X-rays capture ageing process in EV batteries

CLS researcher Toby Bond uses x-rays to help engineer powerful electric vehicle batteries with longer lifetimes. His research, published in The Journal of the Electrochemical Society, shows how the charge/discharge cycles of batteries cause physical damage eventually leading to reduced energy storage. This new work points to a link between cracks that form in the battery material and depletion of vital liquids that carry charge.

Bond uses the BMIT facility at the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to produce detailed CT scans of the inside of batteries. Working with Dr. Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University, he specializes in batteries for electric vehicles, where the research imperative is to pack in as much energy as possible into a lightweight device.

“A big drawback to packing in more energy is that generally, the more energy you pack in, the faster the battery will degrade,” says Bond.

In lithium-ion batteries, this is because charging physically forces lithium ions between other atoms in the electrode material, pushing them apart. Adding more charge causes more growth in the materials, which shrink back down when the lithium ions leave. Over many cycles of this growing and shrinking, micro-cracks begin to form in the material, slowly reducing its ability to hold a charge.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Toby Bond adjusts a battery sample on the BMIT beamline

Scientists discover that crocodile devoured a baby dinosaur  

Advanced nuclear and synchrotron imaging has confirmed that a 93-million-year-old crocodile found in Central Queensland devoured a juvenile dinosaur based on remains found in the fossilised stomach contents.

The discovery of the fossils in 2010 was made by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (QLD) in association with the University of New England, who are publishing their research in the journal Gondwana Research.

The research was carried out by a large team led by Dr Matt White of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and the University of New England.

The crocodile Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which translates as ‘the broken crocodile dinosaur killer’ was about 2 to 2.5 metres in length. ‘Broken’ refers to the fact that the crocodile was found in a massive, shattered boulder.

Early neutron imaging scans of one rock fragment from the boulder detected bones of the small chicken-sized juvenile dinosaur in the gut, an ornithopod that has not yet been formally identified by species.

Senior Instrument Scientist Dr Joseph Bevitt explained that the dinosaur bones were entirely embedded within the dense ironstone rock and were serendipitously discovered when the sample was exposed to the penetrative power of neutrons at ANSTO.

Dingo, Australia’s only neutron imaging instrument, can be used to produce two and three-dimensional images of a solid object and reveal concealed features within it.

“In the initial scan in 2015, I spotted a buried bone in there that looked like a chicken bone with a hook on it and thought straight away that it was a dinosaur,” explained Dr Bevitt.

“Human eyes had never seen it previously, as it was, and still is, totally encased in rock.”

The finding led to further, high-resolution scans using Dingo and the synchrotron X-ray Imaging and Medical Beamline over a number of years.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Dr Joseph Bevitt and Dr Matt White with the sample on the Imaging and Medical beamline at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron

Mind the gap – ESRF tracks defects triggered by composites in root fillings

Polymer composite fillings of root-canal treated teeth can fail over time. Scientists led by the Charité University in Berlin (Germany) have found that this is not because of the dentist’s lack of skills but rather because of stresses that build up and deform the biomaterial just after it is placed. The results are published in Acta Biomaterialia.

It is one of the most peculiar images that can come to mind: a dentist restoring severely destroyed teeth and placing fillings on a beamline at a synchrotron. It is, however, exactly what happened on beamline ID19 a while back, when a team from the Charité and TU Universities in Berlin and the ESRF examined how well composite fillings adapt to cavities in the tooth root canal orifice.

To treat cavities in teeth, dentists expose solid tooth tissue prior to “filling” the volume of missing structure with rigid biomaterials that sustain chewing forces. In the past, dentists used metals such as amalgam or gold, but today they mostly use composite materials, made of polymer and glass. Such materials, which are well resistant to damage and highly aesthetic, allow rapid recovery of tooth function. However, composites tend to fail in the long run, especially in root-canal filled teeth.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Kerstin Bitter placing a filling on a tooth on ID19’s experimental hutch.

Credit: P. Zaslansky.

Using strain to control echoes in ultrafast optics

Researchers at MAX IV measured echoes produced by silicon crystals using the coherent X-ray based technique, tele-ptychography, at NanoMAX imaging beamline. Their findings reveal that strain can be used to tune the time delay of echoes, an important step for tailoring ultrafast X-ray optics.

“The use of coherent X-rays to visualize echoes is new. This is the first time it has been used for this purpose, however, the technique itself is not new,” said Dina Carbone, MAX IV Beamline Scientist and project leader.

Echoes are parallel, monochromatic X-ray beams which appear, with time delay, from the diffraction of perfect crystals, which are often used in ultrafast optics systems. Dynamical diffraction effects produce echoes.

Echoes are difficult to observe because of their proximity to each other—only a few microns apart—and appear even closer in the presence of strain, explained Carbone. “We knew it would become possible to see them using this new special approach. It would also be quite a challenge because we had to build an ad-hoc setup at NanoMAX. The experience of the group from PSI [Paul Scherrer Institute] was quite crucial.”

Read more on the MAX IV website

Image: Experimental setup for tele-ptychography at NanoMAX beamline. 

Credit:  Angel Rodriguez-Fernandez

Quantum Physics in Proteins

Artificial intelligence affords unprecedented insights into how biomolecules work

A new analytical technique is able to provide hitherto unattainable insights into the extremely rapid dynamics of biomolecules. The team of developers, led by Abbas Ourmazd from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and Robin Santra from DESY, is presenting its clever combination of quantum physics and molecular biology in the scientific journal Nature. The scientists used the technique to track the way in which the photoactive yellow protein (PYP) undergoes changes in its structure in less than a trillionth of a second after being excited by light.

“In order to precisely understand biochemical processes in nature, such as photosynthesis in certain bacteria, it is important to know the detailed sequence of events,” Santra explains their underlying motivation. “When light strikes photoactive proteins, their spatial structure is altered, and this structural change determines what role a protein takes on in nature.” Until now, however, it has been almost impossible to track the exact sequence in which structural changes occur. Only the initial and final states of a molecule before and after a reaction can be determined and interpreted in theoretical terms. “But we don’t know exactly how the energy and shape changes in between the two,” says Santra. “It’s like seeing that someone has folded their hands, but you can’t see them interlacing their fingers to do so.”

Read more on the PETRAIII website

Image: Illustration of a quantum wave packet in close vicinity of a conical intersection between two potential energy surfaces. The wave packet represents the collective motion of multiple atoms in the photoactive yellow protein. A part of the wave packet moves through the intersection from one potential energy surface to the other, while the another part remains on the top surface, leading to a superposition of quantum states

Credit: DESY, Niels Breckwoldt

EBS X-rays show lung vessels altered by COVID-19

The damage caused by Covid-19 to the lungs’ smallest blood vessels has been intricately captured using high-energy X-rays emitted by a special type of particle accelerator.

Scientists from UCL and the European Synchrotron Research Facility (ESRF) used a new revolutionary imaging technology called Hierarchical Phase-Contrast Tomography (HiP-CT), to scan donated human organs, including lungs from a Covid-19 donor.

Using HiP-CT, the research team, which includes clinicians in Germany and France, have seen how severe Covid-19 infection ‘shunts’ blood between the two separate systems – the capillaries which oxygenate the blood and those which feed the lung tissue itself. Such cross-linking stops the patient’s blood from being properly oxygenated, which was previously hypothesised but not proven.

HiP-CT enables 3D mapping across a range of scales, allowing clinicians to view the whole organ as never before by imaging it as a whole and then zooming down to cellular level

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Left: Scientists Claire Walsh, UCL and Paul Tafforeau, ESRF, during experiments at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, France. (Credit S.Candé/ESRF)

Credit: S.Candé/ESRF

Examining individual neurons from different perspectives

Correlative imaging of a single neuronal cell opens the door to profound multi-perspective sub-cellular examinations

Scientists combined two nano-imaging techniques that stand at opposite ends of the electromagnetic spectrum to demonstrate the benefits of correlative imaging to examine individual neurons from different perspectives.

To showcase this, they studied the molecular structures of amyloid proteins and investigated the role metal ions may play in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease at a previously never achieved resolution. Their detailed observations at the sub-cellular level underscore the potential of using combined nanospectroscopic tools to deal with uncertainties due to the complex nature of a biological sample.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. Many research groups are working to reveal molecular mechanisms to better understand the process by which the disease evolves. Due to the current lack of effective treatments that could stop or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, new approaches are necessary to find out how people can age without memory loss.

High-resolution microscopy techniques such as electron microscopy and immunofluorescence microscopy are most often used to detect amyloidogenic protein molecules, often considered key factors in the disease’s evolution. However, these commonly used methods generally lack the sensitivity necessary to depict molecular structures. This is why scientists from Lund University in collaboration with SOLEIL and MAX IV carried out a proof of concept study which showcases that combining two imaging modalities can be used as effective tools to assess structural and chemical information directly within a single cell.

Read more on the MAX IV website

Image: a O-PTIR setup: a pulsed, tunable IR laser is guided onto the sample surface (1). b X-ray fluorescence nanoimaging of individual neuronal cells deposited on Si3N4 (1). c Conceptualization of the data analysis based on superimposed optical, O-PTIR, and S-XRF images.

Researchers discover the origin of calcium in human bones

A study from several Italian institutions and the ALBA Synchrotron suggest crystalline calcium carbonate as a precursor of hydroxyapatite in the process of bone formation. Since hydroxyapatite is a mineral constituting 70% of the mass of bone, these findings may have potential applications in the development of new therapeutic approaches in bone cancer. Thanks to the MISTRAL beamline at ALBA, researchers were able to create a 3D tomogram of human cells and visualize calcium depositions inside them.

Stem cells are “non-specialized” cells that can differentiate (transform) into a specific type of cell with a specific function. To become bone cells, stem cells need to “learn” how to take calcium to form the bones. This is related to biomineralization, a process by which living organisms produce minerals, often to harden or stiffen existing tissues. Calcium is known to be found in bones in the form of hydroxyapatite, which is a naturally occurring mineral form of calcium apatite and represents approximately 70% of the mass of bones.

In human cells, biomineralization culminates with the formation of hydroxyapatite, but the mechanism that explains the origination inside the cell and the propagation of the mineral in the extracellular matrix remains largely unexplained, and its characterization is highly controversial, especially in humans.

An interdisciplinary research team, formed by several Italian institutions and the ALBA Synchrotron, used synchrotron-based techniques to characterize the contents of calcium depositions in human stem cells induced to differentiate towards bone cells (osteoblasts). They compared the results for cells at 4 and 10 days after the osteoblastic induction.

Rad more on the ALBA website

Image: Model of early phases of biomineralization showing the localization and composition evolution of Ca compounds during the early phases of osteogenic differentiation. The figure reports also the spectra of Calcite and hydroxyapatite.