HIPPIE provides a closer look at water filtration

Clean fresh water is a scarce resource. Areas of the world suffering from drought have to filter the salt out of seawater to make it drinkable. In other areas, the water may instead have a high content of toxic compounds, such as arsenic.
If you think about a water filter as a kind of strainer with tiny holes through it, you would assume that since it does a pretty good job of filtering out the small ions of normal table salt, sodium, and chloride, from seawater it would work even better for the larger arsenic compounds. This is however not the case when it comes to desalination – the technology for producing fresh water from seawater; quite the opposite actually. While sodium and chloride are removed effectively, other, much larger contaminants pass through the filtration materials that are typically used. That indicates there must be another mechanism at work here.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

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

Water is more homogeneous than expected

In order to explain the known anomalies in water, some researchers assume that water consists of a mixture of two phases even under ambient conditions.

However, new X-ray spectroscopic analyses at BESSY II, ESRF and Swiss Light Source show that this is not the case. At room temperature and normal pressure, the water molecules form a fluctuating network with an average of 1.74 ± 2.1% donor and acceptor hydrogen bridge bonds per molecule each, allowing tetrahedral coordination between close neighbours.
Water at ambient conditions is the matrix of life and chemistry and behaves anomalously in many of its properties. Since Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, two distinct separate phases have been argued to coexist in liquid water, competing with the other view of a single-phase liquid in a fluctuating hydrogen bonding network – the continuous distribution model. Over time, X-ray spectroscopic methods have repeatedly been interpreted in support of Röntgen’s postulate.

>Read more on the BESSY II at HZB website

Image: Water molecules are excited with X-ray light (blue). From the emitted light (purple) information on H-bonds can be obtained.
Credit: T. Splettstoesser/HZB

Single atoms can make more efficient catalysts

Detailed observations of iridium atoms at work could help make catalysts that drive chemical reactions smaller, cheaper and more efficient.

Catalysts are chemical matchmakers: They bring other chemicals close together, increasing the chance that they’ll react with each other and produce something people want, like fuel or fertilizer.

Since some of the best catalyst materials are also quite expensive, like the platinum in a car’s catalytic converter, scientists have been looking for ways to shrink the amount they have to use.

Now scientists have their first direct, detailed look at how a single atom catalyzes a chemical reaction. The reaction is the same one that strips poisonous carbon monoxide out of car exhaust, and individual atoms of iridium did the job up to 25 times more efficiently than the iridium nanoparticles containing 50 to 100 atoms that are used today.

>Read more on the SSRL at SLAC website

Image: Scientists used a combination of four techniques, represented here by four incoming beams, to reveal in unprecedented detail how a single atom of iridium catalyzes a chemical reaction.
Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Doped epitaxial graphene close to the Lifshitz transition

Graphene, an spbonded sheet of carbon atoms, is still attracting lots of interest almost 15 years after its discovery. Angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) is a uniquely powerful method to study the electronic structure of graphene and it has been used extensively to study the coupling of electrons to lattice vibrations (phonons) in doped graphene. This electron-phonon coupling (EPC) manifests as a so-called “kink” feature in the electronic band structure probed by ARPES. What is much less explored is the effect of EPC on the phonon structure. A very accurate probe of the phonons in graphene is Raman spectroscopy.
M.G. Hell and colleagues from Germany, Italy, Indonesia, and Japan combined ARPES (carried out at the BaDelPhbeamline – see Figure 1) with low energy electron diffraction (LEED) and Raman spectroscopy (carried out at the University of Cologne in Germany) in a clever way to fully understand the coupled electron-phonon system in alkali metal doped graphene. LEED revealed ordered (1×1), (2×2), and (sqrt3xsqrt3)R30°adsorbate patterns with increasing alkali metal deposition. The ARPES analysis yielded not only the carrier concentration but also the EPC coupling constant. Ultra-High Vacuum (UHV) Raman spectra carried out using identically prepared samples with the very same carrier concentrations provided the EPC induced changes in the phonon frequencies.

>Read more on the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Image:  Top: ARPES spectra along the Γ-K-M high symmetry direction of the hexagonal Brillouin zone for Cs doped graphene/Ir(111) with increasing Cs deposition. The Dirac energy ED and the observed LEED reconstruction are also indicated. Bottom: Corresponding Fermi surfaces at the indicated charge carrier concentration. 

The quest for better medical imaging at MAX IV

Advances in the world of physics often quickly lead to advances in the world of medical diagnostics. From the moment Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays he was using them to look through his wife’s hand.

A lot of the physics principles at the foundation of MAX IV are also at the foundation of medical imaging technologies such as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, x-ray computed tomography and positron emission tomography.
Positron emission spectroscopy is more commonly known as PET imaging. It’s a method used to study metabolic processes in the body as a research tool but also to diagnose disease. An important use today is in the diagnosis of metastases in cancer patients, but it can also be used to diagnose certain types of dementia.

In PET, a positron-emitting radionuclide is injected into a patient and travels around the body until it accumulates somewhere, depending on the chemical composition. For example, the fluorine-18 radionuclide when bound to deoxyglucose accumulates in metabolically active cells which is useful for finding metastases. The radionuclide is unstable and emits positrons which is the antimatter equivalent of an electron. When a positron and an electron inevitably meet, they annihilate one another, producing two pulses of gamma radiation traveling in opposite directions. By placing a detector around a patient, it is possible to measure the gamma radiation and convert the signal into something that can be more easily measured. These detectors are made up of materials known as scintillators which take high energy radiation and emit lower energy radiation that can be detected using fast photodetectors – photomultiplier tubes.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

 

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.

Direct Observation of the Kinetics of Gas–Solid Reactions

… using in-situ kinetic and spectroscopic techniques.

Copper oxide is a widely used adsorptive material that removes trace amounts of H2S from various process streams via chemical reaction to form copper sulfide. At room temperature the thermodynamics favor a near complete conversion of CuO to copper sulfide in the presence of H2S. However, in application, the extent of conversion of the CuO to copper sulfide during reaction can be influenced by many factors, including the initial crystalline state of the CuO, and the rate at which solid products accumulate on the reactive surfaces or within pores of the CuO particles. This incomplete utilization of CuO is problematic for industrial applications because it typically leads to oversized equipment and/or frequent process shutdowns. Developing fundamental insight at the atomic scale for this reaction could overcome these limitations by providing a rational basis for the design of new materials and by leading to predictive models that allow for current materials to be operated toward their thermodynamic limits. Thus, experiments that combine reaction kinetic testing while also simultaneously capturing chemical and structural changes in the solid phase at multiple length scales are necessary to elucidate the fundamentals of these reactions at various length scales.

Previous studies were successful in semi-quantitatively relating properties of materials to performance in fixed-bed systems, however, differences in performance were often attributed to physical properties at the >10 mm scale (e.g., surface area, pore volume, bulk density). The effects of molecular scale material characteristics (e.g., microscopic shape, metal oxide crystallite size, and surface composition) were rarely investigated, thus, it is difficult to extend the conclusions from these studies across a broad range of conditions and materials.

>Read more on the SSRL at SLAC website

Image (extract): (A) CuO and CuS concentration maps derived from XANES analysis of TXM images of individual CuO particle during reaction with 1000 ppm H2S. (B) Fractional conversion versus time (derived from linear combination fitting of Cu K-edge XANES) of fixed beds of CuO particles consisting of 2 different crystallite sizes (red circles are 2.8 nm and blue squares are 28 nm) and of individual CuO particles. See the entire figure here.

Synchrotron infrared beamline optics optimized…

…for nano-scale vibrational spectroscopy. First experimental report of a special optical layout dedicated to correct typical aberrations derived from large extraction ports in IR beamlines.

Infrared nanospectroscopy represents a major breakthrough in chemical analysis since it allows the identification of nanomaterials via their natural (label free) vibrational signatures. Classically powered by laser sources, the experiment called scattering Scanning Near-field Optical Microscopy (s-SNOM) has become a standard tool for investigations of chemical and optical properties of materials beyond the diffraction limit of light.

Lately, s-SNOM is achieving unprecedent sensitivity range by exploring the outstanding spectral irradiance of synchrotron light sources in the full range of infrared (IR) radiation. In the last few years, the combination of s-SNOM and ultra-broadband IR synchrotron (SINS or nano-FTIR) has helped studies in relevant scientific fronts involving atomic layered materials, fundamental optics, nanostructured bio-materials and, very recently, it was demonstrated to be feasible to work in the far-IR.

IR ports in synchrotron storage rings can be up to a thousand times more brilliant than classical IR black body sources. This advantage allowed IR beamlines to be the only places capable of performing IR micro-spectroscopy for many years. However, in comparison to X-ray ports, IR beamlines require large apertures for allowing long wavelengths to be extracted. Consequently, IR beamlines typically present optical aberrations such as extended source depth and coma.

>Read more on the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory website

Images (extracts): Figure 1 – Proposed optical layout, IR extraction chamber indicating the source depth, conical mirror illustration, aberration-corrected focal spot at the sample stage and nano-FTIR experimental scheme in operation in the IR endstation of the LNLS. Figure adapted from R. Freitas et al., Optics Express 26, 11238 (2018).

SESAME hosts its first users

Mid July, the first users arrived at SESAME to perform experiments using the Centre’s XAFS/XRF (X-ray absorption fine structure/X-ray fluorescence) spectroscopy beamline, SESAME’s first beamline to come into operation.

This was the Finnish Kirsi Lorentz and three of her colleagues at The Cyprus Institute: the Cypriot Grigoria Ioannou, the Japanese Yuko Miyauchi and the Greek/Egyptian Iosif Hafez, who together form a true international team in the spirit of SESAME.

Kirsi is the author of one of the 19 proposals from 5 of the SESAME Members (Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey) that have been recommended for a total of 95.8 hour shifts on the XAFS/XRF beamline by SESAME’s Proposal Review Committee (PRC). The PRC is an international advisory body that evaluates the scientific and technological merit of proposals from the General Users and determines their priority using criteria based on IUPAP’s Recommendations for the Use of Major Physics Users Facilities.

“This heralds in a new stage in SESAME’s march forward, and for scientists in the SESAME Members and the region it is the tangible beginning of a moment from when it becomes possible to carry out state-of-the-art research in the region” said Khaled Toukan, Director of SESAME.

 “It is a unique opportunity and a real honour to be the first user of a synchrotron light facility – a research visit to remember” said Kirsi, who is examining ancient human remains from the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, adding “we are very excited with the results we obtained at the SESAME XAFS/XRF beamline, and grateful to all those who have worked so hard to bring this crucial research facility into operation in our region”.

>Read more on the SESAME website

Picture: Kirsi Lorentz, The Cyprus Institute: Kirsi Lorentz and her research team (from left to right: Yuko Miyauchi, Grigoria Ioannou, Kirsi Lorentz and Iosif Hafez) at the XAFS/XRF beamline control hutch.

High-caliber research launches NSLS-II beamline into operations

Pratt & Whitney conduct the first experiments at a new National Synchrotron Light Source II beamline.

A new experimental station (beamline) has begun operations 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. Called the Beamline for Materials Measurement (BMM), it offers scientists state-of-the-art technology for using a classic synchrotron technique: x-ray absorption spectroscopy.

“There are critical questions in all areas of science that can be solved using x-ray absorption spectroscopy, from energy sciences and catalysis to geochemistry and materials science,” said Bruce Ravel, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which constructed and operates BMM through a partnership with NSLS-II.

X-ray absorption spectroscopy is a research technique that was developed in the 1980s and, since then, has been at the forefront of scientific discovery.

“The reason we’ve used this technique for 40 years and the reason why NIST built the BMM beamline is because it adds a great value to the scientific community,” Ravel explained.

The first group of researchers to conduct experiments at BMM came from jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. Senior Engineer Chris Pelliccione and colleagues used BMM to study the chemistry of jet engines.

>Read more on the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) website

Image: Pratt & Whitney Senior Engineer Chris Pelliccione (left) with NIST’s Bruce Ravel (right) at BMM’s workstation.

An electrifying view on catalysis

The future of chemistry is ‘electrifying’: With increasing availability of cheap electrical energy from renewables, it will soon become possible to drive many chemical processes by electrical power. In this way, chemical products and fuels can be produced via sustainable routes, replacing current processes which are based on fossil fuels.

In most cases, such electrically driven reactions make use of so-called electrocatalysts, complex materials which are assembled from a large number of chemical componentAs. The electrocatalyst plays an essential role: It helps to run the chemical reaction while keeping the loss of energy minimal, thereby saving as much renewable energy as possible. In most cases, electrocatalysts are developed empirically and the chemical reactions at their interfaces are poorly understood. A better understanding of these processes is essential, however, for fast development of new electrocatalysts and for a directed improvement of their lifetime, one of the most important factors that currently limit their applicability.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Figure:  Introducing well-defined model electrocatalysts into the field of electrochemistry.

Research shows how to improve the bond between implants and bone

Research carried out recently at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon has revealed promising information about how to build a better dental implant, one that integrates more readily with bone to reduce the risk of failure.

“There are millions of dental and orthopedic implants placed every year in North America and a certain number of them always fail, even in healthy people with healthy bone,” said Kathryn Grandfield, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton.

A dental implant restores function after a tooth is lost or removed. It is usually a screw shaped implant that is placed in the jaw bone and acts as the tooth roots, while an artificial tooth is placed on top. The implant portion is the artificial root that holds an artificial tooth in place.

Grandfield led a study that showed altering the surface of a titanium implant improved its connection to the surrounding bone. It is a finding that may well be applicable to other kinds of metal implants, including engineered knees and hips, and even plates used to secure bone fractures.

About three million people in North America receive dental implants annually. While the failure rate is only one to two percent, “one or two percent of three million is a lot,” she said. Orthopedic implants fail up to five per cent of the time within the first 10 years; the expected life of these devices is about 20 to 25 years, she added.

“What we’re trying to discover is why they fail, and why the implants that are successful work. Our goal is to understand the bone-implant interface in order to improve the design of implants.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

SESAME light source brings second beamline into service

Allan, Jordan, 30 April 2018. At 11:21 pm local time (GMT +3) scientists at the SESAME light source brought the laboratory’s infrared (IR) spectromicroscopy beamline into service for the first time.

This beamline is a completely new beamline. It was designed and built in collaboration with the French Soleil Synchrotron. It is SESAME’s second operational beamline, and it joins an X-ray beamline that saw first light on 23 November 2017. The addition of the IR beamline will enable the application of infrared microspectroscopy and imaging in a wide range of fields, including surface and materials science (e.g. characterization of new nanomaterials for solar cell fabrication and for drug delivery mechanisms), biochemistry, archaeology, geology, cell biology, biomedical diagnostics and environmental science (e.g. air and water pollution)

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” said Gihan Kamel, SESAME’s IR beamline scientist. “It’s very satisfying to see light in the beamline, and to be able to start doing research here that we previously had to travel to Europe to carry out.”

In preparation for the SESAME research programme, a number of thematic schools are being held across the region in a collaboration involving SESAME and European partners including the European Union through its Open SESAME project. One of these was held at SESAME earlier this month, covering science on the IR beamline. Students came from across the region and learned techniques ranging from sample preparation to data analysis.

“The infrared beamline has a mouth-watering research programme lined up,” said SESAME Scientific Director Giorgio Paolucci, “and it is great to see so many young people from across the region preparing to embark on careers in science.”

>Read more on the SESAME website

New class of single atoms catalysts for carbon nanotubes

They exhibit outstanding electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO.

Experiments using X-rays on two beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron have helped characterise a new class of single atom catalysts (SACs) supported on carbon nanotubes that exhibit outstanding electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO. A weight loading of 20 wt% for the new class, nickel single atom nitrogen doped carbon nanotubes (NiSA-N-CNTs), is believed to be the highest metal loading for SACs reported to date.

Single atoms of nickel, cobalt and iron were supported on nitrogen doped carbon nanotubes via a one-pot pyrolysis method and compared in the study.

A large international collaboration, led by Prof San Ping Jiang, Deputy Director of the Fuels and Energy Technology Institute at the Curtin University of Technology and associates from the Department of Chemical Engineering, have developed a new synthesis and development process for nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes with a nickel ligand that demonstrate high catalytic activity.

The study was published in Advanced Materials and featured on the inside cover of the publication.

Dr Bernt Johannessen, instrument scientist on the X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron was a co-author on the paper, which also included lead investigators from Curtin University of Technology and collaborators at the University of Western Australia, Institute of Metal Research (China), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US), University of the Sunshine Coast, University of Queensland, Tsinghua University (China) and King Abdulaziz University (Saudi Arabia). Technical support and advice on the soft X-ray spectroscopy experiments was provided by Australian Synchrotron instrument scientist Dr Bruce Cowie.

>Read more on the Australian Synchrotron website

Image: extract of the cover of Advanced Materials.

Tailoring the surface chemical reactivity of transition‐metal dichalcogenide PtTe2 crystals

Recently, the PtX2 (X=S, Se, Te) class of transition-metal dichalcogenides has emerged as one of the most promising among layered materials “beyond graphene” for the presence of high room-temperature electron mobility and, moreover, bulk type-II Dirac fermions, arising from a tilted Dirac cone.
Information on the ambient stability of PtTe2 is a crucial step in order to evaluate the feasibility of its exploitation in technology. Moreover, the possibility to tune surface chemical reactivity by appropriate surface modification is an essential step for its employment for diverse applications, especially in catalysis.
By means of experiments with several surface-science spectroscopies and density functional theory, an international team of researchers from Italy, Republic of Korea, and Taiwan (coordinated by Graphene Labs of Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia) has investigated the reactivity of the PtTe2 surface toward most common ambient gases (oxygen and water), under the framework of the European Graphene Flagship-Core1 project.
To assess the surface chemical reactivity of PtTe2, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) carried out at the APE-HE beamline has been combined with high-resolution electron energy loss (HREELS) experiments and with density functional theory.
From the analysis of Te 3d core-level spectra in XPS and from the featureless vibrational spectrum in HREELS, it has been demonstrated that as-cleaved defect-free PtTe2 surface is inert toward most common ambient gases (oxygen and water).
In the evaluation of the ambient stability of PtTe2, the possible influence of Te vacancies on surface chemical reactivity deserves particular attention. As a matter of fact, Te vacancies may appear on non-stoichiometric samples during the growth process. To check the influence of Te vacancies on ambient stability of PtTe2, Te vacancies have been intentionally introduced in stoichiometric PtTe2 samples by Ar-ion sputtering. After exposing to O2 the PtTe2 surface defected by ion sputtering, with a Pt:Te ratio of 39:61, spectral features related to Te(IV) species appear, arising from the formation of Te=O bonds in a tellurium-oxide phase. The Te(IV) components are the most intense lines in the Te 3d XPS spectra for the case of air-exposed defected samples (see Figure 1). Concerning reactivity to water, it adsorbs molecularly even at room temperature on defected PtTe2. These findings also imply that the presence of Te vacancies is able to jeopardize the ambient stability of uncapped PtTe2-based devices, with a subsequent necessity to reduce the amount of Te vacancies for a successful technological exploitation of PtTe2.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Figure: XPS spectra of Te-3d core levels acquired for: defected PtTe2 (green curve), the same surface exposed to 106 L of O2 (black curve) and air-exposed defected PtTe2 (yellow curve). The photon energy is 745 eV.