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.

Solar hydrogen: Photoanodes made of α-SnWO4 promise high efficiencies

Photoanodes made of metal oxides are considered to be a viable solution for the production of hydrogen with sunlight. α-SnWO4 has optimal electronic properties for photoelectrochemical water splitting with sunlight, but corrodes easily. Protective layers of nickel oxide prevent corrosion, but reduce the photovoltage and limit the efficiency. Now a team at HZB has investigated at BESSY II what happens at the interface between the photoanode and the protective layer. Combined with theoretical methods, the measurement data reveal the presence of an oxide layer that impairs the efficiency of the photoanode.

Hydrogen is an important factor in a sustainable energy system. The gas stores energy in chemical form and can be used in many ways: as a fuel, a feedstock for other fuels and chemicals or even to generate electricity in fuel cells. One solution to produce hydrogen in a climate-neutral way is the electrochemical splitting of water with the help of sunlight. This requires photoelectrodes that provide a photovoltage and photocurrent when exposed to light and at the same time do not corrode in water. Metal oxide compounds have promising prerequisites for this. For example, solar water splitting devices using bismuth vanadate (BiVO4) photoelectrodes achieve already today ~8 % solar-to-hydrogen efficiency, which is close to the material’s theoretical maximum of 9 %.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: TEM-Image of a α-SnWOfilm (pink) coated with 20 nm NiO(green). At the interface of α-SnWO4 and NiOx an additional interfacial layer can be observed.

Credit: HZB

Realizing the limitless possibilities of wearable electronics

Benoît Lessard and his team are developing carbon-based technologies which could lead to improved flexible phone displays, make robotic skin more sensitive and allow for wearable electronics that could monitor the physical health of athletes in real-time.

With the help of the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), a team of Canadian and international scientists have evaluated how thin film structure correlates to organic thin-film transistors performance.

Organic electronics use carbon-based molecules to create more flexible and efficient devices. The display of our smart phones is based on organic-LED technology, which uses organic molecules to emit bright light and others to respond to touch.

Lessard, the corresponding author of a recent paper published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, is excited about the data his team has collected at the HXMA beamline. As Canada Research Chair in Advanced Polymer Materials and Organic Electronics and Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Lessard is working on furthering the technology behind organic thin-film transistors. To improve on this technology the team is engineering the design and processing of phthalocyanines, molecules used traditionally as dyes and pigments.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Benoît Lessard in the lab

Credit: Benoît Lessard

Synchrotron light reveals why modernist stained glass deteriorate

Stained glass is a fragile component of our Cultural Heritage since was used for the windows of buildings, and a large part of it is exposed to weathering and consequently to deterioration. The concern raised regarding the decay shown by the modernist enamelled glass has led the path to a long-term study and to the thesis presented today by Martí Beltrán González. “We are satisfied because totally new information have been obtained and, in particular, data that may help to better preserve the enamelled glass windows of this period ”, highlights Trinitat Pradell, director of the thesis.

Synchrotron light has important applications in the field of historical and artistic heritage and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) group has been an ALBA user for years to carry out analyses for its research. In this case, the beamline where the experiments have been performed, MSPD, provides the use of microdiffraction technique. Stained glass samples cut into very thin sections (100 microns) have been analysed through X-rays to obtain high resolution diffraction patterns that give information about the chemical composition of the materials and enables the identification of the pigments and colorants used. The microstructure of the materials and the products formed as a result of corrosion can be detected too thanks to this synchrotron light technique.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Modernist stained glass from Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola (Les Dames de Cerdanyola) by L. Dietrich, 1888–1910, showing the characteristic green and blue enamels decay

Credit: Jordi Bonet

Diamond celebrates 10,000th paper – A breakthrough in chiral polymer thin films research

This could fundamentally change the technology landscape by enabling a new generation of devices

A recent paper in Nature Communications by an international team of collaborative researchers marks the 10,000th published as a result of innovative research at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron. This study presents disruptive insights into chiral polymer films, which emit and absorb circularly polarised light, and offers the promise of achieving important technological advances, including high-performance displays, 3D imaging and quantum computing.

Chirality is a fundamental symmetry property of the universe. We see left-handed (LH) and right-handed (RH) mirror image pairs in everything from snails and small molecules to giant spiral galaxies. Light can also have chirality. As light is travelling, its internal electric field can rotate left or right creating LH or RH circular polarisation. The ability to control and manipulate this chiral, circularly-polarised light presents opportunities in next-generation optoelectronics (Figs 1a and 1b). However, the origin of the large chiroptical effects in polymer thin films (Figs 1c and 2) has remained elusive for almost three decades. In this study, a group of researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Nottingham, the University of Barcelona, the Diamond Light Source and the J.A. Woollam Company made use of Diamond’s Synchrotron Radiation Circular Dichroism beamline (B23) and the Advanced Light Source in California.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: In situ chiroptical response of ACPCA and cholesteric chiral sidechain polymers (CSCP) thin films. In situ CD spectra recorded during heating and cooling of ACPCA (F8BT: aza[6]H) and CSCP (cPFBT) thin films (note blue represents low temperatures and red represents high temperatures), (c) and (d) the CD intensity recorded at 480nm as a function of temperature during heating (red) and cooling (blue), and (e) and (f) CD intensity of thin films held at 140°C as a function of time for [P] (turquoise) and [M] (purple) systems (note the different time on-axis).

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.

A 1-Atom-Deep Look at a Water-Splitting Catalyst

X-ray experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) revealed an unexpected transformation in a single atomic layer of a material that contributed to a doubling in the speed of a chemical reaction – the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. This process is a first step in producing hydrogen fuel for applications such as electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The research team, led by scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, performed a unique X-ray technique and related analyses, pioneered at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), to home in on the changes at the surface layer of the material. The ALS produces X-rays and other forms of intense light to carry out simultaneous experiments at dozens of beamlines.

Read more on the LBL website

Image: This illustration shows two possible types of surface layers for a catalyst that performs the water-splitting reaction, the first step in making hydrogen fuel: The gray surface is lanthanum oxide and the colorful surface is nickel oxide. A rearrangement of nickel oxide’s atoms while carrying out the reaction made it twice as efficient. Researchers hope to harness this phenomenon to make better catalysts. Lanthanum atoms are depicted in green, nickel atoms in blue, and oxygen atoms in red.

Credit: CUBE3D

New insights into bioinspired optical crystal materials

A collaborative research team, led by NSRRC scientist Dr. Wei-Tsung Chuang and user Prof. Yeo-Wan Chiang in Materials and Optoelectronic Science at National Sun Yat-Sen University, used TLS 23A1 and TLS 01C2 of the NSRRC to conduct research on bioinspired artificial optical crystal materials. Their latest findings were published in Journal of Materials Chemistry C and were highlighted with an illustration on the inside front cover of the issue.
Helical nanostructures are fascinating subjects in physical, chemical and biological fields, but the fabrication of three-dimensional helical structural templates of metamaterials at submicron scale is still a tricky issue. Their structures are too large to be made by molecular synthesis, and also too time-consuming to process by top-down approaches. On the other hand, the bottom-up strategy offered by self-assembly block copolymers requires synthesis of ultrahigh molecular weight with monodispersion in chiral blocks, and the control of twisting power of helices is a big challenge.

Read more on the NSRRC website

Image: The research of Dr. Wei-Tsung Chuang and Prof. Yeo-Wan Chiang on bioinspired optical crystal materials using Taiwan Light Source was selected as a cover image of Journal of Materials Chemistry C.

High Frequency-Couplers for bERLinPro prove resilient

In synchrotron light sources, an electron accelerator brings electron bunches to almost the speed of light so that they can emit the special “synchrotron light”. The electron bunches get their enormous energy and their special shape from a standing electromagnetic alternating field in so-called cavities. With high electron currents, as required in the bERLinPro project, the power needed for the stable excitation of this high-frequency alternating field is enormous. The coupling of this high power is achieved with special antennas, so-called couplers, and is considered a great scientific and technical challenge. Now, a first measurement campaign with optimised couplers at bERLinPro shows that the goal can be achieved.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: For the measurement campaign, two couplers were mounted in a horizontal test position under a local clean room tent.

Credit: © A. Neumann/HZB

A clear path to better insights into biomolecules

An international team of scientists, led by Kartik Ayyer from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter, Germany, has obtained some of the sharpest possible 3D images of gold nanoparticles, and the results lay the foundation for getting high resolution images of macromolecules. The study was carried out at European XFEL’s Single Particles, Clusters, and Biomolecules & Serial Femtosecond Crystallography (SPB/SFX) instrument and the results have been published in Optica.

Carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, all of which populate our cells and are vital for life, are macromolecules. A key to understanding how these macromolecules work lies in learning the details about their structure. The team used gold nanoparticles, which acted as a substitute for biomolecules, measured 10 million diffraction patterns and used them to generate 3D images with record-breaking resolution. Gold particles scatter much more X-rays than bio-samples and so make good test specimens. They are able to provide lot more data and this is good for fine-tuning methods that can then be used on biomolecules.

Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: Illustration of 3D diffraction pattern of octahedral nanoparticles obtained by combining many snapshots after structural selection.

Credit: Kartik Ayyer and Joerg Harms, Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter

Scientist from the SOLARIS team awarded with the prestigious ERC Grant

Dr Sebastian Glatt the member of SOLARIS Team and the researcher from Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology (MCB) of the Jagiellonian University has received the ERC Consolidator Grant worth almost 2 million euro. His research will contribute to the better understanding of molecular mechanisms behind the fundamental processes of high clinical relevance, which shape and control the functioning of cellular protein in all living organisms.

Since 2008, the European Research Council (ERC) has been awarding grants for ground-breaking research conducted in the European Union member states and associated countries. The ERC consolidator grant has been addressed to experienced and  deserved researchers. The recently published list of this year’s Consolidator Grant winners comprises 327 researchers from 23 European countries, who will receive 655 million euro in total. Three of the winning projects will be carried out at Polish universities: the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University. The last one is represented by the project “Deciphering the role of RNA modifications during ribosomal decoding and protein synthesis” by Dr Sebastian Glatt. This is the first grant of the European Research Council in the field of life sciences, which received a researcher from the Jagiellonian University.

Read more on the SOLARIS website

Image: Dr Sebastian Glatt with colleagues in the lab


SESAME’s Materials Science beamline starts full user operation

On 17 December 2020, SESAME opened the doors of its Materials Science (MS) beamline to a team from the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) in Jordan, making this instrument, which is dedicated to structural studies with X-ray powder diffraction, the third of the Centre’s beamlines to be fully operational and hosting users.

“We are looking at the first diffraction pattern ever measured for a user sample on the newly-commissioned MS beamline at SESAME. RSS has a place in the history of SESAME”, said HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President of the RSS.

The RSS team consists of Kyle Cordova, Executive Director of Scientific Research and Assistant for Research and Development to HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, and his colleague, the Junior Staff Scientist Ala’a Al-Ghourani. “Our research is focused on discovering new, highly-porous materials for use in mitigating the effects of climate change. Understanding our material’s structure at the atomic level is critical for ensuring that the target application can be met. SESAME’s MS beamline allows us to do this – through X-ray diffraction we can solve the chemical structure in order to improve our material’s end performance” indicated Kyle Cordova, adding “Being the first users is an immense honour. I am proud to be representing Jordan’s largest applied research institution, the Royal Scientific Society, in this historic first!”

Read more on the SESAME website

Image: Ala’a Al-Ghourani and Mahmoud Abdellatief preparing to mount a sample for study in the experimental hutch of the MS beamline.

Credit: Royal Scientific Society

A better understanding of arterial calcification

McGill researchers are one step closer to understanding the origins of arterial calcification, a process that contributes to heart disease.

Minerals form naturally in our bones and teeth, but when minerals like calcium phosphate attach to the soft tissues of our vascular system, they can turn the once flexible arteries into stiff vessels that restrict blood flow––increasing the chance of heart attacks or strokes.

Understanding how and why minerals form in soft tissue is crucial for the health of at-risk Canadians, those living with diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as seniors.

Data collected on the SXRMB beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan has helped further the understanding about where these calcium deposits start.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Marta Cerruti (left) and Ophelie Gourgas in a laboratory using a Raman machine.

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Titanium defective sites in TS-1: structural insights by combining spectroscopy and simulation

Titanium Silicalite-1 (TS-1) is a titanium zeolite, whose peculiarity is the presence of Ti atoms isomorphously substituting the Si ones at tetrahedral framework positions. However, real TS-1 samples are characterized by the co-presence of other Ti sites, ranging from extended TiO2phases down to defective Ti sites. The “defective Ti” label covers a broad range of possible Ti moieties, whose structural description is in most of the cases barely qualitative in the literature. In this work, we combined experimental and theoretical approaches, aiming to unravel the exact structure of defective Ti sites. 

Read more on the Elettra website

The ALBA Synchrotron to become a 4th generation facility

The Rector Council of the ALBA Synchrotron, counting with the participation of the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Department of Business and Knowledge of the Generalitat de Cataluña, chaired by Minister Pedro Duque, has given the green light to start working in 2021 on the ALBA II project, an ambitious program that will transform ALBA into a 4th generation synchrotron facility upgrading the accelerator and other components and building new beamlines.

Nowadays, synchrotron facilities are experiencing an outstanding technological evolution, applying new solutions for the design and construction of accelerators, the development of X-ray detectors and the management of experimental data.

The so-called 4th generation synchrotron facilities, compared to those of the 3rd generation, produce a brighter and more coherent photon beam. When analyzing matter, they provide inaccessible capabilities as of today, in terms of resolution, detection levels and the understanding of chemical and electromagnetic properties. In addition, they offer new technological approaches to solve society’s challenges more efficiently and move towards a sustainable and smart economy in a more efficient health system.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: ALBA synchrotron

Credit: ALBA