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.

April 18, 2019
The spin flipper magnet assembly resides inside a tunnel that houses the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Spin Flipper Upends Protons
The spin direction of protons was reversed, for the first time, using a nine-magnet device, potentially helping tease out details about protons.
April 18, 2019
The latest data from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider reveal that the quark spin contribution (green puzzle piece)—specifically the contribution from a “sea” of antiquarks—is more complex than previously thought.
Sea Quark Spin Surprise!
Since the 1980s, scientists have known that quark and antiquark spins within a proton account for, at best, a quarter of the overall proton spin.
April 17, 2019
The Weak Side of the Proton
The Weak Side of the Proton
A precision measurement of the proton’s weak charge narrows the search for new physics.
April 15, 2019
The team’s data came from Jefferson Lab's Experimental Hall B, featuring the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility Large Acceptance Spectrometer.
Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery
A re-analysis of data suggests that proton-neutron pairs in a nucleus may explain why their quarks have lower average momenta than predicted.
April 15, 2019
For batteries to generate electricity, charged atoms, called ions (pink and green), travel between a negative node (anode) and a positive node (cathode) with the help of a liquid electrolyte solution.
Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries
With user facilities, researchers devise novel battery chemistries to help make fluoride batteries a reality.
April 12, 2019
Quarks Under Pressure in the Proton
Quarks Under Pressure in the Proton
Inside every proton in every atom in the universe is a pressure cooker environment that surpasses the atom-crushing heart of a neutron star. That
April 12, 2019
View of the ultracold neutron trap, comprising 5,139 permanent magnets arranged in an asymmetric bowl-shaped array, during magnetic field mapping with a robotic arm.
Magnetic Levitation of Ultracold Neutrons Yields New Measurement of the Neutron Lifetime
Storing extremely slow neutrons in a novel trap enables precise measurement of a basic property of particle physics.
April 9, 2019
Researchers created a precise model of the atoms (shown as spheres) and the proteins (colored areas) in a protein complex that’s key to using sunlight and carbon dioxide efficiently to make sugar, starches, and oil in blue-green algae.
New Molecular Blueprint Aids Study of Photosynthesis
Insights into how nature converts carbon dioxide into sugar could help scientists develop crops that produce fuels and other products.
April 9, 2019
Scientists use three ultrafast pulses of extreme ultraviolet light and near infrared light to control the evolution of excited nitrogen molecules (blue) to reveal information about normally inaccessible states.
Catching Fast Changes in Excited Molecules
Scientists observe and control molecular and atomic dynamics at the fastest timescales to date.
April 8, 2019
Researchers created a 3D atomic map that offers a highly detailed view of how rust (shown here) forms.
Atomic Maps Reveal How Iron Rusts
Scientists discovered how iron atoms continually re-arrange on surfaces, offering insights into metal corrosion and soil remediation.
April 8, 2019
Three-dimensional maps of a single magnetite crystal show morphology (top) and cross-sectional views (bottom) of the internal strain fields, both before (left) and after (right) oxidative dissolution of the crystal in an acidic aqueous solution.
Strain and Defects Grow in Tiny Magnetite Crystals When Oxidized
Detailed 3D images show how nanoparticles change in reactions that purify contaminated water or power recyclable geochemical batteries.
April 8, 2019
Researchers compared the structures of four centers in photosynthesis electron transfer: the Heliobacterial reaction center (HbRC; green), the purple bacterial reaction center (PbRC, red), and Photosystem I (PSI, blue) and Photosystem II (PSII, yellow).
A New View on a Very Old Problem: Evolution of the Photochemical Reaction Centers
Researchers offer insights into how a key piece of photosynthetic machinery changed over 3 billion years.
March 21, 2019
The nitrogenase enzyme couples the energy-releasing formation of hydrogen (H2) (reductive elimination) to the energy-requiring cleavage of the triple bond in nitrogen (N2) (oxidative addition) (bottom, center).
How Does Mother Nature Tackle the Tough Triple Bond Found in Nitrogen?
Researchers demystify how the nitrogenase enzyme breaks bonds to learn a better way to make ammonia.
March 21, 2019
Scientists determined that the structure of the Heliobacterium photosystem is more symmetrical than more recently evolved photosystems. They used advanced X-ray crystallography to determine fine details of the proteins in the photosystem.
A Detailed View of the Ancestor of Photosynthesis
The symmetrical light-gathering, energy-producing complex offers insights into how modern photosystems evolved.
March 21, 2019
Foreground: microbial community under dry conditions (left) and microbial community under irrigated conditions (right).
Some Bacteria Make a Big Difference in Dryland Wheat Farming
Even a single species of bacteria can positively affect soils and plants, improving and even enabling agriculture in semi-arid areas.
March 14, 2019
A research team is advancing understanding of how microbial communities function in the wild, by studying rumen of live moose foraging in the field.
Sampling Guts of Live Moose to Understand How They Break Down Biomass
First-of-a-kind study advances understanding of microbial and viral communities involved in biomass breakdown.
March 14, 2019
Scientists are studying the microbial communities created during the fracking process to see how they can be managed to improve gas production.
How Injected Microbes Persist in Hydraulically Fractured Shale
Scientists reveal the importance of an amino acid that supplies energy and protection for microbial communities deep underground.
March 14, 2019
New geochemical research clearly shows how toxic material like uranium binds with iron-bearing minerals like hematite in the soil, allowing scientists to predict long-term behavior.
Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole: The Surprising Structure of Uranium Bound in Hematite
An atomic view of how toxic uranium binds to iron minerals in the environment enables better predictions of its behavior.
March 8, 2019
Scientists identified three different types of water molecules surrounding a heavy, anionic metal-chloride complex (bottom) using spectroscopy (top) at an air/water interface.
Unique Interface and Unexpected Behavior Help Explain How Heavy Metals Act
Three types of water molecules form around a platinum-based ion, offering insights for waste processing and metal refining.
March 4, 2019
Studies of a modified small flowering plant show that plants defending themselves against insect attack grow more slowly & produce fewer flowers (right). When not defending themselves, plants grow faster & produce more flowers (left)—and ultimately seeds.
To Grow or Not to Grow? That Is the Question for Plants
Scientists show metabolic tradeoffs result from a specific change to the grow-defend balance.
March 4, 2019
The trihydrogen cation, H3 , plays a major role in interstellar chemistry where it facilitates the formation of water and organic molecules. Researchers have discovered how the cation forms when organic molecules are excited by an intense laser pulse.
Forming the Ion that Made the Universe
Research offers details on the chemistry of the trihydrogen ion.
March 1, 2019
Cryo-soft X-ray tomography of an algal cell shows the large accumulation of fat (yellow). Nucleus, purple; chloroplast, green; mitochondria, red; lipid bodies, yellow.
Feeding Sugars to Algae Makes Them Fat
Adding glucose to a green microalga culture induces accumulation of fatty acids and other valuable bioproducts.
March 1, 2019
The separation of lithium fluoride (Li and F) ion pairs involves two stages: (1) an increase of the water coordination about the contact ion pairs, CIP to CIP* and (2) spatial separation of the CIP* to solvent-separated ion pairs, SSIP*.
Water: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way
Elegant theory shows how water helps separate ions involved in material synthesis and manufacturing.
March 1, 2019
Scientists study coherence in the ultrafast collective motions of atoms in molecules. Why? Research suggests function can be enhanced by coherence.
Seeing Coherent Patterns at the Microscopic Scale
Review highlights insights into coherence, which could help overcome roadblocks in next-generation energy systems.
March 1, 2019
Novel colloidal quantum dots are formed from an emitting cadmium selenium (CdSe) core (red) enclosed into a shell (green). The core is compressed (lines) more strongly perpendicular to the crystal axis than along it.
Squeezed Quantum Dots Produce More Stable Light
Exploiting a strain-engineering approach could provide nanoscale light sources with a nonfluctuating emission wavelength.