DOE News
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    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.
    • 2018-06-25 11:05:41
    • Article ID: 696587

    Atomic Movie of Melting Gold Could Help Design Materials for Future Fusion Reactors

    SLAC's high-speed 'electron camera' shows for the first time the coexistence of solid and liquid in laser-heated gold, providing new clues for designing materials that can withstand extreme conditions.

    • Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      A study using a powerful beam of electrons at SLAC has revealed new atomic details of the melting of gold, potentially benefitting the development of fusion power reactors, steel processing plants, spacecraft and other applications.

    • Credit: Farrin Abbott/Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      This animation shows the results of a recent study at SLAC, in which researchers used a powerful beam of electrons to watch gold melt extremely rapidly after being heated by a laser pulse. The data reveal that the melting starts at the surfaces of nanosized grains and the boundaries between them, leading to the formation of pockets of liquid that are surrounded by solid. This mix evolves over time until only liquid is left.

    • Credit: Mianzhen Mo/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      This movie shows the transition of a gold sample from a solid (dotted pattern) to a liquid (ring pattern) after being heated by a laser pulse. It was taken with SLAC’s ultrafast “electron” camera, an instrument for ultrafast electron diffraction (UED), in which a powerful electron beam scatters off the atoms in the sample. This interaction generates the intensity pattern seen in the movie, which captures the first 40 trillionths of a second after the laser flash.

    Menlo Park, Calif. — Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have recorded the most detailed atomic movie of gold melting after being blasted by laser light. The insights they gained into how metals liquefy have potential to aid the development of fusion power reactors, steel processing plants, spacecraft and other applications where materials have to withstand extreme conditions for long periods of time. 

    Nuclear fusion is the process that powers stars like the sun. Scientists want to copy this process on Earth as a relatively clean and safe way of generating virtually unlimited amounts of energy. But to build a fusion reactor, they need materials that can survive being exposed to temperatures of a few hundred millions of degrees Fahrenheit and intense radiation produced in the fusion reaction.

    “Our study is an important step toward better predictions of the effects extreme conditions have on reactor materials, including heavy metals such as gold,” said SLAC postdoctoral researcher Mianzhen Mo, one of the lead authors of a study published today in Science. “The atomic-level description of the melting process will help us make better models of the short- and long-term damage in those materials, such as crack formation and material failure.”

    The study used SLAC’s high-speed electron camera – an instrument for ultrafast electron diffraction (UED) – which is capable of tracking nuclear motions with a shutter speed of about 100 millionths of a billionth of a second, or 100 femtoseconds.

    Melting in Pockets

    The team discovered that the melting started at the surfaces of nanosized grains within the gold sample – regions in which the gold atoms neatly line up in crystals – and at the boundaries between them.

    “This behavior had been predicted in theoretical studies, but we’ve now actually observed it for the first time,” said Siegfried Glenzer, head of SLAC’s High Energy Density Science Division and the study’s principal investigator. “Our method allows us to examine the behavior of any material in extreme environments in atomic detail, which is key to understanding and predicting material properties and could open up new avenues for the design of future materials.”

    To study the melting process, the researchers focused the laser beam onto a sample of gold crystals and watched how the atomic nuclei in the crystals responded, using the UED instrument’s electron beam as a probe. By stitching together snapshots of the atomic structure taken at various times after the laser hit, they created a stop-motion movie of the structural changes over time.

    “About 7 to 8 trillionths of a second after the laser flash, we saw the solid begin turning into a liquid,” said SLAC postdoctoral researcher Zhijang Chen, one of the study’s lead authors. “But the solid didn’t liquefy everywhere at the same time. Instead, we observed the formation of pockets of liquid surrounded by solid gold. This mix evolved over time until only liquid was left after about a billionth of a second.”

    Superb ‘Electron Vision’

    To get to this level of detail, the researchers needed a special camera like SLAC’s UED instrument, which is able to see the atomic makeup of materials and is fast enough to track extremely rapid motions of atomic nuclei.

    And because the melting process is destructive, another feature of the instrument was also absolutely crucial.

    “In our experiment, the sample ultimately melted and vaporized,” said accelerator physicist Xijie Wang, head of SLAC’s UED initiative. “But even if we were able to cool it down so that it becomes a solid again, it wouldn’t have the exact same starting structure. So, for every frame of the atomic movie we want to collect all the structural information in a single-shot experiment – a single pass of the electron beam through the sample. We were able to do just that because our instrument uses a very energetic electron beam that produces a strong signal.”

    The research team included scientists from SLAC; DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory; the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta in Canada; and the University of Rostock and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. The work was supported by the DOE Office of Science.  

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. To learn more, please visit www.slac.stanford.edu.

    SLAC National Accelerator 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.

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    Taking Diamond Qubits for a Spin

    Taking Diamond Qubits for a Spin

    Scientists use implanted silicon ions and electricity to increase the spin time of quantum bits, moving closer to the tech needed for quantum networks.

    Story Tips From the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, February 18, 2019

    Story Tips From the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, February 18, 2019

    ORNL neutrons investigate novel carbon capture crystals; gleaning valuable Twitter data to quickly map power outages; ORNL's lightweight, heat-shielding graphite foam test yields positive results in fusion reactors; open source software scales up analysis of motor designs to run on supercomputers

    Confirming a little-understood source of the process behind northern lights and the formation of stars

    Confirming a little-understood source of the process behind northern lights and the formation of stars

    Feature describes the first fully kinetic model of plasma particles showing that fast reconnection can indeed occur in partially ionized plasma.

    New Molecular Blueprint Advances Our Understanding of Photosynthesis

    New Molecular Blueprint Advances Our Understanding of Photosynthesis

    Researchers at Berkeley Lab have used one of the most advanced microscopes in the world to reveal the structure of a large protein complex crucial to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into cellular energy. The finding will allow scientists to explore for the first time how the complex functions and could have implications for the production of a variety of bioproducts, including plastic alternatives and biofuels.

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Optimized oxides made from common metals use less energy and show the potential of new design approach.

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Particle crowding interferes with moving energy efficiently along promising molecular chains.

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Scientists catch details with atomic resolution, potentially helping design systems to use sunlight and water to produce fuels.

    Newly isolated human gut bacterium reveals possible connection to depression

    Newly isolated human gut bacterium reveals possible connection to depression

    Researchers have established a correlation between depression and a group of neurotransmitter-producing bacteria found in the human gut.

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Far from being a mere spectator, solvents can play a larger role in chemical reactions, likely including those used in energy storage and biology.

    ORNL Teams with Los Alamos, EPB to Demonstrate Next-Generation Grid Security Tech

    ORNL Teams with Los Alamos, EPB to Demonstrate Next-Generation Grid Security Tech

    A team of researchers from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories has partnered with EPB, a Chattanooga utility and telecommunications company, to demonstrate the effectiveness of metro-scale quantum key distribution (QKD) as a means of secure communication for the nation's electricity suppliers. This initial milestone is part of the team's three-year project focused on next-generation grid security.


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    DOE launches its first lithium-ion battery recycling R&D center: ReCell

    DOE launches its first lithium-ion battery recycling R&D center: ReCell

    The launch of the Energy Department's first lithium-ion battery recycling center, called the ReCell Center, will help the United States grow a globally competitive recycling industry and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials.

    James Wishart Awarded Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medal

    James Wishart Awarded Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medal

    James Wishart, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been awarded the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medal by the Polish Radiation Research Society (PRRS). The award recognizes his distinguished achievements in the field of radiation chemistry and his long-lasting and productive interactions with Polish scientists.

    Lynbrook High wins 2019 SLAC Regional Science Bowl competition

    Lynbrook High wins 2019 SLAC Regional Science Bowl competition

    Twenty-eight teams from 17 Bay Area high schools faced off Feb. 9 in the SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl, a series of fast-paced question-and-answer matches that test knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space sciences, energy and math. The competition is hosted annually by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    UNLV Among 11 Teams Worldwide To Compete in 2020 Solar Decathlon

    UNLV Among 11 Teams Worldwide To Compete in 2020 Solar Decathlon

    Students to build sustainable home of healing for military veterans for U.S. Department of Energy contest; UNLV competed in 2013 and 2017.

    Three Brookhaven Scientists Named Highly Cited Researchers

    Three Brookhaven Scientists Named Highly Cited Researchers

    Three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have been named to the 2018 Highly Cited Researchers List, which recognizes influential researchers whose work ranks in the top one percent of the world's most-cited scientific papers. Brookhaven's Radoslav Adzic, Mark Hybertsen, and Xiao-Qing Yang are among only 4,000 researchers from around the world whom achieved the distinction in 2018.

    New tools in transportation

    New tools in transportation

    A new version of the AFLEET Tool from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory calculates and compares the costs and environmental benefits of a broad range of alternative fuel technologies. Covering 18 fuel/vehicle technologies, AFLEET Online offers an easy-to-use web-based platform.

    Remote-Control Plasma Physics Experiment is Named One of Top Webcams of 2018

    Remote-Control Plasma Physics Experiment is Named One of Top Webcams of 2018

    EarthCam names remote-control experiment at PPPL one of 25 most interesting Webcams of 2018.

    Jefferson Lab Scientist Awarded Distinguished Lectureship

    Jefferson Lab Scientist Awarded Distinguished Lectureship

    Cynthia Keppel, leader of Jefferson Lab's Halls A&C, has been honored with the APS 2019 Distinguished Lectureship Award on the Applications of Physics.

    Journal Special Issues Honor Chemists Radoslav Adzic and Jan Hrbek

    Journal Special Issues Honor Chemists Radoslav Adzic and Jan Hrbek

    The Journal of the Electrochemical Society and Surface Science recognized the contributions of Brookhaven Lab chemists Radoslav Adzic and Jan Hrbek to electrocatalysis and catalysis.

    Argonne scientist elected as SAE Fellow

    Argonne scientist elected as SAE Fellow

    Scientist Michael Wang from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently inducted as a Fellow of the professional engineering organization SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The organization reserves this prestigious grade of membership for thosewho have made significant contributions to mobility technology and have demonstrated leadership in their field.


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    Taking Diamond Qubits for a Spin

    Taking Diamond Qubits for a Spin

    Scientists use implanted silicon ions and electricity to increase the spin time of quantum bits, moving closer to the tech needed for quantum networks.

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Optimized oxides made from common metals use less energy and show the potential of new design approach.

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Particle crowding interferes with moving energy efficiently along promising molecular chains.

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Scientists catch details with atomic resolution, potentially helping design systems to use sunlight and water to produce fuels.

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Far from being a mere spectator, solvents can play a larger role in chemical reactions, likely including those used in energy storage and biology.

    Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes

    Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes

    Researchers watch and measure in real time charge dynamics between layers of oxide materials, offering insights into solar cells.

    Controls on Nitrogen Nutrient Availability in the Arctic Tundra

    Controls on Nitrogen Nutrient Availability in the Arctic Tundra

    Soil moisture is key to determining plant growth and nutrient cycling in complex tundra landscapes.

    Hydrogels Change Water and Solute Dynamics

    Hydrogels Change Water and Solute Dynamics

    Hydrogel pores can modify the molecular-level motion of water and dissolved ions.

    Coupling Computer Models Shows Interactions among River Water, Groundwater, and Land Surfaces

    Coupling Computer Models Shows Interactions among River Water, Groundwater, and Land Surfaces

    Computer model offers detailed view of water cycling and complex Earth system dynamics.

    Viruses Must Overcome Challenges to Infect Bacteria in Nature

    Viruses Must Overcome Challenges to Infect Bacteria in Nature

    Molecular studies show phage-host interactions are more complicated than most laboratory studies suggest.


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