A look at Argonne’s biggest breakthroughs in 2021

Newswise – From clean energy to the study of the brain, Argonne has continued its long history of crucial discoveries.

2021 has been a big year for discoveries at the US Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratory of Argonne. From improving solar cells and brain imaging to fighting COVID-19 and by developing better models of nuclear reactors, researchers at Argonne are accelerating science and technology to ensure American prosperity and security.

Here are some of the biggest breakthroughs of this year.

A look at perovskites for photovoltaics

Capturing sunlight and converting it into electricity is one of the main ways to get carbon-free energy.

Perovskites are a class of materials with a unique crystalline structure that could offer major benefits for harvesting solar energy. They are cheaper than the materials currently used to convert sunlight into electricity and are quite efficient.

Scientists at Argonne used ultra-bright X-rays at the lab’s advanced photon source (APS), a DOE User installation from the Science Bureau, to reveal the nature of perovskites at the atomic scale. The study found that liquid-like motion in perovskites may explain how materials efficiently produce electric currents. This information could help provide information to develop new models for the best perovskite materials that can be used for solar cells.

Show the effect of COVID-19 on communities

Argonne researchers have developed interactive indices, analyzes and maps that provide detailed insight into the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These analyzes help federal agencies understand which areas of the economy and which demographic groups have felt the impacts of the pandemic the most and are most in need of support.

Through inter-agency coordination, Argonne broadened the way it collected data to meet the needs of various agencies. The Minority Business Development Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts have requested Argonne’s help in reporting on the effects of the pandemic on minority-owned businesses and the arts and culture.

Argonne’s mapping reports enable county-by-county visualizations of the various impacts of the pandemic, including gross domestic product, foreclosures and evictions.

Five orders of magnitude whole mouse brain imaging for the first time

Using X-rays provided by the advanced Argonne photon source, a DOE User installation of the Science Office, to bridge the gap between MRI images and electron microscopy, the researchers, for the first time, imaged an entire mouse brain over five orders of magnitude.

The breakthrough will allow researchers to connect biomarkers at the macro and micro scale, and prove that it is possible to do whole brain imaging.

Using a type of tomography similar to a CT scan, the researchers imaged a mouse brain measuring one cubic centimeter at the level of one micron, which took six hours and provided two terabytes of data.

Researchers have already used this technique to probe important neuroscientific topics, including imaging the brains of mice genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Encourage agricultural changes to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions

A study conducted by researchers using greenhouse gases, regulated emissions and energy use in Argonne technologies (GREET) shows that agricultural changes could reduce 70% of greenhouse gas emissions from cereal production.

Reducing carbon in agriculture requires a two-pronged approach: reducing carbon emissions from farming activities and maximizing carbon storage in the soil. The study identifies a number of easily adoptable innovations that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions while remaining relevant to current production systems and markets. The study also found that improvements could be achieved through digital farming, crop and microbe genetics, and electrification of farm equipment.

Thin materials that make big impacts

Some of the thinnest materials in the world include two-dimensional nanosheets. Two-dimensional materials have unique properties that can potentially improve the performance of electronics, batteries, and solar cells.

A new material that is catching attention is borophane, which is made up of two-dimensional sheets of boron and hydrogen. Borophane is an improvement over borophene because of its greatly improved stability. Borophene, a monolayer of pure boron, was first synthesized by scientists in Argonne a few years ago.

Using computer vision, a branch of artificial intelligence that trains high-performance computers to interpret and understand the visual world, the researchers were able to determine the structure and bonding characteristics of the borophane layers of two atoms thick and also observed its unusual stability.

Researchers from Argonne believe that borophane could be an exceptional material for nanoelectronics.

Modeling entire nuclear reactors at unprecedented resolution

Usually, when modeling a nuclear reactor, it is possible to do it only in parts or at low resolution. However, thanks to high-performance computing, researchers now have a way to model an entire nuclear reactor at high resolution.

Using DOE supercomputing resources, including the systems of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE At the Science Bureau’s user facility, researchers developed a model to study how coolant flows around fuel pins in the reactor core, at an unprecedented level of detail.

Scientists who want to create a small modular nuclear reactor must be able to model it exhaustively, because building a reactor is extremely expensive.

The study paves the way for the simulation of nuclear reactors on exascale supercomputers, such as the future Aurora d’Argonne.

Heal brains with light

Relief for those living with brain disorders may one day come with new research that combines both optics and genetics. Argonne’s research uses light to stimulate neurons deep in the brain through the use of nanoparticles that light up when exposed to x-rays.

Instead of using implanted electrodes or fiber optic wires, this new technique allows deep brain stimulation in a less invasive way.

Nanoparticles serve as an internal light source, absorbing x-rays and re-emitting red light deep into the brain, stimulating or suppressing targeted areas.

The research could have implications for those with epilepsy, essential tremors, or Parkinson’s disease.

This study used the advanced Argonne photon source and the center for nanoscale materials, both DOE Facilities for users of the Science Office.

Recycling of electric vehicle batteries

As more and more electric vehicles reach the end of their useful life, a problem and an opportunity present themselves to scientists: how to recycle lithium-ion batteries in vehicles.

As it stands, the vehicle battery recycling process used today recovers metals and plastics in low-value forms for battery manufacturers.

Researchers from Michigan University of Technology, who are part of DOEThe ReCell center, headquartered in Argonne, has developed a process to separate the precious metals that make up the cathode of a battery.

The separation process works through a technique called foam flotation, which has been used by the mining community for years to purify ores.

The research is linked to ReCell’s mission to find less energy-consuming ways to recycle vehicle batteries and capture useful components.

Using AI to detect gravitational waves

The discovery of gravitational waves, and the confirmation of Einstein’s theory that predicts them, has been one of the most important discoveries in physics in recent years. ten year.

While gravitational waves were originally detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), scientists turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to find more mergers of black holes that create them.

Advanced use AI technical and DOE supercomputing resources, the Argonne scientists processed an entire month of LIGO data in seven minutes, identifying four previously identified binary black hole fusions without misclassification.

AI increases human intelligence, enabling researchers to process data faster and more efficiently.

Article courtesy of DOE Science News Source / Argonne National Laboratory.

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