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Brookhaven National Laboratory

Viviana Cavaliere. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

The United States has been the site of important life events for Italian-born Viviana Cavaliere. When she was in high school, she went to Montana, where she changed her mind about her life — she had wanted to become an architect — and decided that science was her calling.

Later, when she did a summer student program at Fermilab near Chicago, she met her future husband Angelo Di Canto, who is also a physicist.

While Cavaliere has been an assistant physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory since 2017, she has been living in Switzerland, where she has been working at CERN. She is preparing for a move this month to Long Island, where she hopes to find new physics phenomena, including new particles, using the Atlas detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Viviana Cavaliere during a trip to Bhutan. Photo by Angelo Di Canto

Cavaliere will return to the United States with a vote of confidence in her potential and some financial support. The Department of Energy recently announced that she was the recipient of $2.5 million over five years as a part of the Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program.

“I am very honored,” said Cavaliere, who will use the funds to support the research of postdoctoral scientists in her lab, to buy equipment and to travel to conferences and to CERN.

At the heart of her research is a desire to search for new particles and new phenomena that might build on the Standard Model of particle physics.

Cavaliere is coordinating a group of about 400 physicists who are looking for new particles. Her role is to analyze the data from the Large Hadron Collider.

Indeed, officials at the Department of Energy said that Cavaliere was one of only three recipients in the Energy Frontier Program from a pool of 23 applicants because of her role at CERN.

The award “requires those who have shown leadership capability,” said Abid Patwa, program manager for the Energy Frontier Program and special assistant for International Programs in the DOE Office of High Energy Physics. Cavaliere has “already been participating and leading” studies.

Michael Cooke, who is a program manager in the Office of High Energy Physics in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, said Cavaliere’s work fits the description of a “high risk and high reward” proposal that could “steer the field in new directions.”

By using new software, Cavaliere will mine data produced in a microsecond, which is 10 to the negative sixth of a second, for ways to filter specific events.

Patwa suggested that his office urges principal investigators to be as “quantitative as possible” in their work, so that they can show how their efforts will be successful.

Viviana Cavaliere during a trip to Macchu Picchu. Photo by Angelo Di Canto

Cavaliere is not only conducting scientific research but is also part of the technological innovations.

“It helps a person’s career that they understand all aspects of what is involved in running these major experiments,” Patwa said.

Collaborators are encouraged to have balanced roles in research and hardware operations or upgrade activities, Patwa explained in an email.

Cavaliere was at CERN when the elusive Higgs boson particle was discovered in 2012. The particle, which is called the “God” particle, had been proposed 48 years earlier. The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass.

“It was a very exciting day, you could feel the joy in the corridors and I believe it was one of those days where nobody could concentrate on work waiting for the official release of the news,” Cavaliere recalled. “At the time, I thought it would be great if we had more days like those, with the excitement of the discovery.”

Cooke said that extending the work from the Higgs boson could offer promising new clues about physics. He described how Cavaliere is making high precision measurements of particle interactions involving the Higgs boson. Any discrepancy between what she finds and the predictions of the Standard Model could be a hint of new particles, he explained in an email.

“Not only will her analysis advance the field by improving the search for new physics, but the new tools she creates to capture the best data from the [Large Hadron Collider] will be applicable much more broadly,” Cooke said.

Patwa, who worked at BNL as a postdoctoral research associate and then as a staff scientist from 2002 to 2012, explained that he is “encouraged by the talented researchers joining BNL as well as other DOE national laboratories and universities.” He believes the award is a testament to her past accomplishments and to her current objectives.

When she was growing up in a town near Naples in southern Italy, Cavaliere had to choose whether to attend a classical high school or a school focused on math and physics. Particularly interested in history, she decided to study at a classical school.

During her senior year of high school, she traveled on an exchange program to Montana, where she did experiments in the lab with a “very, very good teacher. I started liking science and was undecided between chemistry and physics.”

The travel experience to the Big Sky state “opened my mind, not only about what you do in the future, but also gives you a taste of a different culture.”

When she attended the Sapienza University of Rome, she had to catch up to her colleagues, most of whom had learned more math and physics than she. It took a year and a half to reach the same point, but she graduated with her class.

When she did her postdoctoral work in Chicago, she met Di Canto, who grew up about 100 kilometers away from her in Italy as well. “My mom always makes fun of me,” Cavaliere said, because she “found her husband in the United States.”

As for work, she is inspired to use the funds and the recognition from the DOE to build on her developing career.

“There’s always some hope you’ll find something new,” she said.

In foreground, from left, senior scientist Paul O’Connor holding an electronic board, and Science Raft Subsystem manager Bill Wahl holding a mock raft assembly. Behind O’Connor, on the left, is Sean Robinson, a technical associate, who is working on a raft in the clean room, and to the left is mechanical engineer Connor Miraval, whose image is reflected on the focal plane. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

What’s out there? It’s a question that occurs to everyone from parents sleeping at night who hear a noise in the front yard to tourists aboard a whale watching cruise off the coast of Montauk to anyone looking up at the night sky.

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory recently took a milestone step in a long journey to understanding objects and forces deep in space when they completed shipment of the last of 21 rafts that will become a part of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST, in the Cerro Pachón ridge in north central Chile.

The rafts will serve as the film in a camera that will take images that cover 40 times the area of the moon in a single exposure.

The telescope, which will be the world’s largest digital camera for astronomy, will allow researchers and the general public to view asteroids at great distances. It will also provide information about dark energy and dark matter, changes in the night sky over the course of a decade of collecting data, and data that can build on knowledge about the formation and structure of the Milky Way.

Paul O’Connor, a senior scientist at BNL’s Instrumentation Division who has worked on the LSST for 17 years, expressed appreciation for the efforts of people ranging from area high schoolers to senior scientists on the project.

“It was just a joy to see the dedication from everyone to get what needed to be done,” he said in an email. “It takes a team like that to complete a project like this.”

The LSST, which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, involves researchers from institutions all over the world who have each played a role in moving the unique telescope toward completion.

While the rafts that will function as the film for the 3.2-gigapixel sensor array are completed, O’Connor will continue to work on commissioning the telescope, which should occur gradually until it begins providing data in October of 2022.

O’Connor said the construction of the 21 raft modules containing a total of 200 16-megapixel sensors involved “moments of drama, both good and bad.”

The first time the team brought the system into its operating temperature range of about 100 degrees below zero Celsius, some of the cool-down behavior “differed from our predictions,” he explained.

That required quick thinking to make sure the equipment wasn’t damaged. This was especially important not only because the operation needed to stay on schedule but also because the rafts are expensive and the team was operating on a budget. “Each of these rafts has an enormous cash value” and involved considerable labor to build, O’Connor added.

Bill Wahl, the science raft subsystem manager of the LSST project since 2015, described how one of the challenges involved packing and shipping such sensitive electronic materials.

“We came up with a very elegant and somewhat low-cost approach,” he said, which involved shipping these rafts in a pressurized vessel that avoided damage during any shocks in transit.

The rafts, which each weighs about 25 pounds, had a shipping weight that included protective fixtures of over 100 pounds.

Additionally, the BNL team had to deal with cleanliness, as particulates can and did cause problems. Some of the rafts didn’t function the way they should have after shipping. The BNL team went through a complete refurbishing over six months, where they took all the rafts apart and cleaned them. They upgraded the design to limit the amount of particulates, Wahl said.

While BNL built the requisite rafts, it has an additional two rafts that can replace any of those in the telescope if necessary.

These extra rafts will be stored at the observatory.

Along with the challenges and some anxiety from building such sensitive equipment, the instrumentation unit also had several high points.

In January of 2017, BNL tested one of the rafts in the clean room. Scientists constructed an image projector and projected that onto the raft with enough detail to show that every pixel was functioning correctly. O’Connor made a printout of that image and taped it to his office door.

The day of the successful test was one that the team had been anticipating for “over 10 years. When the first image was delivered, it was very gratifying to see the system was working,” he said.

While O’Connor isn’t a cosmologist, he is particularly interested in the search for dark energy. “It has been puzzling the theorists and as experimentalists, we hope to take measurements that will one day lead to a resolution of this fundamental question,” he explained.

Several teams are working on the LSST in different locations. One of them is constructing the telescope in Chile, while another is assembling the camera in California.

At this point, technicians have installed about half the rafts into the main camera cryostat. Researchers will conduct a preliminary test before populating the rest of the focal plane with all the rafts later this year, O’Connor explained.

As the LSST catalogues four billion galaxies, it will “literally be impossible” to look at these areas item by item. Informatics tools will be necessary to extract all the information, O’Connor said.

Wahl suggested that the LSST could become an important educational tool for budding astronomers.

“I’m not an astronomer or physicist,” said Wahl, who will become the chief operating officer of an instrumentation group at BNL on Oct. 1, “but from my point of view, what I find absolutely amazing is that everyone relies heavily on Google Earth to look at where they are going. In a similar way, [people] are going to do that in the sky. It’s going to give them the opportunity to be junior astronomers unlike they’ve ever been able to do.”

Indeed, the LSST will help people figure out what’s out there.

Mircea Cotlet. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

An innovative scientist in the world of nanostructures, Mircea Cotlet recently scored Inventor of the Year honors from Battelle.

A principal investigator and materials scientist in the Soft and Bio Nanomaterials Group at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cotlet has conducted a wide range of research over his dozen years on Long Island.

The distinction from Battelle, which manages BNL through Brookhaven Sciences Associates, honors researchers who have made significant scientific or engineering contributions that have societal or financial impacts.

“The award recognizes [Cotlet’s] ongoing contributions to materials science at BNL, specifically his work on low-dimensional semiconductors, 1-D nanowires, and tiny 0-D nanocrystals called quantum dots,” Katy Delaney, a Battelle spokesperson, explained in an email.

Researchers who have worked with Cotlet believe he deserves the honor.

Cotlet is an “extraordinary scientist” who “stands out” for his thorough work and creative approach” said Deep Jariwala, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Jariwala has known Cotlet for over two years and has collaborated with him over the last year.

Cotlet has “really laid the foundational ground in understanding the rules that govern charge and energy transfer across hybrid quantum confined materials systems that comprise quantum dots, organic molecules–two-dimensional materials as well as biologically photoactive materials,” Jariwala added.

The technologies will impact the science and technologies of sensing, displays and energy harvesting in the future, Jariwala predicted.

Eric Stach, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania who had previously worked at the CFN, said Cotlet “tries to figure out ways of putting together disparate systems at the nanoscale.”

By combining these materials, Cotlet is able to “improve the overall performance” of systems, Stach continued. “He’s trying to tune the ability of a given material system to capture light and do something with it.”

Cotlet recently partnered self-assembled two-dimensional nanoparticles, such as the one-atom-thick graphene, with light-absorbing materials like organic compounds.

The result enhances their ability to detect light, which could be valuable in medical imaging, radiation detection and surveillance applications. The mini-partnership boosted the photoresponse of graphene by up to 600 percent by changing the structure of the polymer.

Indeed, a defense contractor has shown an interest in research they could use for low light level detection applications, Cotlet said.

Like other scientists at BNL, Cotlet not only conducts his own research, but he also helps other scientists who come to the Department of Energy facility to use the equipment at the CFN, to make basic and translational science discoveries.

Cotlet patented a self-assembly process before he published it.

He is continuing conversations with a big company that is exploring the benefits of this type of approach for one of its product, while he is also working with the technology transfer office at BNL to look at the development of photodetectors for low light applications.

“Having graphene and the conductor polymer would absorb light from ultraviolet to visible light,” Cotlet said.

The physics changes from bulk to nanoparticles to nanocrystals, Cotlet said, and he engineers the smaller materials for a given function.

“We basically like to play with the interface between different types of nanomaterials,” he said. “We like to control the light-simulated process.”

Working at an energy department site, he also has experience with solar panels and with light-emitting diodes.

Jariwala described the science as extending to interfaces that also occur in nature, such as in photosynthesis and bioluminescence. “By combining techniques and materials that we have developed and looked at, we hope to answer fundamental mechanistic questions and provide insights into long-standing questions about biological energy conversion processes,” he wrote.

As far as some of the current materials he uses, Cotlet works on graphene and the transition metal dichalcogenides and he explores their potential application as quantum materials. He tries to look for emerging properties coming out of nanomaterials for various applications, but most of his efforts are in basic science.

Jariwala explained that he and Cotlet are seeking to understand the efficient transduction of energy in quantum sized systems when they are brought close to one another in an orderly fashion.

After his upbringing in Romania, where he attended college, Cotlet appreciated the opportunity to learn from one of the pioneering groups in the world in single-molecule microscopy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, where he studied for his doctorate.

He also did a fellowship at Harvard, where he worked on unique microscopy, and then went on to conduct postdoctoral work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked on protein folding and on optimal imaging methods.

Cotlet arrived at the CFN just as the facility was going online.

“The CFN went beyond its original promise for cutting edge science,” he said. The center has been, and he continues to hope it will be, the best place he could dream of to conduct research.

The postdoctoral researchers who have come through his lab have all been successful, either leading their own projects or joining commercial teams.

Up until he was 18, Cotlet wasn’t focused on science, but, rather, anticipated becoming a fighter pilot. He discovered, however, that he had a vision defect.

“All my childhood, I was set up to become a fighter pilot,” but the discovery of a condition called chromatopsy changed his plans.

A resident of Rocky Point, Cotlet lives with his wife, Ana Popovici, who is an administrative assistant at BNL, and their middle school daughter.

As for his future work, he is interested in building on the research into quantum materials.

“I’m looking forward to trying to integrate my research” into this arena, he said.

Shoreham-Wading River, Hauppauge and Northport-East Northport schools take home honors

More than 440 science projects from 100 Suffolk County elementary schools filled the rooms of Brookhaven National Laboratory on May 4 for the research center’s 2019 Elementary School Science Fair. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and coordinated by the lab’s Office of Educational Programs, the projects were judged by Brookhaven scientists, engineers and technical staff, as well as teachers from local elementary schools. One student from each grade was selected as a finalist.

Connor Nugent, a kindergartner from Miller Avenue School in the Shoreham-Wading River school district, won first place for his project titled “Spaghetti Strength,” while first-grader Audrey Leo of Lincoln Avenue Elementary School in the Sayville school district beat out the competition with her project, “Knot Again.”

 Zachary Lister, a second-grader from Miller Avenue School, Shoreham-Wading River school district, wowed the judges and captured first place with “Slippery Sock Science,” while third-grader Matthew Pokorny of Norwood Avenue Elementary School in Northport-East Northport school district grabbed first in his grade for “Rock and Barrier Waves.”

Liam Dwyer, a fourth-grader from Norwood Avenue Elementary School in the Northport-East Northport school district garnered first for “Rip Rap Paddywhack,” and fifth-grader Pranav Vijayababu, from Bretton Woods Elementary School in the Hauppauge School District won for his project titled “Race to the Future Hydrogen Fuel Cell.”

James Bulger, a sixth-grader from Robert Moses Middle School in the North Babylon School District rounded out the top six with “Nano-Remediators: Using Nanotechnology to Remediate Oil Spills.” 

In addition to the first-place winners, selected students received honorable mention for projects that ranged from “Rubber Chicken Olympics” to “Voice Recordable Smoke Detectors.” 

Ella Henry, a fifth-grader from J.A. Edgar Intermediate School in the Rocky Point school district, said she did her project on acid rain because she loves plants and cares about the environment. “My project took me 14 days to do. I didn’t win today, but I had fun and I loved caring for the plants,” she said. “Science is my favorite subject and I hope to be a zookeeper when I grow up.”  

Ella’s brother, John, a kindergartner who attends Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School in the Rocky Point school district, also had a project in the lab’s science fair. “I used LEGOs to learn that earthquakes can knock over towers,” he said.

Lucas Renna, a fifth-grader from East Moriches Elementary School, was excited that he got to attend the lab’s science fair. “My project was about creating bioplastic spoons to help reduce waste pollution in our environment. I really care about the animals in the ocean, so I want to find a way to help reduce trash. I hope I can be a veterinarian when I grow up.”

While students and parents were waiting for the award ceremony to start, the lab held a science expo with hands-on science activities. 

“There is some ‘down’ time while the projects are being judged and we are waiting for the awards ceremony to start,” explained David Manning, director of the lab’s Stakeholder Relations Office.

“We thought this was a good opportunity to share the excitement of some of the science being done here … and encourage these young students to think about a career in science, technology, engineering, or math,” he said, adding, “We were happy that many of the students and their families participated in the expo. It was a great day at the lab.”

For more information, please visit www.science.energy.gov.

Members of the quantum materials team, from left, Gregory Doerk, Jerzy Sadowski, Kevin Yager, Young Jae Shin and Aaron Stein. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Henry Ford revolutionized the way people manufactured cars through automation, speeding up the process, reducing waste and cutting costs.

Similarly, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, researchers like the newly hired Young Jae Shin, who is a staff scientist at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, hopes to improve the process of automating the handling of thin flakes of material used in a next generation technology called quantum information science, or QIS.

Working with scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shin is looking for ways to handle these flakes, which are one atom thick, of two-dimensional layers from different materials. Stacked together, these flakes can help create structures with specific electronic, magnetic or optical properties that can be used as sensors, in communication, or encryption.

Young Jae Shin at Harvard University, where he was a post doctoral researcher. Photo from Y. Shin

“Researchers are building these kinds of customized structures manually now,” explained Kevin Yager, leader of the CFN Electronic Nanomaterials Group, in an email. “QPress [Quantum Material Press] will allow us to automate this.” At this point, QPress is just starting, but, if it works, it will “absolutely allow us to accelerate the study of these materials, allowing researchers to find optimal materials quickly,” Yager continued.

Theoretically, quantum computers overcome the limitations of other systems, Shin explained.

The flakes come from the exfoliation of thin structures taken from a bulk material. This is akin to a collection of leaves that fall around trees. According to Yager, the structures scientists hope to make would be akin to a collection of leaves from different trees, put together to make a new structure or material with specific properties. “The idea is for the robot to sift through the flakes, and identify the ‘best’ ones and to stack these together into the right structure. The ‘stacking’ will involve combining flakes of different materials,” he said.

The less desirable flakes typically are the wrong size, have tears, ripples or other defects and have contaminants. Groups of scientists are predicting the kinds of layered designs that will have desired properties.

Shin suggested that the CFN supports the needs of the end user community, as CFN is a “user-based facility.”

Physicists at Harvard and MIT plan to use the QPress to study unusual forms of superconductivity. By tapping into materials that conduct electricity without losing energy at lower temperatures, researchers may make progress in quantum computing, which could exceed the ability of the current state-of-the-art supercomputers.

Stacking the flakes can create new materials whose properties not only depend on the individual layers, but also on the angle between the stacks. Scientists can change one of these new structures from having metallic to having insulating properties, just by altering the relative angle of the atoms. The challenge, however, is that putting these fine layers together by hand takes time and generates errors which, BNL hopes, an automated approach can help reduce.

“Ultimately, we would like to develop a robot that delivers a stacked structure based on the 2-D flake sequences and crystal orientations that scientists select through a web interface” to a machine, Charles Black, the head of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at BNL, explained in a recent BNL feature. “If successful, the QPress would enable scientists to spend their time and energy studying materials, rather than making them.”

Barring unforeseen delays, scientists anticipate that they will be able to build a machine that creates these flakes, catalogs them, stacks them and characterizes their properties within three years. These functions will be available online in stages, to allow the use of the QPress prior to its completion.

Each stage in the QPress process uses computer software to reduce the effort involved in generating and interpreting usable structures.

Minh Hoai Nguyen, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Stony Brook University and doctoral student Boyu Wang from the Computer Vision Lab at SBU are creating a flake cataloger, which will use image analysis software to scan and record the location of flakes and their properties.

“The flakes that scientists are interested in are thin and thus faint, so manual and visual inspection is a laborious and error-prone process,” Nguyen said in the BNL feature.

At BNL, Shin is one of three scientists the Upton-based facility is hiring as a part of this effort. They are also seeking robot or imaging process experts. Shin has “been in the CFN just a short while, but is already having an impact- — for instance, allowing us to handle classes of two-dimensional materials that we were not working with before,” Yager said.

The field of quantum information science is extremely competitive, with researchers from all over the world seeking ways to benefit from the properties of materials on such a small scale. The United States has been investing in this field to develop leadership science in this area.

The University of Tokyo has developed an automation system, but Shin explained that it is still not perfect.

Yager said that numerous unknown applications are “waiting to be discovered. Researchers are working hard on real quantum computers. Prototypes already exist but creating viable large-scale quantum computers is a major challenge.”

A resident of on-site housing at BNL, Shin was born in the United States and grew up in Korea. He is married to Hyo Jung Kim, who is studying violin at Boston University. 

As for the work Shin and others are doing, Yager suggested that the effort has generated considerable interest at the CFN.

“There is huge excitement at BNL about quantum research broadly and QPress in particular,” said Yager. Shin is “a big part of this — bringing new technical knowledge and new enthusiasm to this ambitious project.”

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilman Dan Panico, honoree Cathy Cutler and Town of Brookhaven Receiver of Taxes Louis Marcoccia at the March 21 event. Photo from BNL

Cathy Cutler, director of the Medical Isotope Research & Production program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, was honored for her scientific accomplishments at Town of Brookhaven’s 33rd annual Women’s Recognition Night, held on March 21 at Town Hall in Farmingville. The Shirley resident was among 13 women honored for their contributions to a variety of fields at a public ceremony that celebrated the significant achievements of local women during Women’s History Month.

At BNL, Cutler and her team collaborate on research with radiopharmaceuticals for cancer therapy, and they make radioisotopes required for this research as well. These radioisotopes would otherwise not be available but are, thanks to the high-energy Brookhaven Linac Isotope Producer (BLIP) that is part of the extensive particle accelerator infrastructure for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider — a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility for fundamental nuclear physics research located at Brookhaven.

Radiopharmaceuticals are vital for “noninvasive,” personalized cancer treatments that provide patients with high-impact doses to combat tumors without damaging nearby healthy cells. With more than 20 years’ experience developing and evaluating radiopharmaceuticals, Cutler is helping lead their development for “theranostics” that combine medical therapies with diagnostic medical tests.

“I am honored to receive this award from the Town of Brookhaven,” said Cutler, who acknowledged the contributions of her colleagues in the success of her research and the isotope program at BNL. “Brookhaven Lab is one of just a few facilities in the DOE complex that can produce certain critical medical isotopes. We are hopeful that this research will lead to improved treatment options for cancer patients.”

“The Town of Brookhaven is pleased to recognize Cathy Cutler for her achievements as an outstanding scientist, leader, and role model for those aspiring to careers in science, technology, and engineering,” said Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

Cutler joined BNL in 2015 after earning a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the University of Cincinnati and spending nearly 17 years at the University of Missouri Research Reactor Center. She serves as a mentor to young scientists, has received numerous awards and holds several patents.

In addition to her role at the lab, Cutler has served as chair of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging’s committee on radiopharmaceuticals. She is a board member for the society’s Therapy Center of Excellence and Center for Molecular Imaging Innovation and Translation and an executive board member for the Society of Radiopharmaceutical Sciences.

For more information, please visit www.science.energy.gov.

Enyuan Hu with images that represent electron orbitals. Photo from Enyuan Hu

By Daniel Dunaief

Charging and recharging a battery can cause a strain akin to working constantly without a break. Doctors or nurses who work too long in emergency rooms or drivers who remain on the road too long without walking around a car or truck or stopping for food can function at a lower level and can make mistakes from all the strain.

Batteries have a similar problem, as the process of charging them builds up a structural tension in the cathode that can lead to cracks that reduce their effectiveness.

Working with scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Enyuan Hu, an assistant chemist at BNL, has revealed that a doughnut-shaped cathode, with a hole in the middle, is more effective at holding and regenerating charges than a snowball shape, which allows strain to build up and form cracks. 

At this point, scientists would still need to conduct additional experiments to determine whether this structure would allow a battery to hold and regenerate a charge more effectively. Nonetheless, the work, which was published in Advanced Functional Materials, has the potential to lead to further advances in battery research.

“The hollow [structure] is more resistant to the stress,” said Hu. Lithium is extracted from the lattice during charging and changes the volume, which can lead to cracks.

The hollow shape has an effective diffusion lens that is shorter than a solid one, he added.

Yijin Liu, a staff scientist at Stanford’s Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and a collaborator on the project, suggested that the result creates a strategic puzzle for battery manufacture.

Enyuan Hu with drawings that represent images of metal 3d orbitals interacting with oxygen 2p obits, forming either sigma bonds (above) or pi bonds (below).
Photo from Enyuan Hu

“On the one hand, the hollow particles are less likely to crack,” said Liu. “On the other hand, solid particles exhibit better packing density and, thus, energy density. Our results suggest that careful consideration needs to be carried out to find the optimal balance.” The conventional wisdom about what caused a cathode to become less effective involved the release of oxygen at high voltage, Hu said, adding that this explanation is valid for some materials, but not every one.

Oxygen release initiates the process of structural degradation. This reduces voltage and the ability to build up and release charges. This new experiment, however, may cause researchers to rethink the process. Oxygen is not released from the bulk even though battery efficiency declines. Other possible processes, like loss of electric contact, could cause this.

“In this specific case of nickel-rich layered material, it looks like the crack induced by strain and inhomogeneities is the key,” said Hu.

In the past, scientists had limited knowledge about cracks and homogeneity, or the consistent resilience of the material in the cathode.

The development of new technology and the ability to work together across the country made this analysis possible. “This work is an excellent example of cross-laboratory collaboration,” said Liu. “We made use of cutting edge techniques available at both BNL and SLAC to collect experimental data with complementary information.”

At this point, Hu estimates that about half the battery community believes oxygen release causes the problem for the cathode, while the other half, which includes Hu, thinks the challenge comes from surface or structural problems. 

He has been working to understand this problem for about three years as a part of a five-year study. His role is to explore the role of the cathode, specifically, which is his particular area of expertise.

Hu is a part of a Battery500 project. The goal of the project is to develop lithium-metal batteries that have almost triple the specific energy currently employed in electric vehicles. A successful Battery500 will produce batteries that are smaller, lighter and less expensive than today’s model.

Liu expressed his appreciation for Hu’s contributions to their collaboration and the field, saying Hu “brings more than just excellent expertise in battery science into our collaboration. His enthusiasm and can-do attitude also positively impacts everyone in the team, including several students and postdocs in our group.”

In the bigger picture, Hu would like to understand how lithium travels through a battery. At each stage in a journey that involves diffusing through a cathode, an anode and migrating through the electrolyte, lithium interacts with its neighbors. How it interacts with these neighbors determines how fast it travels. 

Finding lithium during these interactions, however, can be even more challenging than searching for Waldo in a large picture, because lithium is small, travels quickly and can alter its journey depending on the structure of the cathode and anode.

Ideally, understanding the journey would lead to more efficient batteries. The obstacles and thresholds a lithium ion needs to cross mirror the ones that Hu sees in everyday life and he believes he needs to circumvent these obstacles to advance in his career.

One of the biggest challenges he faces is his comfort zone. “Sometimes, [comfort zones] prevent us from getting exposed to new things and ideas,” he said. “We have to be constantly motivated by new ideas.”

A cathode expert, Hu has pushed himself to learn more about the anode and the electrolyte.

A resident of Stony Brook, Hu lives with his wife, Yaqian Lin, who is an accountant in Port Jefferson, and their son Daniel, who attends Setauket Elementary School.

Hu and Lin met in China, where their families were close friends. They didn’t know each other growing up in Hefei, which is in the southeast part of the country.

Hu appreciates the support Lin provides, especially in a job that doesn’t have regular hours.

“There are a lot of off-schedule operations and I sometimes need to leave home at 10 p.m. and come back in the early morning because I have an experiment that requires my immediate attention. My wife is very supportive.”

As for his work at BNL, Hu said he “loves doing experiments here. It has given me room for exploring new areas in scientific research.”

Justin Zhang

Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

In this annual regional competition, coordinated by BNL’s Office of Educational Programs, high school students across Long Island design, construct and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified. An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at BNL on March 15.

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. 

“So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process,” he explained.

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering.

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

An honorary award was given to retired BNL engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. 

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

Zhang’s and Nepravishta’s bridges have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April. For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov.

Staff from Brookhaven National Laboratory and Germany’s Centre for Advanced Materials during a recent meeting to discuss a future collaboration, from left, Oleg Gang, group leader for Soft and Bio Nanomaterials; Norbert Huber, the director of the ZHM; Charles Black, the director of the CFN; Patrick Huber, a principal investigator; Priscilla Antunez and Dario Stacchiola, group leader for the Interface Science and Catalysis team. Photo by Joseph Rubin/BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Priscilla Antunez is a scientist with some unusual expertise. No, she doesn’t run experiments using a rare or expensive piece of equipment; and no, she hasn’t developed a way to understand the properties of unimaginably small particles that assemble themselves and may one day help run future technology.

What Antunez brings to the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, or CFN, at Brookhaven National Laboratory is a background in business. That puts her in a position to help the scientists who run experiments at the CFN or the researchers at BNL, or elsewhere, who study the properties of catalysts or self-assembling small materials.

“This opportunity for me is a maximization of my impact on science,” said Antunez, who joined BNL from Illinois’ Argonne National Laboratory in December. If she were to run her own lab, she would be involved in a project or a handful of projects. “[At BNL] I have the opportunity to help many scientists with their work,” she said.

Priscilla Antunez Photo by Joseph Rubin/BNL

Her assistance will take numerous forms, from acknowledging and celebrating the science the 30 researchers at the CFN and the 600 scientists from around the world who visit the center perform, to developing broader and deeper partnerships with industry.

Her long-term goal is to build a strategy around specific projects and establish partnerships to advance the science and technology, which might include industry.

“We are trying to make [the information] widely available to everyone,” Antunez said. “We are proud of what they’re doing and proud of how we’re helping them accomplish their goals. We’re ultimately getting their science out there, helping them with viewership and readership.”

She is already writing the highlights of scientific papers, which she hopes to share widely.

In addition to sending research updates to the Department of Energy, which sponsors the BNL facility, Antunez will also try to broaden the audience for the research by sharing it on LinkedIn, posting it on the website, and, in some cases, sending out email updates. The LinkedIn page, for now, is by invitation only. Interested readers can request to join at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8600642.

Antunez takes over for James Dickerson, who has become the first chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports, where he leads the technical and scientific aspects of all activities related to CR’s testing and research, including food and product safety programs. Antunez and Charles Black, the director of the CFN, decided to expand Antunez’s role as assistant director.

Her job is “to help the CFN develop its overall strategy for making partnerships and nurturing them to be successful and have impact,” Black explained in an email.

“For the CFN to thrive in its second 10 years of operations will require us to form deeper relationships with scientific partners, including CFN users, research groups around the world, industries and other national labs,” he said.

Indeed, Black, Oleg Gang, who is the group leader for Soft and Bio Nanomaterials, Dario Stacchiola, the group leader for the Interface Science and Catalysis team, and Antunez recently met with Norbert and Patrick Huber, from Hamburg’s Centre for Advanced Materials.

“We had group and individual discussions to explore complementary areas of research,” said Antunez.

After scientists from the centers meet again to develop research plans, she can “help as much and as early as the CFN scientists need.” She can also coordinate between the CFN and the Contracts Office if the center needs a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement.

The scientist encourages CFN scientists to visit whenever they believe they have an idea that might have an application. She’s had meetings with the Tech Transfer Office and CFN groups and is hoping to put more such gatherings on the calendar.

The CFN is continuing to grow and will be adding five or six new scientific staff positions, Black said. Antunez will “oversee a strategy that helps all CFN staff form deep, productive partnerships that produce new nanoscience breakthroughs.

Black explained that it was an “exciting, challenging, important job and we’re thrilled to have someone as talented and energetic as [Antunez] to take it on.”

Indeed, Antunez was such an effective researcher prior to venturing into the business world that the CFN had tried to hire her once before, to be a postdoctoral researcher in the area of self-assembly. At that time, Antunez had decided to move toward business and took a job at Argonne National Laboratory. “In the end it has worked out well for CFN, because [Antunez] gained valuable experience at Argonne that she has brought to BNL and is using every day,” said Black.

The CFN has divided the work into five groups, each of which has a team leader. Antunez is working on their current partnerships and recruiting needs. She meets with the group leaders during regular management meetings to discuss overall plans, work and safety and the required reports to the DOE.

Antunez lives in Mineola with her husband, Jordan S. Birnbaum, who is the chief behavioral economist at ADP. When she was in college at Universidad de Sonora, Antunez wanted to double major in science and contemporary dance. At the public university in Mexico at the time, she had to choose one or the other, despite an invitation from one of the founding professors of the school of dance to major in dance.

Nowadays, Antunez, who earned her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Southern California, goes to the gym and takes yoga and dance classes, but doesn’t study the art form anymore.

With her science background, Antunez anticipated becoming a teacher. Her current work allows her to share her expertise with scientists. She has also been able to work with some postdoctoral researchers at BNL.

As for her work, Antunez appreciates the opportunity to build connections between scientists and industry. “Most of our technologies are on the basic research side and so the partnerships are much more fluid, which gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of our strategic partners,” she said.

R.C. Murphy Junior High School and Harbor Country Day School take home honors

Great Neck South Middle School’s Team 1 edged out R.C. Murphy Junior High School of Stony Brook to take first place in the Long Island Regional Middle School Science Bowl held at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton on March 2.

Longwood Junior High School in Middle Island placed third and Harbor Country Day School in St. James placed fourth.

Twelve teams took part in the competition and were made up of four students, one alternate and a teacher who served as an adviser and coach. Presented in a fast-paced question-and-answer format, each team was tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math.

As the winning team, Great Neck South will be awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., scheduled to take place from April 25 to 29. The top 16 middle school teams in the National Finals will win $1,000 for their schools’ science departments.

“The National Science Bowl has grown into one of the most prestigious and competitive science academic competitions in the country, challenging students to excel in the STEM fields so vital to America’s future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “I am proud to oversee a department that provides such a unique and empowering opportunity for our nation’s students.”

Danielle Davey, a science teacher from Harbor Country Day School, said she was happy that her team placed in the competition. “This was our first year participating in the competition and we’re happy that we took fourth place,” said Davey. “I told my students this is about teamwork and just do your best. We are grateful to Brookhaven Lab for hosting the event and we plan to be back next year!”

Participating students received a Science Bowl T-shirt, and winning teams also received trophies, medals and banners, courtesy of event sponsor Brookhaven Science Associates, the company that manages and operates the lab for DOE.

For more information, visit www.bnl.gov.

Photos courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory