COSMIC impact: next-gen X-ray microscopy platform now operational

A next-generation X-ray beamline now operating at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) brings together a unique set of capabilities to measure the properties of materials at the nanoscale.

Called COSMIC, for Coherent Scattering and Microscopy, this X-ray beamline at Berkeley Lab’s Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) allows scientists to probe working batteries and other active chemical reactions, and to reveal new details about magnetism and correlated electronic materials.
COSMIC has two branches that focus on different types of X-ray experiments: one for X-ray imaging experiments and one for scattering experiments. In both cases, X-rays interact with a sample and are measured in a way that provides, structural, chemical, electronic, or magnetic information about samples.

The beamline is also intended as an important technological bridge toward the planned ALS upgrade, dubbed ALS-U, that would maximize its capabilities.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: X-rays strike a scintillator material at the COSMIC beamline, causing it to glow.
Credit: Simon Morton/Berkeley Lab

Tuning the electronic structure of a 2D material

Stacked 2D materials possess an array of tunable properties that are expected to be important for future applications in electronics and optics.

When some atomically thin—or 2D—materials are stacked like Lego bricks in different combinations with other ultrathin materials, new properties often emerge that are potentially useful for next-generation device applications. For example, tungsten disulfide (WS2) is a semiconductor that belongs to a family of 2D materials (transition-metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs) that have received an enormous amount of interest due to their many advantageous properties that can be tuned by mixing and matching them in stacks with other 2D materials.

In this work, single-layer WS2 was stacked on a thin flake of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN), all on a base of titanium dioxide (TiO2). This heterostructure provided a stable, non-interacting platform that enabled a team of researchers to directly and accurately probe the WS2 electronic states and excitations, including the effects of interactions between the electrons themselves (many-body effects), at a level of detail not previously possible.

MAESTRO’s exquisite sensitivity

MAESTRO (Microscopic and Electronic Structure Observatory), a facility at ALS Beamline 7.0.2 that opened to scientists in 2016, can handle very small sample sizes, on the order of tens of microns, which is key to studying 2D materials. Scientists are continuing to push MAESTRO’s capabilities to study even smaller features—down to the nanoscale. The endstation also features the ability to fabricate and manipulate samples for x-ray studies while maintaining pristine conditions that protect them from contamination.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Rendering of the atomic structure of a 2D layer of tungsten disulfide, or WS2 (blue and yellow), on top of layers of 2D boron nitride (silver and gold). Above that is a representation of the WS2 conduction band (pink-edged metallic surface) and valence bands (green- and blue-edged metallic surfaces). The results of this experiment suggest that the observed increase in valence-band splitting could be due to the presence of “trions,” exotic three-particle combinations of holes and electrons (red circles), in the conduction and valence bands. The background shows the raw WS2 electronic-structure data, as measured in the experiment.
Credit: Chris Jozwiak/Berkeley Lab

Study suggests water may exist in Earth’s lower mantle

Water on Earth runs deep – very deep. The oceans have been measured to a maximum depth of 7 miles, though water is known to exist well below the oceans. Just how deep this hidden water reaches, and how much of it exists, are the subjects of ongoing research.

Now a new study suggests that water may be more common than expected at extreme depths approaching 400 miles and possibly beyond – within Earth’s lower mantle. The study, which appeared March 8 in the journal Science, explored microscopic pockets of a trapped form of crystallized water molecules in a sampling of diamonds from around the world.

Diamond samples from locations in Africa and China were studied through a variety of techniques, including a method using infrared light at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Researchers used Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), and Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, which are research centers known as synchrotron facilities.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Photo: Oliver Tschauner, professor of research in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, holds a diamond sample during a recent round of experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source.
Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

Possible Path to the Formation of Life’s Building Blocks in Space

Experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source reveal how a hydrocarbon called pyrene could form near stars

Scientists have used lab experiments to retrace the chemical steps leading to the creation of complex hydrocarbons in space, showing pathways to forming 2-D carbon-based nanostructures in a mix of heated gases.

The latest study, which featured experiments at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), could help explain the presence of pyrene, which is a chemical compound known as a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and similar compounds in some meteorites.

A team of scientists, including researchers from Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, participated in the study, published March 5 in the Nature Astronomy journal. The study was led by scientists at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and also involved theoretical chemists at Florida International University.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: A researcher handles a fragment and a test tube sample of the Murchison meteorite, which has been shown to contain a a variety of hydrocarbons and amino acids, in this photo from a previous, unrelated study at Argonne National Laboratory. Experiments at Berkeley Lab are helping to retrace the chemical steps by which complex hydrocarbons like pyrene could form in the Murchison meteorite and other meteorites.
Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

Scientists confirm speculation on the chemistry of a high-performance battery

X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab reveal what’s at work in an unconventional electrode.

Scientists have discovered a novel chemical state of the element manganese. This chemical state, first proposed about 90 years ago, enables a high-performance, low-cost sodium-ion battery that could quickly and efficiently store and distribute energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines across the electrical grid.

This direct proof of a previously unconfirmed charge state in a manganese-containing battery component could inspire new avenues of exploration for battery innovations.

X-ray experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) were key in the discovery. The study results were published Feb. 28 in the journal Nature Communications.

Scientists at Berkeley Lab and New York University participated in the study, which was led by researchers at Natron Energy, formerly Alveo Energy, a Santa Clara, California-based battery technology company.

The battery that Natron Energy supplied for the study features an unconventional design for an anode, which is one of its two electrodes. Compared with the relatively mature designs of anodes used in lithium-ion batteries, anodes for sodium-ion batteries remain an active focus of R&D.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Photo: An array of solar panels and windmills.
Credit: PxHere

Unraveling the Complexities of Auto-Oxidation

Tuning magnetic frustration in a dipolar trident lattice

Frustrated interactions are key to a wide range of phenomena, from protein folding and magnetic memory to fundamental studies of emergent exotic states.

Geometrical frustration and “spin ice”

When bar magnets are brought together, opposite poles will attract and like poles will repel, and the magnets will arrange themselves accordingly, to minimize energy. However, if the magnets are constrained to a lattice structure where each one has just two possible orientations, some magnets could end up geometrically “frustrated,” with neither orientation being lower in energy than the other. The system becomes what’s known as a “spin ice,” analogous to water ice, which retains intrinsic randomness (residual entropy) even at absolute zero.

Systems incorporating geometrical frustration are fascinating because their hard-to-predict behavior is key to a wide range of phenomena, from protein folding and magnetic memory to the emergence of exotic states of matter. For example, the emergence of magnetic monopole–like excitations in spin ice raises the intriguing possibility of “magnetic-charge” circuitry based on currents of magnetic monopole excitations.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: (extract, entire image here) Magnetic scattering patterns calculated from XMCD data for various lattice parameters. While relatively sharp peaks indicative of long-range order are seen in (a) and (c), the diffuse patterns in (b) indicate highly disordered configurations.


The microstructure of a parrotfish tooth contributes to its toughness

During a 2012 visit to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, ALS staff scientist Matthew Marcus became intrigued with parrotfish. “I was reminded that this is a fish that crunches up coral all day and is responsible for much of the white sand on beaches,” Marcus said. “But how can this fish eat coral and not lose its teeth?” So Marcus teamed up with Pupa Gilbert, a biophysicist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and an international team of researchers she assembled, to understand how parrotfish teeth work.

Because conventional microscopes can overlook the unique orientation of crystals in tooth enamel, the team used the technique called polarization-dependent imaging contrast (PIC) mapping that Gilbert invented, which uses the photoemission electron microscopy (PEEM) Beamline 11.0.1 at the ALS. The PIC maps allowed them to visualize the orientation of individual crystals of fluorapatite, the main mineral component of parrotfish teeth.

Separate experiments used tomography (Beamline 8.3.2) and microdiffraction (Beamline 12.3.2) to further analyze the crystal orientations and strains in the teeth.

>Read more on the ALS website

Image: (extract) PIC maps acquired at the tips of four different parrotfish teeth show that they consist of 100-nm-wide, microns-long crystals, bundled into “fibers” interwoven like warp and weft fibers in fabric. These fibers gradually decrease in average diameter from 5 μm at the back of a tooth to 2 μm at the tip. Intriguingly, this decrease in size is spatially correlated with an increase in hardness and stiffness. The orientation angle of the crystals is color-coded (chart at bottom).


Modified antibody clarifies tumor-killing mechanisms

The structure of an antibody was modified to selectively activate a specific pathway of the immune system, demonstrating its value in killing tumor cells.

Immunotherapy—the use of the immune system to fight disease—has made tremendous progress in the fight against cancer. Antibodies such as immunoglobulin G (IgG) can identify and attack foreign or abnormal substances, including tumor cells. But to control and amplify this response, scientists need to know more about how elements of the immune system recognize tumor cells and trigger their destruction. There are two main pathways for this: antibody-dependent mechanisms and complement-dependent mechanisms.

The antibody pathway involves coating the surfaces of tumor cells with antibodies that recruit “natural killer” (NK) cells and macrophages (a type of white blood cell) to destroy the tumor cells. The complement pathway (so named because it complements the antibody pathway) also engages NK cells and macrophages and includes a third mechanism—a cascade of events culminating in tumor-cell destruction via a membrane attack complex (MAC).

>Read more on the ALS webpage

Image: extract of a schematic illustration (see on the ALS webpage)

X-ray experiments suggest high tunability of 2-D material

Scientists at Berkeley Lab use a new platform, called MAESTRO, to see microscale details in monolayer material’s electronic structure

To see what is driving the exotic behavior in some atomically thin – or 2-D – materials, and find out what happens when they are stacked like Lego bricks in different combinations with other ultrathin materials, scientists want to observe their properties at the smallest possible scales.

Enter MAESTRO, a next-generation platform for X-ray experiments at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), that is providing new microscale views of this weird 2-D world.

In a study published Jan. 22 in the journal Nature Physics, researchers zeroed in on signatures of exotic behavior of electrons in a 2-D material with microscale resolution.

The new insights gleaned from these experiments show that the properties of the 2-D semiconductor material they studied, called tungsten disulfide (WS2), may be highly tunable, with possible applications for electronics and other forms of information storage, processing, and transfer.

Those applications could include next-gen devices spawned from emerging fields of research like spintronics, excitonics and valleytronics. In these fields, researchers seek to manipulate properties like momentum and energy levels in a material’s electrons and counterpart particles to more efficiently carry and store information – analogous to the flipping of ones and zeroes in conventional computer memory.

>Read more on the ALS website

Picture: Extract of a rendering showing a “ball-and-stick” representation of the atomic structure of a 2-D single crystalline layer of tungsten disulfide (blue and yellow) on top of layers of 2-D boron nitride (silver and gold). On top of these is a representation of the structure of electronic energy levels, or valence bands, within the tungsten disulfide, and the increased splitting between the two valence bands observed using an x-ray technique at the MAESTRO beamline. The experiments suggest the effect could be due to “trions,” made up of two holes and an electron in the bands, depicted as clear and dark spheres. The background is raw data of the electronic structure of the tungsten disulfide, as measured in the experiment.
Credit: Chris Jozwiak/Berkeley Lab


Fuel from the sun: insight into electrode performance

Soft x-ray studies of hematite electrodes—potentially key components in producing fuel from sunlight—revealed the material’s electronic band positions under realistic operating conditions.

In photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere, and the hydrogen is used to produce molecules—such as carbohydrates and sugars—that store energy in chemical bonds. Such compounds constitute the original feedstocks for subsequent forms of fuel consumed by society.

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting is a form of “artificial” photosynthesis that uses semiconductor material, rather than organic plant material, to facilitate water splitting. Electrodes made of semiconductor material are immersed in an electrolyte, with sunlight driving the water-splitting process. The performance of such PEC devices is largely determined at the interface between the photoanode (the electrode at which light gets absorbed) and the electrolyte.

>Read more on the ALS webpage

Photo: Roy Kaltschmidt

Berkeley Lab delivers injector that will drive X-Ray laser upgrade

Unique device will create bunches of electrons to stimulate million-per-second X-ray pulses


Every powerful X-ray pulse produced for experiments at a next-generation laser project, now under construction, will start with a “spark” – a burst of electrons emitted when a pulse of ultraviolet light strikes a 1-millimeter-wide spot on a specially coated surface.

A team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) designed and built a unique version of a device, called an injector gun, that can produce a steady stream of these electron bunches that will ultimately be used to produce brilliant X-ray laser pulses at a rapid-fire rate of up to 1 million per second.

The injector arrived Jan. 22 at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) in Menlo Park, California, the site of the Linac Coherent Light Source II (LCLS-II), an X-ray free-electron laser project.

Getting up to speed

The injector will be one of the first operating pieces of the new X-ray laser. Initial testing of the injector will begin shortly after its installation.

The injector will feed electron bunches into a superconducting particle accelerator that must be supercooled to extremely low temperatures to conduct electricity with nearly zero loss. The accelerated electron bunches will then be used to produce X-ray laser pulses.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

 Image: Joe Wallig, left, a mechanical engineering associate, and Brian Reynolds, a mechanical technician, work on the final assembly of the LCLS-II injector gun in a specially designed clean room at Berkeley Lab in August.
Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

Scientists discover material ideal for smart photovoltaic windows

Berkeley Lab researchers make thermochromic windows with perovskite solar cell

Smart windows that are transparent when it’s dark or cool but automatically darken when the sun is too bright are increasingly popular energy-saving devices. But imagine that when the window is darkened, it simultaneously produces electricity. Such a material – a photovoltaic glass that is also reversibly thermochromic – is a green technology researchers have long worked toward, and now, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have demonstrated a way to make it work.

Researchers at Berkeley Lab, a Department of Energy (DOE) national lab, discovered that a form of perovskite, one of the hottest materials in solar research currently due to its high conversion efficiency, works surprisingly well as a stable and photoactive semiconductor material that can be reversibly switched between a transparent state and a non-transparent state, without degrading its electronic properties.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image Credit: iStock


A path to a game-changing battery electrode

If you add more lithium to the positive electrode of a lithium-ion battery, it can store much more charge in the same amount of space, theoretically powering an electric car 30 to 50 percent farther between charges. But these lithium-rich cathodes quickly lose voltage, and years of research have not been able to pin down why—until now.

>Read more on the Advance Light Source website

Image: Electric car makers are intensely interested in lithium-rich battery cathodes made of layers of lithium sandwiched between layers of transition-metal oxides. Such cathodes could significantly increase driving range.
Credit: Stanford University/3Dgraphic

X-Rays Reveal ‘Handedness’ in Swirling Electric Vortices

Scientists at Berkeley Lab study exotic material’s properties, which could make possible a new form of data storage

Scientists used spiraling X-rays at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to observe, for the first time, a property that gives handedness to swirling electric patterns – dubbed polar vortices – in a synthetically layered material.

Read more on the Berlekely Lab website

Image: This diagram shows the setup for the X-ray experiment that explored chirality, or handedness, in a layered material. The blue and red spirals at upper left show the X-ray light that was used to probe the material. The X-rays scattered off of the layers of the material (arrows at upper right and associated X-ray images at top), allowing researchers to measure chirality in swirling electrical vortices within the material. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Ingredients for Life Revealed in Meteorites That Fell to Earth

Study, based in part at Berkeley Lab, also suggests dwarf planet in asteroid belt may be a source of rich organic matter

Two wayward space rocks, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998 after circulating in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years, share something else in common: the ingredients for life. They are the first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.

Read more on the Berkeley Lab website.

Image: Artist’s rendering of asteroids and space dust. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)