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  • richardmitnick 11:49 am on February 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced NMR spectroscopy, Ames Lab, , DNP-Dynamic Nuclear Polarization, DNP-NMR spectrometer, , MRI-Magnetic resonance imaging,   

    From Ames Lab: “Seeing the future of new energy materials” 

    Ames Laboratory

    Using advanced NMR spectroscopy methods to guide materials design.

    1
    (l-r) Jason Goh, Takeshi Kobayashi, Linlin Wang, Wenyu Huang, Amrit Venkatesh, Aaron Rossini, Frederic Perras, Marek Pruski, Mike Hanrahan and Zhuoran Wang.

    How do small defects in the surface of solar cell material affect its ability to absorb and convert sunlight to electricity? How does the molecular structure of a porous material determine its ability to separate gases from one another? Understanding the structure and function of materials at the atomic scale is one of the frontiers of energy science.

    “Many new materials have been developed in the past decade to address needs for energy conversion and storage,” said Aaron Rossini, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and a professor of chemistry at Iowa State University. “However, there is still a lot we don’t know about how these materials function. We want to change that and bring new information to the table that will be used to optimize these materials.”

    Ames Laboratory has recently received new funding to study such materials by developing and applying new techniques in solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. “NMR has a long and distinguished history at Ames Laboratory, in terms of both expertise and facilities, and this new research project is its latest chapter,” said Ames Laboratory scientist Marek Pruski, “Understanding the structure of materials is fundamentally important to many research groups here, and we will be collaborating with them at a new level to expand their insights.”

    Most people associate NMR with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is used as a diagnostic tool in medicine. Nuclear magnetic resonance probes the nuclei of atoms as they absorb and re-emit radio waves when they are placed in a magnetic field. Those nuclei resonate at measurable radio-frequencies that precisely depend on the local structure of material, the element being studied, and the strength of the magnetic field.

    In late 2014, the spectroscopy experts at Ames Laboratory took their NMR capabilities a quantum leap forward with the acquisition of the first commercial DNP-NMR spectrometer used for materials research in North America. “DNP” stands for “Dynamic Nuclear Polarization,” a method which uses microwaves to excite unpaired electrons in radicals and transfer their high spin polarization to the nuclei in the sample being analyzed. It’s an ‘extra-oomph’ version of conventional NMR technology, offering drastically higher sensitivity and faster data acquisition—and it has already provided game-changing insight into the physical, chemical, and electronic properties of materials. For example, with DNP-enhanced NMR it is possible to measure the distances in between atoms with precision of a trillionth of a meter or measure two-dimensional correlation spectra between rare nuclei, such as carbon-13.

    “We‘ve had a ball here for the last two and a half years, publishing research findings at the rate of a journal paper per month since the DNP-NMR became operational,” said Pruski. “That’s really a very high pace for high-impact science.”

    “It’s a perfect tool for this type of investigations. The properties of energy materials are governed by the structure of their surfaces and the interfaces, and DNP-NMR is especially well-adapted and sensitive to exploring these.”

    Ames Laboratory will pair these rapidly expanding capabilities in DNP-NMR with a technique called ultrafast magic-angle spinning (UFMAS), which relies on spinning the sample at extremely high frequencies (> 6 million RPM). UFMAS greatly improves NMR experiments by allowing signals from hydrogen to be well resolved in most solids.

    Theoretical physicists will be joining the efforts of the experimentalists, developing models that computationally verify or explain their results. Conversely, NMR experiments will guide the development of improved theoretical models.

    “Our work could have far-reaching impact on a lot of fields, in electronics, lighting, solar cells, nanoparticle design, materials with a variety of energy applications,” said Rossini. “If we are able to explain how structure and function are related, we can help direct intelligent materials design.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

    Ames Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
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  • richardmitnick 1:34 pm on December 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ames Lab, , , Magnetic fields of bacterial cells and magnetic nano-objects in liquid can be studied at high resolution using electron microscopy,   

    From Ames National Lab: “Ames Laboratory-led research team maps magnetic fields of bacterial cells and nano-objects for the first time” 

    Ames Laboratory

    Dec. 21, 2017
    Contacts:
    Tanya Prozorov, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering
    tprozor@ameslab.gov
    (515) 294-3376

    Laura Millsaps, Ames Laboratory Public Affairs
    millsaps@ameslab.gov
    (515) 294-3474

    A research team led by a scientist from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory has demonstrated for the first time that the magnetic fields of bacterial cells and magnetic nano-objects in liquid can be studied at high resolution using electron microscopy. This proof-of-principle capability allows first-hand observation of liquid environment phenomena, and has the potential to vastly increase knowledge in a number of scientific fields, including many areas of physics, nanotechnology, biofuels conversion, biomedical engineering, catalysis, batteries and pharmacology.

    1
    Left: Schematic of the off-axis electron holography using a fluid cell. Right: (A)
    Hologram of a magnetite nanocrystal chain released from a magnetotactic
    bacterium, and (B) corresponding magnetic induction map.

    “It is much like being able to travel to a Jurassic Park and witness dinosaurs walking around, instead of trying to guess how they walked by examining a fossilized skeleton,” said Tanya Prozorov, an associate scientist in Ames Laboratory’s Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering.

    Prozorov works with biological and bioinspired magnetic nanomaterials, and faced what initially seemed to be an insurmountable challenge of observing them in their native liquid environment. She studies a model system, magnetotactic bacteria, which form perfect nanocrystals of magnetite. In order to best learn how bacteria do this, she needed an alternative to the typical electron microscopy process of handling solid samples in vacuum, where soft matter is studied in prepared, dried, or vitrified form.

    For this work, Prozorov received DOE recognition through an Office of Science Early Career Research Program grant to use cutting-edge electron microscopy techniques with a liquid cell insert to learn how the individual magnetic nanocrystals form and grow with the help of biological molecules, which is critical for making artificial magnetic nanomaterials with useful properties.

    To study magnetism in bacteria, she applied off-axis electron holography, a specialized technique that is used for the characterization of magnetic nanostructures in the transmission electron microscope, in combination with the liquid cell.

    “When we look at samples prepared in the conventional way, we have to make many assumptions about their properties based on their final state, but with the new technique, we can now observe these processes first-hand,” said Prozorov. “It can help us understand the dynamics of macromolecule aggregation, nanoparticle self-assembly, and the effects of electric and magnetic fields on that process.”

    “This method allows us to obtain large amounts of new information,” said Prozorov. “It is a first step, proving that the mapping of magnetic fields in liquid at the nanometer scale with electron microscopy could be done; I am eager to see the discoveries it could foster in other areas of science.”

    The work was done in collaboration with the Ernst Ruska-Centre for Microscopy and Spectroscopy with Electrons and Peter Grünberg Institute, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany.

    The research is detailed in the paper, Off-axis electron holography of bacterial cells and magnetic nanoparticles in liquid, by T. Prozorov, T.P. Almeida, A. Kovács, and R.E. Dunin-Borkowski: and published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon
    Stem Education Coalition

    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

    Ames Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
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  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on June 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ames Lab, , , , Magnetic materials, Magnetocaloric effect, ,   

    From Ames Lab- “Scientists’ surprising discovery: making ferromagnets stronger by adding non-magnetic element” 


    Ames Laboratory

    June 23, 2017
    Yaroslav Mudryk
    Division of Materials Science and Engineering
    (515) 294-2728
    slovkomk@ameslab.gov

    Durga Paudyal
    Division of Materials Science and Engineering
    (515)-294-2041
    durga@ameslab.gov

    Laura Millsaps
    Ames Laboratory Public Affairs
    (515) 294-3474
    millsaps@ameslab.gov

    1
    No image caption or credit.

    Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory discovered that they could functionalize magnetic materials through a thoroughly unlikely method, by adding amounts of the virtually non-magnetic element scandium to a gadolinium-germanium alloy.

    It was so unlikely they called it a “counterintuitive experimental finding” in their published work on the research.

    “People don’t talk much about scandium when they are talking magnetism, because there has not been much reason to,” said Yaroslav Mudryk, an Associate Scientist at Ames Laboratory. “It’s rare, expensive, and displays virtually no magnetism.”

    “Conventional wisdom says if you take compound A and compound B and combine them together, most commonly you get some combination of the properties of each. In the case of the addition of scandium to gadolinium, however, we observed an abrupt anomaly.”

    Years of research exploring the properties of magnetocaloric materials, relating back to the discovery of the giant magnetocaloric effect in rare earth alloys in 1997 by Vitalij Pecharsky and the late Karl Gschneidner, Jr., laid the groundwork for computational theory to begin “hunting” for hidden properties in magnetic rare-earth compounds that could be discovered by introducing small amounts of other elements, altering the electronic structure of known materials.

    “From computations, we projected that scandium may bring something really unusual to the table: we saw an unexpectedly large magnetic moment developing on its lone 3d electron,” said Ames Laboratory Associate Scientist Durga Paudyal. “It is the hybridization between gadolinium 5d and the scandium 3d states that is the key that strengthens magnetism with the scandium and transforms it to a ferromagnetic state.”

    “Basic research takes time to bear fruit. This is an exemplary case when 20 years ago our team started looking into what are called the 5:4 compounds,” said Ames Laboratory group leader and Iowa State University Distinguished Professor Vitalij Pecharsky. “Only now we have learned enough about these unique rare earth element-containing materials to become not only comfortable but precise in predicting how to manipulate their properties at will.”

    The discovery could greatly change the way scandium and other ‘conventionally’ non-magnetic elements are considered and used in magnetic materials research and development, and possibly creates new tools for controlling, manipulating, and functionalizing useful magnetic rare-earth compounds.

    The research is further discussed in the paper, Enhancing Magnetic Functionality with Scandium: Breaking Stereotypes in the Design of Rare Earth Materials, authored by Yaroslav Mudryk, Durga Paudyal, Jing Liu, and Vitalij K. Pecharsky; and published in the Chemistry of Materials.

    The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

    DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon
    Stem Education Coalition

    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

    Ames Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.
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  • richardmitnick 10:26 am on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ames Lab, , , Towards Super-Efficient Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells   

    From LBNL via Ames Lab: “Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells” 

    AmesLabII
    Ames Laboratory

    LBNL


    NERSC

    March 16, 2017
    Kathy Kincade
    kkincade@lbl.gov
    +1 510 495 2124

    Ames Researchers Use NERSC Supercomputers to Help Optimize Nanophotonic Light Trapping

    Despite a surge in solar cell R&D in recent years involving emerging materials such as organics and perovskites, the solar cell industry continues to favor inorganic crystalline silicon photovoltaics. While thin-film solar cells offer several advantages—including lower manufacturing costs—long-term stability of crystalline silicon solar cells, which are typically thicker, tips the scale in their favor, according to Rana Biswas, a senior scientist at Ames Laboratory, who has been studying solar cell materials and architectures for two decades.

    “Crystalline silicon solar cells today account for more than 90 percent of all installations worldwide,” said Biswas, co-author of a new study that used supercomputers at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility, to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells. “The industry is very skeptical that any other material could be as stable as silicon.”


    LBL NERSC Cray XC30 Edison supercomputer


    NERSC CRAY Cori supercomputer

    Thin-film solar cells typically fabricated from semiconductor materials such as amorphous silicon are only a micron thick. While this makes them less expensive to manufacture than crystalline silicon solar cells, which are around 180 microns thick, it also makes them less efficient—12 to 14 percent energy conversion, versus nearly 25 percent for silicon solar cells (which translates into 15-21 percent for large area panels, depending on the size). This is because if the wavelength of incoming light is longer than the solar cell is thick, the light won’t be absorbed.

    Nanocone Arrays

    This challenge prompted Biswas and colleagues at Ames to look for ways to improve ultra-thin silicon cell architectures and efficiencies. In a paper published in Nanomaterials, they describe their efforts to develop a highly absorbing ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cell architecture with enhanced light trapping capabilities.

    “We were able to design a solar cell with a very thin amount of silicon that could still provide high performance, almost as high performance as the thick silicon being used today,” Biswas said.

    2
    Proposed crystalline silicon solar cell architecture developed by Ames Laboratory researchers Prathap Pathi, Akshit Peer and Rana Biswas.

    The key lies in the wavelength of light that is trapped and the nanocone arrays used to trap it. Their proposed solar architecture comprises thin flat spacer titanium dioxide layers on the front and rear surfaces of silicon, nanocone gratings on both sides with optimized pitch and height and rear cones surrounded by a metallic reflector made of silver. They then set up a scattering matrix code to simulate light passing through the different layers and study how the light is reflected and transmitted at different wavelengths by each layer.

    “This is a light-trapping approach that keeps the light, especially the red and long-wavelength infrared light, trapped within the crystalline silicon cell,” Biswas explained. “We did something similar to this with our amorphous silicon cells, but crystalline behaves a little differently.”

    For example, it is critical not to affect the crystalline silicon wafer—the interface of the wafer—in any way, he emphasized. “You want the interface to be completely flat to begin with, then work around that when building the solar cell,” he said. “If you try to pattern it in some way, it will introduce a lot of defects at the interface, which are not good for solar cells. So our approach ensures we don’t disturb that in any way.”

    Homegrown Code

    In addition to the cell’s unique architecture, the simulations the researchers ran on NERSC’s Edison system utilized “homegrown” code developed at Ames to model the light via the cell’s electric and magnetic fields—a “classical physics approach,” Biswas noted. This allowed them to test multiple wavelengths to determine which was most optimum for light trapping. To optimize the absorption of light by the crystalline silicon based upon the wavelength, the team sent light waves of different wavelengths into a designed solar cell and then calculated the absorption of light in that solar cell’s architecture. The Ames researchers had previously studied the trapping of light in other thin film solar cells made of organic and amorphous silicon in previous studies.

    “One very nice thing about NERSC is that once you set up the problem for light, you can actually send each incoming light wavelength to a different processor (in the supercomputer),” Biswas said. “We were typically using 128 or 256 wavelengths and could send each of them to a separate processor.”

    Looking ahead, given that this research is focused on crystalline silicon solar cells, this new design could make its way into the commercial sector in the not-too-distant future—although manufacturing scalability could pose some initial challenges, Biswas noted.

    “It is possible to do this in a rather inexpensive way using soft lithography or nanoimprint lithography processes,” he said. “It is not that much work, but you need to set up a template or a master to do that. In terms of real-world applications, these panels are quite large, so that is a challenge to do something like this over such a large area. But we are working with some groups that have the ability to do roll to roll processing, which would be something they could get into more easily.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon
    Stem Education Coalition

    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory shares a close working relationship with Iowa State University’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology, or IPRT, a network of scientific research centers at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

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  • richardmitnick 4:42 pm on June 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ames Lab, , How Scientists Design New Materials   

    From Ames Lab: “How Scientists Design New Materials” 

    AmesLabII
    Ames Laboratory

    04/29/2016 [Thus just now appeared in social media.]
    Gregory McColm, University of South Florida

    1
    No image caption. No image credit

    When Thomas Edison wanted a filament for his light bulb, he scoured the globe collecting thousands of candidates before settling on bamboo. (It was years before people were able to make tungsten work properly.) That’s our traditional way of getting materials. We picked up stones for axes, chopped wood for housing and carved tools out of bone.

    Then we learned to synthesize new materials out of old ones, like shaping clay into bricks or pots and baking them into stone. Plastics entered our repertoire as a concoction of cotton, acid and wood tar.

    Much of the quest for novel materials has moved into science labs. The search is more efficient than when Albertus Magnus (allegedly) synthesized the Philosopher’s Stone, but the game is still intelligent serendipity. We try combinations of ingredients, combinations of heating, mixing and other processes, and hope that one of them works. During the last few decades, a scaled-up, highly organized and automated search system called “combinatorial chemistry” has produced new drugs and materials including automotive coatings, hydrogen storage materials, materials for solar cells, metal alloys and organic dyes.

    Architects and engineers do not wait on search or serendipity to produce a novel bridge that doesn’t collapse under a 10-ton truck. They use established principles, paper and pencil (and software) to produce a design that they can confirm, by computation and deduction, will meet the necessary specifications. Today’s chemists and materials scientists are taking a similar approach, pushing forward a materials revolution.

    The challenges of design-build planning

    One of the great technological challenges of this century is to design novel materials to satisfy given specifications – and then, when the material is synthesized, have it meet those specifications. Just as builders can make a house out of bricks and beams and mortar using a blueprint indicating where the bricks and beams go, scientists conceive of synthesizing a material out of molecules using a blueprint indicating where the “molecular building blocks” go.

    But there is a problem. Unlike bricks, beams and mortar, people cannot pick up atoms or molecules with their hands and place them in a structure. This must be done indirectly, rather like modern construction: just as we have cranes, pulleys and other devices for manipulating beams, panels and prefabricated modules, we need devices for manipulating the atoms or molecules to get them into place – and then welding them together.

    Working with DNA

    Let’s consider one (very nice) example: DNA. With current technology, DNA is much more easily manipulated than other materials; during the past few decades, we have developed many ways to manipulate DNA molecules. In 1980, Nadrian Seeman looked at M.C. Escher’s “Depth,” an infinite regular array of fish, and decided to make it – which he ultimately did, three decades later. In between, he made a cube of DNA; Paul Rothemunde made a DNA smiley face, Leonard Adleman showed how DNA can compute things and a whole community arose making nano-things out of DNA.

    Rothemunde’s smiley face is a likely harbinger of things to come. It is a sort of nano-textile, with a very long DNA strand, folded back and forth so that it covers a circle. Two hundred short strands – “staples” – hold the long strand together. It isn’t just the outline (the long strand with its folds and staples) that is designed in advance. Each DNA strand has its own code, which can be used to control how different DNA strands bond to each other. The codes of the long strand and the staples are computed in advance, and from these designs, strands are synthesized and mixed together to produce the intended structure.

    Expanding to more difficult compounds

    Meanwhile, chemists and materials scientists are making progress on less controllable materials, like proteins and crystals. For example, a decade ago, Omar Yaghi, Michael O’Keeffe and four colleagues published a manifesto on “reticular synthesis” in nature. They observed that crystals have regular molecular structures, and proposed that chemists should design a structure and then make crystals from the design.

    One of the major efforts is making a porous crystal that can serve as a safe and stable storage tank for hydrogen powered cars. (Porous crystals, with nanoscale channels and chambers, are not oddities: you may find some in the catalytic converter in your car or even your cat’s litter box.)

    Many of our major technological challenges will require new materials with specific properties, whether for a new drug, a solar panel, a computer chip or airplane skin. When we see progress in medicine, energy, computing power and transportation, the materials revolution is an integral part of the scientific process of discovery.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon
    Stem Education Coalition

    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory shares a close working relationship with Iowa State University’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology, or IPRT, a network of scientific research centers at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

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  • richardmitnick 4:31 pm on December 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ames Lab, , , SIF   

    From Ames Lab via Iowa Science Interface: “What’s shaking? At this building, not a thing” 

    AmesLabII
    Ames Laboratory

    Temp 1

    1
    A SIF schematic with notations designating the location of each instrument. From Ames Laboratory’s Inquiry magazine.

    It’s not a much to look at from the outside. The long, low building just northwest of the Iowa State University campus could be classrooms or offices, maybe for a small manufacturer or a medical practice.

    The offices and public spaces are airy and furnished in a style echoing IKEA. There’s no hint that the structure is unique in Iowa and rare in the United States.

    But take a tour, as I did last week, and you learn that this, the first new scientific structure Ames Laboratory has built since 1961, is a near-fortress against even the tiniest outside interference.

    The Sensitive Instrument Facility (SIF), still awaiting its first occupants, can’t be disturbed. Really. And that’s what makes it a great place for researchers to make some minuscule discoveries.

    I might say that the SIF is still in its shakedown phase, but that would be wrong. Nothing shakes the SIF.

    2
    The SIF at ISU’s Applied Science Complex, northwest of campus.

    The $9.9 million facility, built with federal money, will house microscopes and instruments scientists will use to examine and manipulate materials at the atomic level. When they’re dealing with something so small, even the slightest vibration can knock their views wildly askew.

    Some apparatuses are so sensitive the operators must sit in a different room: even their heartbeats and breathing could send off ruinous vibrations.

    In this post, I’ll tell you how the SIF shelters these delicate devices. In a future post, I’ll cover the instruments and what they do.

    The Ames Laboratory, a Department of Energy facility ISU operates on contract, specializes in materials science. Their scientists (who often hold joint appointments as ISU faculty) create and test compounds for use in myriad applications, from new solders to high-tech magnets and more. That means understanding – and building – these materials from the atoms up.

    3
    Microscope images line the hall that separates SIF offices from the control rooms, bays and service corridor.

    The SIF, designed by Sears Gerbo Architecture of Tucson, Arizona, will house an arsenal of new and existing equipment to support that task. Most use electron beams to probe how atoms are arranged in materials, so the microscopes also must be shielded from the barrage of electromagnetic activity that bombards us from power lines, radio and cellphone signals and more.

    Even dust is an issue; a mote is a mountain at the atomic scale. So when it formally opens in 2016, workers arriving at the SIF will change into shoes they only use there. Visitors will don booties like those surgeons wear in operating rooms, says Matt Kramer, director of the lab’s Materials Science and Engineering Division and my host on the tour.

    Siting the SIF was tricky, Kramer says. Consultants considered several spots, but railroads, an industry that brought Ames to prominence, are a problem. A major east-west route carries several trains through the city each day. And moving away from the rails isn’t always a solution: A plot at the ISU Research Park south of the campus was ruled out as too near to traffic on U.S. Highway 30.

    4
    The SIF service corridor, sited on a separate slab from the rest of the building.

    Ultimately, engineers chose land at ISU’s Applied Science Complex, already home to several research facilities. Although its access road crosses a railroad, tests found the site had the lowest vibration levels in the consultants’ experience – when a train isn’t passing, Kramer noted. And while the tracks seem close, they’re even closer at the north edge of campus, another location the lab considered.

    To insulate the instruments from rumbling wheels and other shaking, designers incorporated an array of defenses, starting with the SIF’s siting: Its length is perpendicular to the railroad. When vibrations come from the tracks to the south, the building “is like a ship, breaking the waves” to deflect them, Kramer said.

    Below, footings are angled for stability and the foundation is a two-foot slab of concrete sandwiching at least one layer of a spring-like material. Walls and ceilings also are concrete, but none of it contains steel reinforcing rods: Engineers replaced them with non-ferrous materials like fiberglass to minimize electromagnetic conduction.

    The SIF is sliced lengthwise into five sections. The westernmost finger, on the back side, is a service corridor housing mechanical equipment, like heating and air conditioning and chillers to cool the instruments. The corridor is on a separate slab from the instrument rooms to avoid transmitting vibration and noise to them.

    5
    A SIF control room: not a place for claustrophobes.

    The finger along the building’s opposite edge, along the floor-to-ceiling windows on the east side, houses offices, a conference room and two labs (wet and dry) where technicians will prepare material samples for examination.

    A hallway, lined with cool microscope images gathered in a campus contest, is the second finger, running the length of the building and separating the offices from the parts where the real work happens.

    Just off the hall are control rooms. In most cases, technicians will sit here, remotely operating the sensitive microscopes in the equipment bays just beyond them to the west.

    This isn’t like a control room for a hospital MRI, with windows looking onto the machines. “There’s actually nothing to see” and no patient to monitor, Kramer said.

    6
    A copper grounding strip reduces charge disparities between the instrument bay and the control room.

    7
    Copper chains hang from lab chairs to ground them.

    The instrument bays comprise the fourth (from east to west) of the five fingers. There are six, including an unfinished, double-width space on the south end to house multiple instruments. “It was just as easy to make the building oversized” in anticipation of future new equipment, Kramer said. He’s already fielding researchers’ requests to locate instruments in the vacant spots.

    The walls of some bays are lined with quarter-inch aluminum plating to block external electromagnetic signals. Electrical conduits and the hardware holding everything together also are non-conducting to avoid transmitting or creating electromagnetic interference.

    8
    Kramer in the SIF’s unfinished double-width bay, designed to hold at least two instruments.

    There’s even a twist to the wiring – literally. Moving electrons create magnetic fields, so technicians installing the electric cables spiraled them to concentrate those fields and limit the interference they may cause.

    Instrument bay doors must remain closed at all times to maintain a constant temperature; a high-tech thermostat tracks even tiny changes and quickly corrects them. Heating and cooling is specially designed to silently circulate air on the perimeter of the room, avoiding drafts directly on the microscopes.

    The SIF is an indication that Ames Lab’s status in the DOE laboratory system is rising. It’s a minor player, overshadowed by giants like Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago and Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but with DOE locating its Critical Materials Institute at Ames in 2013 and the SIF opening in 2016, Ames Lab is getting some attention.

    With the new facility and its devices, “We’ll be able to do a lot of the state of the art (materials) characterization that only a few other facilities” around the country have, Kramer says. “It’s going to be a big boon” for the lab and ISU.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory shares a close working relationship with Iowa State University’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology, or IPRT, a network of scientific research centers at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

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