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.

September 18, 2019
Specialization for inorganic nitrogen metabolism. The outer ring shows a substantial fraction of incomplete pathways were found in genomes from each phylum. For most phyla, the average number of pathways per genome was about 1.9.
Microbes are Metabolic Specialists
Microbial Communities Matter in How Ecosystems Retain or Lose Nitrogen
September 18, 2019
In metallic glasses, atoms are arranged randomly, leading to unique properties. These glasses are brittle. A map of calculated “strength” in the structure shows “hard” and “soft” spots. The team predicts the soft spots are the sites that initiate failure.
Even Hard Materials Have Soft Spots
Scientists find the weak points to facilitate industrial applications of metallic glasses.
September 18, 2019
Waves of heat, called phonons, cause atoms to rotate in a certain direction. Selenium atoms (yellow) collectively go through a clockwise circular atomic motion while the tungsten atoms (blue) don’t move.
2-D Atoms Do the Twist
Scientists discover a completely new atomic motion in a 2-D material.
September 10, 2019
The position of a charged monomer (blue dots) along a polymer chain impacts the final structures (structures 1, 3, and 5 from the sequence library) following assembly into micelles (bottom).
Location, Location, Location… How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure.
Location, Location, Location… How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure.
September 10, 2019
Electron microscopy of crack injection. Corrosion creates a nanoporous layer in the material (left) that propagates almost twice as far into the grain boundary as it does away from the boundary. The right image shows an injected crack.
Cracking in Harsh Environments Needs Stress and Corrosion, But Not at the Same Time
Redefining the mechanisms of stress corrosion cracking for materials in energy generation and industrial systems.
September 10, 2019
In a novel simultaneous clean-and-repair mechanism, flowing oil-in-water droplets move nanoparticle (NP) debris, shown as green spheres, into the cracks. The droplets pick up the NPs, then deposit them in the cracked regions.
Simultaneous Clean and Repair
Simple fluid-driven nanoparticle catch-and-release process directs repair of cracks with debris from the damage.
September 10, 2019
Contrary to previous theories, fungal spores-rather than sea salt-contribute the most to atmospheric sodium salt particles over the pristine Amazon basin, according to recent findings from an international team of scientists.
Where Does Salt in the Amazon Air Come From?
For the first time, an international team of scientists has discovered the true origin of sodium salt in pristine Amazon air.
September 10, 2019
Cells of the Gram-positive bacteria (a) and fungal enrichment culture (b) after cell disruption with an ultra-sonication bath for 10 minutes. With identical treatment, no intact cells were found in the Gram-negative bacterial enrichment culture (c).
Testing the Toughness of Microbial Cell Walls
Some cells stand firm against techniques to extract the biological material inside, while others don’t stand a chance.
September 10, 2019
Emerging poplar leaves in spring.
How Many Copies Does It Take to Change a Trait?
The number of copies of genes a poplar tree has influences its traits.
August 23, 2019
A faceted metal island of the rare-earth element dysprosium formed under a layer of graphite. The team deposited the metal at 577 degrees Celsius after they bombarded graphite with argon ions.
Getting Metal Under Graphite’s Skin
A new route to make metal beneath a layer of graphite opens potentially new applications in solar cells and quantum computing.
August 23, 2019
A molecular model of the team’s designer nanosheet shows loop structures of sugars that bind to the Shiga toxin, which causes dysentery. Artificial peptides, named peptoids by the inventing team, assemble themselves into ordered nanosheets.
Tiny, Sugar-Coated Sheets Selectively Target Pathogens
Researchers design self-assembling nanosheets that mimic the surface of cells.
August 23, 2019
A team used kinetic and mechanistic data from model studies to create an approach that could predict the selectivity of a catalyst. They tested it on a nanoporous gold catalyst under a large range of experimentally relevant conditions.
Crossing the Great Divide Between Model Studies and Applied Reactors in Catalysis
Controlled pulses of chemicals over a wide pressure range can link fundamental studies to practical performance, informing catalyst design.
August 23, 2019
Researchers used the Blanco telescope in conducting the Dark Energy Survey. The Milky Way is on the left of the sky, with the Magellanic clouds in the center.
Survey Delivers on Dark Energy with Multiple Probes
The Dark Energy Survey has delivered dark energy constraints combining information from four of its primary cosmological probes for the first time.
August 23, 2019
FIONA is a new system at Berkeley Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron that enables direct mass number measurements of superheavy elements.
Building a Scale to Weigh Superheavy Elements
Expanding our understanding of the structure and decay properties of some of the most exotic elements.
August 23, 2019
Microbial Merry-Go-Round.  In this metaphorical carousel, the velocity of each bacterial cell indicates its relative growth rate. New data indicate that this metaphor applies over a range of ecosystems, from high desert grassland to subalpine prairie.
Microbial Evolution: Nature Leads, Nurture Supports
Across ecosystems, microbial traits are preserved along lineages, much like in multicellular organisms, and can improve the development of soil models
August 16, 2019
The OARtrac® system features scintillating fibers that were originally developed for use in nuclear physics experiments.
Nuclear Physics Detector Tech Used in Cancer Treatment Monitoring System
Built with detector technologies used in nuclear physics experiments, the system monitors radiation treatments in hard-to-reach areas.
August 16, 2019
The electrical conductivity of a single atomic layer of iron selenium (FeSe) deposited on an electrically insulating crystal (strontium titanate, SrTiO3) can be strongly modified when exposed to light.
This Superconductor Does Not Take Light Lightly
Low-power ultraviolet light manipulation of superconductivity may lead to next-generation quantum devices.
August 16, 2019
A representation of the shift of atoms after the electrons are excited by an ultrafast pulse of light. Before and after positions are superimposed, showing transitions. Scattering data taken at a tenth (top) and one picosecond (bottom).
Excited Atoms Rush Independently to New Positions
Ultrafast X-rays track how associated pairs of atoms find new locations when triggered by light.
August 15, 2019
Combined X-ray diffraction and tomographic image of a crack deflection event at the boundary between two metal grains (labeled G1 and G2). The crack deflects toward the vertical.
Atomically Packed Boundaries Resist Cracking
Penetrating X-ray mapping technique measures atomic character of crack propagation, which could lead to tougher metals.
August 15, 2019
Researchers ran their seismic sensor experiments on a 20-mile segment of the 13,000-mile-long ESnet Dark Fiber Testbed. The red section is the area of focus for ambient noise analysis; the blue section is collinear with an active rail line.
Science Network Turns Seismic Sensor
Dark fiber lays groundwork for long-distance earthquake detection and groundwater mapping.
August 6, 2019
Magnesium-40 (40Mg) sits at the intersection of the magnesium isotopes and the chain of nuclei with 28 neutrons. A recent measurement of gamma-ray transitions in 40Mg shows something beyond what theory expected.
A Change in Structure for a Superheavy Magnesium Isotope
The recently observed “fingerprints” of neutron-rich magnesium-40 suggest an unexpected change in nuclear structure.
August 6, 2019
The reorganization of nearby water molecules caused a pore in a material built from proteins to open (left) and close (right). Pore closing leads to expulsion of ordered water molecules close to the protein surface.
Cultivating the Assembly Landscape
Knowing how to assemble a porous architecture from proteins able to morph from one shape to another could benefit filtration, other applications.
August 6, 2019
Time series of a machine-learning–based coarse-grained simulation, ML-BOPdih, provides snapshots spanning ~1 microsecond (t=time) showing evolution of grain boundaries (green) between regions of hexagonal (blue) and cubic (orange) ice.
Machine Learning Helps Create Detailed, Efficient Models of Water
Models use a fraction of the computational cost of today’s best atom-based water models.
June 24, 2019
The mechanism of multinucleon transfer using theoretical calculations. Scientists created heavy nuclei by allowing nature to select the neutron richness of the heavy nucleus. The picture shows uranium and thorium nuclei in contact with each other.
A Search for New Superheavy Isotopes
Following in the footsteps of supernovas, a new approach offers a more natural way to make new extremely heavy elements.
June 24, 2019
Forests and microbes are symbiotically connected globally.
Trees Consider the Climate When Choosing Their Partners
Forest trees establish symbiotic relationships with microbes depending on how the climate determines the rate of soil organic matter decomposition.