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.

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 16, 2019
This image shows a snapshot of electron distribution phase space (position/momentum) from the dense plasma taken from particle-in-cell simulations, illustrating the stretching & folding mechanism responsible for the emergence of chaos in physical systems.
Chaos Ensues When Lasers and Plasma Meet
New particle-in-cell simulations show how lasers heat plasmas, a key interaction in the next generation of powerful scientific instruments.
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
(left) Surface diffusion of lithium ions across battery nanoparticles changes an electrode. (right) A molecular dynamics simulation of liquid-assisted surface diffusion of lithium ions.
End-run Spreads Lithium Throughout Battery Electrodes
A new path is identified to keep lithium in its place during battery discharge, benefitting efforts to design better energy storage options.
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.
June 24, 2019
Example simulation of dark matter in the universe used as input to the CosmoFlow network.
Deep Learning Reveals Mysteries of Deep Space
Supercomputer use offers insights into how to best describe the nature of our universe.
June 19, 2019
Hybrids expand and contract. Light micrographs (top) show the expansion and contraction of a crystal-gel hybrid. In the top, i-vi correspond to the red circles (time points) in the bottom. The separation between the ruler’s major ticks is 100 micrometers.
Highly Elastic and Self-Healing Protein Crystals
Infusion of a specialized gel throughout a protein structure produces highly expandable crystals that could find use in energy conversion & filtration
June 19, 2019
Scientists demonstrate the polymer healing process and recovery of extreme stretchability.
Super-stretchy, Self-healing, Tunable Polymers
Discovery of novel polymers with extreme stretching, vibration suppression, and self-healing.
June 19, 2019
Schematic illustration of the selenium (Se) impregnation process (top images), photograph of the resulting Se-impregnated carbon cathode material (bottom left), and scanning electron microscope analysis cross-section showing uniform distribution of Se.
Novel Electrodes Enhance Battery Capacity
New self-supporting composite metal material doubles the volumetric energy and achieves fast charging rates in batteries.
June 14, 2019
An event display shows particle tracks from a lead-on-lead collision in the ALICE detector
Explaining Light-Nuclei Production in Heavy-Ion Nuclear Collisions
Pairs of sub-atomic particles may catalyze reactions that happened moments after the Big Bang.
June 14, 2019
Visualization shows circular plasmids (mobile genetic elements) from two ground water samples taken in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (sample F, blue; sample G; green). Using a newly devised method, researchers discovered more than 600 plasmids.
Microbes Retain Toxicity Tolerance After They Escape Toxic Elements
Ground water microbes living outside a contaminated area contain mobile genetic elements that provide them resistance to heavy metals.
June 14, 2019
Simulations of different geometric states of fluid (red) in rock (tan). Using the Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, researchers validated a geometric model for characterizing fluid flow in porous rock and geologic material from theory.
New Geometric Model Improves Predictions of Fluid Flow in Rock
Supercomputer validates mathematical approach for describing geological features.
June 14, 2019
Cross sections of pressure profiles in two different tokamak plasma configurations (the center of the tokamak doughnut is to the left of these). The discharges have high pressure in the core (yellow) that decreases to low pressure (blue) at the edge.
Flipping the Script with Reverse D-Shaped Plasmas
Mirrored D shape demonstrates surprisingly high pressures in a tokamak, indicating a shape change may be in order for next-generation fusion reactors.
June 14, 2019
A boron-filled diamond shell (left). The process (right, a): (1) shell pellet hitting the boundary of the plasma, (2) continuing through the surface, and (3) ablating and releasing boron dust. (b) Expanded view, highlighting shell and dust.
A Trojan Horse for Fusion Disruptions
Thin-walled diamond shells carry payloads of boron dust; the dust mitigates destructive plasma disruptions in fusion confinement systems.
June 13, 2019
Topologically directed design of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for separating mixtures. By using linker molecules with different aspect ratios (thanks to structures bptc and abtc), scientists obtained two robust MOFs with different structures.
Designer Frameworks for Refining Higher Octane Fuels
Metal-organic frameworks designed with a topology-guided approach show higher efficiency than commercial benchmarks.
June 13, 2019
Applying a film of superconducting niobium-tin to the inside of an accelerating cavity increases its quality factor—a measure of its efficiency—at a temperature of about -452F (4 Kelvin) by a factor of 10 compared to prior performance.
Superconducting Films for Particle Acceleration
Researchers demonstrated record accelerating cavity performance using a technique that could lead to significant cost savings.
June 12, 2019
Temperature distribution in wire-wrapped pin bundle shows hot spots near the wire-wrap contact with the solid pin.
High-Fidelity Multiphysics Simulations to Improve Nuclear Reactor Safety and Economics
Engineers can model heat distribution in reactor designs with fewer or no approximations.
June 11, 2019
A team identified RE3Bi7 (RE = neodymium or samarium), which has a framework of bismuth–bismuth bonds (purple). The fragment of the differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) heating curve (red) shows an anomaly that may have inhibited discovery.
Found: New Bismuth Compounds in Well-Known Systems of Two Elements
Scientists discover an unexpected source of new materials, with potential for energy applications.