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 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
The surrounding tetrahydrofuran solvent deforms the bonding electron density around a sodium solute. The sodium cores are blue spheres; the valence electrons' density is represented as a transparent white surface.
Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside
Far from being a mere spectator, solvents can play a larger role in chemical reactions, likely including those used in energy storage and biology.
February 10, 2019
Scientists use high-level computational chemistry methods to predict reactions involved in purifying water. Researchers compared five computational methods to determine the benefits and limitations of each in studying purification-based reactions.
How to Best Predict Chemical Reactions of Contaminants in Water
Scientists determine the accuracy of computational methods used to study the sulfate radical approach to purifying water.
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
Polymer fibers (brown) form pores within polyacrylamide hydrogels. Inside one of these tiny pores, water molecules (red, white) exhibit a uniform behavior, but the ions act differently depending on how close they are to the polymer fibers.
Hydrogels Change Water and Solute Dynamics
Hydrogel pores can modify the molecular-level motion of water and dissolved ions.
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
In water (red and white structures), the direct interaction between graphene (gray) and an ion (yellow) causes the ion to adsorb to the surface. The green and blue lines represent the reflected light pulses during ultraviolet spectroscopy.
The Subtle, but Significant, Role of Surfaces in Ion Stickiness
Direct interactions dominate ion adsorption to aqueous graphene, a process central to vital processes in energy technology.
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
Pictures of three natural organic matter fractions extracted from sediment show the fractions are water extractable (MQ-SPE), acid-soluble pyrophosphate extractable (PP-SPE), and acid-insoluble pyrophosphate extractable (PP >1 kD).
New Approach Gets Better View of Carbon Deeper Underground
Characterizing carbon stored in deeper sediments below soils is critical for understanding the stability and dynamics of Earth’s carbon pool.
February 1, 2019
The Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica is one of the largest regional contributors to sea level rise.
Near-Term Ocean Warming Around Antarctica Affects Long-Term Rate of Sea Level Rise
Scientists investigate a threshold for rapid ice-sheet degradation in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
February 1, 2019
Researchers studied molecular data on phages to discover how the viruses affect environmentally important bacteria in nature.
Viruses Must Overcome Challenges to Infect Bacteria in Nature
Molecular studies show phage-host interactions are more complicated than most laboratory studies suggest.
January 30, 2019
This event display shows the result of a muon neutrino candidate interacting inside the MicroBooNE detector at Fermilab. Cyan shows the energy deposited in electromagnetic shower-like topologies. Yellow shows energy deposited in other line-like topologies
MicroBooNE, Machine Learning, and Liquid Argon
The MicroBooNE experiment demonstrates the use of machine learning to interpret images made by a liquid-argon particle detector.
January 30, 2019
Neutrinos entering the MINERvA detector interact with the detector's atoms, generating new particles before fleeing the scene. The MINERvA experiment used a new investigative technique to better trace those fleeing neutrinos that kicked everything off.
CSI: Neutrinos Cast No Shadows
New crime scene investigation technique offers a hard look at the traces that particles leave before fleeing the scene.
January 30, 2019
The ArgoNeuT detector at Fermilab used liquid argon to detect mysterious particles called neutrinos.
ArgoNeuT Hits a Home Run with Measurements of Neutrinos in Liquid Argon
Scientists developed a method to better distinguish the tracks that particles leave behind in liquid argon.
January 22, 2019
Enhancing the electric field in a molecule can make it a better catalyst. Wrapping a gold-based catalyst (left, center) in a larger complex (blue) provides the catalyst with electric fields. The fields help the catalyst break key bonds (right, arrows).
Optimizing Electric Fields Yields Better Catalysts
A careful consideration of electric fields could lead to faster industrial processes that use less energy and release less waste.
January 22, 2019
When you mix water and acid, the acid dissociates into two parts. One part, the proton, was the subject of a recent study. Scientists discovered that the proton ( ) is strongly bound between two water molecules (red and white structures).
Revealed: Structure of Proton in Liquid Water
Findings could rewrite textbooks about molecular structure for solvent ubiquitous in chemistry and biology.
January 21, 2019
Scientists have devised a spectroscopy method—based on soft X-ray second-harmonic generation—that probes buried graphene layers inside graphite.
New Probe for the Secrets of Complex Interfaces
Element-selective method reveals interfacial properties of materials used for water purification, catalysis, energy conversion, and more.
January 20, 2019
(left) The diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum and flagellated bacteria. (right) Researchers studied P. tricornutum enriched in carbon-13 (red) derived from fixation of labeled carbon dioxide and bacterial symbionts enriched in nitrogen-15 (green).
Community Matters When Using Algae to Produce Energy
Algae that turn carbon dioxide into fuel feedstock are enhanced by surrounding bacteria.
January 20, 2019
An international team tracked the genomic composition of microbes in thawing permafrost to determine which had the greatest impact on releases of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
Uncovering the Microbial Food Web in Thawing Permafrost
Recovery of more than 1500 microbial genomes shines light on how carbon is metabolized as permafrost thaws.
January 20, 2019
Helicopter view of thawing permafrost field site, Stordalen Mire, in northern Sweden.
Getting To Know the Microbes that Drive Climate Change
The genetics of viruses living along a permafrost thaw gradient may help scientists better predict the pace of climate change.
January 18, 2019
Tree death shuts off photosynthesis and increases carbon release (from dead wood), leaving more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
A Challenging Future for Tropical Forests
Mortality rates of moist tropical forests are on the rise due to environmental drivers and related mechanisms.
January 14, 2019
Shallow cumulus clouds are big players in regulating the planet’s temperature. A new system gives researchers a 3-D view of these clouds and will help them test ideas about how such clouds act.
Observing Clouds in Four Dimensions
Six cameras are revolutionizing observations of shallow cumulus clouds.
January 14, 2019
On the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet, well-like shafts form. Water travels through these shafts to the glacier bed below. Scientists showed how these conduits, called moulins, form.
Rapid Lake Draining on Ice Sheets Changes How Water Moves in Unexpected Ways
Widespread fracturing during lake drainage triggers vertical shafts to form that affect the Greenland Ice Sheet.
January 14, 2019
Scientists are working to better understand how aerosols, including those that build up in the air from urban environments, affect the atmosphere and Earth system processes.
New Historical Emissions Trends Estimated with the Community Emissions Data System
The data system will allow for more detailed, consistent, and up-to-date global emissions trends that will aid in understanding aerosol effects.