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.

June 5, 2020
Scientists combined imaging and microscopy to study the vibrational properties of water at nanoscale. Electron microscopy of a sample between boron nitride sheets (right) distinguished between hydrogen (O-H) and deuterium (O-D) vibrational modes (left).
Good Vibrations Show How Water Works
New method enables fundamental liquid studies at nanoscale.
June 5, 2020
Transmission electron microscopy depicts wear debris from tests with the solid lubricant consisting of (a) nanodiamonds, (b) amorphous carbon, and (c) molybdenum disulfide iwith nanodiamonds.
Nanodiamonds Slip N’ Slide
Oil-free, nanoscale solid lubricant creates ultra-slippery layer between sliding surfaces in machinery.
June 5, 2020
Illustration (left) and electron tomographic reconstruction (right) of programmed assembly of a nanoarchitecture built by attaching spherical particles to the six flat faces of a gold nanocube. The scale bar represents 50 nanometers.
LEGO™ Construction of Nanoparticle Assemblies
Designing new levels of complex architectures using DNA strands and nanoparticles.
June 5, 2020
DNA and a new type of molecular aggregates act as a molecular bridge in artificial light-harvesting systems, connecting light-absorbing and light-emitting molecules. Experiments suggest almost no energy loss during the transfer.
Building Better Bridges for Moving Energy
Precisely positioning molecules on wire-like DNA assemblies allows high efficiency energy transfer.
May 28, 2020
The components of the Low Energy RHIC electron Cooling assembly include 100 meters of beamline. In this beamline, accelerated electrons propagate with ions in one beam to extract their heat, then make a 180-degree turn to cool the ions in the other beam.
Keeping Cool with an Innovative Bunched Beam Accelerator
Team combines many innovative accelerator accomplishments to keep gold ions cold and advance nuclear physics research.
May 11, 2020
A schematic showing 4D atomic motion captured in an iron-platinum nanoparticle (iron in white, platinum in blue) after three different heat treatment times at 520 degrees C.
Researchers Capture Crystal Nucleation with Atomic Resolution in 4D (3D Plus Time)
New results contradict a long-held classical theory of crystal nucleation.
May 11, 2020
Scanning tunneling microscopy topography of an oxygen substituting sulfur (left) and sulfur vacancy (right) in tungsten disulfide. Bottom: Corresponding atomically resolved non-contrast atomic force microscopy image.
Linking Properties to Defects in 2D Materials
Scientists reveal oxygen’s hidden talent for filling atomic gap in 2D semiconductors & the surprising role of electron spin in electronic conductivity
May 7, 2020
Scientists created ultrathin porous materials by growing a “corona”-like polymer layer on porous metal-organic framework nanoparticles. Films one particle thick (top) self-assembled into multiple layers that were formed from these nanoparticles.
New Route to Thin Porous Membranes
Scientists create flexible, ultrathin films of nanoparticles using a polymer ‘corona’ approach.
May 7, 2020
Schematic of how hydroxyl radicals (OH)—which can form due to air pollution—can form Criegee intermediates, which then create more OH in a chain reaction that leads to breakdown of molecules in cell membranes (at top of image).
New Mechanism Links Ozone and Disease Resistance
New finding may help explain why we develop chronic diseases and cancer as we age…and even why food decomposes over time.
May 7, 2020
The circles represent different groups of RNA viruses. The analysis is based on the sequence of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase transcripts found in California annual grassland soil. Known viruses are in pink and newly discovered viruses are in purple.
Soil Viruses: A Rich Reservoir of Diversity
Soils contain a large diversity of unknown RNA viruses that infect fungi and possibly plants and animals.
April 22, 2020
The known analogues of biphenylene are associated with carbon-rich compounds. The new metallabiphenylenes are based on uranium and thorium and appear to be the first of their kind.
Uranium, Thorium Debut in Dual Aromatic-Antiaromatic Molecule
Researchers create novel metallabiphenylene analogues, advancing a key concept in organic chemistry.
April 14, 2020
Researchers developed and tested a new top-launch configuration for injecting microwaves into the plasma in the DIII-D tokamak.
Moving on Up, to the Top for Fusion Power
New approach doubles the current driven by microwave heating at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility.
March 27, 2020
Depiction of a 2D-array of hexagonal prism silicate nanocages trapping individual atoms of argon, krypton, and xenon.
Nanocages Trap and Separate Elusive Noble Gases
Material traps noble gases at above-freezing temperatures, a difficult and important industrial challenge.
March 27, 2020
The radial wind created in the plasma stretches the magnet field out radially forming a current sheet and spiraling magnetic field. 3-axis Hall probe measurements are shown as an axisymmetric 3D field-line rendering.
Parker Spiral Created in the Laboratory for the First Time Ever
Scientists created the Parker spiral – the spiral magnetic field structure of the Sun due to its rotation – in the lab.
March 26, 2020
The actinide elements protactinium (Pa) through einsteinium (Es) were studied (actinides are the bottom row below the main body of the periodic table).Bottom figure shows the computed bond distance between the actinide element (An) & bishydroxide oxygen
A Chemical Extreme in the Periodic Table is Revealed
Collaboration between experiment and theory expands fundamental understanding of the chemistry of exotic radioactive heavy elements.
March 24, 2020
The process of recovering PDK monomers from mixed-color polymers. A mixture of red, blue, yellow, and black PDK plastic was depolymerized (left) and then separated to yield a solid mixture of PDK monomers and pigments/additives (right).
New Polymers that Close the Loop in Plastics Recycling
A next-generation plastic can be recycled again and again into new materials of any color, shape, or form.
March 24, 2020
A schematic of the upconverting nanoparticle (UCNP) coating on top of Ag nanopillar arrays.
Upconverting Nanolasers from Subwavelength Plasmons: Stability and Ultralow Powers
Researchers have engineered an all-solid state nanolaser system that can operate continuously at room temperature.
March 23, 2020
Graphic depicting a photoconductive metasurface. Each unit cell supports resonance of light on two axes of symmetry (labeled Hx and Hz) to enable perfect light absorption. The inset image shows a scanning electron micrograph of a terahertz detector.
New Metasurface Helps Make the Switch to Terahertz Frequencies
A new photoconductive metasurface paves the way for smaller, more efficient terahertz detectors.
March 23, 2020
Compared to conventional manual grid measurement (left), the autonomous measurement method (right) produces a more accurate reconstruction of the sample’s shape (top row) by intelligently positioning measurements near features of interest (bottom row).
Artificial Intelligence Joins the Team for Smarter & Faster Experiments
Researchers have developed new artificial intelligence methods to enable “autonomous experimentation.”
March 20, 2020
At center, a 3D electron tomogram image of a hollow gold-silver alloy nanowrapper showing the pores at each corner. The background is a scanning electron microscope image of a large number of nanowrappers assembled into a superlattice.
Engineered Nanowrappers Carry and Release Tiny Cargo
New one-step method creates hollow nanostructures that can carry and deliver nanoscale cargos for medicine and other applications.
March 20, 2020
Density functional theory (DFT) creates models of stable molecules (left, right). It needs self-interaction correction (SIC) for stretching and breaking chemical bonds (center), but SIC reduces accuracy on stable molecules. LSIC works for all situations.
Resolving the Self-Interaction Correction Paradox in Molecular Modeling
Local scaling self-interaction correction (LSIC) overcomes long-standing problems for accurate simulation of chemical reactions from start to finish.
March 20, 2020
Exposure of tin to sulfur produces a layered, fast-growing tin sulfide core (brown) surrounded by a thin tin disulfide shell (green). An electron microscope that can detect light transmitting particles (photons) revealed intense light from the edges.
Wrapped, Layered Semiconductors Catch the Light
A novel single-step process spontaneously organizes layered light-harvesting structures.
March 19, 2020
Shining different kinds of light on silica micro particles in a liquid crystal causes molecules around the particles to bend in different ways, providing a new way to assemble and manipulate atom-like systems called ‘big atoms.’
Lighting the Way from Repulsion to Attraction
Optical control allows physicists to simulate and understand interactions between atoms.
March 19, 2020
When electricity in a light emitting diode (LED) flows in a direction opposite to normal, it cools nearby materials. For this nanoscale approach to work, the material has to be extremely close to the LED—less than a single wavelength of infrared light.
Cooling Electronics of the Future
Research demonstrates a new approach to refrigeration using light transport at the nanoscale.
March 19, 2020
The top side of this thermoelectric generator radiates heat toward the night sky, creating a difference in temperature with the rest of the device that can be used to generate enough power for small lights or other applications.
Generating Light from Darkness
New device promises power generation in total darkness.