Advanced Light Source upgrade approved to start construction

Berkeley Lab’s biggest project in three decades now moves from planning to execution. The ALS upgrade will make brighter beams for research into new materials, chemical reactions, and biological processes.

The Advanced Light Source (ALS), a scientific user facility at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), has received federal approval to start construction on an upgrade that will boost the brightness of its X-ray beams at least a hundredfold.

“The ALS upgrade is an amazing engineering undertaking that is going to give us an even more powerful scientific tool,” said Berkeley Lab Director Michael Witherell. “I can’t wait to see the many ways researchers use it to improve the world and tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society today.”

Scientists will use the upgraded ALS for research spanning biology; chemistry; physics; and materials, energy, and environmental sciences. The brighter, more laser-like light will help experts better understand what’s happening at extremely small scales as reactions and processes take place. These insights can have a huge array of applications, such as improving batteries and clean energy technologies, creating new materials for sensors and computing, and investigating biological matter to develop better medicines.

“That’s the wonderful thing about the ALS: The applications are so broad and the impact is so profound,” said Dave Robin, the project director for the ALS upgrade. “What really excites me every day is knowing that, when it’s complete, the ALS upgrade will enable researchers to make scientific advances in many different areas for the next 30 to 40 years.”

The DOE approval, known as Critical Decision 3 (CD-3), formally releases funds for purchasing, building, and installing upgrades to the ALS. This includes constructing an entirely new storage ring and accumulator ring, building four feature (two new and two upgraded) beamlines, and installing seismic and shielding upgrades for the concrete structure housing the equipment. The $590 million project is the biggest investment at Berkeley Lab since the ALS was built in 1993.

Read more on the Berkeley Laboratory website

Image: The upgrade to the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab will add two new particle accelerator rings within the iconic building’s footprint. 

Credit: Thor Swift/Berkeley Lab

ForMAX beamline is now open for experiments

ForMAX, the newest beamline at MAX IV, is now officially open for experiments. The focus will be research on new, sustainable materials from the forest, but the beamline will also be useful for research in many other fields and industries, including food, textiles, and life science.

ForMAX is specially designed for advanced studies on wood-based materials. It allows in-situ multiscale structural characterization from nm to mm length scales by combining full-field tomographic imaging, small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering (SWAXS), and scanning SWAXS imaging – in a single instrument.

The beamline is an initiative where several market-leading industry companies, mainly from the paper and pulp industry, and academia have joined forces. The construction work has been funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and the operational costs are funded by the industry through Treesearch, a national collaborative platform for academic and industrial research in new materials from the forest.

One goal with ForMAX is to facilitate the development of new, wood-based products that can replace today’s plastic products.

Read more on the MAX IV website

Image: ForMAX beamline

Credit: Anna Sandahl, MAX IV

Researchers investigate the origins of superconductivity

The first scientific paper published with data obtained at the EMA beamline studied the relationship between skutterudite’s superconducting properties and the distance between their atoms.

In Brazil, about 7.5% of the electricity produced is lost in transmission and distribution. This happens because the materials that make up these systems are not perfect electrical conductors and dissipate part of the energy, for example, in the form of heat. Similarly, even though electric cars are much more efficient than combustion-engine vehicles, they can still lose up to 15 percent of their energy during the charging process.

Thus, the challenges of achieving sustainable development lie not only in the availability of abundant, clean, and cheap energy, but also in the development of new, efficient, and low-cost energy transport and storage systems.

In turn, these new systems require research into new materials with special properties, such as superconducting materials. Superconductivity is the property that allows certain materials to conduct electric current without resistance and therefore without energy loss. Currently, however, a major limitation for the large-scale use of superconducting materials is their need to be kept at very low temperatures, close to absolute zero (-273.15°C), which requires their association with large cooling infrastructures. In these conditions, superconductors have applications in MRI machines and other high-performance medical equipment, as well as in scientific research equipment, such as the super-magnets used in particle accelerators.

Although superconductivity has been known for more than a century, its origin is still a matter of intense debate in the scientific community. Why do certain materials exhibit superconductivity while others do not? Once this is known, it will be possible to build materials that are superconducting even under ambient temperature and pressure conditions, allowing a true technological revolution, not only in the transmission and storage of energy but also in all kinds of electrical equipment in everyday life.

The movement of electrons without resistance along a superconducting material is understood so far to be possible by the union of two electrons (called Cooper pairs) that, with the help of a deformation in the material’s lattice (called a phonon), can overcome Coulombian repulsion and start moving as a single particle.

The question to which there is still no satisfactory answer is: what makes these electrons want to come together in pairs? Among the various hypotheses, one possibility is that this phenomenon would be connected to the distance between the atoms in the superconducting material.

Thus, in research published in the journal Materials, researchers from the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), and collaborators from Germany, investigated two materials (LaPt4Ge12 and PrPt4Ge12) whose crystalline structure is known as skutterudite to test the hypothesis that superconductivity would be related to the distance between the atoms of the material. This was the first scientific paper published with data obtained at the EMA beamline of CNPEM’s synchrotron light source Sirius.

Read more on the LNLS website

Giant Rashba semiconductors show unconventional dynamics with potential applications

Germanium telluride is a strong candidate for use in functional spintronic devices due to its giant Rashba-effect. Now, scientists at HZB have discovered another intriguing phenomenon in GeTe by studying the electronic response to thermal excitation of the samples. To their surprise, the subsequent relaxation proceeded fundamentally different to that of conventional semimetals. By delicately controlling the fine details of the underlying electronic structure, new functionalities of this class of materials could be conceived. 

In recent decades, the complexity and functionality of silicon-based technologies has increased exponentially, commensurate with the ever-growing demand for smaller, more capable devices. However, the silicon age is coming to an end.  With increasing miniaturisation, undesirable quantum effects and thermal losses are becoming an ever-greater obstacle. Further progress requires new materials that harness quantum effects rather than avoid them. Spintronic devices, which use spins of electrons rather than their charge, promise more energy efficient devices with significantly enhanced switching times and with entirely new functionalities.

Spintronic devices are coming

Candidates for spintronic devices are semiconductor materials wherein the spins are coupled with the orbital motion of the electrons. This so-called Rashba effect occurs in a number of non-magnetic semiconductors and semi-metallic compounds and allows, among other things, to manipulate the spins in the material by an electric field.

First study in a non equilibrium state

Germanium telluride hosts one of the largest Rashba effects of all semiconducting systems. Until now, however, germanium telluride has only been studied in thermal equilibrium. Now, for the first time, a team led by HZB physicist Jaime-Sanchez-Barriga has specifically accessed a non-equilibrium state in GeTe samples at BESSY II and investigated in detail how equilibrium is restored in the material on ultrafast (<10-12 seconds) timescales. In the process, the physicists encountered a new and unexpected phenomenon.

First, the sample was excited with an infrared pulse and then measured with high time resolution using angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (tr-ARPES). “For the first time, we were able to observe and characterise all phases of excitation, thermalisation and relaxation on ultrashort time scales,” says Sánchez-Barriga. The most important result: “The data show that the thermal equilibrium between the system of electrons and the crystal lattice is restored in a highly unconventional and counterintuitive way”, explains one of the lead authors, Oliver Clark.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: Left: Electronic structure of GeTe taken with 11 eV photons at BESSY-II, showing the band dispersions of bulk (BS) and surface Rashba states (SS1, SS2) in equilibrium. Middle: Zoom-in on the region of the Rashba states measured with fs-laser 6 eV photons. Right: Corresponding out-of-equilibrium dispersions following excitation by the pump pulse.

Life in synchrotron radiation research

Including the day an earthquake interrupted my beam time!

Today’s #LightSourceSelfie is brought to you by Ro-Ya Liu, Assistant Research Scientist at NSRRC, operators of the Taiwan Light Source and the Taiwan Photon Source. Ro-Ya’s research area is focused on probing the electronic structure of novel materials by using angle resolved photoemission spectroscopy. She was inspired by her Master’s supervisor whose eyes shone as he presented his new data on the quantum well state of ultra-high silver thin film. Ro-Ya wanted to experience this spark and purpose in life. After a shaky first experiment (literally shaky due to an Earthquake!), Ro-Ya has done just that during a career that has already involved working at the Taiwan Light Source, the Photon Factory, Spring 8, HiSOR, Elettra, the Advanced Light Source and Diamond Light Source. Ro-Ya is still learning from colleagues including beamline engineers and users coming to conduct experiments at the Taiwan Light Source. Their deep knowledge helps Ro-Ya in her beamline manager role. She is looking to dig deep to acquire this knowledge and continue to find great purpose in her life in synchrotron radiation research.

Kuda’s #LightSourceSelfie

Kudakwashe Jakata is a Post-Doc in Materials Science at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France.  He first experienced the ESRF as a user and reflects on the challenges of his early tomography experiments, what gets him up every day and a future where African scientists can conduct experiments at a light source based in Africa.