Photon Factory Highlights 2020

The research highlights based on the Photon Factory (PF) users’ program during fiscal 2020 (April 2020 – March 2021), is now available on the web.

The sections covered include:

Materials Science

Chemical Science

Earth & Planetary Science

Life Science

Instrumentation & Techniques


Access these highlights via the Photon Factory website

Image: Highlights 2020 cover

Credit: Photon Factory, KEK

Scientists probe Earth’s deep mantle in the laboratory

Extreme conditions experiments sharpen view of our planet’s interior

Simulating the conditions 2700 kilometres deep underground, scientists have studied an important transformation of the most abundant mineral on Earth, bridgmanite. The results from the Extreme Conditions Beamline at DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III reveal how bridgmanite turns into a structure known as post-perovskite, a transformation that affects the dynamics of Earth’s lower mantle, including the spreading of seismic waves. The analysis can provide an explanation for a range of peculiar seismic observations, as the team headed by Sébastien Merkel from the Université de Lille in France report in the Journal Nature Communications.
Bridgmanite is a magnesian-iron mineral ((Mg,Fe)SiO3) with a crystal structure that is not stable under ambient conditions. It forms about 660 kilometres below the surface of the Earth, and microcrystalline grains found as inclusions in meteorites are the only samples ever recovered on the surface. “In order to study bridgmanite under the conditions of the lower mantle, we had to produce the mineral first,” explains Merkel. To do so, the scientists compressed tiny amounts of iron-magnesium-silicon-oxide in a diamond anvil cell (DAC), a device that can squeeze samples with high pressure between two small diamond anvils.

Image: The crystal structures of bridgmanite (left) and post-perovskite (right).

Credit: Université de Lille, Sébastien Merkel
>Read more on the PETRA III (DESY) website

Earth’s mantle could be more magnetic than once thought

The Earth’s mantle has long been considered non-magnetic, due to high temperatures at depth.

An international team of scientists used ID18 to study the iron oxide hematite (Fe2O3), a strongly magnetic mineral, at temperatures and pressures found down to the Earth’s lower mantle. Their study, published in Nature, provides evidence that hematite retains magnetic properties at the depth of the transition zone between the upper and lower mantle at certain temperatures and could therefore be a source of magnetic anomalies there.
Scientists have traditionally considered the Earth’s mantle to be non-magnetic due to its elevated temperatures being too high to retain any magnetism in the constituting minerals. However, satellite and aeromagnetic data provide evidence for magnetic anomalies in the mantle, particularly around cooler areas such as subduction zones (tectonic plate boundaries where one plate is forced underneath another). The source of the anomalies remains largely unknown, but iron oxides are considered a likely source due to their high critical temperatures. Of these, hematite (Fe2O3) is the dominant iron oxide at depths of around 300 – 600 km below the Earth’s surface – a transition zone between the upper and the lower mantle.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Garnet gemstones contain secrets of our seismic past

Somewhere in the world an earthquake is occurring. In general, it will be a small tremor, an earthquake of magnitude two or lower, which humans cannot even feel. However when a major earthquake occurs, of magnitude 7 or above, it can cause devastating damage, events like tsunamis, and loss of life. These type of quakes, like the 2011 event in Japan and 2015 Nepalese events, happen around 20 times each year worldwide.

Large earthquakes tend to occur in subduction zones, such as the so-called Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates meet and one is bent and forced underneath the other, into the mantle of the earth. As well as leading to earthquakes, subduction also causes the composition and structure of the rock itself to become altered, in a process called high-pressure/low temperature metamorphism.

Metamorphism can take a variety of forms, in a number of different rocks, but one that is of particular interest is a type called rhythmic major-element zoning, in the mineral garnet. If found it can be a sign that subduction has occurred, and it can act as a record of seismicity in the crust of our Earth.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Study suggests water may exist in Earth’s lower mantle

Water on Earth runs deep – very deep. The oceans have been measured to a maximum depth of 7 miles, though water is known to exist well below the oceans. Just how deep this hidden water reaches, and how much of it exists, are the subjects of ongoing research.

Now a new study suggests that water may be more common than expected at extreme depths approaching 400 miles and possibly beyond – within Earth’s lower mantle. The study, which appeared March 8 in the journal Science, explored microscopic pockets of a trapped form of crystallized water molecules in a sampling of diamonds from around the world.

Diamond samples from locations in Africa and China were studied through a variety of techniques, including a method using infrared light at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Researchers used Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), and Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, which are research centers known as synchrotron facilities.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Photo: Oliver Tschauner, professor of research in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, holds a diamond sample during a recent round of experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source.
Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

Did plate tectonics aid the development of life on Earth?

The appearance of plate tectonics 2.5 billion years ago, favouring the internal dynamics of the Earth, would have allowed a significant release of oxygen in the atmosphere inducing the development of life on our planet, according to a study published by the journal Geochemical Perspectives.

The Earth’s atmosphere remained anoxic for two billion years after the formation of our planet. Then, its oxygen content increased drastically during a well-identified Great Oxygenation Event. It is generally believed that the release of free oxygen was due to the biosphere itself, in relation with the evolution of life on Earth. An international team of researchers from Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans (Université Clermont-Ferrand, CNRS-IRD-OPGC), Géosciences Montpellier (Université de Montpellier, CNRS), the laboratory Conditions Extrêmes et Matériaux: Haute Température et Irradiation (CNRS), and involving five scientists from the ESRF propose a completely different scenario. Based on the experimental observation of a significant amount of ferric iron in the deep Earth’s mantle, they suggest an ascent toward the Earth’s surface of a primordial oxidised-mantle material, inducing the arrival of oxygen into the atmosphere. The upwelling movements would have been hampered during the Archean eon, which was dominated by floating micro-plates at the Earth’s surface. Then, major mantle mixing started when modern plate tectonics and deep slab subduction were established about 2.5 billion years ago, enabling the release of oxygen to the Earth’s surface.

>Read more on the ESRF website



NSRRC User, Jennifer Kung elected as a MSA Fellow

First female scientist ever awarded MSA fellowship in Asia.

NSRRC user, Jennifer Kung is among the 11 new elected fellows for 2018, announced by the Mineralogical Society of America (MSA) Council at its Fall Council Meeting in Seattle, WA, USA. She is the only recipient from Taiwan, as well as the first female scientist ever awarded MSA fellowship in Asia.

Prof. Kung is an Associate Professor in Earth Science at National Cheng-Kung University. She runs “Mineral and Rock Physics Lab” to investigate the behaviors of earth materials under high pressure and high temperature using the knowledge of crystal chemistry, mineral physics to understand the interior of the Earth. The major research methods she employs include X-ray diffraction, vibrational spectroscopy and ultrasonic measurements in conjunction with high pressure facilities, like large volume high pressure apparatus or diamond anvil.


X-Rays reveal the biting truth about parrotfish teeth

Interwoven crystal structure is key to coral-crunching ability

So, you thought the fictional people-eating great white shark in the film “Jaws” had a powerful bite. But don’t overlook the mighty mouth of the parrotfish – its hardy teeth allow it to chomp on coral all day long, ultimately chewing and grinding it up through digestion into fine sand. That’s right: Its “beak” creates beaches. A single parrotfish can produce hundreds of pounds of sand each year.

Now, a study by scientists – including those at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) – has revealed a chain mail-like woven microstructure that gives parrotfish teeth their remarkable bite and resilience.

The natural structure they observed also provides a blueprint for creating ultra-durable synthetic materials that could be useful for mechanical components in electronics, and in other devices that undergo repetitive movement, abrasion, and contact stress.

Matthew Marcus, a staff scientist working at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) – an X-ray source known as a synchrotron light source that was integral in the parrotfish study – became intrigued with parrotfish during a 2012 visit to the Great Barrier Reef off of the coast of Australia.

>Read More on the ALS website

Image: Scientists studied the microstructure of the coral-chomping teeth of the steephead parrotfish, pictured here, to learn about the fish’s powerful bite.
Credit: Alex The Reef Fish Geek/Nautilus Scuba Club, Cairns, Australia