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.

February 25, 2019
In areas with weak surface winds, additional evaporation from the ocean’s surface is a major energy source for driving tropical patterns that create rainfall.
Gust or Bust: Blustery Winds Important for Modeling Tropical Rainfall
Researchers find gusty winds increase surface evaporation that drives summer rainstorms in the Tropical West Pacific.
February 24, 2019
Phytoplankton: the foundation of the oceanic food chain.
Starving the Oceans
Nutrients increasingly moving to the deep ocean with strong climate warming could lead to drastic drops in surface ocean life and fishery yields.
February 21, 2019
Prototype fluidic system for zirconium-89 purification. Image taken through a hot cell window at the Department of Radiology, University of Washington.
Supplying High-Quality Cancer-Imaging Isotopes
New method produces high-purity zirconium-89, a diagnostic radionuclide used to image cancerous tumors.
February 21, 2019
Pictorial representation of the ground state of oxygen-16 (16O) and the Hoyle-like state.
Do Alpha Particle Condensates Exist in Oxygen Nuclei?
Yes. Such condensates, analogous to those in carbon-12, in heavier nuclei could change how we describe certain elements.
February 19, 2019
Steady as She Goes
Fusion reactors need to run in a steady state and must reduce or eliminate ELMs, intense bursts of heat and particles that collide with the walls
February 19, 2019
Silicon and a State of Shock
In addition to being a key material in the semi-conductor industry, and one of the most studied materials at high pressure, silicon as a ceramic
February 19, 2019
Not All Ions in Tokamaks Go with the Flow
Scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory working on the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, in cooperation with scientists at General
February 17, 2019
New Model Sheds Light on Key Physics of Magnetic Islands that Can Halt Fusion Reactions
Magnetic islands can grow and thereby degrade and potentially disrupt the plasma confinement and damage the doughnut-shaped tokamak facilities that
February 17, 2019
Rapidly accelerating kink instability (arch shape) of a plasma jet produces an effective gravity that causes “ripples” (seen on bottom of the arch). The ripples choke the jet at which time a burst of 6 kilovolt X-rays is observed.
High-Energy X-Ray Bursts from Low-Energy Plasma
Scientists discover why solar flares produce X-rays; a few electrons avoid collisions and accelerate to produce a microsecond burst.
February 12, 2019
Adjacent computer-assisted design models of the Pinnacle Engines opposed-piston gasoline engine.
Pinnacle Engines Develops Efficient, Low-Emission Gasoline Engine Using Supercomputing
Researchers modeled design concepts for innovative, opposed-piston engine on Titan supercomputer.
February 11, 2019
X-ray beam induces photo-ejection of an electron from (left) hydrogen and (right) helium.
Measuring the Impossible: X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy of Hydrogen and Helium
Two most abundant elements in the universe, hydrogen & helium, were previously thought to be impossible to measure by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
February 11, 2019
Researchers collected X-ray images from rock samples (left) showing the element distribution. The chemical maps (right) reveal fine-scale chemical and mineralogical variations that weren’t captured in previously published analyses.
Early “Fossils” Formed by Tectonics, not Life
The 3.7-billion-year-old structures were considered the first evidence for life on the planet; new evidence suggests differently.
February 11, 2019
A scanning electron microscope image of a single-crystal diamond cantilever. This tiny device allows scientists to exert control over a quantum system (μm = micrometers).
Taking Diamond Qubits for a Spin
Scientists use implanted silicon ions & electricity to increase the spin time of quantum bits, moving closer to the tech needed for quantum networks.
February 11, 2019
How Sunlight Energizes Electrons to Break Nitrogen and Form Ammonia
Ammonia in fertilizer is vital to growing crops. Producing ammonia for fertilizer is an energy-demanding process that requires natural gas to
February 11, 2019
Researchers uncovered the secret behind designing better-performing electrode surfaces (electrocatalysts). The power density curves show the newly designed catalyst (red curve) outperforms a similar catalyst that is not optimized.
Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst
Optimized oxides made from common metals use less energy and show the potential of new design approach.
February 11, 2019
New pictures of Photosystem II show different ways the protein complex shifts and stretches as it splits water. This image shows the water-oxidizing complex in the last stable state before the water splits.
Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis
Scientists catch details with atomic resolution, potentially helping design systems to use sunlight and water to produce fuels.
February 10, 2019
Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside
Although solvents are carefully selected in some cases, the liquids are often simply considered a medium to allow the reactants to encounter each
February 10, 2019
How to Best Predict Chemical Reactions of Contaminants in Water
The availability of fresh water is a global issue that’s driving interest in ways to turn wastewater into clean water. Purifying wastewater
February 9, 2019
Scientists are showing how energy moves (green) or doesn’t (red) along nanoparticle chains. The artwork appeared on the cover of the Journal of Materials Chemistry C.
Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy
Particle crowding interferes with moving energy efficiently along promising molecular chains.
February 5, 2019
Hydrogels Change Water and Solute Dynamics
With potential uses ranging from wound dressings to energy storage devices, hydrogels are a promising material. Hydrogels consist of trapped water
February 5, 2019
Researchers use extreme ultraviolet pulses (fuchsia line) to determine how visible light (blue line) causes interfacial hole (h ) transfer from iron oxide (Fe2O3) to nickel oxide (NiO), a hole collection layer found in hybrid perovskite solar cells.
Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes
Researchers watch and measure in real time charge dynamics between layers of oxide materials, offering insights into solar cells.
February 5, 2019
The Subtle, but Significant, Role of Surfaces in Ion Stickiness
In many areas of science and technology, the adsorption of ions to aqueous interfaces plays a key role. For a long time, chemistry and physics
February 4, 2019
Productivity of vegetation is linked to spatial position across the tundra landscape.
Controls on Nitrogen Nutrient Availability in the Arctic Tundra
Soil moisture is key to determining plant growth and nutrient cycling in complex tundra landscapes.
February 4, 2019
Computer model offers detailed view of water cycling and complex Earth system dynamics.
Coupling Computer Models Shows Interactions among River Water, Groundwater, and Land Surfaces
Computer model offers detailed view of water cycling and complex Earth system dynamics.
February 1, 2019
New Approach Gets Better View of Carbon Deeper Underground
The soils you find underfoot are typically 5 to 10 percent organic carbon. However, 3 feet and more below the surface, the organic carbon levels