Illuminating Water Filtration

Researchers using ultrabright x-rays reveal the molecular structure of membranes used to purify seawater into drinking water.

For the first time, a team of researchers from Stony Brook University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have revealed the molecular structure of membranes used in reverse osmosis. The research is reported in a recently published paper in ACS Macro Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Reverse osmosis is the leading method of converting brackish water or seawater into potable or drinking water, and it is used to make about 25,000 million gallons of fresh water a day globally according to the International Water Association.
“Most of the earth’s water is in the oceans and only three percent is fresh water, so water purification is an essential tool to satisfy the increasing demand for drinking water,” said Brookhaven Lab senior scientist Benjamin Ocko. “Reverse osmosis is not a new technology; however, the molecular structure of many of the very thin polymer films that serve as the barrier layer in reverse osmosis membranes, despite its importance, was not previously known.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Qinyi Fu, Francisco J. Medellin-Rodriguez, Nisha Verma, and Benjamin Ocko (from left to right) prepare to mount the membrane samples that mimic the membranes used in reverse osmosis for the measurements in the Complex Materials Scattering (CMS) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II).

Cause of cathode degradation identified for nickel-rich materials

Combination of research methods reveals causes of capacity fading, giving scientists better insight to design advanced batteries for electric vehicles

A team of scientists including researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have identified the causes of degradation in a cathode material for lithium-ion batteries, as well as possible remedies. Their findings, published on Mar. 7 in Advanced Functional Materials, could lead to the development of more affordable and better performing batteries for electric vehicles.

Searching for high-performance cathode materials
For electric vehicles to deliver the same reliability as gas vehicles they need lightweight yet powerful batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of battery found in electric vehicles today, but their high cost and limited lifetimes are limitations to the widespread deployment of electric vehicles. To overcome these challenges, scientists at many of DOE’s national labs are researching ways to improve the traditional lithium-ion battery.

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

Image: Members of the Brookhaven team are shown at NSLS-II’s ISS beamline, where part of the research was conducted. Pictured from front to back are Eli Stavitski, Xiao-Qing Yang, Xuelong Wang, and Enyuan Hu.

Mapping terrestrial analogs for martian samples

Internships at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source II helped turn her love for rocks into serious study.

Catherine Trewhella, a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and current intern at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, is taking a microscopic look at rocks at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility. Her research will help prepare scientists for analyzing samples brought back from outer space, specifically Mars.
Trewhella is currently interning as a part of Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs’ Supplemental Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Over the course of the fall, she has been using NSLS-II’s Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy (SRX) beamline to map out the chemical make-up of terrestrial analogs for Martian samples.
“They’re terrestrial rocks,” she said. “But what makes them worth the closer look is researchers believe they’re similar to rock formations expected on Mars.” These x-ray fluorescence images (XRF) will therefore help scientists better understand what they are seeing when studying Martian samples.

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

Image: Catherine Trewhella at the Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy (SRX) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab.

Illuminating nanoparticle growth with X-rays

Ultrabright x-rays at NSLS-II reveal key details of catalyst growth for more efficient hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising technology for producing clean and renewable energy, but the cost and activity of their cathode materials is a major challenge for commercialization. Many fuel cells require expensive platinum-based catalysts—substances that initiate and speed up chemical reactions—to help convert renewable fuels into electrical energy. To make hydrogen fuel cells commercially viable, scientists are searching for more affordable catalysts that provide the same efficiency as pure platinum.

“Like a battery, hydrogen fuel cells convert stored chemical energy into electricity. The difference is that you’re using a replenishable fuel so, in principle, that ‘battery’ would last forever,” said Adrian Hunt, a scientist 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. “Finding a cheap and effective catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is basically the holy grail for making this technology more feasible.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Brookhaven Lab scientists Mingyuan Ge, Iradwikanari Waluyo, and Adrian Hunt are pictured left to right at the IOS beamline, where they studied the growth pathway of an efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells.

Construction starts on new Cryo-EM center

Called the Laboratory of BioMolecular Structure, the new cryo-electron microscope center will offer world-leading imaging capabilities for life sciences research.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory broke ground on the Laboratory of BioMolecular Structure (LBMS), a state-of-the-art research center for life science imaging. At the heart of the center will be two new NY-State-funded cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM) specialized for studying biomaterials, such as complex protein structures.

“Cryo-electron microscopy is a rapidly-advancing imaging technique that is posting impressive results on a weekly basis,” said LBMS Director Sean McSweeney. “The mission of LBMS is to advance the scientific understanding of key biological processes and fundamental molecular structures.”

“Throughout my career, I have worked hard to make our region of the State a high-tech hub, bringing together the talents and expertise of scientists and facilities across Long Island.  I am pleased to have played a part in the creation of the new cryo-EM center, which will add to the incredible facilities at Brookhaven National Lab and enable our scientific community to lead the way in world-class imaging research and discovery,” said NY State Senator Ken LaValle.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at BNL website

Image: New York State Senator Ken LaValle joined leaders of Empire State Development and Brookhaven Lab for the LBMS groundbreaking ceremony. Pictured from left to right are Jim Misewich (Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Photon Sciences, Brookhaven Lab), Erik Johnson (NSLS-II Deputy for Construction), Sean McSweeney (LBMS Director and NSLS-II Structural Biology Program Manager), Robert Gordon (DOE-Brookhaven Site Office Manager), Ken LaValle, Cara Longworth (Regional Director, Empire State Development), Danah Alexander (Senior Project Manager, Empire State Development), and John Hill (NSLS-II Director).

Light-activated, single- ion catalyst breaks down carbon dioxide

X-ray studies reveal structural details that may point the way to designing better catalysts for converting pollutant gas into useful products

A team of scientists has discovered a single-site, visible-light-activated catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into “building block” molecules that could be used for creating useful chemicals. The discovery opens the possibility of using sunlight to turn a greenhouse gas into hydrocarbon fuels.

The scientists used the National Synchrotron Light Source II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, to uncover details of the efficient reaction, which used a single ion of cobalt to help lower the energy barrier for breaking down CO2. The team describes this single-site catalyst in a paper just published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Converting CO2 into simpler parts—carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen—has valuable real-world applications. “By breaking CO2, we can kill two birds with one stone—remove CO2 from the atmosphere and make building blocks for making fuel,” said Anatoly Frenkel, a chemist with a joint appointment at Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University. Frenkel led the effort to understand the activity of the catalyst, which was made by Gonghu Li, a physical chemist at the University of New Hampshire.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) QAS beamline scientist Steven Ehrlich, Stony Brook University (SBU) graduate student Jiahao Huang, and Brookhaven Lab-SBU joint appointee Anatoly Frenkel at the QAS beamline at NSLS-II.

Scientists produce 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria

Researchers at NSLS-II used ultrabright x-rays to generate 3-D nanoscale maps of a single bacteria’s chemical composition with unparalleled spatial resolution.

Scientists 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 used ultrabright x-rays to image single bacteria with higher spatial resolution than ever before. Their work, published in Scientific Reports, demonstrates an x-ray imaging technique, called x-ray fluorescence microscopy (XRF), as an effective approach to produce 3-D images of small biological samples.

“For the very first time, we used nanoscale XRF to image bacteria down to the resolution of a cell membrane,” said Lisa Miller, a scientist at NSLS-II and a co-author of the paper. “Imaging cells at the level of the membrane is critical for understanding the cell’s role in various diseases and developing advanced medical treatments.”
The record-breaking resolution of the x-ray images was made possible by the advanced capabilities of the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe (HXN) beamline, an experimental station at NSLS-II with novel nanofocusing optics and exceptional stability.
“HXN is the first XRF beamline to generate a 3-D image with this kind of resolution,” Miller said.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: NSLS-II scientist Tiffany Victor is shown at the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe, where her team produced 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria with nanoscale resolution.

Unlocking the secrets of metal-insulator transitions

X-ray photon correlation spectroscopy at NSLS-II’s CSX beamline used to understand electrical conductivity transitions in magnetite.

By using an x-ray technique available at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), scientists found that the metal-insulator transition in the correlated material magnetite is a two-step process. The researchers from the University of California Davis published their paper in the journal Physical Review Letters. NSLS-II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility located at Brookhaven National Laboratory, has unique features that allow the technique to be applied with stability and control over long periods of time.
“Correlated materials have interesting electronic, magnetic, and structural properties, and we try to understand how those properties change when their temperature is changed or under the application of light pulses, or an electric field” said Roopali Kukreja, a UC Davis professor and the lead author of the paper. One such property is electrical conductivity, which determines whether a material is metallic or an insulator.

If a material is a good conductor of electricity, it is usually metallic, and if it is not, it is then known as an insulator. In the case of magnetite, temperature can change whether the material is a conductor or insulator. For the published study, the researchers’ goal was to see how the magnetite changed from insulator to metallic at the atomic level as it got hotter.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Professor Roopali Kukreja from the University of California in Davis and the CSX team Wen Hu, Claudio Mazzoli, and Andi Barbour prepare the beamline for the next set of experiments.

New NSLS-II beamline illuminates electronic structures

MIT scientists conduct the first experiment at NSLS-II’s Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering beamline.

On July 15, 2018, the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering (SIX) beamline 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—welcomed its first visiting researchers. SIX is an experimental station designed to measure the electronic properties of solid materials using ultrabright x-rays. The materials can be as small as a few microns—one millionth of a meter.
The first researchers to take advantage of the world-class capabilities at SIX were Jonathan Pelliciari and Zhihai Zhu, two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The pair used SIX to study a chromate sample, a fascinating material with novel applications in magnetism, batteries, and catalysis. Little was known about the electronic structure of the chromate sample the MIT team studied at SIX, and their research is aimed at unlocking the properties of this material. To do so, they needed the atomic sensitivity and energy resolution of the SIX beamline.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratoy website

Picture: The sample chamber of the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering (SIX) beamline at NSLS-II allows scientists to mount their materials on a special holder that can be turned and moved into the beam of bright x-rays.

Single atoms break carbon’s strongest bond

Scientists discovered that single atoms of platinum can break the bond between carbon and fluorine, one of the strongest known chemical bonds.

An international team of scientists including researchers at Yale University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new catalyst for breaking carbon-fluorine bonds, one of the strongest chemical bonds known. The discovery, published on Sept. 10 in ACS Catalysis, is a breakthrough for efforts in environmental remediation and chemical synthesis.

“We aimed to develop a technology that could degrade polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), one of the most challenging pollutant remediation problems of the present day,” said Jaehong Kim, a professor in the department of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University. “PFAS are widely detected all over the world, from Arctic biota to the human body, and concentrations in contaminated groundwater significantly exceed the regulatory limit in many areas. Currently, there are no energy-efficient methods to destroy these contaminants. Our collaboration with Brookhaven Lab aims to solve this problem by taking advantage of the unique properties of single atom catalysts.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Brookhaven scientist Eli Stavitski is shown at NSLS-II’s Inner Shell Spectroscopy beamline, where researchers imaged the physical and chemical complexity of a single-atom catalyst that breaks carbon-fluorine bonds.

Plant roots police toxic pollutants

X-ray studies reveal details of how P. juliflora shrub roots scavenge and immobilize arsenic from toxic mine tailings.

Working in collaboration with scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, researchers at the University of Arizona have identified details of how certain plants scavenge and accumulate pollutants in contaminated soil. Their work revealed that plant roots effectively “lock up” toxic arsenic found loose in mine tailings—piles of crushed rock, fluid, and soil left behind after the extraction of minerals and metals. The research shows that this strategy of using plants to stabilize pollutants, called phytostabilization, could even be used in arid areas where plants require more watering, because the plant root activity alters the pollutants to forms that are unlikely to leach into groundwater.

The Arizona based researchers were particularly concerned with exploring phytostabilization strategies for mining regions in the southwestern U.S., where tailings can contain high levels of arsenic, a contaminant that has toxic effects on humans and animals. In the arid environment with low levels of vegetation, wind and water erosion can carry arsenic and other metal pollutants to neighboring communities.

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

Image: Scientists from the University of Arizona collect plant samples from the mine tailings at the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund site in central Arizona. X-ray studies at Brookhaven Lab helped reveal how these plants’ roots lock up toxic forms of arsenic in the soil.
Credit: Jon Chorover

High-caliber research launches NSLS-II beamline into operations

Pratt & Whitney conduct the first experiments at a new National Synchrotron Light Source II beamline.

A new experimental station (beamline) has begun operations 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. Called the Beamline for Materials Measurement (BMM), it offers scientists state-of-the-art technology for using a classic synchrotron technique: x-ray absorption spectroscopy.

“There are critical questions in all areas of science that can be solved using x-ray absorption spectroscopy, from energy sciences and catalysis to geochemistry and materials science,” said Bruce Ravel, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which constructed and operates BMM through a partnership with NSLS-II.

X-ray absorption spectroscopy is a research technique that was developed in the 1980s and, since then, has been at the forefront of scientific discovery.

“The reason we’ve used this technique for 40 years and the reason why NIST built the BMM beamline is because it adds a great value to the scientific community,” Ravel explained.

The first group of researchers to conduct experiments at BMM came from jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. Senior Engineer Chris Pelliccione and colleagues used BMM to study the chemistry of jet engines.

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

Image: Pratt & Whitney Senior Engineer Chris Pelliccione (left) with NIST’s Bruce Ravel (right) at BMM’s workstation.

Talented photographers capture the art of science

See the winning photos from Brookhaven Lab’s Photowalk

On Wednesday, May 16, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory hosted 30 amateur and professional photographers for a behind-the-scenes “Photowalk” of the Lab. The photographers were able to explore and photograph major experimental facilities that are not usually accessible to the public, including the STAR detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)—the only operating particle collider in the U.S.—and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—one of the world’s most advanced synchrotron light sources. Both are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Experiments at RHIC and NSLS-II explore the leading edge of fundamental and applied science. At RHIC, physicists collide gold ions, at nearly the speed of light, to recreate the same matter that filled the universe a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. At NSLS-II, scientists use ultra-bright x-ray light to reveal the chemical makeup of proteins, batteries, superconducting materials, and everything in between. The “Photowalkers” lent their talents to capturing the remarkable design of these experiments, showcasing the facilities in all their scientific glory.

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

Picture: (extract) Finalist picture”X-Ray Eye”. Captured at NSLS-II’s Soft Inelastic Scattering (SIX) beamline.
Credit: Steve Lacker

 

Brookhaven Lab scientist receives Early Career Research Program Funding

Valentina Bisogni, an associate physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant research funding as part of DOE’s Early Career Research Program.

The effort, 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. Bisogni is among a total of 84 recipients selected this year after a competitive review of proposals. Thirty winners come from DOE national laboratories and 54 from U.S. universities.

“Supporting talented researchers early in their career is key to building and maintaining a skilled and effective scientific workforce for the nation. By investing in the next generation of scientific researchers, we are supporting lifelong discovery science to fuel the nation’s innovation system,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “We are proud of the accomplishments these young scientists have already made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come.”

Each researcher will receive a grant of up to $2.5 million over five years to cover their salary and research expenses. A list of the 84 awardees, their institutions, and titles of their research projects is available on DOE’s Early Career Research Program webpage.

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

Image: Valentina Bisogni is shown preparing samples at NSLS-II’s Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering beamline, where she will conduct her research funded through DOE’s Early Career Research Program.

The 2018 Julian David Baumert Ph.D. Thesis Award

Maxwell Terban received the 2018 Julian Baumert Ph.D. Thesis Award at this year’s Joint CFN and NSLS-II Users’ Meeting.

Maxwell Terban, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max-Plank Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart, is this year’s recipient of the Julian Baumert Ph.D. Thesis Award. Terban was selected for developing new research methods, based around a technique called pair distribution function (PDF), for extracting and analyzing structural signatures from materials. His research incorporated measurements from the now-closed National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) and the recently opened National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Each year, the Baumert Award is given to a researcher who has recently conducted a thesis project that included measurements at NSLS or NSLS-II. The award was established in memory of Julian David Baumert, a young Brookhaven physicist who worked on x-ray studies of soft-matter interfaces at NSLS.

Terban holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a master’s degree in materials science and engineering from Columbia University. He graduated with a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Columbia University in 2018, and completed his doctoral dissertation under the guidance of Simon Billinge, a professor of materials science and engineering and applied physics and mathematics at Columbia.

>Read more on the NSLSI-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Maxwell Terban, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max-Plank Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart, is this year’s recipient of the Julian Baumert Ph.D. Thesis Award.

Tripling the energy storage of lithium-ion batteries

Scientists have synthesized a new cathode material from iron fluoride that surpasses the capacity limits of traditional lithium-ion batteries.

As the demand for smartphones, electric vehicles, and renewable energy continues to rise, scientists are searching for ways to improve lithium-ion batteries—the most common type of battery found in home electronics and a promising solution for grid-scale energy storage. Increasing the energy density of lithium-ion batteries could facilitate the development of advanced technologies with long-lasting batteries, as well as the widespread use of wind and solar energy. Now, researchers have made significant progress toward achieving that goal.

A collaboration led by scientists at the University of Maryland (UMD), the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the U.S. Army Research Lab have developed and studied a new cathode material that could triple the energy density of lithium-ion battery electrodes. Their research was published on June 13 in Nature Communications.

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

Image: Brookhaven scientists are shown at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials. Pictured from left to right are: (top row) Jianming Bai, Seongmin Bak, and Sooyeon Hwang; (bottom row) Dong Su and Enyuan Hu.