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    • 2018-12-06 16:05:24
    • Article ID: 705086

    Blasting Molecules with Extreme X-Rays

    To better understand how damage from high-energy X-rays affects imaging, researchers shot the most powerful X-ray laser in the world at a series of atoms and molecules.

    • Credit: Image courtesy of DESY/Science Communication Lab

      In this illustration, an X-ray laser pulse from SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source knocks so many electrons out of a molecule's iodine atom that the iodine pulls in electrons from the rest of the molecule.

    Reading these words, your eyes let you see each letter and the spaces between them. But if you need reading glasses, the letters may be fuzzy or incomprehensible. Scientists face a similar challenge. Gathering the right data depends on having tools that can provide accurate, comprehensive measurements. After all, scientists want to have the clearest sight possible.

    Physicist Artem Rudenko from Kansas State University and his colleagues pondered how to improve the images of viruses and microparticles that scientists get from X-rays. To dig into the issue, they shot the most powerful X-ray laser in the world — located at the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) — at a series of atoms and molecules.

    Can We Trust What We See?

    Scientists regularly use X-ray light sources to take pictures and videos of biological and chemical processes and objects. For example, a recent study at the LCLS looked at how antibiotics and the parts of the body that produce proteins interact.

    But like a farsighted person’s eyes, these instruments can affect scientists’ perception. In less time than it takes light to travel a millimeter, the X-ray obliterates the sample. But the X-ray damages the sample long before it’s annihilated — even while scientists are trying to capture their images.

    This means the images captured are of a damaged sample, not the original. That can distort the data and how scientists interpret it.

    Scientists have done quite a bit of work studying the effects of lower energy “soft” X-rays. They concluded images from soft X-rays provide a good reproduction of the original structures despite the damage.

    But most imaging research uses higher energy “hard” X-rays because they often provide more detail. Scientists had less data about the damage very intense hard X-rays cause. They had no equivalent to an eye chart to estimate the extent of the problem or what might need to be adjusted. Rudenko and his colleagues aimed to change that.

    The Only Spot in the World

    It was obvious where they needed to go — the LCLS.

    “That was the only spot in the world that we could focus this [amount of] light,” said Rudenko.

    The team looked at how X-rays affect heavy atoms with lots of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Many heavy atoms play important functions in biological reactions, such as iodine’s role in producing hormones. Because heavy atoms interact more with X-rays than light ones, scientists often use heavy atoms to get clearer images.

    Like everyone else, the team had to compete for time at the LCLS, an Office of Science user facility hosted by DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. They rewrote and resubmitted their proposal three times before it was accepted. Compared to medical research, it was a tough sell. “We just wanted to blast the heck out of a molecule,” said Daniel Rolles, an assistant professor at Kansas State University. “Our argument was, ‘Hey look, you guys can only understand what you’re doing if you let us do our stuff first.’”

    The Moment of Truth

    It was finally time to turn on the X-ray.

    “It was just all knobs to the right,” said Rolles. “We basically went all-out in terms of intensity.”

    First, they hit a xenon atom with the LCLS’s full power.

    That reaction went as expected. The X-ray ionized electrons close to the nucleus, blasting them out of the atom. As the closest spaces emptied out, electrons further away moved inward. Then the new electrons became energized and zoomed out of the atom as well. Within a millionth of a billionth of a second, that process repeated itself until only a few electrons were left. Overall, a single xenon atom ejected 48 of its 54 electrons.

    Satisfied, the team ran the entire experiment again. This time, they pointed the X-ray at an iodine atom surrounded by a few others in a molecule.

    That’s when things got weird.

    “It was clear that there was something happening under these experimental conditions that we hadn’t seen anywhere else, so that was very exciting,” said Rebecca Boll, a scientist on the study who works at the European X-Ray Free Electron Laser facility.

    The team expected the iodine to eject, suck in, and then eject more electrons the way the xenon did. But when iodine ran out of electrons, it didn’t stop. Instead, the iodine slurped up electrons from surrounding carbon and hydrogen atoms. After ejecting 47 of its own electrons, it cycled through seven more. By the end, the iodine fundamentally altered the carbon and hydrogen’s electron structures.

    The team wanted to see if the same thing would happen with a bigger molecule. Sticking another iodine-containing molecule under the X-ray, they watched as it spit out so many fragments that it was difficult to keep track of them. They estimated it ejected more than 60 electrons.

    Revealing the Why

    While the researchers knew what happened, they didn’t know why. An iodine atom losing two electrons could result in a huge number of possible electron structures. Not only did the iodine atom lose more than 50 electrons, its structure completely changed after each loss.

    To help explain this process, they turned to their colleagues in theoretical physics at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Germany. Modeling revealed that under lower intensities, both the atom by itself and the atom within the molecule absorb just a few photons at a time. At the LCLS, the molecule absorbed up to 20 photons — far more than an atom. That super-charged the system.

    Finding out X-rays can strongly affect atoms besides the one directly hit by the X-ray showed that scientists have to take a second look at their images. In the future, the team predicts they will be able to plot out an X-ray’s effects on a particular molecule. Just as reading glasses adjust a farsighted person’s sight, scientists will be able to better account for radiation’s influence on their results. That knowledge will help them see a clearer picture than ever before.

     The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic energy 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 https://science.energy.gov.

    Shannon Brescher Shea is a Senior Writer/Editor in the Office of Science, shannon.shea@science.doe.gov.

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    The Biermann Battery Effect: Spontaneous Generation of Magnetic Fields and Their Severing

    The mechanism responsible for creating intense magnetic fields in laser-driven plasmas also helps tear the fields apart.

    Compelling Evidence for Small Drops of Perfect Fluid

    Nuclear physicists analyzing data from the PHENIX detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) have published additional evidence that collisions of miniscule projectiles with gold nuclei create tiny specks of the perfect fluid that filled the early universe.

    Topological Matters: Toward a New Kind of Transistor

    An experiment has demonstrated, for the first time, electronic switching in an exotic, ultrathin material that can carry a charge with nearly zero loss at room temperature. Researchers demonstrated this switching when subjecting the material to a low-current electric field.

    Experiments at PPPL show remarkable agreement with satellite sightings

    Feature describes striking similarity of laboratory research findings with observations of the four-satellite Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission that studies magnetic reconnection in space.

    New X-ray imaging approach could boost nanoscale resolution for Advanced Photon Source Upgrade

    A long-standing problem in optics holds that an improved resolution in imaging is offset by a loss in the depth of focus. Now, scientists are joining computation with X-ray imaging as they develop a new and exciting technique to bypass this limitation.

    Two-dimensional materials skip the energy barrier by growing one row at a time

    News Release RICHLAND, Wash. -- A new collaborative study led by a research team at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and University of California, Los Angeles could provide engineers new design rules for creating microelectronics, membranes, and tissues, and open up better production methods for new materials.

    Blasting Molecules with Extreme X-Rays

    To understand how damage from high-energy X-rays affects imaging studies, scientists supported by the Department of Energy shot the most powerful X-ray laser in the world at a series of atoms and molecules. Surprisingly, the atoms within the molecules acted far differently than the isolated ones.

    Scientists Enter Unexplored Territory in Superconductivity Search

    Scientists mapping out the quantum characteristics of superconductors--materials that conduct electricity with no energy loss--have entered a new regime. Using newly connected tools named OASIS at Brookhaven Lab, they've uncovered previously inaccessible details of the "phase diagram" of one of the most commonly studied "high-temperature" superconductors.

    Human Exposures and Health Effects Associated with Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

    The Health Effects Institute (HEI) convened an Energy Research Committee to help ensure the protection of public health during such development. A symposium at the 2018 Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) Annual Meeting will summarize the Committee's review approach and preliminary findings and provide initial options for future research intended to fill knowledge gaps.

    Reflecting Antiferromagnetic Arrangements

    Scientists have demonstrated an x-ray imaging technique that could enable the development of smaller, faster, and more robust electronics that exploit electron spin.


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    Blast to the future

    A grant from DOE's Technology Commercialization Fund will help researchers at Argonne and industry partners seek improvements to U.S. manufacturing by making discovery and design of new materials more efficient.

    Department of Energy to Provide $24 Million for Computer-Based Materials Design

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to provide $24 million in new and renewal research awards to advance the development of sophisticated software for computer-based design of novel materials.

    Argonne scientists recognized for decades of pioneering leadership in research

    Argonne scientists Ali Erdemir and Jack Vaughey were named 2018 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

    Kurfess, Smith join ORNL to lead advanced manufacturing initiatives

    Two leaders in US manufacturing innovation, Thomas Kurfess and Scott Smith, are joining the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to support its pioneering research in advanced manufacturing.

    Four Berkeley Lab Scientists Named AAAS Fellows

    Four Berkeley Lab scientists - Allen Goldstein, Sung-Hou Kim, Susannah Tringe, and Katherine Yelick - have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general scientific society.

    U.S. Department of Energy to Host Nationwide CyberForce Competition(tm) December 1

    Students from dozens of colleges/universities will participate in the U.S. Department of Energy's CyberForce Competition(tm) this weekend

    Seven ORNL researchers named 2019 INCITE award winners

    Seven researchers from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been chosen by the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment, also known as INCITE, program to lead scientific investigations that require the nation's most powerful computers. The ORNL-based projects span a broad range of the scientific spectrum and represent the potential of high-performance computing in ensuring America's scientific competitiveness and energy security.

    DOE Laboratories Win Gordon Bell Prize

    Two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories were recently awarded the 2018 Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM's) Gordon Bell Prize.

    Department of Energy Announces 32 R&D 100 Award Winners

    DOE researchers have won 32 of the R&D 100 awards given out this year by R&D Magazine. The annual awards are given in recognition of exceptional new products or processes that were developed and introduced into the marketplace during the previous year.

    Jefferson Lab Shares 2018 R&D 100 Award for Cancer Treatment Monitoring System

    The OARtrac(r) system, built by RadiaDyne and including technologies developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, has been awarded a 2018 R&D 100 Award by R&D Magazine.


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    The Biermann Battery Effect: Spontaneous Generation of Magnetic Fields and Their Severing

    The mechanism responsible for creating intense magnetic fields in laser-driven plasmas also helps tear the fields apart.

    Subtlety and the Selective Art of Separating Lanthanides

    Unexpected molecular interactions involving water clusters have a subtle, yet profound, effect on extractants picking their targets.

    Review Examines the Science and Needs of Nitrogen-Based Transformations

    Advances in biochemistry and catalysis could lead to faster, greener nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

    Quickly Capture Tiny Particles Reacting

    New method takes a snapshot every millisecond of groups of light-scattering particles, showing what happens during industrially relevant reactions.

    New Technology Consistently Identifies Proteins from a Dozen Cells

    A new platform melding microfluidics and robotics allows more in-depth bioanalysis with fewer cells than ever before.

    Optimal Foraging: How Soil Microbes Adapt to Nutrient Constraints

    How microbial communities adjust to nutrient-poor soils at the genomic and proteomic level gives scientists insights into land use.

    Microbes Eat the Same in Labs and the Desert

    Analyses of natural communities forming soil crusts agree with laboratory studies of isolated microbe-metabolite relationships.

    Diverse Biofeedstocks Have High Ethanol Yields and Offer Biorefineries Flexibility

    Evidence suggests that biorefineries can accept various feedstocks without negatively impacting the amount of ethanol produced per acre.

    Opening Access to Explore the Synthetic Chemistry of Neptunium

    New, easily prepared starting material opens access to learning more about a difficult-to-control element in nuclear waste.

    Tiny Titanium Barrier Halts Big Problem in Fuel-Producing Solar Cells

    New design coats molecular components and dramatically improves stability under tough, oxidizing conditions.


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