From DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (US) : “Top Areas of Amazing Science at Brookhaven Lab in 2021”

From DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (US)

Karen McNulty Walsh
(631) 344-8350

Peter Genzer
(631) 344-3174

Explorations of particle peculiarities

Explorations of particle anomalies.

Physicists at Brookhaven are heavily involved in two major experiments that reported results from explorations of particle anomalies this year. First, the new “Muon g-2” experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory confirmed a quirky behavior of muons initially observed in a Brookhaven experiment 20 years ago.

DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory(US) Muon g-2 studio. As muons race around a ring at the Muon g-2 studio, their spin axes twirl, reflecting the influence of unseen particles.

This persistent discrepancy between the combined experimental results and the theoretical predictions of muons’ behavior suggests that muons may be interacting with yet-to-be-discovered particles.

Scientists searching for a new particle to explain a different physics anomaly—in the predicted “oscillations” of neutrinos—say the MicroBooNE experiment, also at Fermilab, shows no evidence of a fourth “sterile” neutrino variety to add to the three known types.
DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory(US) MicrobooNE experiment.

Standard Model of Particle Physics, Quantum Diaries.

But the neutrino-tracking software/signal processing and detector technologies developed in large part by Brookhaven scientists will be key to future neutrino experiments, notably the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).

DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory(US) DUNE LBNF (US) from FNAL to Sanford Underground Research Facility, Lead, South Dakota, USA.

DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory(US) DUNE LBNF (US) Caverns at Sanford Underground Research Facility.

Collisions create matter… and turbulence

STAR detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)

Scientists tracking particle collisions using the STAR detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) created particles of matter and antimatter from light. It’s an illustration of Einstein’s famous E=mc2 equation. The results confirm a prediction made more than 80 years ago that such collisions of light particles surrounding accelerated ions could generate matter.

STAR physicists also detected tantalizing signs of “turbulence” in RHIC collision data gathered at different energies. These fluctuations may indicate a change in the way nuclear matter transforms from nucleons (protons and neutrons) to a soup of those particles’ inner building blocks, quarks and gluons.

Even as collisions continue, assembly of a new RHIC detector named sPHENIX made enormous progress this year. See updated photos and a time-lapse video.

Timelapse video of crews carefully moving the magnet into place

Electron-Ion Collider project [below] achieves major milestone


The plan to transform RHIC into the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) received “Critical Decision 1” approval from DOE. This marks the next phase of translating the plans for the EIC into a state-of-the-art research facility that will open a new frontier in nuclear physics. Brookhaven project staff, physicists, and engineers are working with counterparts at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility and collaborators around the world to design the accelerator components while members of the EIC User Group lay out plans for possible detectors.

Nanoscience discoveries with big commercial potential

Scientists at the Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)

Scientists at the Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) made two discoveries related to making materials with possible commercial applications. One is a method for making extreme ultraviolet-sensitive photoresist “masks” by infusing existing organic materials with inorganic elements. The method could allow for etching smaller-scale features onto computer chips to increase their speed and efficiency.

Another group of scientists from the CFN and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) [below] used a range of methods, including x-ray studies, to discover how modifying an inexpensive commercially available porous material could trap noble gases within its nanoscale pores. If successful, the modified material could potentially capture rare noble gases such as krypton and xenon for use in specialized lighting, or to remove dangerous gases like radon from basements.

The search for error-free qubits

Searching for materials that can reliably encode and store quantum information—an essential step toward developing quantum computers.

Brookhaven scientists are among those searching for materials that can reliably encode and store quantum information—an essential step toward developing quantum computers. Superconductors—materials in which pairs of electrons carry electrical current with no resistance—are promising candidates because they’re protected from certain kinds of interference.

In one study aimed at understanding these challenging materials, Brookhaven scientists mapped the magnetic and electronic properties of an exotic “topological” superconductor containing iron, tellurium, and selenium. Using neutron scattering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and tools at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) [below] and within the Lab’s Condensed Matter and Materials Science Department, they zeroed in on how changes in local chemical composition affected the material’s properties.

Another team including scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) and the CFN explored why a superconducting material made of niobium metal sometimes loses quantum information. They identified atomic-level structural and surface chemistry defects that might explain the loss. Both studies offer clues that could guide the design of reliable superconducting quantum information bits, or qubits.

Magnetic materials can also exhibit quantum effects that can be used in the design of next-generation electronics. For example, researchers at NSLS-II discovered that the thickness of magnetic materials can act as a “knob” for fine-tuning spin dynamics, a property of electrons that can be harnessed for transmitting information more efficiently. This study offers new insight toward the development of smaller, more energy-efficient electronic devices.

Also this year, a first-of-its-kind tool for automatically synthesizing quantum materials entered the commissioning phase at CFN. The Quantum Material Press (QPress) can synthesize, process, and characterize materials made of stacked two-dimensional sheets—and should help accelerate the discovery of new materials for applications in quantum information science.

Enzymes and catalysts for greener chemistry

Biologists and chemists at Brookhaven have uncovered potential keys to greener chemistry in a string of successful studies this year.

Plant biochemists in the Biology Department identified a sterol that plays a major role in the accumulation of oil in seeds, the plants’ normal oil-storage reservoir, as well as in stems and leaves. Oil-rich stems and leaves could be more easily harvested for producing biofuels. They also identified an enzyme that drives the production of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, a component of plant cell walls that could be used as a feedstock for making a wide range of industrial chemicals. And they found a way to dismantle a biochemical “roadblock” to producing a specialty fatty acid in plants. These studies suggest strategies for engineering plants to produce products that could replace petrochemicals, or to tailor plant biomass for improved bioenergy production and other applications.

Chemistry Division scientists discovered the mechanistic details of two catalysts that could help convert potent greenhouse gases into useful products: one that transforms carbon dioxide into ethanol and another that converts methane to methanol. Both ethanol and methanol can be used directly as fuels or as building blocks for making a wide range of industrial chemicals.

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One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the DOE(US) Office of Science, DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (US) conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University(US), the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle(US), a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

Research at BNL specializes in nuclear and high energy physics, energy science and technology, environmental and bioscience, nanoscience and national security. The 5,300 acre campus contains several large research facilities, including the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider [below] and National Synchrotron Light Source II [below]. Seven Nobel prizes have been awarded for work conducted at Brookhaven lab.

BNL is staffed by approximately 2,750 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support personnel, and hosts 4,000 guest investigators every year. The laboratory has its own police station, fire department, and ZIP code (11973). In total, the lab spans a 5,265-acre (21 km^2) area that is mostly coterminous with the hamlet of Upton, New York. BNL is served by a rail spur operated as-needed by the New York and Atlantic Railway. Co-located with the laboratory is the Upton, New York, forecast office of the National Weather Service.

Major programs

Although originally conceived as a nuclear research facility, Brookhaven Lab’s mission has greatly expanded. Its foci are now:

Nuclear and high-energy physics
Physics and chemistry of materials
Environmental and climate research
Energy research
Structural biology
Accelerator physics


Brookhaven National Lab was originally owned by the Atomic Energy Commission(US) and is now owned by that agency’s successor, the United States Department of Energy (DOE). DOE subcontracts the research and operation to universities and research organizations. It is currently operated by Brookhaven Science Associates LLC, which is an equal partnership of Stony Brook University(US) and Battelle Memorial Institute(US). From 1947 to 1998, it was operated by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) (US), but AUI lost its contract in the wake of two incidents: a 1994 fire at the facility’s high-beam flux reactor that exposed several workers to radiation and reports in 1997 of a tritium leak into the groundwater of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens on which the facility sits.


Following World War II, the US Atomic Energy Commission was created to support government-sponsored peacetime research on atomic energy. The effort to build a nuclear reactor in the American northeast was fostered largely by physicists Isidor Isaac Rabi and Norman Foster Ramsey Jr., who during the war witnessed many of their colleagues at Columbia University leave for new remote research sites following the departure of the Manhattan Project from its campus. Their effort to house this reactor near New York City was rivalled by a similar effort at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) to have a facility near Boston, Massachusettes(US). Involvement was quickly solicited from representatives of northeastern universities to the south and west of New York City such that this city would be at their geographic center. In March 1946 a nonprofit corporation was established that consisted of representatives from nine major research universities — Columbia University(US), Cornell University(US), Harvard University(US), Johns Hopkins University(US), Massachusetts Institute of Technology(US), Princeton University(US), University of Pennsylvania(US), University of Rochester(US), and Yale University(US).

Out of 17 considered sites in the Boston-Washington corridor, Camp Upton on Long Island was eventually chosen as the most suitable in consideration of space, transportation, and availability. The camp had been a training center from the US Army during both World War I and World War II. After the latter war, Camp Upton was deemed no longer necessary and became available for reuse. A plan was conceived to convert the military camp into a research facility.

On March 21, 1947, the Camp Upton site was officially transferred from the U.S. War Department to the new U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), predecessor to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Research and facilities

Reactor history

In 1947 construction began on the first nuclear reactor at Brookhaven, the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor. This reactor, which opened in 1950, was the first reactor to be constructed in the United States after World War II. The High Flux Beam Reactor operated from 1965 to 1999. In 1959 Brookhaven built the first US reactor specifically tailored to medical research, the Brookhaven Medical Research Reactor, which operated until 2000.

Accelerator history

In 1952 Brookhaven began using its first particle accelerator, the Cosmotron. At the time the Cosmotron was the world’s highest energy accelerator, being the first to impart more than 1 GeV of energy to a particle.

BNL Cosmotron 1952-1966

The Cosmotron was retired in 1966, after it was superseded in 1960 by the new Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS).

BNL Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS)

The AGS was used in research that resulted in 3 Nobel prizes, including the discovery of the muon neutrino, the charm quark, and CP violation.

In 1970 in BNL started the ISABELLE project to develop and build two proton intersecting storage rings.

The groundbreaking for the project was in October 1978. In 1981, with the tunnel for the accelerator already excavated, problems with the superconducting magnets needed for the ISABELLE accelerator brought the project to a halt, and the project was eventually cancelled in 1983.

The National Synchrotron Light Source (US) operated from 1982 to 2014 and was involved with two Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. It has since been replaced by the National Synchrotron Light Source II (US) [below].

BNL National Synchrotron Light Source (US).

After ISABELLE’S cancellation, physicist at BNL proposed that the excavated tunnel and parts of the magnet assembly be used in another accelerator. In 1984 the first proposal for the accelerator now known as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)[below] was put forward. The construction got funded in 1991 and RHIC has been operational since 2000. One of the world’s only two operating heavy-ion colliders, RHIC is as of 2010 the second-highest-energy collider after the Large Hadron Collider(CH). RHIC is housed in a tunnel 2.4 miles (3.9 km) long and is visible from space.

On January 9, 2020, It was announced by Paul Dabbar, undersecretary of the US Department of Energy Office of Science, that the BNL eRHIC design has been selected over the conceptual design put forward by DOE’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility [Jlab] (US) as the future Electron–ion collider (EIC) in the United States.

Brookhaven Lab Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) (US) to be built inside the tunnel that currently houses the RHIC.

In addition to the site selection, it was announced that the BNL EIC had acquired CD-0 from the Department of Energy. BNL’s eRHIC design proposes upgrading the existing Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, which collides beams light to heavy ions including polarized protons, with a polarized electron facility, to be housed in the same tunnel.

Other discoveries

In 1958, Brookhaven scientists created one of the world’s first video games, Tennis for Two. In 1968 Brookhaven scientists patented Maglev, a transportation technology that utilizes magnetic levitation.

Major facilities

Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), which was designed to research quark–gluon plasma and the sources of proton spin. Until 2009 it was the world’s most powerful heavy ion collider. It is the only collider of spin-polarized protons.

Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), used for the study of nanoscale materials.

BNL National Synchrotron Light Source II(US), Brookhaven’s newest user facility, opened in 2015 to replace the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), which had operated for 30 years. NSLS was involved in the work that won the 2003 and 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, a particle accelerator that was used in three of the lab’s Nobel prizes.
Accelerator Test Facility, generates, accelerates and monitors particle beams.
Tandem Van de Graaff, once the world’s largest electrostatic accelerator.

Computational Science resources, including access to a massively parallel Blue Gene series supercomputer that is among the fastest in the world for scientific research, run jointly by Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University-SUNY (US).

Interdisciplinary Science Building, with unique laboratories for studying high-temperature superconductors and other materials important for addressing energy challenges.
NASA Space Radiation Laboratory, where scientists use beams of ions to simulate cosmic rays and assess the risks of space radiation to human space travelers and equipment.

Off-site contributions

It is a contributing partner to the ATLAS experiment, one of the four detectors located at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

European Organization for Nuclear Research (Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire)(EU) [CERN] map

Iconic view of the European Organization for Nuclear Research [Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire](CH)CERN ATLAS detector.

It is currently operating at The European Organization for Nuclear Research [Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire] [Europäische Organisation für Kernforschung](CH) [CERN] near Geneva, Switzerland.

Brookhaven was also responsible for the design of the SNS accumulator ring in partnership with Spallation Neutron Source at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US), Tennessee.

DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory(US) Spallation Neutron Source annotated.

Brookhaven plays a role in a range of neutrino research projects around the world, including the Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment (CN) nuclear power plant, approximately 52 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong and 45 kilometers east of Shenzhen, China.

Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment (CN) nuclear power plant, approximately 52 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong and 45 kilometers east of Shenzhen, China

FNAL DUNE LBNF (US) from FNAL to Sanford Underground Research Facility, Lead, South Dakota, USA

BNL Center for Functional Nanomaterials.

BNL National Synchrotron Light Source II(US).


BNL Relative Heavy Ion Collider (US) Campus.

BNL/RHIC Star Detector.

BNL/RHIC Phenix detector.