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, 2020
Radiation can break electron pairs (yellow) in a qubit into individual electrons (red). Beta particles (β) and X-rays interact with in the aluminum (Al) superconductor. Gamma rays (γ) affect the silicon (Si) substrate. Cosmic rays penetrate the device.
Naturally Occurring Radiation Limits Superconducting Qubit Coherence Times
New experiments demonstrate the correlation of natural radiation, unpaired electrons, and decoherence in superconducting qubit devices.
September 9, 2020
With one neutron outside of the chain of isotopes with a fully populated shell of 126 neutrons, mercury-207 lies in what was until now an almost entirely unexplored region of the nuclear chart.
A Pioneering Exploration of Exotic Nuclei
Newly implemented techniques expand scientific understanding of isotopes whose nuclei have the “magic numbers” of protons and neutrons.
September 9, 2020
One way to simulate infinite neutron matter is to put a number of neutrons in a box, surround that box with identical boxes, then sum up the forces among all the particles.
Probing the “Equation of State” of Neutron Matter—The Stuff that Neutron Stars Are Made Of
Nuclear theorists explore the properties of dense neutron matter to get at the core of neutron stars.
September 4, 2020
An example from the DOE DIII-D facility of the perturbation to the edge region of a tokamak’s magnetic field due to resonant magnetic fields.
An Innovation for Fusion Device Walls May Have Unexpected Benefits for the Core
A technique that suppresses damaging instabilities also improves the exhaust of helium ‘ash’ in the DIII-D tokamak, improving conditions for fusion.
September 2, 2020
The AI DefectSegNet models outperform human experts at perceiving radiation defects in advanced microscopy images, helping to design materials for nuclear reactors.
AI Helps Scientists Quantify Irradiation Effects
Novel Convolutional Neural Network combined with advanced microscopy offers a path to automated and reliable radiation defect analysis.
August 21, 2020
Comparison of atomic force microscopy (AFM) characterization of the surfaces of the bullseye lenses made using the conventional focused ion beam sculpting method (left) and the new electron beam lithography method (right).
Next-Generation Electron Source Hits the Bullseye for Materials Studies
New lens could generate an ion beam that is both small and fast.
August 19, 2020
Several microbial community traits influence the fate of carbon in soil.
The Traits of Microbes Matter in Microbial Carbon Cycling and Storage
Research identifies microbiome traits that might be harnessed to improve global carbon models and or help increase carbon storage in soil.
August 18, 2020
The novel method focuses laser light by sending an optical pulse (yellow lines) to the right to reflect from a radial echelon (rightmost element); the pulse then reflects from an axiparabola (leftmost element) to control when each ring comes to focus.
Controlling Light to Accelerate Electrons in Just Meters
A novel paradigm for pushing energy in a particle accelerator method could dramatically shrink future accelerators.
August 14, 2020
Optical laser pulses excite electrons in gold nanoparticles (AuNP) attached to a titanium dioxide (TiO2) substrate. Short X-ray pulses count the electrons injected from the nanoparticles into the substrate and monitor their return to the nanoparticles.
Watching Electrons Harvest Light at the Nanoscale
Insight into charge generation induced by light could enable the design of better photocatalysts made from nanomaterials.
August 11, 2020
At center, simulation of ring polymers being stretched in one direction (left). A fraction of ring polymers always forms highly elongated, knotted daisy chains (right), increasing the fluid’s resistance to flow. See how it works in this animation.
Elongated Ring Polymers Get Tied Up in Knots
Controlling the knotting of molecular chains offers new ties from polymer fluids to industrial applications.
August 11, 2020
Visualization of how the research team’s multitask convolutional neural network classifies primary cancer sites.
“Multitasking” AI Tool Extracts Cancer Data in Record Time
“Multitasking” AI Tool Extracts Cancer Data in Record Time
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.