For the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) to fulfill our mission to “advance science and sustain technological creativity by making R&D findings available and useful to Department of Energy researchers and the public,” it’s important to have an information technology (IT) infrastructure up to the task of performing 40 million human transactions per year, which requires 24/7/365 availability. At OSTI, we take pride in delivering high-availability systems, which translates to consistently reliable web-based services available at full capacity to our end users. We work to minimize any downtime in the availability of our vast electronic scientific collections, but in case you have ever experienced that rare occasion when a product wasn’t available, we would like to explain what happens “behind the curtain” during scheduled maintenance windows.
Microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, and viruses – are the engines of life. Microbiomes or microbe communities account for 60% of living matter and are the most diverse life form on earth. The problem is that very little is understood about microbes and how they relate to our planet. For a long time, microbes have had a bad reputation. Bad microbes, better known as “germs,” have caused infectious diseases such as the bubonic plague, malaria, polio, HIV, and Ebola. Advances in gene-sequencing technology have expanded our knowledge of microbiomes. Once thought to be only harmful, scientists now know that we cannot live without microbes.
The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) acquires, manages, preserves, and disseminates DOE scientific and technical information (STI) such as technical reports, journals articles, videos, scientific research data, and in other forms and formats.
However, this STI does not stand alone. It is always a part of a larger picture. It could be the result of research by a Nobel Laureate or a remarkable advance in science; it could have significant economic impact or have improved people’s lives; and it could be involved in many other things, such as enabling space exploration.
“What?” you ask, “Enable space exploration?”
Yes, RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators) that were developed by DOE have supported space exploration since the early 1960s with the Surveyor program and continue through today. Today RTGs are powering the New Horizons space probe, which recently flew past Pluto; the Voyager, which recently entered interstellar space; the Mars rover Curiosity; and the Cassini that is orbiting Saturn. RTGs have also powered the Apollo missions, the lunar lander, the Viking missions to Mars, and the Pioneer, Ulysses, and Galileo missions. And the RTG has made the movies: it keeps Matt Damon warm in “The Martian.”
Sometimes difficulties turn out to be blessings in disguise – especially in research. An excellent example is the story of how crystals that were too bent for their intended purpose inspired the use of deliberately bent crystals to resolve properties of X-ray pulses.
Researchers at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) reported that custom ultra-thin silicon crystals were ordered for an instrument in an effort to split X-ray pulses from SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). Researchers needed near perfect crystals to obtain precise measurements on a pulse-by-pulse basis to correctly obtain the best results. It was discovered that one batch of silicon crystal samples they received unfortunately had wrinkles, apparently bent during their processing. Measuring the curvature led these researchers to an important breakthrough. When they sent LCLS pulses through a bent crystal, they were able to divert a small part of the light and break it into its component wavelengths for color analysis while the bulk of the light went downstream for experiments.
Like a beautiful sunset, the wobble of the moon, or the formation of a cloud, simple systems we are familiar with cannot be predicted because they are sensitive to small variations in their present conditions. This unpredictable behavior is called chaos.
Before the 20th century, these unpredictable behaviors were known to be consistent with classical or Newtonian theory, but we now know these theories are incomplete. Quantum theory has been found to account for a much wider range of phenomena, including atomic and smaller phenomena that classical theory got wrong, so quantum physics is thought to underlie all physical processes. Yet it’s not immediately apparent how quantum physical laws allow for chaotic systems’ sensitivity to their initial conditions.
Quantum chaos is the branch of physics that studies the relationship between quantum mechanics and classical chaos. Researchers are taking the conditions that cause chaotic behavior in these simple systems and are studying them on the atomic level. Quantum chaos is being used as a launching point for discovery and to create new models in the exotic, quantum world to further understand the familiar, classical models of physics throughout our universe.