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.

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.
March 1, 2019
At the interface, water slows the dissociation of chloride and sodium ions.
Ions on the Edge
Ions at the edge of water, exposed to air, don’t separate like they do when surrounded by water, offering insights for desalination and corrosion.
February 28, 2019
Carbon and energy balances may prove to be a simplified way to predict microbial functions in soils that are often flooded and how such functions effect climate, soil health, and crop productivity.
A Simplified Way to Predict the Function of Microbial Communities
A pioneering study on how microbes work could advance models of frequently flooded soil’s elements and nutrients.
February 27, 2019
Root nodules, which allow some bacteria to fix nitrogen into soils for greater plant productivity, have a surprisingly complex metabolism, which could be optimized to develop more sustainable agriculture.
Unexpected Complexity: A 3D Look into Plant Root Relationships with Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria
Scientists develop a molecular map of metabolic products of bacteria in root nodules to aid sustainable agriculture.
February 27, 2019
Ozone damage starts as stipple, which are dark pinpoint spots, visible on the left side of this snap bean leaf. The more extensive yellow-ringed brown patches on the top and right side of this leaf are evidence of severe ozone damage.
Maximizing Ozone Signals
Technique enables efficient & precise estimates of trends in ozone & other atmospheric constituents within selected geographical regions & timeframes.
February 27, 2019
This map is an example from the global gridded data set that shows the spatial distribution of annual mean water withdrawal in six sectors.
How Much Water Does the World Use?
Global data set shows monthly water use by irrigation, manufacturing, and other uses, helping researchers to analyze water use by region and season.
February 26, 2019
Composite images of 16 radiographs of 11-week-old poplar seedling in sand (top). The intensity indicates water content (bottom).
Get to the Root: Tiny Poplar Roots Extract More Water than Their Larger Counterparts after Drought
Researchers link root water uptake to root traits and assess (poor) performance of common models.
February 26, 2019
The scientists used radiometers, shown here, to isolate the signal of methane’s greenhouse effect. Radiometers are among the many instruments at ARM’s Southern Great Plains observatory the team used as part of this study.
First Observation of Methane’s Increasing Greenhouse Effect at the Earth’s Surface
Predictions of the direct impacts of greenhouse gases must account for local temperature and humidity conditions.
February 26, 2019
Who Can Sort the Rain?
Surface measurements of rain drop sizes shed light on cloud processes and cloud types.
February 25, 2019
In freshwater wetlands of the Great Lakes region, mercury accumulation in plants poses a significant human health concern. In a 2018 study, researchers showed the influence of wetland vegetation in regulating mercury toxicity in a Great Lakes estuary.
Why Toxic Methylmercury Production Increased in a Great Lakes Estuary
Research offers evidence that microbes and organic matter raise toxin levels, potentially helping improve mercury monitoring.
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
A team working at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility discovered that external 3-D magnetic fields drive strong distortions in high-pressure plasmas that help suppress bursts of heat in fusion reactors.
Steady as She Goes
Scientists tame damaging edge instabilities in steady-state conditions required in a fusion reactor.
February 19, 2019
Researchers used a novel transverse configuration to compress a silicon target with an optical laser (green). X-ray diffraction patterns are collected in transmission on Cornell–SLAC Pixel Array Detectors.
Silicon and a State of Shock
A novel experimental geometry at the Linac Coherent Light Source reveals how silicon responds to shocks similar to those in a planet's core.
February 19, 2019
A new approach collects light emitted by plasma due to interaction with an injected neutral deuterium beam and transmits the light to spectrometers, by tuning the spectrometers to the rest wavelength of a visible deuterium spectral line.
Not All Ions in Tokamaks Go with the Flow
Spectroscopic measurements reveal that main ions flow much faster than impurities at the edge of fusion-relevant plasmas.
February 17, 2019
Contour plot of a cross-section plane around the magnetic islands (depicted by dashed lines), showing the variation of the electrostatic potential associated with the magnetic island.
New Model Sheds Light on Key Physics of Magnetic Islands that Can Halt Fusion Reactions
Surprisingly, a magnetic island does not necessarily perturb the plasma current in a dangerous way and destroy fusion performance.
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