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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.


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.

Two PNNL Researchers Elected to Membership in the National Academy of Engineering

Two scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will become members of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.


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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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Biology and Neutrons Collide to Unlock Secrets of Fish Ear Bones

Article ID: 666818

Released: 2016-12-20 14:05:13

Source Newsroom: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

  • Credit: ORNL

    Brenda Pracheil and Bryan Chakoumakos examine the structure of an otolith under a microscope.

  • Credit: ORNL

    ORNL researchers used lake sturgeon otoliths to validate the crystalline structure of vaterite with neutron diffraction.

December 20, 2016—Scientific discovery can come from anywhere, but few researchers can say the answers to their questions would come from the pea-sized bones in the head of a six-foot-long, 200-pound prehistoric freshwater fish.

In a unique pairing of biology and neutron science, researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have gained new insights into aquatic biochemistry using the otoliths of the lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens.

Otoliths are small ear bones in fish used for hearing and balance, composed of polymorphs, or forms, of calcium carbonate called calcite, aragonite and vaterite.

Vaterite is the rarest and least stable of the polymorphs, yet is a highly sought-after biomaterial as an additive in paper, plastics, cosmetics and biomedical products such as drug-delivering nanocapsules. Despite this widespread interest, vaterite remains a mysterious substance: Researchers have proposed more than a dozen models of its poorly understood crystalline structure.

Most fish otoliths are made of aragonite, but some primitive fish species, namely sturgeons, have vaterite otoliths. Previous studies of sturgeon otoliths reported calcite fractions, or content, but were either dismissed as mistakes or as byproducts of preservation, as it was assumed the otoliths could only be pure vaterite.

Brenda Pracheil, an aquatic ecologist in ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division, partnered with Bryan Chakoumakos, a neutron scientist in the lab’s Quantum Condensed Matter Division, to take a deeper look into sturgeon otoliths with a novel technology rarely seen in aquatic biology.

Using neutron diffraction, the pair proved the otoliths contained both vaterite and calcite fractions and validated a crystalline structural model of vaterite to advance understanding of the rare polymorph.

“We’re applying materials science techniques to studying otoliths,” Chakoumakos said. “We’re trying to add a little rigor and introduce new techniques in this emerging research area.”

Despite its high resolution and ease of use, neutron diffraction had never been used to examine the polymorph composition of otoliths. It is nearly impossible to distinguish between polymorphs by sight, and techniques such as Raman spectroscopy only sample the surface of the otolith. X-ray diffraction can find the average polymorph composition, but requires the sample be ground into powder, destroying the natural crystal orientation and integrity of the otolith.

“The nice thing about neutrons is that we’re able to easily and nondestructively get a snapshot of the whole otolith and preserve it for other measurements,” Chakoumakos said.

Carbon and oxygen atoms also scatter neutrons stronger than X-rays, allowing the team to examine the carbonate group of vaterite with greater clarity. Their data best fit a structural model corroborated by X-ray diffraction experiments, narrowing the field of proposed structures down to one reliable model.

The otolith study underscores the potential of novel collaborations among research teams with compatible scientific goals.

“It’s a pretty good collaboration because I didn’t know anything about fish other than I like to catch them with my fly rod,” Chakoumakos said. “I had casually done some neutron diffraction on otoliths I had collected. I knew there had been reports that some were vaterite and I wanted to study that material because the structure was unknown.”

Chakoumakos heard about Pracheil’s work on otolith microchemistry and contacted her with an idea to study the vaterite in sturgeon otoliths with neutron diffraction. Since then, their work has capitalized on Pracheil’s expertise in sturgeon otoliths and Chakoumakos’ experience with the instruments at the Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor, which are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

“There hasn’t been much collaboration between environmental and neutron sciences, but there are a lot of applications to what we’re doing,” Pracheil said. “There are so many new tools all the time, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t know how they will answer your research questions.”

The next step for the team is supplementing their neutron experiments with electron backscattering diffraction and X-ray microfluorescence to generate spatial maps to better understand how differences in polymorph composition influence trace element distribution in otoliths.

“This is really revolutionary to the field of microchemistry because it says we need to consider these polymorphs as not just something trivial,” Pracheil said. “There’s a lot there and we’re just scratching the surface.”

After gaining so much knowledge about the miniscule otoliths through these novel techniques, the team can see even bigger questions in aquatic ecology, fisheries management and evolutionary biology for other scientists to explore.

“I think it’s really cool, as a biologist, that we were able to take this weird prehistoric fish and validate models and empirically describe this previously unknown crystal structure with novel techniques,” Pracheil said. “It opened my eyes to how important these materials science techniques are to our fundamental work.”

The team’s recent study in Scientific Reports, titled “Empirically testing vaterite structural models using neutron diffraction and thermal analysis,” can be found here. Former ORNL researcher Mikhail Feygenson, now with Forschungszentrum Jülich and the European Spallation Source, contributed to the study, as well as Ryan Koenigs and Ronald Bruch of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The team’s earlier study, “Sturgeon and paddlefish (Acipenseridae) saggital otoliths are composed of the calcium carbonate polymorphs vaterite and calcite,” in the Journal of Fish Biology can be found here. Mikhail Feygenson, Ryan Koenigs and Ronald Bruch contributed, as well as Gregory Whitledge of the Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences at Southern Illinois University.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2016-P07704.jpeg

Caption: Brenda Pracheil and Bryan Chakoumakos examine the structure of an otolith under a microscope.

Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/16-01811_NewsWeb_Chakoumakos_proof1.jpeg

Caption: ORNL researchers used lake sturgeon otoliths to validate the crystalline structure of vaterite with neutron diffraction.