Revolutionizing data access through Tiled

Every time scientists study a new material for future batteries or investigate diseases to develop new drugs, they must wade through an ocean of data. Today, a whole ecosystem of scientific tools creates a wild variety of data to be explored. This exploration will now get a lot easier thanks to scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory. Their freshly rolled-out software tool—called Tiled—allows researchers to see, slice, and study their data more conveniently than ever before. This new data access tool makes finding and analyzing the right piece of data a walk in the park compared to previous methods, paving the way for the next scientific breakthrough.

As one of the 28 DOE Office of Science user facilities across the Nation, NSLS-II welcomes nearly 2,000 scientists each year to use its ultrabright light, tackling the greatest challenges in materials and life science. These visiting researchers come from around the globe to collaborate with experts and use the one-of-a-kind research tools at NSLS-II. They zap their samples, ranging from ancient rocks to novel quantum materials, with intense x-rays and catch outgoing signals using advanced detectors. In turn, these detectors spit out streams of data, waiting to be analyzed by scientists.

“Working with data is a central part of all research, and yet a challenge on its own. It comes in a multitude of formats, in varying sizes and shapes, and not every piece of it is useful for the researchers. This is why developing a software tool that makes accessing, seeing, and sorting through data so important,” said Dan Allan, computational scientist at NSLS-II.

Read more on the Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Scientists can use Tiled to seamlessly access data stores across various formats such as files, data bases or other data services. Tiled allows its users to see, slice, and study their data using the most convenient tool for them

Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Physics on Autopilot

Brookhaven National Lab applies AI to make big experiments autonomous

As a young scientist experimenting with neutrons and X-rays, Kevin Yager often heard this mantra: “Don’t waste beamtime.” Maximizing productive use of the potent and popular facilities that generate concentrated particles and radiation frequently required working all night to complete important experiments. Yager, who now leads the Electronic Nanomaterials Group at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), couldn’t help but think “there must be a better way.”

Yager focused on streamlining and automating as much of an experiment as possible and wrote a lot of software to help. Then he had an epiphany. He realized artificial intelligence and machine-learning methods could be applied not only to mechanize simple and boring tasks humans don’t enjoy but also to reimagine experiments.

“Rather than having human scientists micromanaging experimental details,” he remembers thinking, “we could liberate them to actually focus on scientific insight, if only the machine could intelligently handle all the low-level tasks. In such a world, a scientific experiment becomes less about coming up with a sequence of steps, and more about correctly telling the AI what the scientific goal is.”

Yager and colleagues are developing methods that exploit AI and machine learning to automate as much of an experiment as possible. “This includes physically handling samples with robotics, triggering measurements, analyzing data, and – crucially – automating the experimental decision-making,” he explains. “That is, the instrument should decide by itself what sample to measure next, the measurement parameters to set, and so on.”

Read more on the Brookhaven website

Image: Example dataset collected during an autonomous X-ray scattering experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). An artificial intelligence/machine learning decision-making algorithm autonomously selected various points throughout the sample to measure. At each position, an X-ray scattering image (small squares) is collected and automatically analyzed. The algorithm considers the full dataset as it selects subsequent experiments.

Credit: Kevin Yager, BNL

Connecting the dots between material properties and qubit performance

Engineers and materials scientists studying superconducting quantum information bits (qubits)—a leading quantum computing material platform based on the frictionless flow of paired electrons—have collected clues hinting at the microscopic sources of qubit information loss. This loss is one of the major obstacles in realizing quantum computers capable of stringing together millions of qubits to run demanding computations. Such large-scale, fault-tolerant systems could simulate complicated molecules for drug development, accelerate the discovery of new materials for clean energy, and perform other tasks that would be impossible or take an impractical amount of time (millions of years) for today’s most powerful supercomputers.

An understanding of the nature of atomic-scale defects that contribute to qubit information loss is still largely lacking. The team helped bridge this gap between material properties and qubit performance by using state-of-the-art characterization capabilities at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) and National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), both U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facilities at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Their results pinpointed structural and surface chemistry defects in superconducting niobium qubits that may be causing loss. 

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Scientists performed transmission electron microscopy and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials and National Synchrotron Light Source II to characterize the properties of niobium thin films made into superconducting qubit devices at Princeton University. A transmission electron microscope image of one of these films is shown in the background; overlaid on this image are XPS spectra (colored lines representing the relative concentrations of niobium metal and various niobium oxides as a function of film depth) and an illustration of a qubit device. Through these and other microscopy and spectroscopy studies, the team identified atomic-scale structural and surface chemistry defects that may be causing loss of quantum information—a hurdle to enabling practical quantum computers.

Understanding the physics in new metals

Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), working in an international team, have developed a new method for complex X-ray studies that will aid in better understanding so-called correlated metals. These materials could prove useful for practical applications in areas such as superconductivity, data processing, and quantum computers. Today the researchers present their work in the journal Physical Review X.

In substances such as silicon or aluminium, the mutual repulsion of electrons hardly affects the material properties. Not so with so-called correlated materials, in which the electrons interact strongly with one another. The movement of one electron in a correlated material leads to a complex and coordinated reaction of the other electrons. It is precisely such coupled processes that make these correlated materials so promising for practical applications, and at the same time so complicated to understand.

Strongly correlated materials are candidates for novel high-temperature superconductors, which can conduct electricity without loss and which are used in medicine, for example, in magnetic resonance imaging. They also could be used to build electronic components, or even quantum computers, with which data can be more efficiently processed and stored.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Brookhaven Lab Scientist Jonathan Pelliciari now works as a beamline scientist at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), where he continues to use inelastic resonant x-ray scattering to study quantum materials such as correlated metals.

Credit: Jonathan Pelliciari/BNL

Physicists uncover secrets of world’s thinnest superconductor

Physicists report the first experimental evidence to explain the unusual electronic behaviour behind the world’s thinnest superconductor, a material with myriad applications because it conducts electricity extremely efficiently. In this case the superconductor is only an atomic layer thick. 

The research, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brookhaven National Laboratory, was possible thanks to new instrumentation available at Diamond.  

Diamond is one of only a few facilities in the world to use the new experimental technique, Resonant Inelastic X-ray Scattering (RIXS), which is a combination of X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) and X-ray Emission Spectroscopy (XES), where both the incident and emitted energies are scanned. This state-of-the-art facility is where the team from three continents conducted their experiment.  

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Members of the RIXS team at Diamond. Left to right: Jaewon Choi (Postdoc), Abhishek Nag (Postdoc), Mirian Garcia Fernandez (Beamline Scientist), Charles Tam (joint PhD student), Thomas Rice (Beamline technician), Ke-Jin Zhou (Principal Beamline Scientist), Stefano Agrestini (Beamline Scientist).

Safely Probing Chernobyl Fuel Simulants with X-rays

Researchers used ultrabright x-rays at Brookhaven Lab’s NSLS-II to study the chemical makeup of simulated nuclear materials from Chernobyl, informing better containment strategies

Beamline scientist Sarah Nicholas is pictured at the X-ray Fluorescence Microprobe (XFM) beamline at NSLS-II, where researchers used ultrabright x-rays to visualize the chemical makeup of simulated nuclear materials from Chernobyl.

On this day 35 years ago, an accident at the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant created one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. As the reactor core melted, it generated a large amount of highly radioactive materials. Today, scientists continue to research those materials to determine the best methods of containment and cleanup.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, scientists at the University of Sheffield characterized the chemical makeup of a specific nuclear material found at Chernobyl, called lava-like fuel-containing materials (LFCMs). These materials, which are comprised of nuclear fuel and melted reactor components like stainless steel and concrete, behave like natural lava, solidifying to form a complex, highly radioactive glass-ceramic. While research has been conducted on LFCMs before, the level of detail those analyses could provide was significantly limited due to the challenges of handling these radioactive materials.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Beamline scientist Sarah Nicholas is pictured at the X-ray Fluorescence Microprobe (XFM) beamline at NSLS-II, where researchers used ultrabright x-rays to visualize the chemical makeup of simulated nuclear materials from Chernobyl.

Credit: BNL

AI Agent Helps Identify Material Properties Faster

High-throughput X-ray diffraction measurements generate huge amounts of data. The agent renders them usable more quickly.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can analyse large amounts of data, such as those generated when analysing the properties of potential new materials, faster than humans. However, such systems often tend to make definitive decisions even in the face of uncertainty; they overestimate themselves. An international research team has stopped AI from doing this: the researchers have refined an algorithm so that it works together with humans and supports decision-making processes. As a result, promising new materials can be identified more quickly.

A team headed by Dr. Phillip M. Maffettone (currently at National Synchrotron Light Source II in Upton, USA) and Professor Andrew Cooper from the Department of Chemistry and Materials Innovation Factory at the University of Liverpool joined forces with the Bochum-based group headed by Lars Banko and Professor Alfred Ludwig from the Chair of Materials Discovery and Interfaces and Yury Lysogorskiy from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Advanced Materials Simulation. The international team published their report in the journal Nature Computational Science from 19 April 2021.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Daniel Olds (left) and Phillip M. Maffettone working at the beamline.

Credit: BNL

Game on: Science Edition

After AIs mastered Go and Super Mario, Brookhaven scientists have taught them how to “play” experiments at NSLS-II

Inspired by the mastery of artificial intelligence (AI) over games like Go and Super Mario, scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) trained an AI agent – an autonomous computational program that observes and acts – how to conduct research experiments at superhuman levels by using the same approach. The Brookhaven team published their findings in the journal Machine Learning: Science and Technology and implemented the AI agent as part of the research capabilities at NSLS-II.

As a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, NSLS-II enables scientific studies by more than 2000 researchers each year, offering access to the facility’s ultrabright x-rays. Scientists from all over the world come to the facility to advance their research in areas such as batteries, microelectronics, and drug development. However, time at NSLS-II’s experimental stations – called beamlines – is hard to get because nearly three times as many researchers would like to use them as any one station can handle in a day—despite the facility’s 24/7 operations.

“Since time at our facility is a precious resource, it is our responsibility to be good stewards of that; this means we need to find ways to use this resource more efficiently so that we can enable more science,” said Daniel Olds, beamline scientist at NSLS-II and corresponding author of the study. “One bottleneck is us, the humans who are measuring the samples. We come up with an initial strategy, but adjust it on the fly during the measurement to ensure everything is running smoothly. But we can’t watch the measurement all the time because we also need to eat, sleep and do more than just run the experiment.”

Read more on the Brookhaven website

Image: NSLS-II scientists, Daniel Olds (left) and Phillip Maffettone (right), are ready to let their AI agent level up the rate of discovery at NSLS-II’s PDF beamline.

Credit: Brookhaven National Lab

Researchers identify lithium hydride and a new form of lithium fluoride in the interphase of lithium metal anodes

A team of researchers led by chemists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory has identified new details of the reaction mechanism that takes place in batteries with lithium metal anodes. The findings, published today in Nature Nanotechnology, are a major step towards developing smaller, lighter, and less expensive batteries for electric vehicles.

Recreating lithium metal anodes

Conventional lithium-ion batteries can be found in a variety of electronics, from smartphones to electric vehicles. While lithium-ion batteries have enabled the widespread use of many technologies, they still face challenges in powering electric vehicles over long distances.

To build a battery better suited for electric vehicles, researchers across several national laboratories and DOE-sponsored universities have formed a consortium called Battery500, led by DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Their goal is to make battery cells with an energy density of 500 watt-hours per kilogram, which is more than double the energy density of today’s state-of-the-art batteries. To do so, the consortium is focusing on batteries made with lithium metal anodes.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Brookhaven chemists Enyuan Hu (left, lead author) and Zulipiya Shadike (right, first author) are shown holding a model of 1,2-dimethoxyethane, a solvent for lithium metal battery electrolytes.

Scientists streamline process for controlling spin dynamics

Marking a major achievement in the field of spintronics, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Yale University have demonstrated the ability to control spin dynamics in magnetic materials by altering their thickness. The study, published on the 18th January in Nature Materials, could lead to smaller, more energy-efficient electronic devices.

“Instead of searching for different materials that share the right frequencies, we can now alter the thickness of a single material—iron, in this case—to find a magnetic medium that will enable the transfer of information across a device,” said Brookhaven physicist and principal investigator Valentina Bisogni.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: An artist’s interpretation of measuring the evolution of material properties as a function of thickness using resonant inelastic x-ray scattering.

Science Begins at Brookhaven Lab’s New Cryo-EM Research Facility

Brookhaven Lab’s Laboratory for BioMolecular Structure is now open for experiments with visiting researchers using two NY State-funded cryo-electron microscopes.

UPTON, NY—On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory welcomed the first virtually visiting researchers to the Laboratory for BioMolecular Structure (LBMS), a new cryo-electron microscopy facility. DOE’s Office of Science funds operations at this new national resource, while funding for the initial construction and instrument costs was provided by NY State. This state-of-the-art research center for life sciences imaging offers researchers access to advanced cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM) for studying complex proteins as well as the architecture of cells and tissues.

Many modern advances in biology, medicine, and biotechnology were made possible by researchers learning how biological structures such as proteins, tissues, and cells interact with each other. But to truly reveal their function as well as the role they play in diseases, scientists need to visualize these structures at the atomic level. By creating high-resolution images of biological structure using cryo-EMs, researchers can accelerate advances in many fields including drug discovery, biofuel development, and medical treatments.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Brookhaven Lab Scientist Guobin Hu loaded the samples sent from researchers at Baylor College of Medicine into the new cryo-EM at LBMS.

Quantum X-ray Microscope underway to enable “ghost image” biomolecules

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have begun building a quantum-enhanced x-ray microscope at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II). This groundbreaking microscope, supported by the Biological and Environmental Research progam at DOE’s Office of Science, will enable researchers to image biomolecules like never before.

NSLS-II is a DOE Office of Science User Facility where researchers use powerful x-rays to “see” the structural, chemical, and electronic makeup of materials down to the atomic scale. The facility’s ultrabright light already enables discoveries in biology, helping researchers uncover the structures of proteins to inform drug design for a variety of diseases—to name just one example.

NSLS-II is a DOE Office of Science User Facility where researchers use powerful x-rays to “see” the structural, chemical, and electronic makeup of materials down to the atomic scale. The facility’s ultrabright light already enables discoveries in biology, helping researchers uncover the structures of proteins to inform drug design for a variety of diseases—to name just one example.

Read more on the Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: An artist’s interpretation of ghost imaging. In this research technique, scientists split an x-ray beam (represented by the thick pink line) into two streams of entangled photons (thinner pink lines). Only one of these streams of photons passes through the scientific sample (represented by the clear circle), but both gather information. By splitting the beam, the sample being studied is only exposed to a fraction of the x-ray dose.

A new approach for studying electric charge arrangements in a superconductor

X-ray scattering yields new information on “charge density waves”

High-temperature superconductors are a class of materials that can conduct electricity with almost zero resistance at temperatures that are relatively high compared to their standard counterparts, which must be chilled to nearly absolute zero—the coldest temperature possible. The high-temperature materials are exciting because they hold the possibility of revolutionizing modern life, such as by facilitating ultra-efficient energy transmission or being used to create cutting-edge quantum computers.

One particular group of high-temperature superconductors, the cuprates, has been studied for 30 years, yet scientists still cannot fully explain how they work: What goes on inside a “typical” cuprate?

Piecing together a complete picture of their electronic behavior is vital to engineering the “holy grail” of cuprates: a versatile, robust material that can superconduct at room temperature and ambient pressure.

Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Brookhaven Lab scientist Mark Dean used the Soft Inelastic X-Ray (SIX) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) to unveil new insights about a cuperates, a particular group of high-temperature superconductors. Credit: BNL

IBM Investigates Microelectronics at NSLS-II

IBM researchers used the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe at NSLS-II to visualize strain in a new architecture for next-generation microelectronics

From smartphones to laptops, the demand for smaller and faster electronics is ever increasing. And as more everyday activities move to virtual formats, making consumer electronics more powerful and widely available is more important than ever.

IBM is one company at the forefront of this movement, researching ways to shrink and redesign their microelectronics—the transistors and other semiconductor devices that make up the small but mighty chips at the heart of all consumer electronics.

“As devices get smaller, it becomes more challenging to maintain electrostatic control,” said Conal Murray, a scientist at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center. “To ensure we can deliver the same level of performance in smaller devices, we’ve been employing new semiconductor materials and designs over the last decade.”

Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: NSLS-II scientist Hanfei Yam is shown at the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe beamline, where IBM researchers visualised strain in a new architecture for next-generation microelectronics.

Investigating 3D-printed structures in real time

Scientists used ultrabright x-rays to watch the developing structure of a 3D-printed part evolve during the printing process.

A team of scientists working at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Brookhaven National Laboratory has designed an apparatus that can take simultaneous temperature and x-ray scattering measurements of a 3D printing process in real time, and have used it to gather information that may improve finished 3D products made from a large variety of plastics. This study could broaden the scope of the printing process in the manufacturing industry and is also an important step forward for Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University’s collaborative advanced manufacturing program.

The researchers were studying a 3D printing method called fused filament fabrication, now better known as material extrusion. In material extrusion, filaments of a thermoplastic—a polymer that softens when heated and hardens when cooled—are melted and deposited in many thin layers to build a finished structure. This approach is often called “additive” manufacturing because the layers add up to produce the final product.

Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: The photo shows the research team, (from front to back) Yu-Chung Lin, Miriam Rafailovich, Aniket Raut, Guillaume Freychet, Mikhail Zhernenkov, and Yuval Shmueli (not pictured), placing the 3D printer into the chamber of the Soft Matter Interfaces (SMI) beamline at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II).

Note: this photo was taken in March 2020, prior to current COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

Lab Resolves Origin of Perovskite Instability

The following news release was originally issued by Princeton University. The story describes how researchers investigated the inorganic perovskite, cesium lead iodide, that has attracted wide attention for its potential in creating highly efficient solar cells. The researchers used x-ray diffraction performed at Princeton University and x-ray pair distribution function measurements performed at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, to find the source of thermodynamic instability in the perovskite. For more information about Brookhaven’s role in this research, please reach out to Cara Laasch, laasch@bnl.gov.  

Researchers in the Cava Group at the Princeton University Department of Chemistry have demystified the reasons for instability in an inorganic perovskite that has attracted wide attention for its potential in creating highly efficient solar cells.

Using single crystal X-ray diffraction performed at Princeton University and X-ray pair distribution function measurements performed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Princeton Department of Chemistry researchers detected that the source of thermodynamic instability in the halide perovskite cesium lead iodide (CsPbI3) is the inorganic cesium atom and its “rattling” behavior within the crystal structure.

Read more on NSLS II website

Image: Milinda Abeykoon, one of the lead beamline scientists at Brookhaven Lab, in preparation of the challenging experiments with Robert Cava’s team.