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.

Apart Yet Together: Virtual 2020 NSLS-II & CFN Users’ Meeting

A record-breaking number of attendees gathered virtually at the NSLS-II & CFN Users’ Meeting to discuss the most recent developments in photon science and nanoscience

Upton—From May 18 to 20, more than 1500 registered attendees from 37 countries around the world participated in the first-ever virtual joint Users’ Meeting of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facilities at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Holding the annual joint Users’ Meeting is a long-standing tradition at Brookhaven Lab, where attendees enjoy scientific discourse during the warm spring days on Long Island. 

While the Coronavirus pandemic limited the Lab’s ability to bring attendees on site for 2020, it presented a new opportunity for the conference organizers to hold a virtual Users’ Meeting, which attracted five times more attendees than ever before. The meeting included eight workshops, each held in a virtual meeting rooms with record-breaking numbers of attendees, ranging from 120 to more than 400. The meeting’s plenary session included more than 600 attendees listening and asking questions. 

Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: NSLS-II aerial

Cell membrane proteins imaged in 3-D

Scientists used lanthanide-binding tags to image proteins at the level of a cell membrane, opening new doors for studies on health and medicine.

A team of scientists including researchers at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—have demonstrated a new technique for imaging proteins in 3-D with nanoscale resolution. Their work, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, enables researchers to identify the precise location of proteins within individual cells, reaching the resolution of the cell membrane and the smallest subcellular organelles.
“In the structural biology world, scientists use techniques like x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to learn about the precise structure of proteins and infer their functions, but we don’t learn where they function in a cell,” said corresponding author and NSLS-II scientist Lisa Miller. “If you’re studying a particular disease, you need to know if a protein is functioning in the wrong place or not at all.”
The new technique developed by Miller and her colleagues is similar in style to traditional methods of fluorescence microscopy in biology, in which a molecule called green fluorescent protein (GFP) can be attached to other proteins to reveal their location. When GFP is exposed to UV or visible light, it fluoresces a bright green color, illuminating an otherwise “invisible” protein in the cell.

>Read more on the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) website

Image: Ultrabright x-rays revealed the concentration of erbium (yellow) and zinc (red) in a single E.coli cell expressing a lanthanide-binding tag and incubated with erbium.

Five U.S. light sources form data solution task force

New collaboration between scientists at the five U.S. Department of Energy light source facilities will develop flexible software to easily process big data.

Light source facilities are tackling some of today’s biggest scientific challenges, from designing new quantum materials to revealing protein structures. But as these facilities continue to become more technologically advanced, processing the wealth of data they produce has become a challenge of its own. By 2028, the five U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science light sources, will produce data at the exabyte scale, or on the order of billions of gigabytes, each year. Now, scientists have come together to develop synergistic software to solve that challenge.
With funding from DOE for a two-year pilot program, scientists from the five light sources have formed a Data Solution Task Force that will demonstrate, build, and implement software, cyberinfrastructure, and algorithms that address universal needs between all five facilities. These needs range from real-time data analysis capabilities to data storage and archival resources.
“It is exciting to see the progress that is being made by all the light sources working together to produce solutions that will be deployed across the whole DOE complex,” said Stuart Campbell, leader of the data acquisition, management and analysis group at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Lab

>Explore the other member facilities of the task force and read about their latest science news: Advanced Light Source (ALS), Advanced Photon Source (APS), Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

Image: Members of the task force met at NSLS-II for a project kickoff meeting in August of 2019.

Cathode ‘defects’ improve battery performance

A counterintuitive finding revealed by high-precision powder diffraction analyses suggests a new strategy for building better batteries

UPTON, NY—Engineers strive to design smartphones with longer-lasting batteries, electric vehicles that can drive for hundreds of miles on a single charge, and a reliable power grid that can store renewable energy for future use. Each of these technologies is within reach—that is, if scientists can build better cathode materials.

To date, the typical strategy for enhancing cathode materials has been to alter their chemical composition. But now, chemists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have made a new finding about battery performance that points to a different strategy for optimizing cathode materials. Their research, published in Chemistry of Materials and featured in ACS Editors’ Choice, focuses on controlling the amount of structural defects in the cathode material.

“Instead of changing the chemical composition of the cathode, we can alter the arrangement of its atoms,” said corresponding author Peter Khalifah, a chemist at Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: Corresponding author Peter Khalifah (left) with his students/co-authors Gerard Mattei (center) and Zhuo Li (right) at one of Brookhaven’s chemistry labs.

NSLS-II achieves design beam current of 500 milliamperes

Accelerator division enables new record current during studies.

The National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory is a gigantic x-ray microscope that allows scientists to study the inner structure of all kinds of material and devices in real time under realistic operating conditions. The scientists using the machine are seeking answers to questions including how can we built longer lasting batteries; when life started on our planet; and what kinds of new materials can be used in quantum computers, along with many other questions in a wide variety of research fields.

The heart of the facility is a particle accelerator that circulates electrons at nearly the speed of light around the roughly half-a-mile-long ring. Steered by special magnets within the ring, the electrons generate ultrabright x-rays that enable scientists to address the broad spectrum of research at NSLS-II.

Now, the accelerator division at NSLS-II has reached a new milestone for machine performance. During recent accelerator studies, the team has been able to ramp up the machine to 500 milliamperes (mA) of current and to keep this current stable for more than six hours. Similar to a current in a river, the current in an accelerator is a measure of the number of electrons that circulate the ring at any given time. In NSLS-II’s case, a higher electron current opens the pathway to more intense x-rays for all the experiments happening at the facility.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: The NSLS-II accelerator division proudly gathered to celebrate their recent achievement. The screen above them shows the slow increase of the electron current in the NSLS-II storage ring and its stability.

NSLS-II celebrates its 5th anniversary

In just five years, 28 beamlines came online, over 1,800 different experiments ran, and nearly 3,000 scientists conducted research at the National Synchrotron Light Source II.

On this day five years ago, the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) achieved “first light”—its first successful delivery of x-ray beams. Signaling the start of operations at NSLS-II—one of the world’s most advanced synchrotron light sources—Oct. 23, 2014 marked a new era of synchrotron science.

“It is astonishing to me how much we have accomplished in just five years,” said NSLS-II Director John Hill. “Every day when I come to work, I am proud of what we have achieved through the expertise, dedication and passion that everyone here brings to NSLS-II.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: An aerial view of NSLS-II. The facility is large enough to fit Yankee Stadium inside its half-mile-long ring.

 

NSLS-II scientist named DOE Office of Science Distinguished Fellow

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have garnered two out of five “Distinguished Scientists Fellow” awards announced today by the DOE’s Office of Science.

Theoretical physicist Sally Dawson, a world-leader in calculations aimed at describing the properties of the Higgs boson, and José Rodriguez, a renowned chemist exploring and developing catalysts for energy-related reactions, will each receive $1 million in funding over three years to pursue new research objectives within their respective fields. (…)

José Rodriguez (NSLS-II)

For discoveries of the atomic basis of surface catalysis for the synthesis of sustainable fuels, and for significantly advancing in-situ methods of investigation using synchrotron light sources.”

Rodriguez will devote his funding to the development and construction of new tools for performing extremely rapid, time-resolved measurements to track the reaction mechanisms of catalytic processes as they occur under variable conditions—like those encountered during real-world reactions important to energy applications. These include processes on metal-oxide catalysts frequently used in the production of clean fuels and other “green” chemicals through hydrogenation of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, or the conversion of methane to hydrogen.

“At a microscopic level, the structure of a catalyst and the chemical environment around the active sites—where chemical bonds are broken and reformed as reactants transform into new products—change as a function of time, thus determining the reaction mechanism,” said Rodriguez. “We can learn a lot about the nature of the active sites under steady-state conditions, with no variations in temperature, pressure, and reaction rate. But to really understand the details of the reaction mechanism, we need ways to track what happens under transient or variable conditions. This funding will allow us to build new instrumentation that works with existing capabilities so we can study catalysts under variable conditions—and use what we learn to improve their performance.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website