New research possibilities at NanoMAX

X-rays can penetrate materials and are therefore useful for studying chemical processes as they occur inside reactors, cells, and batteries. A common ingredient in such chemical systems is metal nanoparticles, which are often used as catalysts for important reactions. As the NanoMAX beamline provides a very small X-ray focal spot, single nanoparticles can in principle be studied as they perform their catalytic functions.

In this paper, we show that gold nanoparticles sitting inside an electrochemical cell can be imaged at NanoMAX. These preliminary results come from nanoparticles around 60 nm (60 millionths of a millimetre) in size, and we show that even smaller particles could be studied. If successful, future experiments will allow “filming” nanoparticles as they catalyze reactions in real-time, and give new understanding of how catalysis works. That could in turn help design new materials for energy conversion, chemical production, and water purification.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory
Image (extract, full image here): Coherent Bragg imaging of 60 nm Au nanoparticles under electrochemical control at the NanoMAX beamline

Enhancing Materials for Hi-Res Patterning to Advance Microelectronics

Scientists at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials created “hybrid” organic-inorganic materials for transferring ultrasmall, high-aspect-ratio features into silicon for next-generation electronic devices.

To increase the processing speed and reduce the power consumption of electronic devices, the microelectronics industry continues to push for smaller and smaller feature sizes. Transistors in today’s cell phones are typically 10 nanometers (nm) across—equivalent to about 50 silicon atoms wide—or smaller. Scaling transistors down below these dimensions with higher accuracy requires advanced materials for lithography—the primary technique for printing electrical circuit elements on silicon wafers to manufacture electronic chips. One challenge is developing robust “resists,” or materials that are used as templates for transferring circuit patterns into device-useful substrates such as silicon.

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

Image: (Left to right) Ashwanth Subramanian, Ming Lu, Kim Kisslinger, Chang-Yong Nam, and Nikhil Tiwale in the Electron Microscopy Facility at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials. The scientists used scanning electron microscopes to image high-resolution, high-aspect-ratio silicon nanostructures they etched using a “hybrid” organic-inorganic resist.

The role of ‘charge stripes’ in superconducting materials

The studies could lead to a new understanding of how high-temperature superconductors operate.

High-temperature superconductors, which carry electricity with zero resistance at much higher temperatures than conventional superconducting materials, have generated a lot of excitement since their discovery more than 30 years ago because of their potential for revolutionizing technologies such as maglev trains and long-distance power lines. But scientists still don’t understand how they work.
One piece of the puzzle is the fact that charge density waves – static stripes of higher and lower electron density running through a material – have been found in one of the major families of high-temperature superconductors, the copper-based cuprates. But do these charge stripes enhance superconductivity, suppress it or play some other role?
In independent studies, two research teams report important advances in understanding how charge stripes might interact with superconductivity. Both studies were carried out with X-rays at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

>Read more on the LCLS at SLAC website

Image: This cutaway view shows stripes of higher and lower electron density – “charge stripes” – within a copper-based superconducting material. Experiments with SLAC’s X-ray laser directly observed how those stripes fluctuate when hit with a pulse of light, a step toward understanding how they interact with high-temperature superconductivity.
Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

For superconductors, discovery comes from disorder

Discovered more than 100 years ago, superconductivity continues to captivate scientists who seek to develop components for highly efficient energy transmission, ultrafast electronics or quantum bits for next-generation computation.  However, determining what causes substances to become — or stop being — superconductors remains a central question in finding new candidates for this special class of materials.

In potential superconductors, there may be several ways electrons can arrange themselves. Some of these reinforce the superconducting effect, while others inhibit it. In a new study, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have explained the ways in which two such arrangements compete with each other and ultimately affect the temperature at which a material becomes superconducting.

>Read more on the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Lab website

Image: This image shows the transition between Cooper pair density (indicated by blue dots) and charge density waves. Argonne scientists found that by introducing defects, they could disrupt charge density waves and increase superconductivity.
Credit:
Ellen Weiss / Argonne National Laboratory

Tuning material properties with laser light

The research results suggest the possibility of creating microelectronic devices that use a laser beam to erase and rewrite bits of information in materials engineered for random-access memory and data storage.

Many semiconductor-based devices use electric currents to control and manipulate bits of information encoded into tiny magnetic domains. However, this approach is reaching the physical limits of thermally stable feature sizes, and scientists are actively searching for the next generation of materials and processes that could lead to smaller, faster, more powerful devices.
One possible path forward has been opened up by the emergence of materials that can be engineered, layer by layer, to theoretical specifications. Multiferroics, for example, are designed materials with technologically useful properties that can be controlled by external fields. While many studies have been performed on the effects of electric and magnetic fields on multiferroics, very few studies have explored the use of optical modulation (i.e., laser light) as a way to tune magnetic and electronic ordering in such materials.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source at LBL website

Images: They are taken at the same illuminated region using PFM, PEEM with linearly polarized x-rays, and PEEM with circularly polarized x-rays. The strong black and white contrast in the linear dichroism image indicates the antiferromagnetic order; the red/blue contrast in the circular dichroism image shows the existence of ferromagnetic moments that lie parallel/antiparallel to the incident x-rays, respectively.

Weyl fermions discovered in another class of materials

A particular kind of quasi-particle states, the Weyl fermions, were first discovered a few years ago in certain solids. Their specialty: They move through a material in a well ordered manner that practically never lets them collide with each other and is thus very energy efficient. This implies intriguing possibilities for the electronics of the future. Up to now, Weyl fermions had only been found in certain non-magnetic materials. Now however, for the very first time, scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have experimentally proven their existence in another type of material: a paramagnet with intrinsic slow magnetic fluctuations. This finding also shows that it is possible to manipulate the Weyl fermions with small magnetic fields. It thus opens further possibilities to use them in spintronics, a promising development in electronics for novel computer technology. The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Science Advances.

Amongst the approaches that could pave the way to energy efficient electronics of the future, Weyl fermions could play a role. Found experimentally only inside materials as so-called quasi-particles, they behave like particles which have no mass. Predicted theoretically already in 1929 by the mathematician Hermann Weyl, their experimental discovery by scientists amongst other at PSI only came in 2015. So far, Weyl fermions had only been observed in certain non-magnetic materials. Now however, a team of scientists at PSI together with researchers in the USA, China, Germany and Austria also found them in a specific paramagnetic material. This discovery could bring a potential usage of Weyl fermions in future computer technology one step closer.

>Read more on the Swiss Light Source at PSI website

Image: The three PSI researchers Junzhang Ma, Ming Shi and Jasmin Jandke (from left to right) at the Swiss Light Source SLS, where they succeeded in proving the existence of Weyl fermions in paramagnetic material.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Markus Fischer

Enhancing solar energy production

Research investigates ways to convert titanium dioxide into a new photoactive material in the visible light range.

The search for clean and renewable energy sources has intensified in recent years due to the increase in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and the consequent increase in the average temperature of the planet. One such alternative source is the conversion of sunlight into electricity through photovoltaic panels. The efficiency in this conversion depends on the intrinsic properties of the materials used in the manufacturing of the panels, and it increases year by year with the discovery of new and better materials. As such, solar energy is expected to become one of the main sources of electric energy by the middle of this century, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is an abundant, nontoxic, biologically inert and chemically stable material, known primarily as a white pigment used in paints, cosmetics and even toothpastes. TiO2 is also often used in sunscreens since it is especially capable of absorbing radiation in the ultraviolet region. However, this same property severely limits the use of TiO2 for solar energy conversion, since the ultraviolet emission comprises only 5 to 8% of the total energy of the solar light.

Can this TiO2 property be extended to the visible light region to increase the conversion of sunlight into electricity? To answer this question, Maria Pilar de Lara-Castells et al. [1] conducted an innovative research in which they discuss how a special treatment can change the optical properties of TiO2.

>Read more on the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory website

How morphing materials store information

Experiments at SLAC’s X-ray laser reveal in atomic detail how two distinct liquid phases in these materials enable fast switching between glassy and crystalline states that represent 0s and 1s in memory devices.

Instead of flash drives, the latest generation of smart phones uses materials that change physical states, or phases, to store and retrieve data faster, in less space and with more energy efficiency. When hit with a pulse of electricity or optical light, these materials switch between glassy and crystalline states that represent the 0s and 1s of the binary code used to store information.
Now scientists have discovered how those phase changes occur on an atomic level.
Researchers from European XFEL and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, working in collaboration with researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, led X-ray laser experiments at SLAC that collected more than 10,000 snapshots of phase-change materials transforming from a glassy to a crystalline state in real time.

>Read more on the LCLS at SLAC website

Image: The research team after performing experiments at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser.
Credit: Klaus Sokolowski-Tinten/University of Duisburg-Essen)

Please read also the article published on the EUXFEL website:
Rigid bonds enable new data storage technology

Electric dipoles form chiral skyrmions

Control of such phenomena could one day lead to low-power, nonvolatile data storage as well as to high-performance computers.

A group of researchers, led by scientists from Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Materials Science and Engineering Department, set out to find ways to control how heat moves through materials. They fabricated a material with alternating layers of strontium titanate, which is an electrical insulator, and lead titanate, a ferroelectric material with a natural electrical polarization that can be reversed by the application of an external electric field.

When the group took the material to Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry for atomic-resolution scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) measurements, however, they found something completely unexpected: bubble-like formations had appeared throughout the material, even at room temperature.

>Read more on the ALS website

Image: (a) Hard x-ray studies showed the presence of two sets of ordering: regular peaks along the out-of-plane direction (Qz), related to superlattice periodicity (about 12 nm), and satellite peaks in the in-plane direction (Qy), corresponding to the in-plane skyrmion periodicity (about 8 nm). (b) RSXD studies were performed at the in-plane satellite peaks, which correspond to the periodic polarization texture of the skyrmions’ Bloch components. (c) Spectra from a satellite peak for right- (red) and left- (blue) circularly polarized light. (d) The same spectra with background fluorescence subtracted. (e) The difference spectrum shows a clear circular dichroism peak at the titanium L3 t2g edge.

New material with magnetic shape memory

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have developed a new material whose shape memory is activated by magnetism.

It retains a given shape when it is put into a magnetic field. It is a composite material consisting of two components. What is special about the new material is that, unlike previous shape-memory materials, it consists of a polymer and droplets of a so-called magnetorheological fluid embedded in it. Areas of application for this new type of composite material include medicine, aerospace, electronics and robotics. The researchers are now publishing their results in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.
It looks like a magic trick: A magnet moves away from a black, twisted band and the band relaxes –without any further effect (see video). What looks like magic can be explained by magnetism. The black ribbon consists of a composite of two components: a silicone-based polymer and small droplets of water and glycerine in which tiny particles of carbonyl iron float. The latter provide the magnetic properties of the material and its shape memory. If the composite material is forced into a certain shape with tweezers and then exposed to a magnetic field, this shape is retained even when the tweezers are removed. Only when the magnetic field is also removed does the material return to its original shape.

>Read more on the Swiss Light Source website

Image: Paolo Testa, first author of the study, with a model of the overall structure of the shape-memory material
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic

Scientists design organic cathode for high performance batteries

The new, sulfur-based material is more energy-dense, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly than traditional cathodes in lithium batteries.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have designed a new, organic cathode material for lithium batteries. With sulfur at its core, the material is more energy-dense, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly than traditional cathode materials in lithium batteries. The research was published in Advanced Energy Materials on April 10, 2019.

Optimizing cathode materials

From smartphones to electric vehicles, the technologies that have become central to everyday life run on lithium batteries. And as the demand for these products continues to rise, scientists are investigating how to optimize cathode materials to improve the overall performance of lithium battery systems.
“Commercialized lithium-ion batteries are used in small electronic devices; however, to accommodate long driving ranges for electric vehicles, their energy density needs to be higher,” said Zulipiya Shadike, a research associate in Brookhaven’s Chemistry Division and the lead author of the research. “We are trying to develop new battery systems with a high energy density and stable performance.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Lead author Zulipiya Shadike (right) is pictured at NSLS-II’s XPD beamline with lead beamline scientist and co-author Sanjit Ghose (left).

New material also reveals new quasiparticles

Researchers at PSI have investigated a novel crystalline material that exhibits electronic properties that have never been seen before.

It is a crystal of aluminum and platinum atoms arranged in a special way. In the symmetrically repeating unit cells of this crystal, individual atoms were offset from each other in such a way that they – as connected in the mind’s eye – followed the shape of a spiral staircase. This resulted in novel properties of electronic behaviour for the crystal as a whole, including so-called Rarita-Schwinger fermions in its interior and very long and quadruple topological Fermi arcs on its surface. The researchers have now published their results in the journal Nature Physics.

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have found a new kind of quasiparticle. Quasiparticles are states in material that behave in a certain way like actual elementary particles. The two physicists William Rarita and Julian Schwinger had predicted this type of quasiparticles in 1941, which came to be known as Rarita-Schwinger fermions. Exactly these have now been detected experimentally for the first time – thanks in part to measurements at the Swiss Synchrotron Light Source SLS at PSI. “As far as we know, we are – simultaneously with three other research groups – among the first to see Rarita-Schwinger fermions”, says Niels Schröter, a researcher at PSI and first author of the new study.

>Read more on the Swiss Light Source at PSI website.

Image: Niels Schröter (left) and Vladimir Strocov at their experimental station in the Swiss Light Source SLS at PSI.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic

New lens system for brighter, sharper diffraction images

Researchers from Brookhaven Lab designed, implemented, and applied a new and improved focusing system for electron diffraction measurements.

To design and improve energy storage materials, smart devices, and many more technologies, researchers need to understand their hidden structure and chemistry. Advanced research techniques, such as ultra-fast electron diffraction imaging can reveal that information. Now, a group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new and improved version of electron diffraction at Brookhaven’s Accelerator Test Facility (ATF)—a DOE Office of Science User Facility that offers advanced and unique experimental instrumentation for studying particle acceleration to researchers from all around the world. The researchers published their findings in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal by Nature Research.
Advancing a research technique such as ultra-fast electron diffraction will help future generations of materials scientists to investigate materials and chemical reactions with new precision. Many interesting changes in materials happen extremely quickly and in small spaces, so improved research techniques are necessary to study them for future applications. This new and improved version of electron diffraction offers a stepping stone for improving various electron beam-related research techniques and existing instrumentation.

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

Image: Mikhail Fedurin, Timur Shaftan, Victor Smalyuk, Xi Yang, Junjie Li, Lewis Doom, Lihua Yu, and Yimei Zhu are the Brookhaven team of scientists that realized and demonstrated the new lens system for as ultra-fast electron diffraction imaging.

The best topological conductor yet: spiraling crystal is the key to exotic discovery

X-ray research at Berkeley Lab reveals samples are a new state of matter

The realization of so-called topological materials – which exhibit exotic, defect-resistant properties and are expected to have applications in electronics, optics, quantum computing, and other fields – has opened up a new realm in materials discovery.
Several of the hotly studied topological materials to date are known as topological insulators. Their surfaces are expected to conduct electricity with very little resistance, somewhat akin to superconductors but without the need for incredibly chilly temperatures, while their interiors – the so-called “bulk” of the material – do not conduct current.
Now, a team of researchers working at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered the strongest topological conductor yet, in the form of thin crystal samples that have a spiral-staircase structure. The team’s study of crystals, dubbed topological chiral crystals, is reported in the March 20 edition of the journal Nature.

>Read more on the ALS at Berkeley Lab website

Image: This illustration shows a repeated 2D patterning of a property related to electrical conductivity, known as the surface Fermi arc, in rhodium-silicon crystal samples.
Credit: Hasan Lab/Princeton University

Reversible lattice-oxygen reactions in batteries

The results open up new ways to explore how to pack more energy into batteries with electrodes made out of low-cost, common materials.

For a wide range of applications, from mobile phones to electric vehicles, the reversibility and cyclability of the chemical reactions occurring inside a rechargeable battery are key to commercial viability. Conventional wisdom had held that involving oxygen in a battery’s electrochemical operation spontaneously triggers irreversible oxygen losses and parasitic surface reactions, reducing reversibility and safety. Recently however, the idea emerged that reactions involving lattice oxygen (i.e., oxygen that’s part of the crystal-lattice structure vs oxygen on the surface) could be useful for improving battery capacity. Here, researchers report the first direct quantification of a strong, beneficial, and highly reversible chemical reaction involving lattice oxygen in electrodes made with low-cost elements.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source

Image: Advanced spectroscopy at the ALS clearly resolves the activities of cations and anions (known in Chinese as “yin” and “yang” ions) in battery electrodes.

Signatures of enhanced superconducting phase coherence in cuprates

The capability to control material properties on short timescales is one of the key challenges of modern condensed matter physics. This possibility becomes even more attractive in the case of intriguing material phases, such as superconductivity. As a matter of fact, despite the evolution of non-equilibrium spectroscopies of the last two decades have increased our understanding of the physics of strongly correlated materials, after more than 30 years from its discovery, High Temperature Superconductivity is still discussed and a clear and unanimous explanation of the origin of the phenomenon is still lacking. Moreover, the understanding of the phenomena at the basis of this effects could affect several technological applications, from the need for fast digital circuits and for speeding up computer performances, to the detection of very low magnetic fields, with implication in geology (mineral exploration and earthquake prediction), medical sciences (neuron activity and magnetic resonance), oil prospecting and, of course, research.
We focused our research on cuprates, a class of materials known for displaying unconventional superconductivity at relatively temperatures, and on which various studies have shown the possibility of turning off (and, to some extent, on) superconductivity by ultrashort light pulses. In our work, we reveal that light pulses characterized by long wavelength (and a peculiar polarization) can induce, for a very short time interval (1-2 ps), a state displaying superconductivity even above the critical temperature, i.e. in conditions where superconductivity is not observed at equilibrium.

>Read more on the FERMI at Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Figure: Difference between the transient reflectivity due to Cu-Cu and Cu-O polarized pump in time and temperature, induced by excitations with (a) 70 and (b) 170 meV pump photon energies. The dashed lines highlight the critical temperature Tc.