAR detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The silver Muon Telescope Detector components surrounding STAR’s magnet detect muons, the decay products of J/psi particles.
What Does It Take to Destroy Confinement?
New measurements offer insights into binding interactions that glue fundamental building blocks of matter together.
September 30, 2020
Composite image of a white dwarf star inside a tiny, gold canister (hohlraum) at the National Ignition Facility. Compression of the material inside the target was measured by time-resolved X-ray radiography.
Shedding Light on Stellar Evolution
Experiments reveal relationship between density of matter & extreme pressure in stellar objects, putting constraints on models of white dwarf stars.
September 29, 2020
Schematic of a single proton (p) inducing deformation (grey) on an otherwise spherical “semi-magic” tin-128 core (green). The bulge is analogous to the moon inducing oceanic tidal bulges on the Earth.
Novel Measurement Finds Collective Motion and Deformation in Atomic Nuclei
Measurements of the electromagnetic properties of radioactive antimony-129 offer new insights on proton-neutron interactions and nuclear shapes.
September 18, 2020
Radiation can break electron pairs (yellow) in a qubit into individual electrons (red). Beta particles (β) and X-rays interact with in the aluminum (Al) superconductor. Gamma rays (γ) affect the silicon (Si) substrate. Cosmic rays penetrate the device.
Naturally Occurring Radiation Limits Superconducting Qubit Coherence Times
New experiments demonstrate the correlation of natural radiation, unpaired electrons, and decoherence in superconducting qubit devices.
September 9, 2020
With one neutron outside of the chain of isotopes with a fully populated shell of 126 neutrons, mercury-207 lies in what was until now an almost entirely unexplored region of the nuclear chart.
A Pioneering Exploration of Exotic Nuclei
Newly implemented techniques expand scientific understanding of isotopes whose nuclei have the “magic numbers” of protons and neutrons.
September 9, 2020
One way to simulate infinite neutron matter is to put a number of neutrons in a box, surround that box with identical boxes, then sum up the forces among all the particles.
Probing the “Equation of State” of Neutron Matter—The Stuff that Neutron Stars Are Made Of
Nuclear theorists explore the properties of dense neutron matter to get at the core of neutron stars.
September 4, 2020
An example from the DOE DIII-D facility of the perturbation to the edge region of a tokamak’s magnetic field due to resonant magnetic fields.
An Innovation for Fusion Device Walls May Have Unexpected Benefits for the Core
A technique that suppresses damaging instabilities also improves the exhaust of helium ‘ash’ in the DIII-D tokamak, improving conditions for fusion.
September 2, 2020
The AI DefectSegNet models outperform human experts at perceiving radiation defects in advanced microscopy images, helping to design materials for nuclear reactors.
AI Helps Scientists Quantify Irradiation Effects
Novel Convolutional Neural Network combined with advanced microscopy offers a path to automated and reliable radiation defect analysis.
August 21, 2020
Comparison of atomic force microscopy (AFM) characterization of the surfaces of the bullseye lenses made using the conventional focused ion beam sculpting method (left) and the new electron beam lithography method (right).
Next-Generation Electron Source Hits the Bullseye for Materials Studies
New lens could generate an ion beam that is both small and fast.
August 19, 2020
Several microbial community traits influence the fate of carbon in soil.
The Traits of Microbes Matter in Microbial Carbon Cycling and Storage
Research identifies microbiome traits that might be harnessed to improve global carbon models and or help increase carbon storage in soil.
August 18, 2020
The novel method focuses laser light by sending an optical pulse (yellow lines) to the right to reflect from a radial echelon (rightmost element); the pulse then reflects from an axiparabola (leftmost element) to control when each ring comes to focus.
Controlling Light to Accelerate Electrons in Just Meters
A novel paradigm for pushing energy in a particle accelerator method could dramatically shrink future accelerators.
August 14, 2020
Optical laser pulses excite electrons in gold nanoparticles (AuNP) attached to a titanium dioxide (TiO2) substrate. Short X-ray pulses count the electrons injected from the nanoparticles into the substrate and monitor their return to the nanoparticles.
Watching Electrons Harvest Light at the Nanoscale
Insight into charge generation induced by light could enable the design of better photocatalysts made from nanomaterials.