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Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.

Study IDs Link Between Sugar Signaling and Regulation of Oil Production in Plants

UPTON, NY--Even plants have to live on an energy budget. While they're known for converting solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, plants have sophisticated biochemical mechanisms for regulating how they spend that energy. Making oils costs a lot. By exploring the details of this delicate energy balance, a group of scientists from the U.

High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Two-Dimensional MXene Materials Get Their Close-Up

Researchers have long sought electrically conductive materials for economical energy-storage devices. Two-dimensional (2D) ceramics called MXenes are contenders.


Valerie Taylor Named Argonne National Laboratory's Mathematics and Computer Science Division Director

Computer scientist Valerie Taylor has been appointed as the next director of the Mathematics and Computer Science division at Argonne, effective July 3, 2017.

Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative

Alexander brings extensive management and leadership experience in computational science research to the position.

Kalinin, Paranthaman Elected Materials Research Society Fellows

Two researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sergei Kalinin and Mariappan Parans Paranthaman, have been elected fellows of the Materials Research Society.


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Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


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Fusion Instabilities Lessened by Unexpected Effect

Article ID: 612238

Released: 2014-01-09 11:00:00

Source Newsroom: Sandia National Laboratories

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A surprising effect created by a 19th century device called a Helmholz coil offers clues about how to achieve controlled nuclear fusion at Sandia National Laboratories’ powerful Z machine.

A Helmholz coil produces a magnetic field when electrified. In recent experiments, two Helmholz coils, installed to provide a secondary magnetic field to Z’s huge one, unexpectedly altered and slowed the growth of the magneto-Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities, an unavoidable, game-ending plasma distortion that usually spins quickly out of control and has sunk past efforts to achieve controlled fusion. “Our experiments dramatically altered the nature of the instability,” said Sandia physicist Tom Awe. “We don’t yet understand all the implications, but it’s become a different beast, which is an exciting physics result.”

The experiments were reported in December in Physical Review Letters.

The purpose of adding two Helmholz coils to fusion experiments at the Z machine, which produces a magnetic field 1,000 times stronger than the coils, was to demonstrate that the secondary field would create a magnetic barrier that, like insulation, would maintain the energy of charged particles in a Z-created plasma. Theoretically, the coils’ field would do this by keeping particles away from the machine’s walls. Contact would lower the fusion reaction’s temperature and cause it to fail.

Researchers also feared that the Helmholz field might cause a short in Z’s huge electrical pulse as it and its corresponding magnetic field sped toward the target, a small deuterium-stuffed cylinder.

Z’s magnetic field is intended to crush the cylinder, called a liner, fusing the deuterium and releasing neutrons and other energies associated with nuclear fusion. Anything hindering that “pinch” or “z-pinch,” would doom the experiment.

In preliminary experiments by Awe’s group, the coils indeed buffered the particles and didn’t interfere with the pinch.

Enter, the coils

But unexpectedly, radiographs of the process showed that the coils’ field had altered and slowed the growth of the magneto-Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities. Those distortions had been thought to occur unavoidably because even the most minute differences in materials turned to plasma are magnified by pressures applied over time.

The strength of instabilities seen in hundreds of previous z-pinches was reduced, possibly significantly.

The typical distortion pattern also changed shape from horizontal to helical.

The unexpected results occurred in a series of experiments to study a concept called Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion, or MagLIF.

Experimental process like French toast

Researchers placed the Helmholz coils around a liner containing deuterium so the coils’ magnetic field lines soaked both container and fuel over a period of milliseconds. The relatively slow process, like soaking bread in beaten eggs and milk to make French toast, allowed time for the magnetic field lines to fully permeate the material. Then the liner was crushed in tens of nanoseconds by the massive magnetic implosion generated by Sandia’s Z machine. In previous attempts to use Z’s huge field without the Helmholz coils, radiographs showed instabilities appearing on the exterior of the liner. These disturbances cause the liner’s initially smooth exterior to resemble a stack of metallic washers, or small sausage links separated by horizontal rubber bands. Such instabilities increase dramatically in nanoseconds, eating through the liner wall like decay through a tooth. Eventually, they may collapse portions of the inner wall of the liner, releasing microrubble and c! ausing uneven fuel compression that would make fusing significant amounts of deuterium impossible.

The disturbances are a warning sign that the liner might crumple before fully completing its fusion mission.

But firing with the secondary field running clearly altered and slowed formation of the instability as the liner quickly shrank to a fraction of its initial diameter. Introducing the secondary magnetic field seemed to realign the instabilities from simple circles — stacked washers, or rubber bands around sausages — into a helical pattern that more resembled the slanting patchwork of a plaid sweater.

Like a kayak crossing a river

Researchers speculate that the vertical magnetic field created by the helical coils, cutting across Z’s horizontal field, may create the same effect as a river slanting a kayak downstream rather than straight across a channel. Or it may be that the kayak’s original direction is pre-set by the secondary magnetic field to angle it downstream. Whatever the reason, the helical instability created does not appear to eat through the liner wall as rapidly as typical horizontal Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities.

Flashes of X-rays that were released when material from the horizontal instabilities collided in the liner’s center no longer appeared, suggesting more uniform fuel compression occurred, possibly a result of the increasing resistance of the implanted vertical magnetic field to the compression generated by the Z horizontal field.

The overall approach of Awe and his colleagues uses a method described in two papers by Sandia theorist Steve Slutz. In a 2010 article in Physics of Plasmas, Slutz suggested that the magnetic field generated by Z could crush a metallic liner filled with deuterium, fusing the atoms. Slutz and co-authors then indicated, in a 2012 paper in Physical Review Letters, that a more powerful version of Z could create high-yield fusion — much more fusion energy out than the electrical energy put in.

The apparently simple method — turn on a huge magnetic field and wait a few nanoseconds — takes for granted the complicated host of engineered devices and technical services that allow Z to function. But, those aside, the process as described by Slutz needed only two additional aids: a powerful laser to preheat the fuel, making it easier for the compressed fuel to reach fusion temperatures, and Helmholz coils above and below the target to generate a separate, weaker magnetic field that would insulate charged particles from giving up their energy, thereby lowering the temperature of the reaction.

Ongoing experiments on Z will determine how well reality bears out Slutz’s predictions. But for now, the reduction of distortions has been warmly received by fusion researchers, leading to an invitation to Awe to present his team’s results at the 55th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics, the world’s largest plasma meeting.

The principle of the Z machine is simple: Z’s magnetic force can crush any metal in its path. Possibly, then, it could force the fusion of ions like deuterium in a metal liner a few millimeters in diameter. The magnetic field would crush the liner’s fuel to the diameter of a human hair, causing deuterium to fuse. This would release neutrons that could be used to study radiation effects, one of the key concerns of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which funds the bulk of this research. Further, in the far future, and with additional engineering problems solved, the technique when engineered to fire repetitively could be used as the basis for an electrical generating plant whose fuel is sea water, a carbon-free energy source for humankind.

“Of course the reality is not that simple,” said Awe, “but the new ability to modify the instability growth on the liner surface may be a step in the right direction.”

For more information, visit the Z machine website.

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Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Neal Singer, nsinger@sandia.gov, (505) 845-7078