First ever images of fuel debris fallout particles from Fukushima

Unique synchrotron visualisation techniques offer new forensic insights into the provenance of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear accident to understand the sequence of events related to the accident.

In April 2017, a joint team comprising the University of Bristol, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Diamond, the UK’s national synchrotronlight source, undertook the first experiment of its kind to be performed at Diamond.  A small radioactive particle (450μm x 280μm x 250 μm) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011 underwent a comprehensive and independent analysis of its internal structure and 3D elemental distribution, to establish the source of the material and the potential environmental risks associated with it.  

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Fukushima Particles research group (L-R): Cristoph Rau (I13), Yukihiko Satou, (researcher from the Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science, Japan Atomic Energy Agency), with Tom Scott and Peter Martin (University of Bristol).

Scientists develop printable water sensor

X-ray investigation reveals functioning of highly versatile copper-based compound

A new, versatile plastic-composite sensor can detect tiny amounts of water. The 3d printable material, developed by a Spanish-Israeli team of scientists, is cheap, flexible and non-toxic and changes its colour from purple to blue in wet conditions. The researchers lead by Pilar Amo-Ochoa from the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) used DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III to understand the structural changes within the material that are triggered by water and lead to the observed colour change. The development opens the door to the generation of a family of new 3D printable functional materials, as the scientists write in the journal Advanced Functional Materials (early online view).

>Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Image: When dried, for example in a water-free solvent, the sensor material turns purple.
Credit: UAM, Verónica García Vegas

Virtual lens improves X-ray microscopy

PSI researchers are first to transfer state-of-the-art microscopy method to X-ray imaging

X-rays provide unique insights into the interior of materials, tissues, and cells. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have developed a new method that makes X-ray images even better: The resolution is higher and allows more precise inferences about the properties of materials. To accomplish this, the researchers moved the lens of an X-ray microscope and recorded a number of individual images to generate, with the help of computer algorithms, the actual picture. In doing so they have, for the first time ever, transferred the principle of so-called Fourier ptychography to X-ray measurements. The results of their work, carried out at the Swiss Light Source SLS, are published in the journal Science Advances.

>Read more on the Swiss Light Source at PSI website

Image: Klaus Wakonig and Ana Diaz, together with other PSI researchers, have transferred the principle of Fourier ptychography to X-ray microscopy for the first time ever.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Markus Fischer

New insight into a puzzling magnetic phenomenon

ImagUsing an X-ray laser, researchers watched atoms rotate on the surface of a material that was demagnetized in millionths of a billionth of a second.

More than 100 years ago, Albert Einstein and Wander Johannes de Haas discovered that when they used a magnetic field to flip the magnetic state of an iron bar dangling from a thread, the bar began to rotate.

Now experiments at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have seen for the first time what happens when magnetic materials are demagnetized at ultrafast speeds of millionths of a billionth of a second: The atoms on the surface of the material move, much like the iron bar did. The work, done at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser, was published in Nature earlier this month.

>Read more on the LCLS at SLAC website

Image: Researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland used LCLS to show a link between ultrafast demagnetization and an effect that Einstein helped discover 100 years ago.
Credit: Dawn Harmer/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Topological matters: toward a new kind of transistor

X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab provide first demonstration of room temperature switching in ultrathin material that could serve as a ‘topological transistor’

Billions of tiny transistors supply the processing power in modern smartphones, controlling the flow of electrons with rapid on-and-off switching. But continual progress in packing more transistors into smaller devices is pushing toward the physical limits of conventional materials. Common inefficiencies in transistor materials cause energy loss that results in heat buildup and shorter battery life, so researchers are in hot pursuit of alternative materials that allow devices to operate more efficiently at lower power.
Now, an experiment conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has demonstrated, for the first time, electronic switching in an exotic, ultrathin material that can carry a charge with nearly zero loss at room temperature. Researchers demonstrated this switching when subjecting the material to a low-current electric field.

>Read more on Advanced Light Source (ALS) at LBNL website

Image: James Collins, a researcher at Monash University in Australia, works on an experiment at Beamline 10.0.1, part of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source.
Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

Tunable ferromagnetism in a 2D material at room temperature

Breakthroughs in next-generation spintronic logic and memory devices could hinge on our ability to control spin behavior in two-dimensional materials—stacks of ultrathin layers held together by relatively weak electrostatic (van der Waals) forces. The reduced dimensionality of these so-called “van der Waals materials” often leads to tunable electronic and magnetic properties, including intrinsic ferromagnetism. However, it remains a challenge to tune this ferromagnetism (e.g. spin orientation, magnetic domain phase, and magnetic long-range order) at ambient temperatures.

In this work, researchers performed a study of Fe3GeTe2, a van der Waals material that consists of Fe3Ge layers alternating with two Te layers. The material’s magnetic properties were characterized using a variety of techniques, including x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) with x-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) contrast at Beamline 6.3.1 and photoemission electron microscopy (PEEM) at Beamline 11.0.1.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at LBNL website

Image: PEEM images for unpatterned and patterned Fe3GeTe2 samples at 110 K and 300 K. The unpatterned samples formed stripe domains at 110 K, which disappeared at 300 K. The patterned samples formed out-of-plane stripe domains at 110 K and transitioned to in-plane vortex states at 300 K, demonstrating control over magnetism at room temperature and beyond.

Ferroelectric control of the spin texture in GeTe

Spin-orbit coupling effects in materials with broken inversion symmetry are responsible for peculiar spin textures, giving rise to intriguing phenomena such as intrinsic spin Hall effect. Among these materials, ferroelectrics allow for non-volatile control of the spin degree of freedom through the electrical inversion of the spin texture, based on their reversible spontaneous polarization. Finding suitable ferroelectric semiconductors would be a fundamental achievement towards the implementation of novel electronic and spintronic devices combining memory and computing functionalities.
Germanium Telluride emerges as promising candidate, since theoretically proposed as the father compound of the new class of ferroelectric Rashba semiconductors. Its ferroelectricity provides a non-volatile state variable able to generate and drive a giant bulk Rashbatype spin splitting of the electronic bands. Its semiconductivity and silicon-compatibility allows for the realization of spin-based non-volatile transistors.
A European team of both experimentalists and theoreticians from Italy (Politecnico di Milano, IFN-CNR, CNR-SPIN, CNR-IOM) and Germany (Paul-Drude-Institut für Festkörperelektronik, Universität Würzburg) has demonstrated the ferroelectric control of the Rashba spin texture in GeTe probed by spin and angular resolved photoemission spectroscopy at the Advanced Photoelectric Effect experiments (APE) beamline and supported by NFFA.

>Read more on the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Image: (a, a’) PFM ferroelectric hysteresis loops and the pristine polarization states for the as-prepared Te- and Ge-terminated GeTe(111) surfaces, respectively. (b, b’) DFT calculations of the k-resolved spin polarization along two high symmetry crystallographic directions. The main bulk Rashba bands are marked as B1 and B2. The black dashed line indicates the wave vector k of SARPES measurements. (c, c’) Spin-polarized currents and spin asymmetries (Px) versus binding energy at the wave vector k. The peaks correspond to the intersection of the Rashba bands B1 and B2 with the vertical dashed line at k. (d, d’) Constant energy maps for the Te- and Ge-terminated surfaces. Blue and red arrows indicate the sense of circulation of spins, opposite for the two opposite ferroelectric polarizations.

Unlocking the secrets of metal-insulator transitions

X-ray photon correlation spectroscopy at NSLS-II’s CSX beamline used to understand electrical conductivity transitions in magnetite.

By using an x-ray technique available at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), scientists found that the metal-insulator transition in the correlated material magnetite is a two-step process. The researchers from the University of California Davis published their paper in the journal Physical Review Letters. NSLS-II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility located at Brookhaven National Laboratory, has unique features that allow the technique to be applied with stability and control over long periods of time.
“Correlated materials have interesting electronic, magnetic, and structural properties, and we try to understand how those properties change when their temperature is changed or under the application of light pulses, or an electric field” said Roopali Kukreja, a UC Davis professor and the lead author of the paper. One such property is electrical conductivity, which determines whether a material is metallic or an insulator.

If a material is a good conductor of electricity, it is usually metallic, and if it is not, it is then known as an insulator. In the case of magnetite, temperature can change whether the material is a conductor or insulator. For the published study, the researchers’ goal was to see how the magnetite changed from insulator to metallic at the atomic level as it got hotter.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Professor Roopali Kukreja from the University of California in Davis and the CSX team Wen Hu, Claudio Mazzoli, and Andi Barbour prepare the beamline for the next set of experiments.

Expanding the infrared nanospectroscopy window

The ability to investigate heterogeneous materials at nanometer scales and far-infrared energies will benefit a wide range of fields, from condensed matter physics to biology.

Scientific studies require tools that match the natural length and energy scales of the phenomena under investigation. For many questions in biology, quantum materials, and electronics, this means nanometer spatial resolution combined with far-infrared energies. For example, scientists might want to study collective electron oscillations in quantum materials for optoelectronic circuits, or the characteristic vibration modes of protein molecules in biological systems.

A recently developed infrared technique—synchrotron infrared nanospectroscopy (SINS)—combines broadband synchrotron light with atomic-force microscopes to enable infrared imaging and spectroscopy at the nanoscale. However, the technique could only be used in a narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum that excluded far-infrared wavelengths, due to a scarcity of suitable light sources and detectors for that range. In this work, researchers extended SINS to far-infrared wavelengths, opening up a whole new experimental regime.

> Read more on the Advanced Lightsource at Berkeley Lab website

Image: Left: Nanoscale images of SiO2 hole array, obtained using atomic-force microscopy (AFM, top) and synchrotron infrared nanospectroscopy (SINS, bottom), demonstrating SINS contrast between patterned SiO2 and underlying Si substrate with ~30 nm spatial resolution (inset). Scale bar = 200 nm. Right: SINS broadband spectroscopic data for SiO2, taken along dotted line in images at left, showing amplitude (top) and phase (bottom) information from asymmetric  Si–O stretching (1200 cm–1) and bending (460 cm–1) modes. The lower-energy bending mode had previously been inaccessible with this technique.

Defense spending bill extends Air Force research partnership

For the past 10 years, the U.S. Air Force has funded research on high-performance materials at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS).

The partnership has resulted in numerous advances, including a greater understanding of metal fatigue and analysis of the best metals for aircraft.
This partnership was extended with $8 million in funding to CHESS as part of the fiscal year 2019 defense appropriations bill, a $674.4 billion package that President Donald Trump signed into law Oct. 1. The bill passed both the U.S. Senate – supported by New York Sens. Charles Schumer, who is Senate minority leader, and Kirsten Gillibrand – and the U.S. House of Representatives late last month.

“Cornell University is deeply grateful to Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for securing $8 million in additional funding for CHESS,” Cornell President Martha E. Pollack said in a statement. “Maintaining our scientific infrastructure is essential if the U.S. is to keep its competitive advantage in research and development. Over the years, taxpayers have invested more than $1 billion in CHESS, an investment that’s paid off many times over in new discoveries, breakthrough technologies, [science, technology, engineering, math] education and workforce development.”

Image: Matthew Miller, right, associate director of the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), watches graduate student Mark Obstalecki prepare a sample for analysis in the F2 hutch at CHESS.

Finding unusual performance in unconventional battery materials

Even as our electronic devices become ever more sophisticated and versatile, battery technology remains a stubborn bottleneck, preventing the full realization of promising applications such as electric vehicles and power-grid solar energy storage.  Among the limitations of current materials are poor ionic and electron transport qualities. While strategies exist to improve these properties, and hence reduce charging times and enhance storage capacity, they are often expensive, difficult to implement on a large scale, and of only limited effectiveness.  An alternative solution is the search for new materials with the desired atomic structures and characteristics.  This is the strategy of a group of researchers who, utilizing ultra-bright x-rays from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), identified and characterized two niobium tungsten oxide materials that demonstrate much faster charging rates and power output than conventional lithium electrodes.  Their work appeared in the journal Nature.

Currently, the usual approach for wringing extra capacity and performance from lithium-ion batteries involves the creation of electrode materials with nanoscale structures, which reduces the diffusion distances for lithium ions.  However, this also tends to increase the practical volume of the material and can introduce unwanted additional chemical reactions. Further, when graphite electrodes are pushed to achieve high charging rates, irregular dendrites of lithium can form and grow, leading to short circuits, overheating, and even fires.  Measures to prevent these dendrites generally cause a decrease in energy density.  These issues seriously limit the use of graphite electrodes for high-rate applications.

>Read more on the Advanced Photon Source website

Image: Artist’s impression of rapidly flowing lithium through the niobium tungsten oxide structure. This is a detail of the image, please see here for the entire art work.
Credit: Ella Maru Studio

The coolest high-energy synchrotron experiment

A French team of researchers has created and tested a cryostat where scientists can carry out the coldest experiments in the high-energy range in a synchrotron.

A photocopy of a drawing lies on the table of the control cabin of beamline ID12. It shows a cryostat and its heart: a spring-like metal tube and other components. Next to the drawing, lots of scribbles in different colours and on different dates, proof that this creation has been many years in the making. Steps away from the table, the real thing makes its appearance in the experimental hutch. Its majestic presence gives the beamline a new touch. It is the Très Basses Temperatures for miliKelvin (TBT-mK) cryostat.
Philippe Sainctavit, from the Institut de minéralogie, de physique des matériaux et de cosmochimie, together with Jean-Paul Kappler and Loïc Joly, from the Institut de Physique et Chimie des Matériaux de Strasbourg and synchrotron SOLEIL, are the fathers of this invention. “We started working on this project 20 years ago, and this is the third version of the machine”, explains Kappler. The team has installed the machine on ID12 for their experiments in magnetism. “Because this is quite a particular piece of equipment, we needed a very strong understanding with the beamline staff. Thanks to the fact that we were all in the same wavelength, the installation, which lasted 5 weeks spread throughout the year, went very smoothly. We could not have done this without the strong collaboration with the ID12 staff, namely Andrei Rogalev, Fabrice Wilhelm and Pascal Voisin”, explains Sainctavit.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

New NSLS-II beamline illuminates electronic structures

MIT scientists conduct the first experiment at NSLS-II’s Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering beamline.

On July 15, 2018, the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering (SIX) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—welcomed its first visiting researchers. SIX is an experimental station designed to measure the electronic properties of solid materials using ultrabright x-rays. The materials can be as small as a few microns—one millionth of a meter.
The first researchers to take advantage of the world-class capabilities at SIX were Jonathan Pelliciari and Zhihai Zhu, two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The pair used SIX to study a chromate sample, a fascinating material with novel applications in magnetism, batteries, and catalysis. Little was known about the electronic structure of the chromate sample the MIT team studied at SIX, and their research is aimed at unlocking the properties of this material. To do so, they needed the atomic sensitivity and energy resolution of the SIX beamline.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratoy website

Picture: The sample chamber of the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering (SIX) beamline at NSLS-II allows scientists to mount their materials on a special holder that can be turned and moved into the beam of bright x-rays.

Nano-opto-electronics with Soapstone

Research shows potential of combining mineral with graphene for the design of new devices.

The development of electronic devices in the nanometric scale depends on the search for materials that have appropriate characteristics, and that are also efficient and inexpensive. This is the case of graphene, a material formed by a single layer of carbon atoms obtained from graphite. Graphene is a conductor with excellent optical and electrical properties that can be easily altered by the incidence of electric fields or light.

In addition, several other interesting structural, electronic and optical properties can be obtained by combining graphene with other materials. These new properties arise due to changes in the electronic structure in the interface of different materials when they are brought into contact. In this scenario, the search for new materials and ways of combining them becomes a natural trend.

>Read more on the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) website

Image: DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.7b01017

Boosting the efficiency of silicon solar cells

The efficiency of a solar cell is one of its most important parameters.

It indicates what percentage of the solar energy radiated into the cell is converted into electrical energy. The theoretical limit for silicon solar cells is 29.3 percent due to physical material properties. In the journal Materials Horizons, researchers from Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and international colleagues describe how this limit can be abolished. The trick: they incorporate layers of organic molecules into the solar cell. These layers utilise a quantum mechanical process known as singlet exciton fission to split certain energetic light (green and blue photons) in such a way that the electrical current of the solar cell can double in that energy range.

The principle of a solar cell is simple: per incident light particle (photon) a pair of charge carriers (exciton) consisting of a negative and a positive charge carrier (electron and hole) is generated. These two opposite charges can move freely in the semiconductor. When they reach the charge-selective electrical contacts, one only allows positive charges to pass through, the other only negative charges. A direct electrical current is therefore generated, which can be used by an external consumer.

>Read more on the BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin website

Picture: Darstellung des Prinzips einer Silizium-Multiplikatorsolarzelle mit organischen Kristallen
Credit: M. Künsting/HZB

A shape-induced orientation phase within 3D nanocrystal solids

Designing nanocrystal (NC) materials aims at obtaining superlattices that mimic the atomic structure of crystalline solids. In such atomic systems, spatially anisotropic orbitals determine the crystalline lattice type. Similarly, in NC systems the building block anisotropy defines the order of the final solid: here, the NC shape governs the final superlattice structure. Yet, in contrast to atomic systems, NC shape-anisotropy induces not only positional, but also orientational order, ranging from full rotational disorder to a stable, fixed alignment of all NCs. This orientational relation is of special interest, as it determines to what extent atomically coherent connections between NCs are possible, thereby enabling complete wave function delocalization within the NC solid.
In addition to predicting the final NC orientation and position structure, the realization of NC materials demands a controllable fabrication process such that the designed order can be produced. Generally, such highly ordered NC superstructures are achieved through solvent evaporation induced self‐assembly on hard substrates. For applications where the 2D nature of this substrates process is limiting, nonsolvent into solvent diffusion, a technique commonly used to grow single crystals of dissolved molecules, is an attractive option. However, the precise influence of self-assembly parameters on the final superlattice outcome remains unknown. In this work, the researchers posed two closely related questions regarding the design of novel free-standing NC materials: (i) how can the NC self-assembly process be controlled to yield highly ordered free-standing supercrystals and (ii) what is the detailed positional and orientational order within the NC solid? A multidisciplinary team of collaborators, including the Austrian Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) beamline at Elettra, approached this challenge by a combined experimental and computational strategy.

>Read more on the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Image: Self‐assembly of 3D colloidal supercrystals built from faceted 20 nm Bi nanocrystals is studied by mens of in-situ synchrotron X‐ray scattering, combined with Monte Carlo simulations.