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 7, 2020
Plot of 100,000 predictions of the radius & energy of the atomic nucleus of oxygen-16 for different models of the interaction inside the nucleus. The new method generated the results on a laptop in just a few minutes. Dashed lines show experimental data.
Computing Nuclei Properties at Lightning Speed
A fast, new approach to complex theoretical analysis of the bulk properties of atomic nuclei brings analysis to personal computers.
August 7, 2020
Stable selenium isotopes are football-shaped. However, the isotope selenium-70 instead has a disk-like shape. Researchers have found that radioactive selenium-72 is football-shaped, evidence that a shape change occurs between selenium-72 and selenium-70.
Shape-Shifting Selenium; Abrupt Change Found Between Selenium-70 and Selenium-72
Scientists find the radioactive nucleus selenium-72 is football-shaped, answering a longstanding question about the nuclear shape of selenium isotopes
August 4, 2020
A new root blotting technique captures a biochemical imprint of plant roots growing in flat slabs. Scientists examine the imprints with fluorescent indicators to visualize the distribution and activity of phosphate-mobilizing enzymes around the roots.
Digging into the Roots of Phosphorus Availability
New root blotting technique visualizes relationship between root growth, microbial activity, and soil nutrients.
July 31, 2020
Laser-driven experiments and numerical simulations now show that small-scale turbulence produced at the shock can be key in the initial acceleration of electrons from supernovas.
Lab-Created Shock Waves Mimic Supernova Particle Accelerators
New laser-driven experiments and numerical simulations reveal an electron acceleration mechanism relevant to young supernova shock waves.
July 31, 2020
Machine-learning enabled characterization of a 3D microstructure. This snapshot is from a 2-million molecule simulation of polycrystalline ice. The image shows ice grains and their boundaries.
Machine Learning Probes 3D Microstructures
Machine learning-based algorithm characterizes materials’ microstructure in 3D and real time.
July 23, 2020
Scanning electron micrograph images of wild and laboratory-evolved Y. lipolytica grown in a high concentration of ionic liquid. The evolved strain’s outer membrane displays much less disruption.
Stronger Membranes Help Yeast Tolerate Bioenergy Production Chemicals
Incorporating sterols in the outer membrane of Yarrowia lipolytica makes it significantly more tolerant of ionic liquids.
July 17, 2020
Researchers demonstrated the first example of a lipid-based “memcapacitor,” an energy storage device with memory that advances brain-like, synaptic information processing in neuromorphic computing.
Oil and Water Almost Mix in Novel Neuromorphic Computing Components
Lipid-based devices mimic brain-like processing.
July 17, 2020
New deep learning models predict the interactions between atoms in organic molecules. These models could help computational biologists and drug development researchers understand and treat disease.
Machine Learning Speeds Molecular Motion Modeling
New approach yields fast, accurate model of how small organic molecules move in chemical processes.
July 17, 2020
The new Serial Enrichment for Efficient Recombineering (SEER) technique allows biologists to apply recombineering-based techniques to many different species of bacteria (above, Shewanella putrefaciens bacteria).
New Technique Helps Solve a Long-Standing Obstacle for Microbial Genetic Engineering
SEER, a new method to rapidly search for proteins involved in rearranging DNA molecules, increases genome editing efficiency.
July 15, 2020
Microbial communities in Yellowstone National Park (left) and Olympic National Park (right).
Cooperative Microorganisms Get Competitive
Environmental factors can change interactions among microorganism communities.
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 (Cu<sub>2</sub>O) photocatalyst particles interacting with carbon dioxide (CO<sub>2</sub>) and water (H<sub>2</sub>O) to convert CO<sub>2</sub> 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.