World changing science with precious photons

he 3.4 km long European XFEL generates extremely intense X-ray flashes used by researchers from all over the world. The flashes are produced in underground tunnels and they enable scientists to conduct a wide range of experiments including mapping atomic details of viruses, filming chemical reactions, and studying processes in the interior of planets.

Michael Schneider is a physicist at the Max Born Institute in Berlin. He uses synchrotrons and free electron lasers, such as the European XFEL, to study magnetism and magnetic materials. Michael’s fascinating #LightSourceSelfie takes you inside the European XFEL where he recalls the fact that it was large scale facilities themselves that first attracted him to his area of fundamental research. The work is bringing us closer to a new generation of computing devices that work more like the neurons in our brains that the transistors that we currently have in our computers. Michael captures the dedication of his colleagues and the facility teams, along with the type of work that you can get involved with at large scale facilities. He also gives a brilliant overview of the stages involved in conducting research at a light source. Michael is clearly very passionate about his science, but also finds time for some great hobbies too!

New 12 T magnet strengthens energy and magnetism research

Electron paramagnetic resonance (THz-EPR) at BESSY II provides important information on the electronic structure of novel magnetic materials and catalysts. In mid-January 2022, the researchers brought a new, superconducting 12-T magnet into operation at this end station, which promises new scientific insights.

At the THz-EPR end station, unique experimental conditions are provided through a combination of coherent THz-light from BESSY II and high magnetic fields. These capabilities have now been extended by a new superconducting 12 T magnet, acquired through funding from the BMBF network project “ERP-on-a-Chip” and HZB.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: Exhausted but happy: f.l.t.r. – K. Holldack (HZB), A. Schnegg (MPI CEC Mülheim, HZB), T. Lohmiller (HZB, HUB), D. Ponwitz (HZB) after the successful commissioning of the new 12T magnet (green).

Probing the Structure of a Promising NASICON Material

As physicists, materials scientists, and engineers continue striving to enhance and improve batteries and other energy storage technologies, a key focus is on finding or designing new ways to make electrodes and electrolytes.  One promising avenue of research involves solid-state materials, making possible batteries free of liquid electrolytes, which can pose fire and corrosion hazards.  An international group of researchers joined with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory to investigate the structure of crystalline and amorphous compounds based on the NASICON system, or sodium super-ion conductors. The work (using research carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source [APS] and published in the Journal of Chemical Physics) reveals some substantial differences between the crystalline and glass phases of the NAGP system, which affect the ionic conductivity of the various materials.  The investigators note that the fraction of non-bridging oxygen (NBO) atoms appears to play a significant role, possibly altering the Na+ ion mobility, and suggest this as an area of further study.  The work provides fresh insights into the process of homogeneous nucleation and identifying superstructural units in glass ― a necessary step in engineering effective solid-state electrolytes with enhanced ionic conductivity. 

Because of their high ionic conductivity, materials with a NASICON structure are prime candidates for a solid electrolyte in sodium-ion batteries.  They can be prepared by a glass-ceramic route, which involves the crystallization of a precursor glass, giving them the usefulness of moldable bulk materials.  In this work, the research team specifically studied the NAGP system [Na1+xAlxGe2-x(PO4)3] with x = 0, 0.4 and 0.8 in both crystalline and glassy forms. Working at several different facilities, they used a combination of techniques, including neutron and x-ray diffraction, along with 27Al and 31P magic angle spinning and 31P/23Na double-resonance nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.  The glassy form of NAGP materials was examined both in its as-prepared state and after thermal annealing, so that the changes on crystal nucleation could be studied.

Neutron powder diffraction measurements were performed at the BER II reactor source, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, using the fine resolution powder diffractometer E9 (FIREPOD), followed by Rietveld analysis.  Further neutron diffraction observations were conducted at the Institut Laue-Langevin using the D4c diffractometer and at the ISIS pulsed neutron source using the GEM diffractometer.  X-ray diffraction studies were performed at X-ray Science Division Magnetic Materials Group’s beamline 6-ID-D of the APS, an Office of Science user facility at Argonne National Laboratory. 

Read more on the APS website

Image: Fig. 1. NASICON crystal structure showing the tetrahedral P(4) phosphate motifs (purple), octahedral GeO6 motifs (cyan) and Na+ ions (green). Oxygen atoms are depicted in red.