OSTIblog Posts by Kathy Chambers

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

2015 – A Good Year for Spintronics Research

Published on Jan 19, 2016

The flow of a magnetic property of electrons known as spin current from a magnetic material (blue), to a nonmagnetic material (red). Image courtesy SLAC National Accelerator LaboratoryThe flow of a magnetic property of electrons known as spin current from a magnetic material (blue), to a nonmagnetic material (red). Image courtesy SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Department of Energy (DOE) researchers and their collaborators continued to make significant progress throughout 2015 in the emerging field of spintronics, also known as magnetic electronics.  Spintronics could change conventional electronics by using the spin of electrons to store information in solid state devices rather than, or in addition to, the transport of the electrical charge of electrons.  This new technology addresses many of the challenges of conventional electronics because it allows for transfer of information from one place to another using much less energy, essentially generating no heat, and requiring little space.  The field of spintronics is rapidly advancing and opportunities at the frontiers of spintronics are immense.

Read more...

A Stirling Engine Revival

Published on Dec 18, 2015

By Indian Institute of Technology, copy of image in Robert Stirling's patent of 1816. Wikimedia CommonsBy Indian Institute of Technology, copy of image in Robert Stirling's patent of 1816. Wikimedia Commons

A remarkable engine now called the Stirling engine was developed and patented in 1816 by a 25-year-old Scottish clergyman named Robert Stirling.  Stirling was devoted to the clergy but inherited a love of engineering from his father and his grandfather, who was the inventor of the threshing machine.  Some historians believe that Robert invented his new engine to replace the dangerous steam engines of that time.  Even though the Stirling engine was utilized in small, domestic projects, it was never developed for common use and was eventually overtaken by cheaper and more efficient versions of the steam engine and small, internal combustion engines.

Read more...

Microbes: Engines of Life

Published on Dec 01, 2015

Image credit: Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryImage 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.   

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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. 

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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.  

Read more...

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.

Read more...