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 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.
January 11, 2019
An international research team peered deep into the atomic-level workings of water vapor on a nickel-chromium alloy to provide new insights that could help prevent metal corrosion.
Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level
New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.
January 11, 2019
An international team tracked the genomic composition of microbes (purple and green) in thawing permafrost to determine which had the most impact on releases of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere.
Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost
Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
January 11, 2019
A genome-wide CRISPRCas9- & homology-directed-repair-assisted genome-scale engineering library can be synthesized, cloned, & delivered to yeast cells.The resulting yeast mutant library can be used for high-throughput screening of microbial cell factories.
New Method Knocks Out Yeast Genes with Single-Point Precision
Researchers can precisely study how different genes affect key properties in a yeast used industrially to produce fuel and chemicals.
January 9, 2019
Inside the long leaf and leaf sheath of a model grass, plants store a six-carbon sugar (red, immunolabeling). Understanding how plants pack in the sugar could help in engineering sorghum plants to produce more sugars for biofuels.
How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls
Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.
January 9, 2019
Both pulcherrimin and isobutanol (see flowchart) are derived from a common pathway. Some yeasts (left) are particularly adept at making pulcherrimin.
Scientists Identify Gene Cluster in Budding Yeasts with Major Implications for Renewable Energy
How yeast partition carbon into a metabolite may offer insights into boosting production for biofuels.
December 26, 2018
More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities
More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities
Scientists from the University of Washington, Stanford University, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) created a computational
December 23, 2018
Deep Learning for Electron Microscopy
Deep Learning for Electron Microscopy
MENNDL, an artificial intelligence system, automatically designed an optimal deep learning network to extract structural information from raw
December 18, 2018
Clarifying Rates of Methylmercury Production
Clarifying Rates of Methylmercury Production
Mercury is a toxic element that occurs naturally and as an anthropogenic pollutant in the environment. The neurotoxin monomethylmercury (MMHg) is a
December 18, 2018
Small Particles Play Large Role in Tropical Thunderstorms
Small Particles Play Large Role in Tropical Thunderstorms
The biggest challenge in unraveling the effect of aerosols on clouds and climate is isolating their effects from changes due to other environmental
December 18, 2018
Drought Stress Changes Microbes Living at Sorghum’s Roots
Drought Stress Changes Microbes Living at Sorghum’s Roots
Drought stress can greatly reduce the health and productivity of plants, including candidate bioenergy feedstocks such as sorghum. Microbial
December 12, 2018
How to Best Predict Chemical Reactions of Contaminants in Water
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