NSLS-II Researchers Win 2022 Microscopy Today Innovation Award

The team developed a set of bonded x-ray lenses to overcome a long-standing alignment issue, making nanometer resolution more accessible than ever before.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory received the 2022 Microscopy Today Innovation Award for their development of a system with bonded x-ray lenses that make nanoscale resolution more accessible than ever before. When the team at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility, tested the new lens system, they achieved a resolution down to approx. 10 nanometers.

“We need technologies of the future to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges — from microelectronics to tiny qubits for quantum computers to longer-lasting batteries,” said John Hill, NSLS-II Director. “However, to develop these new devices, researchers need to study materials at the nanoscale. And this where these new lenses really come into their own. They make focusing hard x-ray beams down to a few nanometers much easier than ever before. By using the very focused x-ray beams that these lenses produce, we can reveal the function, structure, and chemistry of next-generation materials on the nanoscale. This crucial breakthrough was only made possible through years of intense work by experts—who are world-leaders in their respective fields—working together. I am delighted that their work has been recognized by this award and very proud to have this new lens system at NSLS-II.”

Read more on the Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: The members of the development team in front of NSLS-II. From left to right: Yong Chu, Hanfei Yan, Weihe Xu, Wei Xu, Xiaojing Huang, Ming Lu, Natalie Bouet, Evgeny Nazaretski. Not pictured: Juan Zhou and Maxim Zalalutdinov.

Ryan Tappero’s #My1stLight

Ryan is the XFM Lead Beamline Scientist at NSLS-II on Long Island, New York. His #My1stLight celebrates the night back in 2017 when the beamline succeeded in taking first light! A smiling team AND results. Definitely worth remembering as part of our 75 Years of Science with Synchrotron Light #My1stLight campaign

Read more about NSLS-II’s XFM beamline here

Meet Greg Fries, NSLS-II Accelerator Division Deputy Director for Projects

Fries plays a key role at NSLS-II, straddling the line between management and workers ‘in the field’ to ensure projects run smoothly and safely

Greg Fries is the deputy director for projects in the accelerator division at 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. At NSLS-II, electrons are accelerated to nearly the speed of light and directed into a “storage ring,” where they emit x-rays as they circulate. The x-rays are used to study a huge range of materials and samples, from batteries to potential new pharmaceuticals.

What do you do at NSLS-II?

In this role, I wear many hats. I’m responsible for planning and coordinating the installation and major maintenance activities related to the accelerator. I work closely with the engineers and technicians, as to how to best manage the time that we have during machine shutdowns. I’m also involved in the construction of new beamlines; for example, right now I am responsible for the accelerator infrastructure for the building of the High Energy Engineering X-ray Scattering (HEX) beamline and the NSLS-II Experimental Tools II (NEXT-II) projects. Ultimately, I work with the accelerator division staff to deliver the insertion devices, front ends, and other beamline systems. In addition, I manage the overall staffing plan and budget for the accelerator division.

I am also the work control manager for NSLS-II, supporting both the accelerator and photon divisions. In this role, I help implement work planning and control processes, and train new work control coordinators. A lot of what I do is coordination among groups to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Right now, I’m also working on the Advanced Light Source upgrade (ALS-U) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I manage the budget and schedule for their power supplies and am fully integrated into their team. I’ve also been able to visit many of the other labs, particularly those who are going through upgrades, and be part of those processes. I’ve learned many lessons by being involved in the construction and maintenance of NSLS-II that I’ve been able to share with projects at other labs.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Greg Fries stands in front of the main entrance of NSLS-II

Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Hidden distortions trigger promising thermoelectric property

Study describes new mechanism for lowering thermal conductivity to aid search for materials that convert heat to electricity or electricity to heat

In a world of materials that normally expand upon heating, one that shrinks along one 3D axis while expanding along another stands out. That’s especially true when the unusual shrinkage is linked to a property important for thermoelectric devices, which convert heat to electricity or electricity to heat.

In a paper just published in the journal Advanced Materials, a team of scientists from Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory describe the previously hidden sub-nanoscale origins of both the unusual shrinkage and the exceptional thermoelectric properties in this material, silver gallium telluride (AgGaTe2). The discovery reveals a quantum mechanical twist on what drives the emergence of these properties—and opens up a completely new direction for searching for new high-performance thermoelectrics.

“Thermoelectric materials will be transformational in green and sustainable energy technologies for heat energy harvesting and cooling—but only if their performance can be improved,” said Hongyao Xie, a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern and first author on the paper. “We want to find the underlying design principles that will allow us to optimize the performance of these materials,” Xie said.

Thermoelectric devices are currently used in limited, niche applications, including NASA’s Mars rover, where heat released by the radioactive decay of plutonium is converted into electricity. Future applications might include materials controlled by voltage to achieve very stable temperatures critical for operation of high-tech optical detectors and lasers.

The main barrier to wider adoption is the need for materials with just the right cocktail of properties, including good electrical conductivity but resistance to the flow of heat.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Brookhaven Lab members of the research team: Simon Billinge, Milinda Abeykoon, and Emil Bozin adjust instruments for data collection at the Pair Distribution Function beamline of the National Synchrotron Light Source II. In this setup, a stream of hot air heats samples with degree-by-degree precision as x-rays collect data on how the material changes.

Seeing more deeply into nanomaterials

New 3D imaging tool reveals engineered and self-assembled nanoparticle lattices with highest resolution yet—7nm—about 1/100,000 of the width of a human hair

From designing new biomaterials to novel photonic devices, new materials built through a process called bottom-up nanofabrication, or self-assembly, are opening up pathways to new technologies with properties tuned at the nanoscale. However, to fully unlock the potential of these new materials, researchers need to “see” into their tiny creations so that they can control the design and fabrication in order to enable the material’s desired properties.

This has been a complex challenge that researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia University have overcome for the first time, imaging the inside of a novel material self-assembled from nanoparticles with seven nanometer resolution, about 1/100,000 of the width of a human hair. In a new paper published on April 7, 2022 in Science, the researchers showcase the power of their new high-resolution x-ray imaging technique to reveal the inner structure of the nanomaterial. 

The team designed the new nanomaterial using DNA as a programmable construction material, which enables them to create novel engineered materials for catalysis, optics, and extreme environments. During the creation process of these materials, the different building blocks made of DNA and nanoparticles shift into place on their own based on a defined “blueprint”—called a template—designed by the researchers. However, to image and exploit these tiny structures with x-rays, they needed to convert them into inorganic materials that could withstand x-rays while providing useful functionality. For the first time, the researchers could see the details, including the imperfections within their newly arranged nanomaterials.

Read more on the BNL website

Image: An artist’s impression of how the researchers used x-ray tomography as a magnifying lens to see into the inner structure of nanomaterials

Yonghua Du recognized as a highly cited researcher 2021

Du was cited by Web of Science in its Cross-Field category, which identifies researchers who have contributed to highly cited papers across several different fields

Brookhaven Lab scientist Yonghua Du has been named a highly cited researcher in Web of Science’s 2021 report. Each year, the Web of Science publishes a list of researchers who have demonstrated significant and broad influence in a chosen field or fields over the past decade through highly cited papers. The list includes the top 1 percent of researchers by citation for a chosen field or fields. Du was recognized in the cross-field category.

“I have spent my career at synchrotron facilities, collaborating with as many researchers all over the world to uncover the secrets of their samples using our unique tools. Many excellent papers were published,” said Du. “So, I am proud of this achievement.”

In his position as a beamline scientist at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), Du balances his time between developing more research capabilities for his beamline and building strong collaborations with researchers from across the globe. These researchers—called users—work together with NSLS-II experts to solve the biggest scientific challenges of today using the facility’s unique research tools.

Read more on the Brookhaven National Lab website

Image: Brookhaven Lab scientist Yonghua Du standing in front of the Tender Energy X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (TES) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II

Reshaping the world of research through remote experimentation

We all remember the impact of stay-at-home-orders on our everyday lives in spring 2020. However, it was not only restaurants, salons, flower shops, and bookstores that had to close their doors. National user research facilities shut down most operations, closing the doors to thousands of visiting scientists, and bringing research on new batteries, pharmaceutical drugs, and many other materials to a grinding halt, at a time when the country needed these facilities more than ever. So, seven user research facilities decided to form a team of experts, the Remote Access Working Group (RAWG), to figure out how these facilities could keep the science going even when the researchers couldn’t access them in person.

The solution is as simple as it is difficult. Research facilities that serve visiting researchers have to create an environment in which experiments can be run from afar – with nearly no human interaction. Scientists have dubbed this new way of doing research remote experimentation. While each facility started the unexpected journey to remote experimentation on their own, the RAWG has brought all the different ideas together to help each facility overcome the numerous challenges encountered along the way.

Most challenges result from the nature of how these facilities operate. All seven facilities are neutron or light sources funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. This means they generate highly intense beams of neutrons or x-rays that visiting scientists use to study the inner workings of materials. These visiting researchers, or users, collaborate with facility staff to study everything from ancient mummies to novel quantum materials, generating new knowledge daily.

The Desolation of COVID-19

In a world before COVID-19, these user facilities were a hub for research teams. Scientists traveled to them, used unique tools to study their materials, worked with brilliant people on all kinds of scientific questions, then left the facility with new data that could answer these questions. With the ongoing pandemic, travelling to a facility in a different state—let alone a different country—is not an option. And with this, the well-established cycle of creating new knowledge was broken.

To re-start this cycle without going back to the old ways, each facility was confronted with a host of challenges that ranged from how to control an experiment from afar to how to get the samples to the facility in the first place. This was just the tip of the iceberg of issues the pandemic created. The RAWG’s mission is to share experiences and solutions for these issues among the facilities.

The Fellowship of Remote Experimentation

The RAWG was built upon the existing collaboration of the five DOE light source facilities. Their directors meet twice a year to discuss common challenges so that they can form teams to tackle various issues. So, it was only natural to join forces again when COVID-19 hit.

Read more on the Brookhaven website

Image: Beamline scientist, Olaf Borkiewicz from the APS, is wearing a Hololens for a virtual session of National School on Neutron and X-Ray Scattering held each summer. (Note: This photo was taken while fully vaccinated individuals were allowed to not wear masks indoors.) 

Credit: APS, Argonne National Laboratory

I am doing science that is more important than my sleep!

NSLS-II #LightSourceSelfie

Dan Olds is an associate physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory where he works as a beamline scientist at NSLS-II. Dan’s research involves combining artificial intelligence and machine learning to perform real-time analysis on streaming data while beamline experiments are being performed. Often these new AI driven methods are critical to success during in situ studies of materials. These include next generational battery components, accident safe nuclear fuels, catalytic materials and other emerging technologies that will help us develop clean energy solutions to fight climate change.

Dan’s #LightSourceSelfie delves into what attracted him to this area of research, the inspiration he gets from helping users on the beamline and the addictive excitement that comes from doing science at 3am.

Science that just can’t wait until morning!

We know by now that coffee ranks highly on the list of things that help get light source users through their night shifts. This #LightSourceSelfie also include insights on positive thinking that can provide a much needed boost to get you through to the morning. These insights are brought to you from staff scientists at LCLS and NSLS-II in the USA and Diamond in the UK.

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