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.

July 15, 2020
Schematic showing filtration of aerosol particles using a combination of mechanical and electrostatic filtration from a combination of fabrics.
Facemask Fabric Filtration Efficiency
Scientists assessed common household fabrics to determine the best for protection against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
July 15, 2020
Modelled illustration of copper (I) oxide (Cu2O) photocatalyst particles interacting with carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) to convert CO2 and water into liquid methanol (CH3OH).
Catalysis Sees the Light
Studies pinpoint the active site of a catalyst that converts sunlight to liquid fuels.
July 15, 2020
This image shows an instability (the ring-like structure at the center) caused by a runaway electron beam inside the DIII-D tokamak. These instabilities suggest methods for controlling these damaging electron beams.
Scientists Solve Key Challenge for Controlling “Runaway” Electrons in Fusion Plasmas
Discovery could help control potentially damaging bursts during plasma disruptions, another step toward fusion power production.
July 13, 2020
By “freezing out” the rotation, vibration, and motion of potassium-rubidium molecules to a temperature of 500 nanokelvin, scientists “trapped” the reaction in the intermediate stage for a longer time.
Freezing Out Chemical Reactions to Have a Closer Look in the Quantum Realm
Catching a glimpse of the breaking and formation of chemical bonds in ultracold chemical reactions.
July 13, 2020
Schematic of the binding energy of electrons in a copper-oxide superconductor as measured by advanced microscopy. The size of the blue and yellow blobs surrounding each atom indicates the size of the energy gap. The red rods indicate the atoms’ spin.
Electrons Line Dance in a Superconductor
High resolution imaging and spectroscopy definitively confirms a state of matter called a “pair density wave.”
July 1, 2020
Fast acid stimulus (red) rapidly releases copper ions (Cu2 , blue) triggering swelling waves through a hydrogel (COO− groups). In contrast, a slow acid stimulus triggers traveling color waves due to rebinding of copper ions.
Integrating Variable Signals in Hydrogels
Simple soft materials couple tunable chemical signals to produce distinct energy flows.
July 1, 2020
A novel approach to designing artificial materials achieves greater control over light than conventional materials. The materials were demonstrated using holograms projected at independent wavelengths to showcase multiwavelength performance potential.
Designing Better Holograms
Nanofabrication adds complexity to optical electronic devices.
June 30, 2020
Researchers fabricated synthetic, moisture-controlling leaves that resist drying in low humidity.
Stabilizing Water Loss in Synthetic Trees
Microfabricated leaf design holds more water.
June 30, 2020
The middle layer in this image is a 3D “exceptional surface” calculated from quasiparticles called magnon polaritons. The surfaces above and below the intersection with the exceptional surface display unique behaviors.
Being Exceptional in Higher Dimensions
Study shows that the strong coupling of photons and spin waves in magnetic materials creates an “exceptional surface” for new phenomena.
June 25, 2020
An ultrafast X-ray probe scatters from a molecular sheet (grey and yellow) energized by laser light. A multi-element detector captures the scattered X-rays (purple), making a distinctive pattern that correlates with atoms’ positions and vibrations.
Intense Light Pulses Bounce on a Crystalline Bed without Rumpling the Atomic Blanket
X-ray scattering measures the positions of atoms as they vibrate in a two-dimensional cover sheet.
June 5, 2020
Graphical representation of the determination of the cell wall ester content (O-acetyl ester/methyl ester) of leaves through observations of the atmospheric emission signature (acetic acid/methanol).
Breathing New Life into an Old Question: What Plants’ Emissions Tell Us about their Cell Walls
Detecting gaseous methanol and acetic acid released from plants sheds light on plant cell wall composition changes throughout leaf development.
June 5, 2020
Researchers guided photons through a zigzag design of silicon nanodisks, demonstrating the first fully three-dimensional (3D) nonlinear topological nanostructure for light generation.
Harnessing Light for Nanotechnologies
Novel nanofabrication makes nonlinear photon play possible in 3D.
June 5, 2020
Scientists combined imaging and microscopy to study the vibrational properties of water at nanoscale. Electron microscopy of a sample between boron nitride sheets (right) distinguished between hydrogen (O-H) and deuterium (O-D) vibrational modes (left).
Good Vibrations Show How Water Works
New method enables fundamental liquid studies at nanoscale.
June 5, 2020
Transmission electron microscopy depicts wear debris from tests with the solid lubricant consisting of (a) nanodiamonds, (b) amorphous carbon, and (c) molybdenum disulfide iwith nanodiamonds.
Nanodiamonds Slip N’ Slide
Oil-free, nanoscale solid lubricant creates ultra-slippery layer between sliding surfaces in machinery.
June 5, 2020
Illustration (left) and electron tomographic reconstruction (right) of programmed assembly of a nanoarchitecture built by attaching spherical particles to the six flat faces of a gold nanocube. The scale bar represents 50 nanometers.
LEGO™ Construction of Nanoparticle Assemblies
Designing new levels of complex architectures using DNA strands and nanoparticles.
June 5, 2020
DNA and a new type of molecular aggregates act as a molecular bridge in artificial light-harvesting systems, connecting light-absorbing and light-emitting molecules. Experiments suggest almost no energy loss during the transfer.
Building Better Bridges for Moving Energy
Precisely positioning molecules on wire-like DNA assemblies allows high efficiency energy transfer.
May 28, 2020
The components of the Low Energy RHIC electron Cooling assembly include 100 meters of beamline. In this beamline, accelerated electrons propagate with ions in one beam to extract their heat, then make a 180-degree turn to cool the ions in the other beam.
Keeping Cool with an Innovative Bunched Beam Accelerator
Team combines many innovative accelerator accomplishments to keep gold ions cold and advance nuclear physics research.
May 11, 2020
A schematic showing 4D atomic motion captured in an iron-platinum nanoparticle (iron in white, platinum in blue) after three different heat treatment times at 520 degrees C.
Researchers Capture Crystal Nucleation with Atomic Resolution in 4D (3D Plus Time)
New results contradict a long-held classical theory of crystal nucleation.
May 11, 2020
Scanning tunneling microscopy topography of an oxygen substituting sulfur (left) and sulfur vacancy (right) in tungsten disulfide. Bottom: Corresponding atomically resolved non-contrast atomic force microscopy image.
Linking Properties to Defects in 2D Materials
Scientists reveal oxygen’s hidden talent for filling atomic gap in 2D semiconductors & the surprising role of electron spin in electronic conductivity
May 7, 2020
Scientists created ultrathin porous materials by growing a “corona”-like polymer layer on porous metal-organic framework nanoparticles. Films one particle thick (top) self-assembled into multiple layers that were formed from these nanoparticles.
New Route to Thin Porous Membranes
Scientists create flexible, ultrathin films of nanoparticles using a polymer ‘corona’ approach.
May 7, 2020
Schematic of how hydroxyl radicals (OH)—which can form due to air pollution—can form Criegee intermediates, which then create more OH in a chain reaction that leads to breakdown of molecules in cell membranes (at top of image).
New Mechanism Links Ozone and Disease Resistance
New finding may help explain why we develop chronic diseases and cancer as we age…and even why food decomposes over time.
May 7, 2020
The circles represent different groups of RNA viruses. The analysis is based on the sequence of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase transcripts found in California annual grassland soil. Known viruses are in pink and newly discovered viruses are in purple.
Soil Viruses: A Rich Reservoir of Diversity
Soils contain a large diversity of unknown RNA viruses that infect fungi and possibly plants and animals.
April 22, 2020
The known analogues of biphenylene are associated with carbon-rich compounds. The new metallabiphenylenes are based on uranium and thorium and appear to be the first of their kind.
Uranium, Thorium Debut in Dual Aromatic-Antiaromatic Molecule
Researchers create novel metallabiphenylene analogues, advancing a key concept in organic chemistry.
April 14, 2020
Researchers developed and tested a new top-launch configuration for injecting microwaves into the plasma in the DIII-D tokamak.
Moving on Up, to the Top for Fusion Power
New approach doubles the current driven by microwave heating at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility.
March 27, 2020
Depiction of a 2D-array of hexagonal prism silicate nanocages trapping individual atoms of argon, krypton, and xenon.
Nanocages Trap and Separate Elusive Noble Gases
Material traps noble gases at above-freezing temperatures, a difficult and important industrial challenge.