OSTIblog Posts by Kathy Chambers

Kathy Chambers's picture
Senior STI Specialist, Information International Associates, Inc.

Microbes: Engines of Life

Published on Dec 01, 2015

Image source: http://m2b.lbl.gov/research/health-and-environment/ Image credit: Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryImage source: http://m2b.lbl.gov/research/health-and-environment/ Image credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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.   


Bendable Crystals – Blessings in Disguise

Published on Nov 03, 2015

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. 

Image credit: Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator LaboratoryImage credit: Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

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.


Quantum Chaos – A Launching Point for Discovery

Published on Oct 19, 2015

Image credit: NASAImage credit: NASA

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.


The Legendary Richard Feynman

Published on Sep 25, 2015

Richard Feynman visits National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) December 1972. Fermilab photo 72-0910-04.Richard Feynman visits National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) December 1972. Fermilab photo 72-0910-04.Richard Phillips Feynman was one of the world’s great quantum physicists. He was best known for his research in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model.  Many of his theories and inventions, such as the Feynman diagrams and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), have evolved into techniques scientists use todayFeynman was able to think visually and invent problem-solving tools that forever altered the direction of theoretical physics.  His extraordinary genius along with his blunt, mischievous, and eccentric personality made him a legend.

Many of Feynman’s brilliant ideas were not readily accepted.  In the 1940s, Feynman introduced a graphical interpretation called Feynman diagrams to make sense of complex mathematical equations and visualize interactions among particles.  These diagrams offered a way to solve the most complex puzzles of theoretical physics at the time.  Yet when he first presented his diagrams at a prestigious computational seminar, attendees took the chalk right out of his hand.  Young scientists that adopted the diagrams had to use them in secret.  Feynman’s diagrams were gradually accepted and his theory of quantum physics and the Feynman diagrams earned him a share of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.  Today, Feynman’s diagrams have continued to evolve and physicists rely on them worldwide.


The In-Between World of the Mesoscale

Published on Jun 23, 2015

Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, Brown University: Brain blood flow simulation with NekTar; a continuum modelArgonne Leadership Computing Facility, Brown University: Brain blood flow simulation with NekTar; a continuum modelEmerging mesoscale science opportunities are among the most promising for future research.  The in-between world of the mesoscale connects the microscopic objects (atoms and molecules) and macroscopic assemblies (chemically and structurally complex bulk materials) worlds, giving a complete picture – the emergence of new phenomena, the understanding of behaviors, and the role imperfections play in determining performance.  Because of the ever-accelerating advances in modern experimental, theoretical, and computational capabilities, Department of Energy (DOE) researchers are now realizing unprecedented scientific achievements with mesoscale science.  

George Em Karniadakis is one of the notable mesoscale researchers who are changing what we know about medicine.  Dr. Karniadakis, a joint appointee with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Brown University, serves as principal investigator and director of the Collaboratory on Mathematics for Mesoscopic Modeling of Materials (CM4), a major project sponsored by the Applied Mathematics Program within the DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR).  CM4 focuses on developing rigorous mathematical foundations for understanding and controlling fundamental mechanisms in mesoscale processes to enable scalable synthesis of complex materials. 


High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory

Published on Apr 30, 2015

Image credit: HAWCImage credit: HAWCCheers of celebration erupted in March 2015 as the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma- Ray Observatory was formally inaugurated on the slopes of the Sierra Negra volcano in the State of Puebla, Mexico.  The inaugural ceremony marked the completion of HAWC, the latest tool for mapping the northern sky and studying the universe’s violent explosions of supernovae, which are neutron star collisions and active galactic nuclei that produce high-energy gamma rays and cosmic rays that travel large distances, making it possible to see objects and events far outside our galaxy.  

This extraordinary observatory uses a unique detection technique that differs from the classical astronomical design of mirrors, lenses, and antennae.  From its perch on top of the highest accessible peak in Mexico, HAWC observes TeV gamma rays and cosmic rays with an instantaneous aperture that covers more than 15% of the sky.  The detector is exposed to two-thirds of the sky during a 24-hour period.  The observatory's ability to operate continuously and its location at 14,000 feet above sea level allow HAWC to observe the highest energy gamma rays arriving anywhere within its field of view.


Graphene’s Humble Creation and Promising Future

Published on Jan 05, 2015

Sometimes the ordinary things we use every day can lead to extraordinary discoveries.  This was truly the case when physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov used the humble adhesive tape to extract single layers of graphene from graphite. 

Although graphene had been theorized years before, it was thought to be impossible to isolate such thin crystalline materials in a laboratory.  Geim and Novoselov not only exfoliated their thin sheets of graphene, they transferred them to a silicon substrate, the standard working material in the semiconductor industry and did electrical characterization on the graphite layers.  


The NXS Class of 2014

Published on Nov 19, 2014

Every summer for the past 16 years, the Department of Energy has invited the best and brightest graduates from across the country to attend the National School on Neutron and X-ray Scattering (NXS). This year, 65 graduate students attending North American universities, and studying physics, chemistry, materials science, or related fields, participated in the 14-day whirlwind emersion into national user facilities to learn in a hands-on environment how to use neutrons and X-rays in their research.  This educational program is jointly conducted by Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source and Materials Science Division and Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Neutron Scattering Science Division.


ACME - Perfecting Earth System Models

Published on Oct 29, 2014

Earth system modeling as we know it and how it benefits climate change research is about to transform with the newly launched Accelerated Climate Modeling for Energy (ACME) project sponsored by the Earth System Modeling program within the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Biological and Environmental Research.  ACME is an unprecedented collaboration among eight national laboratories, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, four academic institutions, and one private-sector company to develop and apply the most complete, leading-edge climate and earth system models to the most challenging and demanding climate-change issues.


Mining for Gold, Neutrinos and the Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay

Published on Sep 23, 2014

Deep within the caverns of Lead, South Dakota is one of the nation’s preeminent underground laboratories. The site of the former Homestake Mine was once one of the largest and deepest gold mines in North America. This famous mine was discovered during the 1876 Black Hills gold rush and maintained a rich and colorful mining history for the next 125 years. When the mine became unprofitable it closed in 2003, having produced more than 40 million ounces of gold over its lifetime.