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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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PPPL Physicists Make First-Ever Direct Observation of Collisional Plasmoid Instability During Magnetic Reconnection in a Laboratory Setting

Article ID: 667284

Released: 2017-01-06 14:55:01

Source Newsroom: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

  • Credit: Elle Starkman

    PPPL physicist Hantao Ji in front of the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have for the first time directly observed a phenomenon that had previously only been hypothesized to exist. The phenomenon, plasmoid instabilities that occur during collisional magnetic reconnection, had until this year only been observed indirectly using remote-sensing technology. In a paper published in the August 2016 issue of Physical Review Letters, PPPL physicists report that they created the phenomenon in a laboratory setting where they could measure it directly and confirm its existence on the electron scale, which describes the range of motion of electrons and how quickly they move. This research was funded both by the DOE’s Office of Science and NASA’s Heliophysics Division.

Plasmoid instabilities create magnetic bubbles within plasma, superhot gas whose atoms have separated into electrons and atomic nuclei. The magnetic bubbles then cause fast magnetic reconnection, when a plasma’s magnetic field lines break apart and join together again, releasing large amounts of energy. Before now, physicists at NASA and other institutions had only been able to directly confirm the existence of these instabilities in collisionless plasmas, like those surrounding Earth in the upper atmosphere, in which the plasma particles do not collide often.

Scientists had not been able to confirm the existence of plasmoid instabilities in collisional plasmas, in which the particles frequently collide, because such plasmas occur in outer space, far from Earth. Collisional plasmas like those on the surfaces of stars are so far away that scientists have difficulty measuring them directly. But physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and elsewhere had predicted their existence years ago.

Scientists have obtained, however, indirect evidence of plasmoid instabilities in outer space. Using telescopes and spectroscopes, as well as fusion facilities like PPPL’s former flagship device known as the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), which has since been upgraded, scientists took photographs and analyzed light that hinted at the existence of the instabilities. But without direct measurements, they were unable to confirm that the instabilities existed.

“These findings are significant because data gathered in past magnetic reconnection experiments involving collisionless plasma does not apply to the large, collisional plasmas found throughout space,” said Hantao Ji, a professor at Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences, distinguished fellow at PPPL, and co-author of the paper. “Scientists have long had difficulty studying these plasmas because it’s hard to create the necessary conditions on Earth, and we can’t just stick probes directly into stars. Now we have a glimpse into their workings.”

During the research, lead author and graduate student Jonathan Jara-Almonte and the team used a PPPL device known as the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX). Unlike in past experiments, Jara-Almonte and his team used a plasma made out of argon atoms, rather than hydrogen, deuterium or helium. Using argon, they found, allowed them to produce conditions for collisional reconnection within the plasma more easily.

Along with confirming the existence of plasmoid instabilities in collisional plasmas undergoing reconnection, the research showed that instabilities can arise even when a plasma does not conduct electricity well, a condition known as having a low Lundquist number that scientists thought would hinder plasmoid development. This was a surprising finding, since scientists have long predicted that plasmoids would form only when a plasma conducts electricity well.

“The bigger picture is that these results raise some questions about plasmoid instability theory that haven’t been answered yet,” said Jara-Almonte. “The results raise questions about what is really happening in other systems.”

The MRX experiment also confirmed that plasmoids speed up the rate at which reconnection occurs — the first time the effect has been observed in a collisional environment. Understanding how fast reconnection occurs is important because it can affect Earth in dramatic ways. When reconnection happens on the surface of the sun, enormous blobs of plasma shoot into space and can collide with Earth’s magnetic field, creating geomagnetic storms that threaten communication satellites and electricity grids.

PPPL, on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single 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.