A designed material untangles long-standing puzzle

This approach could lead to new materials with emergent physics and unique electronic properties, supporting broader research efforts to revolutionize modern electronics.

When atoms or molecules assemble to form bulk matter, new properties (such as conductivity and ferromagnetism) that didn’t exist in the constituent parts can emerge from the whole. Similarly, stacking atomically thin layers into nanostructures (heterostructures) can give rise to a rich variety of emergent phases not found in bulk materials.

Materials that exhibit emergent phenomena (“quantum materials”) often feature multiple phases with simultaneous phase transitions. A great deal of effort is currently being expended to disentangle such transitions, to discover what drives them and to ultimately harness them in new materials with desired functionalities. Most of these efforts have relied on external perturbations (light, pressure, etc.) to decouple the transitions. In this work, researchers found a way to do this intrinsically, through layer-by-layer design of stacking sequences with mismatched periodicities.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: (a) Rare-earth (RE) nickelates (RENiO3) host multiple types of entangled orderings. This illustration depicts a magnetic ordering (spin directions indicated by yellow arrows) and a charge ordering (a checkerboard of two nickel oxidation states, indicated by sphere size and color) in bulk RENiO3 (RE and O atoms omitted for clarity). 
Please find the entire image here.

Open and shut: pain signals in nerve cells

Our daily function depends on signals traveling between nerve cells (neurons) along fine-tuned pathways. Central nervous system neurons contain acid-sensing ion channel 1a (ASIC1a), a protein important in sensing pain and forming memories of fear. An ion channel lodged in the cell membrane that provides a pathway for sodium ions to enter the cell, ASIC1a opens and closes in response to changes in extracellular proton concentrations. When protons accumulate outside the neuron, the channel opens, allowing sodium ions to flow into the cell, depolarizing the cell membrane and generating an electrical signal. The channel eventually becomes desensitized to protons and the gate closes. Scientists have visualized both the open and desensitized channel structures, but the third structure, which forms when the protons dissipate and the channel closes, remained elusive. Using protein crystallography at the ALS, researchers finally visualized the closed channel.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Animation: As the proton concentration increases or decreases, the gated channel ASIC1a toggles between open and closed positions, controlling the timing of signals traveling through the cell membrane of one neuron en route to the next.

Structures reveal new target for malaria vaccine

The discovery paves the way for the development of a more effective and practical human vaccine for malaria, a disease responsible for half a million deaths worldwide each year.

Malaria kills about 445,000 people a year, mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa, and sickens more than 200 million. It’s caused by a parasite, Plasmodium falciparum (Pf), and is spread to humans through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito.

The parasite’s complex life cycle and rapid mutations have long challenged vaccine developers. Only one experimental vaccine, known as RTS,S, has progressed to a Phase 3 clinical trial (testing on large groups of people for efficacy and safety). To elicit an immune response, this vaccine uses a fragment of circumsporozoite protein (CSP), which covers the malaria parasite in its native conformation. However, the trial results showed that RTS,S is only moderately effective, protecting about one-third of the young children who received it over a period of four years.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website.

Image (a) Left: Surface representation of CIS43 (light chain in tan and heavy chain in light blue), with peptide 21 shown as sticks (purple). Right: A 90° rotation of the representation. See entire image here.

Berkeley Lab researchers receive DOE Early Career Research Awards

Six scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science to receive significant funding for research through its Early Career Research Program.

The program, now in its ninth year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work. The six Berkeley Lab recipients are among a total of 84 recipients selected this year, including 30 from DOE’s national laboratories. This year’s awards bring to 35 the total number of Berkeley Lab scientists who have received Early Career Research Program awards since 2010.

“We are grateful that DOE has chosen to recognize these six young Berkeley Lab scientists,” said Berkeley Lab Director Mike Witherell. “Our Lab takes very seriously the responsibility to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. Each of their proposed projects not only represents cutting-edge science but will also contribute to our understanding of the world and a sustainable future.“

The scientists are each expected to receive grants of up to $2.5 million over five years to cover year-round salary plus research expenses.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Ethan Crumlin is a staff scientist at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Berkeley Lab, who specializes in studies of chemistry at the interfaces between solids, liquids, and gases.

Molecular Anvils Trigger Chemical Reactions

The electronic structure of a “Kagome” material

From Moon Rocks to Space Dust

Specialized equipment, techniques, and expertise at Berkeley Lab attract samples from far, far away.

From moon rocks to meteorites, and from space dust to a dinosaur-destroying impact, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has a well-storied expertise in exploring samples of extraterrestrial origin.

This research – which has helped us to understand the makeup and origins of objects within and beyond our solar system – stems from the Lab’s long-standing core capabilities and credentials in structural and chemical analyses and measurement at the microscale and nanoscale.

Berkeley Lab’s participation in a new study, detailed June 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the chemical composition of tiny glassy grains of interplanetary particles – likely deposited in Earth’s upper atmosphere by comets – that contain dust leftover from the formative period of our solar system.

That study involved experiments at the Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a nanoscale research facility, and the Advanced Light Source (ALS), which supplies different types of light, from infrared light to X-rays, for dozens of simultaneous experiments.

> Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Moon dust and rock samples photographed at Berkeley Lab.
Credit: Berkeley Lab

Scientists find ordered magnetic patterns in disordered magnetic material

Study led by Berkeley Lab scientists relies on high-resolution microscopy techniques to confirm nanoscale magnetic features.

A team of scientists working at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has confirmed a special property known as “chirality” – which potentially could be exploited to transmit and store data in a new way – in nanometers-thick samples of multilayer materials that have a disordered structure.

While most electronic devices rely on the flow of electrons’ charge, the scientific community is feverishly searching for new ways to revolutionize electronics by designing materials and methods to control other inherent electron traits, such as their orbits around atoms and their spin, which can be thought of as a compass needle tuned to face in different directions.

These properties, scientists hope, can enable faster, smaller, and more reliable data storage by facilitating spintronics – one facet of which is the use of spin current to manipulate domains and domain walls. Spintronics-driven devices could generate less heat and require less power than conventional devices.

In the latest study, detailed in the May 23 online edition of the journal Advanced Materials, scientists working at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry and Advanced Light Source (ALS) confirmed a chirality, or handedness, in the transition regions – called domain walls – between neighboring magnetic domains that have opposite spins.

Scientists hope to control chirality – analogous to right-handedness or left-handedness – to control magnetic domains and convey zeros and ones as in conventional computer memory.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: (extract, here original image)The top row shows electron phase, the second row shows magnetic induction, and the bottom row shows schematics for the simulated phase of different magnetic domain features in multilayer material samples. The first column is for a symmetric thin-film material and the second column is for an asymmetric thin film containing gadolinium and cobalt. The scale bars are 200 nanometers (billionths of a meter). The dashed lines indicate domain walls and the arrows indicate the chirality or “handedness.” The underlying images in the top two rows were producing using a technique at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry known as Lorentz microscopy.
Credit: Berkeley Lab

New director of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source

After an international search, Stephen D. “Steve” Kevan has been named the new director of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

The ALS produces extremely bright X-ray, infrared, and extreme ultraviolet light for more than 2,000 visiting scientists each year. Up to 40 experiments can be performed simultaneously using the synchrotron, resulting in nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles each year across a range of fields, from chemistry and materials sciences to biology and environmental sciences. The facility draws on the Lab’s unique and long-standing expertise in designing, building, and operating world-class accelerators to advance scientific research.

Kevan, a condensed matter physicist, has served as ALS director in an interim capacity since January, when the preceding director, Roger Falcone, stepped down after more than 11 years in the role. Previously, Kevan was the ALS division deputy for science for more than five years and has been on the faculty of the University of Oregon’s physics department since 1986.

Kevan takes on the role of ALS director at a pivotal point in its history. The facility, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary later this year, is taking its first steps toward a major upgrade, dubbed “ALS-U.”

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Steve Kevan

Real-time ptychographic data streaming

CAMERA/ALS/STROBE Collaboration yields novel image data workflow pipeline.

What began nearly a decade ago as a Berkeley Lab Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD) proposal is now a reality, and it is already changing the way scientists run experiments at the Advanced Light Source (ALS)—and, eventually, other light sources across the Department of Energy (DOE) complex—by enabling real-time streaming of ptychographic image data in a production environment.

In scientific experiments, ptychographic imaging combines scanning microscopy with diffraction measurements to characterize the structure and properties of matter and materials. While the method has been around for some 50 years, broad utilization has been hampered by the fact that the experimental process was slow and the computational processing of the data to produce a reconstructed image was expensive. But in recent years advances in detectors and x-ray microscopes at light sources such as the ALS have made it possible to measure a ptychographic dataset in seconds.

>Read more on the Berkeley Lab website

Picture: The modular, scalable Nanosurveyor II system—now up and running at the ALS—employs a two-sided infrastructure that integrates the ptychographic image data acquisition, preprocessing, transmission and visualization processes.

ALS passes the 7000-protein milestone

The eight structural biology beamlines at the ALS have now collectively deposited over 7000 proteins into the Protein Data Bank (PDB), a worldwide, open-access repository of protein structures. The 7000th ALS protein structure (entry no. 6C7C) is an enzyme from Mycobacterium ulcerans (strain Agy99), solved with data from Beamline 5.0.2. This bacterium produces a toxin that eats away at skin tissue, causing what’s known as Buruli ulcers (Google at your own risk!). The bacterium is antibiotic-resistant, and treatment involves the surgical removal of infected tissues, including amputation.

The enzyme structure was solved by a group from the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease (SSGID), whose mission is to obtain crystal structures of potential drug targets on the priority pathogen list of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). As of May 2018, SSGCID has deposited 1090 structures in the PDB, with data for more than a quarter of those collected at ALS beamlines.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: PDB 6C7C: Enoyl-CoA hydratase, an enzyme from M. ulcerans (strain Agy99).

Rational optimization of organic solar-cell materials

Respiratory virus study points to likely vaccine target

Monovalent Manganese for High-Performance Batteries

The discovery enables the design of a high-performance, low-cost battery that, according to its developers, outperforms Department of Energy goals on cost and cycle life for grid-scale energy storage.

The widespread deployment of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power destabilizes the electric grid because conventional power-generation systems cannot ramp quickly enough to balance the power variations from these intermittent sources. Storing energy in batteries could help to even things out, but the cost of most existing technologies—including lithium-ion batteries—is significant, hindering grid-scale applications.

Emerging storage technologies such as aqueous sodium (Na) systems offer low costs for long-duration storage, but they do not have the charge/discharge rates needed to balance volatile power generation. In particular, it remains a critical challenge to develop a stable negative electrode (anode) for high-rate Na-ion battery systems.

A battery breakthrough

Compared with the relatively mature designs of anodes used in Li-ion batteries, anodes for Na-ion batteries remain an active focus of research and development. Natron Energy (formerly Alveo Energy), a battery-technology company based in Santa Clara, California, developed an unconventional anode design using a blend of elements chemically similar to the paint pigment known as Prussian blue.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Atomic structure of an electrode material, manganese hexacyanomanganate (MnHCMn), that achieved high performance in a sodium-ion battery. The open framework contains large interstices and channels that allow sodium (Na) ions to move in and out with near-zero strain. Manganese (Mn) ions form the corners of the cage: Mn(N) has six nitrogen nearest neighbors and Mn(C) has six carbon nearest neighbors.

Toward control of spin states for molecular electronics

Scientists develop sugar-coated nanosheets to target pathogens

Molecular Foundry-designed 2-D sheets mimic the surface of cells

Researchers have developed a process for creating ultrathin, self-assembling sheets of synthetic materials that can function like designer flypaper in selectively binding with viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
In this way the new platform, developed by a team led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), could potentially be used to inactivate or detect pathogens.

The team, which also included researchers from New York University, created the synthesized nanosheets at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a nanoscale science center, out of self-assembling, bio-inspired polymers known as peptoids. The study was published earlier this month in the journal ACS Nano.
The sheets were designed to present simple sugars in a patterned way along their surfaces, and these sugars, in turn, were demonstrated to selectively bind with several proteins, including one associated with the Shiga toxin, which causes dysentery. Because the outside of our cells are flat and covered with sugars, these 2-D nanosheets can effectively mimic cell surfaces.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: A molecular model of a peptoid nanosheet shows loop structures in sugars (orange) that bind to the Shiga toxin (shown as a five-color bound structure at upper right).
Credit: Berkeley Lab