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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.


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.

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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Theory Provides Roadmap in Quest for Quark Soup 'Critical Point'

Article ID: 667160

Released: 2017-01-04 14:05:32

Source Newsroom: Brookhaven National Laboratory

  • The nuclear theorists behind the new analysis: Swagato Mukherjee, Raju Venugopalan, and Yi Yin.

  • The STAR collaboration's exploration of the "nuclear phase diagram" shows signs of a sharp border—a first-order phase transition—between the hadrons that make up ordinary atomic nuclei and the quark-gluon plasma (QGP) of the early universe when the QGP is produced at relatively low energies/temperatures. The data may also suggest a possible critical point, where the type of transition changes from the abrupt, first-order kind to a continuous crossover at higher energies

Thanks to a new development in nuclear physics theory, scientists exploring expanding fireballs that mimic the early universe have new signs to look for as they map out the transition from primordial plasma to matter as we know it. The theory work, described in a paper recently published as an Editor's Suggestion in Physical Review Letters (PRL), identifies key patterns that would be proof of the existence of a so-called “critical point” in the transition among different phases of nuclear matter. Like the freezing and boiling points that delineate various phases of water—liquid, solid ice, and steam—the points nuclear physicists seek to identify will help them understand fundamental properties of the fabric of our universe.

Nuclear physicists create the fireballs by colliding ordinary nuclei—made of protons and neutrons—in an “atom smasher” called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The subatomic smashups generate temperatures measuring trillions of degrees, hot enough to “melt” the protons and neutrons and release their inner building blocks—quarks and gluons. The collider essentially turns back the clock to recreate the “quark-gluon plasma” (QGP) that existed just after the Big Bang. By tracking the particles that emerge from the fireballs, scientists can learn about nuclear phase transitions—both the melting and how the quarks and gluons “freeze out” as they did at the dawn of time to form the visible matter of today’s world.

"We want to understand the properties of QGP,” said nuclear theorist Raju Venugopalan, one of the authors on the new paper. “We don’t know how those properties might be used, but 100 years ago, we didn’t know how we’d use the collective properties of electrons, which now form the basis of almost all of our technologies. Back then, electrons were just as exotic as the quarks and gluons are now.”

Changing phases

RHIC physicists believe that two different types of phase changes can transform the hot QGP into ordinary protons and neutrons. Importantly, they suspect that the type of change depends on the collision energy, which determines the temperatures generated and how many particles get caught up in the fireball. This is similar to the way water’s freezing and boiling points can change under different conditions of temperature and the density of water molecules, Venugopalan explained.

In low energy RHIC collisions, scientists suspect that while the change in phase from QGP to ordinary protons/neutrons occurs, both distinct states (QGP and ordinary nuclear matter) coexist—just like bubbles of steam and liquid water coexist at the same temperature in a pot of boiling water. It’s as if the quarks and gluons (or liquid water molecules) have to stop at that temperature and pay a toll before they can gain the energy needed to escape as QGP (or steam).

In contrast, in higher energy collisions, there is no toll gate at the transition temperature where quarks and gluons must “stop.” Instead they move on a continuous path between the two phases.

But what happens between these low-energy and high-energy realms? Figuring that out is now one of the major goals of what’s known as the “beam energy scan” at RHIC. By systematically colliding nuclei at a wide range of energies, physicists in RHIC’s STAR collaboration are searching for evidence of a special point on their map of these nuclear phases and the transitions between them—the nuclear phase diagram.

At this so-called “critical point,” there would be a toll stop, but the cost would be $0, so the quarks and gluons could transition from protons and neutrons to QGP very quickly—almost as if all the water in the pot turned to steam in a single instant. This can actually happen when water reaches its boiling point under high pressure, where the distinction between the liquid and the compressed gas phases blurs to the point of the two being virtually indistinguishable. In the case of QGP, the physicists would expect to see signs of this dramatic effect—patterns in the fluctuations of particles observed striking their detectors—the closer and closer they get to this critical point.

In experiments already conducted at the intermediate energies, STAR physicists have observed such patterns, which may be signs of the hypothesized critical point. This search will continue with increased precision over a wider range of energies during a second beam energy scan, beginning in 2019. The new theoretical work of Brookhaven physicist Swagato Mukherjee, Venugopalan, and former postdoc Yi Yin (now at MIT)—part of a newly funded Beam Energy Scan Theory (BEST) Topical Collaboration in Nuclear Theory—will provide a roadmap to guide the experimental researchers.

Signposts to look for

Certain characteristics of the patterns that occur during phase changes are universal—no matter whether you are studying water, or quarks and gluons, or magnets. But one key advance of the new theory work was using a different set of universal characteristics to account for the dynamic conditions of the expanding quark-gluon plasma.

“All the predictions, the way we started looking for a critical point so far, were based on patterns calculated assuming you have a pot boiling on a stove—a somewhat static system,” said Mukherjee. “But QGP is expanding and changing over time. It’s more like water boiling as it flows rapidly through a pipe.”

To account for the evolving conditions of the QGP in their calculations, the theorists incorporated “dynamic universalities” that were first developed to describe similar pattern formation in the cosmological expansion of the universe itself.

“These ideas have since been applied to other systems like liquid helium and liquid crystals,” Venugopalan said. "Yin realized that the specific mechanisms of dynamic universality identified in cosmology and condensed matter systems can be applied to the search for the critical point in heavy ion collisions. This paper is the first explicit demonstration of this conjecture."

Specifically, the paper predicts exactly what patterns to look for in the data—patterns in how the properties of particles emitted from the collisions are correlated—as the energy of the collisions changes.

“If the STAR collaboration looks at the data in a particular way and sees these patterns, they can claim without any ambiguity that they have seen a critical point,” Venugopalan said.

The Beam Energy Scan Theory Collaboration and research at RHIC are supported by the DOE Office of Science.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.  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.