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.

January 30, 2020
When tantalum arsenide (a new material developed by scientists) absorbs light, it generates electricity, similar to a solar cell. When researchers varied the polarization of infrared light, they discovered it created unusual effects in this material.
If You Want to Catch More Light, Twist It
New material is 10 times more efficient at converting light to electricity than other materials.
January 30, 2020
This research used the presence / absence of particular proteins in each viral genome as input for a gene sharing network analysis. This approach helps classify the vast unknown majority of viruses discovered in each new study of nature.
A Viral Gold Rush
Scientists develop a new tool to find viruses in complex genomic data sets.
January 30, 2020
A designed coiled-coil heterodimer, with halves colored green and purple. A DNA double-helix (gold), for which particular sequences have the same property of forming specific pairs, is superimposed to show scale.
Breaking Through Computational Barriers to Create Designer Proteins
Using advanced computing, scientists designed protein pairs that perfectly complement each other.
January 30, 2020
The illustrations show how the correlation between lattice distortion and proton binding energy in a material affects proton conduction in different environments.
Simulations Identify Importance of Atomic-Level Distortions in Certain Fuel Cell Materials
Researchers determine how to design better materials for energy storage.
December 20, 2019
At left, a tiny bead struck by a laser produces optical modes that circulate around the interior of the bead. At right, a simulation of how the optical field inside a 5-micron (5 millionths of a meter) bead is distributed.
Scientists Create Tiny Lasers from Nanoparticles and Plastic Beads
The right mix of crystals and light activate unique laser properties in 5-micron spheres of interest to computing and medical experts.
December 20, 2019
An x-ray image of sound waves.
Sound Waves Carry Information Between Quantum Systems
Towards connecting and manipulating quantum states of matter with sound waves.
December 20, 2019
Listeria bacteria transport electrons through their cell wall into the environment as tiny currents, assisted by ubiquitous flavin molecules (yellow dots).
Gut Bacteria Found to Have a Shocking Secret
Scientists discovered that a common diarrhea-causing bacterium produces electricity & that hundreds of other bacterial species use this same process.
December 20, 2019
Learning from plant biology, hydrogel materials containing chloroplasts extracted from spinach demonstrate a self-healing mechanism controlled by carbon dioxide fixing.
Growth and Repair from Carbon Dioxide in Air
A new class of material absorbs and fixes atmospheric carbon dioxide to help it grow, get denser, and repair itself using sunlight.
December 20, 2019
Soil samples were taken at this field site in Prosser, WA. All soil samples were collected in three field replicates within a 0-to 20-cm depth from the ground. For each of the three field blocks, researchers collected three homogeneous replicates.
Simplifying Microbial Consortia Opens a Path to Understanding Soil Community Ecology
Representative communities of reduced complexity provide new experimental context for investigating how soil microbial communities function.
December 20, 2019
A new microbial network inference method reliably predicts interactions that depend on neighboring organisms.
Predicting How Microbial Neighbors Influence Each Other
A new computational method reliably predicts interactions that depend on neighboring organisms in an environment.
December 20, 2019
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Kansas State University found that soil drying significantly affected the structure and function of soil microbial communities.
Droughts Spell Changes for Soil Microbes
Researchers found that soil drying altered metabolic pathways within soil microbial communities.
December 17, 2019
Snapshots in time of the simulation of turbulence in fusion plasma confined in an advanced field-reversed configuration (FRC).
Accelerating the Development of Nuclear Fusion
Developing computer models of the plasma in a unique device is helping a company take the next steps towards producing power.
December 17, 2019
Image of measurements of the intensity of the line radiation emitted by tungsten atoms eroding from the region of highest heat and plasma flux on the tokamak wall, known as the divertor.
Unraveling how Tungsten Armor Erodes in Tokamak Walls
New high-resolution measurements of tokamaks’ tungsten walls may provide insight into how to better protect the armor material.
December 17, 2019
Researchers used the new model to accurately identify clusters of gene mutations (spheres), which helped them study the emergence of various genetic diseases.
Summit Charts a Course to Uncover the Origins of Genetic Diseases
Researchers create the most complete model yet of complex protein machinery.
December 17, 2019
The interactions between electron spin and an external magnetic field allowed control how the material can dissipate energy – like controlling the drag on a car as it drives into head versus side winds.
A New Twist on Controlling Magnetic Properties
By rotating materials commonly used in computer storage devices, scientists found a new way to change their intrinsic properties.
December 17, 2019
Representative mass maps are shown both before (top) and after (bottom) cellular paroxysm for cytoskeletal (left) and membrane (right) disruption.
New Algorithms Shed Light on Molecules’ Structure and Motion in Cells
Algorithms supporting a “microscope in a computer” tool enable early screening of several major cancers.
December 6, 2019
Researchers discovered that iron-oxide nanocrystals (red) and metal-organic frameworks (green) self-assemble into an unusual configuration that resembles a Chinese pastry. The inset (upper right) mimics the transmission electron microscopy image.
Tiny Crystals Work Better When They Double Up With Designer Frameworks
Researchers develop design rules that guide the self-assembly of crystals and frameworks into thin sheets for energy storage and other uses.
December 6, 2019
Researchers demonstrated the first use of electron microscopy for non-destructive isotope tracking in an amino acid.
Getting a Closer Look Inside Biomolecules
Novel isotope tracking brings nanoscale chemistry into view.
December 6, 2019
A breakthrough technique for overcoming instrument-based crosstalk in nanoscale measurements eliminates artifacts that lead to errors in biomaterials.
Pushing the Precision of Nanoscale Mapping
Novel microscopy method cuts instrument crosstalk, boosts accuracy.
December 4, 2019
The axis of a toy top deviates in a circular path from its straight up and down alignment as the top spins around that axis. Knowing the rate of this deviation for spinning protons helps physicists keep the particles aligned in experiments.
Scientists ‘Tune In’ to Proton Spin
Diagnostic test will improve performance of collider as physicists explore sources of proton spin.
December 4, 2019
Fig. 1: Photograph of the upgraded Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO ) Detector taken from inside the cavern.
Probes of New Physics from Deep Underground
The SNO+ Experiment, over a mile underground, places new limits on grand unified theories and studies neutrinos from the Sun.
December 3, 2019
Forward image created by coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulation. It depicts a superlattice of nanoparticles (yellow) stabilized by ligands (blue). Background image of the superlattice taken by optical microscopy.
Super Nanoparticle Superlattices
Ligands allow fine tuning of nanoparticle superstructure properties.
December 3, 2019
Scanning electron microscopy image of a micro-mechanical X-ray mirror after removing mass on either side by focused ion beam (FIB) milling. Removing mass reduces its moment of inertia and increases its resonant frequency.
Ultrafast X-ray Optics
New optics technology can bring hard X-ray pulses down to a mere 300 picoseconds each.
December 3, 2019
Unassembled peptoids (artificial versions of small proteins) are generally found in the trans configuration, but after self-assembly into nanosheets, they switch to the cis configuration.
Shape-Shifters: Small Proteins Unexpectedly Shift Their Shape When Coming Together
Team of researchers discovered that peptoids can change shape when they form a nanosheet, which has potential to improve chemical sensors & much more.
November 25, 2019
The atomic structure of magnesium chloride changes shape after exposure to an electron beam. Using pulsed electron beams, researchers were able to image its structure at atomic scale resolution and picosecond time resolution without alteration.
Pulsed Electron Beams Provide a Softer Touch for Atomic-Scale Imaging
A new electron microscopy technique brings to light a plastic material’s atomic structure and has implications for renewable plastic.