Doe Science news source

The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-01-10 17:05:34
  • Article ID: 667404

Helium: When You Must Be Sure It's Ultra-Pure

A new method detects residual contaminants in ultra-pure helium gas, critical to nuclear physics experiments.

  • Credit: Image courtesy of R.C. Pardo, Argonne National Laboratory.

    Scientists used this radio frequency discharge source to measure the extremely low abundance of 3He in samples of purified helium, the gas used in precision neutron lifetime experiments.

The Science

The gas that makes balloons float is also vital to scientific experiments. In these experiments, natural helium (He) is purified, but it contains a tiny bit of a slightly different form of helium, known as the isotope 3He. A sample can contain just one 3He in every million helium atoms. That’s too much for many experiments. Many experiments require ultra-pure helium, with a 3He component at least another million times smaller, or one in a trillion of the He atoms. Although techniques are believed to produce ultra-pure helium, until recently no experimental methods have confirmed that the amount of 3He present in a sample is indeed that small. Now, scientists at the ATLAS facility at Argonne National Laboratory have used accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to precisely measure the very small concentrations of 3He present.

The Impact

Scientists need ultra-pure helium for a wide range of experiments. For example, they use ultra-pure helium to study the longevity and other properties of a free neutron. Free neutrons can provide insights into the formation of the universe and physics beyond the Standard Model, if measured accurately. To determine the purity of the helium for this study, the team demonstrated an approach that reaches a level of precision several orders of magnitude beyond that of any other technique. The team also found that measuring the amount of troublemaking 3He in purified helium samples intended for neutron studies suggest the need for significant experimental corrections, due to neutron absorption by the residual 3He present.

Summary

Answering difficult scientific questions about the nature of the universe requires isotopically purified helium (4He). The isotope 3He can contaminate the helium. Accurately measuring the amount of 3He requires determining the 3He/4He ratio at values well below those that can be achieved with standard mass spectroscopy techniques. Accelerator mass spectrometry provides the only way to directly measure the 3He content in purified helium samples at the level of sensitivity required for the neutron lifetime experiment, which seeks to determine how long a free neutron survives. Scientists used the ATLAS facility to demonstrate measurements of 3He/4He ratios as small as 10−14, or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000. In this work, scientists tuned the ATLAS accelerator, which serves as an ultra-precise mass filter, with specialized carbon ions. They scaled the accelerator components to 3He+. To reduce atmospheric 3He contamination, the team produced the 3He+ ions in a new radio frequency helium discharge source that reduced naturally occurring background sources of 3He. They monitored the final accelerator tune by regularly switching to H3+ ions from high-purity hydrogen. They eliminated H3+ ions and ions consisting of paired deuterium and hydrogen atoms by dissociation in a gold foil, after acceleration to 8 MeV. After stripping the second electron from the 3He+ ion, they dispersed the ions in a magnetic spectrograph and counted the 3He2+ ions. The team anticipates that these observations will also guide the design of future neutron experiments. Based on known improvements, an ultimate sensitivity to 3He/4He ratios as small as 10−15 appears to be feasible.

Funding

We acknowledge the support of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce, in providing support for facilities used in this work. This work was also supported in part by the National Science Foundation under grant PHY-0855593 and by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics, under contract DE-AC02-06CH11357. This research used the resources of the ATLAS facility, which is a DOE Office of Science user facility at Argonne National Laboratory.

Publications

H.P. Mumm, M.G. Huber, W. Bauder, N. Abrams, C.M Deibel, C.R. Huffer, P.R. Huffman, K.W. Schelhammer, R. Janssens, C.L. Jiang, R.H. Scott, R.C. Pardo, K.E. Rehm, R. Vondrasek, C.M. Swank, C.M. O’Shaughnessy, M. Paul, and L. Yang, “High-sensitivity measurement of 3He-4He isotopic ratios for ultracold neutron experiments.” Physical Review C 93, 065502 (2016). [DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevC.93.065502]

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Microbe Mystery Solved: What Happened to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Plume

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists haven't agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now a research team at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

New Class of 'Soft' Semiconductors Could Transform HD Displays

New research by Berkeley Lab scientists could help usher in a new generation of high-definition displays, optoelectronic devices, photodetectors, and more. They have shown that a class of "soft" semiconductors can be used to emit multiple, bright colors from a single nanowire at resolutions as small as 500 nanometers. The work could challenge quantum dot displays that rely upon traditional semiconductor nanocrystals to emit light.

Could This Strategy Bring High-Speed Communications to the Deep Sea?

A new strategy for sending acoustic waves through water could potentially open up the world of high-speed communications to divers, marine research vessels, remote ocean monitors, deep sea robots, and submarines. By taking advantage of the dynamic rotation generated as the acoustic wave travels, also known as its orbital angular momentum, Berkeley Lab researchers were able to pack more channels onto a single frequency, effectively increasing the amount of information capable of being transmitted.

2-D Material's Traits Could Send Electronics R&D Spinning in New Directions

Researchers created an atomically thin material at Berkeley Lab and used X-rays to measure its exotic and durable properties that make it a promising candidate for a budding branch of electronics known as "spintronics."

Manipulating Earth-Abundant Materials to Harness the Sun's Energy

New material based on common iron ore can help turn intermittent sunlight and water into long-lasting fuel.

Ames Lab Scientists' Surprising Discovery: Making Ferromagnets Stronger by Adding Non-Magnetic Element

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory discovered that they could functionalize magnetic materials through a thoroughly unlikely method, by adding amounts of the virtually non-magnetic element scandium to a gadolinium-germanium alloy. It was so unlikely they called it a "counterintuitive experimental finding" in their published work on the research.

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How a Single Chemical Bond Balances Cells Between Life and Death

With SLAC's X-ray laser and synchrotron, scientists measured exactly how much energy goes into keeping a crucial chemical bond from triggering a cell's death spiral.

New Efficient, Low-Temperature Catalyst for Converting Water and CO to Hydrogen Gas and CO2

Scientists have developed a new low-temperature catalyst for producing high-purity hydrogen gas while simultaneously using up carbon monoxide (CO). The discovery could improve the performance of fuel cells that run on hydrogen fuel but can be poisoned by CO.

Study Sheds Light on How Bacterial Organelles Assemble

Scientists at Berkeley Lab and Michigan State University are providing the clearest view yet of an intact bacterial microcompartment, revealing at atomic-level resolution the structure and assembly of the organelle's protein shell. This work can help provide important information for research in bioenergy, pathogenesis, and biotechnology.


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The Electrochemical Society and Toyota North America Announce 2017-2018 Fellowship Winners for Projects in Green Energy Technology

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship Selection Committee has chosen three winners who will receive $50,000 fellowship awards each for projects in green energy technology. The awardees are Dr. Ahmet Kusoglu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Professor Julie Renner, Case Western Reserve University; and Professor Shuhui Sun, Institut National de la Rechersche Scientifique (INRS).

Chicago Quantum Exchange to Create Technologically Transformative Ecosystem

The University of Chicago is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Cynthia Jenks Named Director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division

Argonne has named Cynthia Jenks the next director of the laboratory's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Jenks currently serves as the assistant director for scientific planning and the director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Division at Ames Laboratory.

Argonne-Developed Technology for Producing Graphene Wins TechConnect National Innovation Award

A method that significantly cuts the time and cost needed to grow graphene has won a 2017 TechConnect National Innovation Award. This is the second year in a row that a team at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials has received this award.

Honeywell UOP and Argonne Seek Research Collaborations in Catalysis Under Technologist in Residence Program

Researchers at Argonne are collaborating with Honeywell UOP scientists to explore innovative energy and chemicals production.

Follow the Fantastic Voyage of the ICARUS Neutrino Detector

The ICARUS neutrino detector, born at Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy and refurbished at CERN, will make its way across the sea to Fermilab this summer. Follow along using an interactive map online.

JSA Awards Graduate Fellowships for Research at Jefferson Lab

Jefferson Sciences Associates announced today the award of eight JSA/Jefferson Lab graduate fellowships. The doctoral students will use the fellowships to support their advanced studies at their universities and conduct research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) - a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear physics laboratory managed and operated by JSA, a joint venture between SURA and PAE Applied Technologies.

Muon Magnet's Moment Has Arrived

On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the Muon g-2 experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab's accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists' picture of the universe and how it works.

Seven Small Businesses to Collaborate with Argonne to Solve Technical Challenges

Seven small businesses have been selected to collaborate with researchers at Argonne to address technical challenges as part of DOE's Small Business Vouchers Program.


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New Class of Porous Materials Better Separates Carbon Dioxide from Other Gases

Enhanced stability in the presence of water could help reduce smokestack emissions of greenhouse gases.

Manipulating Earth-Abundant Materials to Harness the Sun's Energy

New material based on common iron ore can help turn intermittent sunlight and water into long-lasting fuel.

Oxygen: The Jekyll and Hyde of Biofuels

Scientists are devising ways to protect plants, biofuels and, ultimately, the atmosphere itself from damage caused by an element that sustains life on earth.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

New Perspectives Into Arctic Cloud Phases

Teamwork provides insight into complicated cloud processes that are important to potential environmental changes in the Arctic.

Mountaintop Plants and Soils to Become Out of Sync

Plants and soil microbes may be altered by climate warming at different rates and in different ways, meaning vital nutrient patterns could be misaligned.

If a Tree Falls in the Amazon

For the first time, scientists pinpointed how often storms topple trees, helping to predict how changes in Amazonia affect the world.

Turning Waste into Fuels, Microbial Style

A newly discovered metabolic process linking different bacteria in a community could enhance bioenergy production.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.


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