SSRL Science Highlights Archive

Approximately 1,600 scientists visit SSRL annually to conduct experiments in broad disciplines including life sciences, materials, environmental science, and accelerator physics. Science highlights featured here and in our monthly newsletter, Headlines, increase the visibility of user science as well as the important contribution of SSRL in facilitating basic and applied scientific research. Many of these scientific highlights have been included in reports to funding agencies and have been picked up by other media. Users are strongly encouraged to contact us when exciting results are about to be published. We can work with users and the SLAC Office of Communication to develop the story and to communicate user research findings to a much broader audience. Visit SSRL Publications for a list of the hundreds of SSRL-related scientific papers published annually. Contact us to add your most recent publications to this collection.

February 2014
Sarp Kaya, SUNCAT, Frank Abild-Pedersen, SUNCAT
Figure 1

Graphite and diamond are two distinct forms of the same element, carbon. Nevertheless, their properties could not be any more different. For instance, diamond is extremely hard and can be used in cutting tools. Graphite, on the other hand, is soft and used in pencils. Graphite can be converted into diamond in a process that usually requires very high pressure. However, scientists have recently suggested an alternative route to obtain diamond-like structures from graphite – at least on the nanoscale.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy, Photoemission spectroscopy
January 2014
Yulin Chen, Stanford University, Oxford University, Zhi-Xun Shen, Stanford University

Topological insulators comprise a new state of quantum matter that has been predicted theoretically and realized experimentally in the past few years. Strong inversion asymmetry in topological insulators could lead to many interesting phenomena, such as pyroelectricity, intrinsic topological p-n junctions and topological magneto-electric effects.

Researchers using Beam Line 5-4 at SSRL and Beam Line 10.0.1 at the ALS have shown the compound BiTeCl to be the first topological insulator with a strong inversion asymmetric crystal structure.

Angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy
December 2013
Hirohito Ogaswara, SSRL
Fuel Cell Figure 1

Polymer-electrolyte-membrane (PEM) fuel cells are potential candidates for the environmentally friendly and cost-efficient production of renewable energy from hydrogen and oxygen. At the fuel cell’s anode, hydrogen gas is split into protons, which subsequently combine with oxygen gas at the cathode to produce water. However, current PEM fuel cells are limited in their efficiency by the occurrence of several competing oxygenated intermediates at the cathode. A research team has now shed light on the interplay between different oxygenated species and fuel-cell performance.

November 2013
Wendy Mao, Stanford University
Figure 1

Earth’s inner structure is organized into layers. The outermost crust overlays the mantle, which, in turn, surrounds our planet’s core. The crust and mantle are mainly composed of silicate rocks. In contrast, Earth’s core is metallic, containing predominantly iron. But how did iron separate from the silicates in order to form the metallic core during Earth’s evolution? Researchers have recently provided evidence that the percolation of liquid iron alloys through a solid silicate matrix can explain the formation of Earth’s core.

November 2013
Frank Bridges, University of California Santa Cruz
PbTe figure

Lead telluride, PbTe, is a well-known material used for its thermoelectric characteristics. In 2010, a research study suggested a new property: At temperatures above 100 K, the Pb atoms may become displaced from their usual locations in the crystal lattice (0.2 Å at 300 K), inducing Pb-Te electric dipoles in the material. The proposal came as a surprise because temperature-induced electric dipoles, which may cause ferroelectricity in materials, are known to only form at low temperatures but not upon heating. Researchers have now set the record straight. In a recent x-ray study they found no evidence of high-temperature-induced dipoles, challenging earlier suggestions.

October 2013
Paul Schimmel, The Scripps Research Institute
lay figure

For approximately 2,000 years, the Chinese have been using the Chang Shan herb to treat malaria-induced fevers. A derivative of the herb’s active ingredient has also been utilized in clinical trials for cancer and other therapies. Previous studies showed that the derivative, called halofuginone (HF), binds to an enzyme known as prolyl-tRNA synthetase (ProRS). Inhibition of ProRS by HF requires the additional presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), interestingly one of ProRS’s three native substrates. Recent studies have shed new light on the structural interplay of ProRS, HF and ATP.

October 2013
Delia Milliron, LBNL
Nanocrystal in glass composites

Amorphous materials such as glasses have optical, electrochemical and transport characteristics that are closely linked to their inner structures. Modifying the structure of an amorphous material can create new properties that may be of interest for industrial applications. Recently, researchers have altered niobium oxide glass by inserting tin-doped indium oxide nanocrystals into its structure.

X-ray diffraction
October 2013
Yongjae Lee, Yonsei University (Seoul, Korea)
cation in zeolite sodium natrolite fig1

Structural changes leading to disordering of the cation-water arrangement within the pores of zeolite natrolite while exchanging sodium (Na+) with potassium (K+) have been investigated using x-ray diffraction (XRD) and oxygen K-edge x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS).

White Light Station, Soft x-ray absorption spectroscopy
BL10-1, BL10-2
September 2013
Jun-Sik Lee, SSRL

Perovskites are mineral oxides with unique properties of great interest to scientists. Many of these materials show remarkable transitions in their behavior. The perovskites lanthanum aluminium oxide (LAO) and strontium titanium oxide (STO), for instance, are insulators. However, when sandwiched together to an LAO/STO heterostructure, the material can conduct electricity at its interface. Researchers can tune conductivity and other emergent properties by doping the perovskites and hope to exploit heterostructures in future industrial applications such as new electronic devices.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
BL10-1, BL13-1
September 2013
Stefan Mannsfeld, SSRL, Zhenan Bao, Stanford University
Fluence image

Organic semiconductor materials have great potential for the development of novel electronic devices. They are abundant, inexpensive, and can be used in transparent, flexible devices. The best performing organic semiconductors are single-crystalline thin films. However, they are difficult to make and their potential use in electronic devices strongly depends on how well the film can be oriented relative to the device’s electrical contacts as well as the ability to extend lab-based production techniques to industrial scales.

BL1-5, BL2-1, BL7-2, BL11-3


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