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National Synchrotron Light Source II

J. Anibal Boscoboinik. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

It was discovered in Sweden in 1756 and its name means “boiling stone,” which suggests something that might be a part of a magic show.

All these years later, zeolites, as this class of crystalline porous aluminosilicates are known, have become a key part of many products, such as in water and air purifiers, in detergents and in petroleum refining and hydrocarbon synthesis. They are even a part of deodorizers for people’s homes.

While these rocks, which are produced naturally and synthetically, act as sieves because their contained pores are the size of small molecules, the surface science plays a role in their interactions involves some mysteries.

For researchers like associate materials scientist J. Anibal Boscoboinik, who works at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, the unknowns stem from the way the reactions occur inside three-dimensional pores, which is inaccessible to the typical tools of surface science.

Scientists Anibal Boscoboinik (right) with Bill Kaden from the University of Central Florida and Fernando Stavale from the Brazilian Center for Research in Physics at a Humboldt Foundation dinner in Berlin. Photo from Anibal Boscoboinik

Boscoboinik, who is also an adjunct professor of materials science and engineering at Stony Brook University, has addressed this problem by creating synthetic two-dimensional models of this versatile substance. The models, which he designed when he was at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, have the same active sites and behave chemically like zeolites.

Using the high-tech tools at BNL, including the National Synchrotron Light Source, which is the predecessor to the current NSLS II, Boscoboinik derived an unexpected result. “We found, by accident, that when we exposed [zeolites] to noble gases, they got trapped in the little cages the structure has” at room temperature, he said.

Noble gases — including argon, krypton, xenon and radon — can become enmeshed in zeolite. The only noble gases that pass directly through or enter and exit easily are helium and neon, which are too small to bind to the surface.

When a noble gas with a positive charge enters zeolite, it gains an electron immediately upon entering, so it becomes neutral. The noble gases can also get trapped even when silicates don’t have a negative charge. These gases’ ions are produced when researchers use X-rays. The ions are smaller than the neutral atom, which allows them to enter the cage.

“The energy required to get them out of the cage is high,” Boscoboinik explained. “Once they are in, it’s hard to get them out.”

This finding, which Boscoboinik and his colleagues made last year, was named one of the top 10 discoveries and scientific achievements at BNL. These zeolite cages have the potential to trap radioactive gases generated by nuclear power plants or filter carbon monoxide or other smaller molecules.

The science behind understanding zeolites is akin to the understanding of the inner workings of a battery. Zeolites and batteries are both commonly used in industry and commercial applications, even though researchers don’t have a precise understanding of the reactions that enable them to function as they do.

Indeed, scientists at BNL and elsewhere hope to gain a better understanding of the way these processes work, which offers the hope of creating more efficient, less expensive products that could be technologically superior to the current designs.

Boscoboinik, who has been at BNL for almost five years, is especially     appreciative of the opportunities to collaborate with scientists at the Department of Energy-sponsored facility and worked closely with Deyu Lu on the noble gas experiments.

He would not have learned as much only from experiments, Boscoboinik said. The theory helped explain the trapping of radon, which he didn’t work on for safety reasons because of its radioactivity.

Trapping radon gas could have significant health benefits, as the gas is often found in the ground or in basements. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Lu, who is a physicist and theorist at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, said in a recent email he was “impressed by the novelty of [Boscoboinik’s] research on two-dimensional zeolite.” 

The two researchers received funding starting in 2014 on a four-year collaboration. Lu said that he wanted his computational modeling to “confirm the hypothesis from the experiment that noble gas atoms prefer to enter the nano-sized pore [rather] than the interfacial area of the zeolite bi-layer.”

The two-dimensional zeolite model system “gives us a wonderful playground to learn physical insights from both theory and experiments,” he continued. Boscoboinik is “one of the few experts who can synthesize the two-dimensional zeolite film, and he is leading the field to apply synchrotron X-ray techniques to study this remarkable new material,” Lu explained.

More broadly, Boscoboinik is interested in developing a deeper awareness of the process through which zeolite breaks down hydrocarbons. He would also like to get a specific model for the way zeolite can convert methane — a gas that is increasing in the atmosphere and has been implicated in the greenhouse gas effect — into methanol, a liquid that can be converted into gasoline.

A resident of Stony Brook, Boscoboinik, who was raised in Argentina, is married and has two young children. His family enjoys going to the beach and recently visited Orient Point State Park. When he was growing up in South America and had more discretionary time, he enjoyed reading. His favorite authors are Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar.

Boscoboinik appreciates the curiosity-driven questions he gets from his children. In his work, he “tries to think like a kid. At work, I try to ask the same question my five-year old asks,” although he thinks like an adult in matters of safety.

As for his work, Boscoboinik said he knows he has a long way to go before he answers the questions he asks. “When working in this environment, you never know what you’re going to find,” he said. 

“You have to keep your eyes open for the unexpected so you don’t miss things that are really interesting, even if they are not what you were aiming at.”

By Daniel Dunaief

Replacing batteries in a flashlight or an alarm clock requires simple effort and generally doesn’t carry any risk for the device. The same, however, can’t be said for battery-operated systems that go in human bodies and save lives, such as the implantable cardiac defibrillator, or ICD.

Earlier versions of these life-saving devices that restore a normal heart rhythm were large and clunky and required a change of battery every 12 to 18 months, which meant additional surgeries to get to the device.

Esther Takeuchi with Michaëlle Jean, the secretary general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, and moderator Fernando Tiberini at the award ceremony in Paris on June 7. Photo courtesy of European Patent Office

That’s where Esther Takeuchi, who is now Stony Brook University’s William and Jane Knapp Endowed Chair in Energy and the Environment and the chief scientist of the Energy Sciences Directorate at Brookhaven National Laboratory, has made her mark. In the 1980s, working at a company called Greatbatch, Takeuchi designed a battery that was much smaller and that lasted as long as five years. The battery she designed was a million times higher power than a pacemaker battery.

For her breakthrough work on this battery, Takeuchi has received numerous awards. Recently, the European Patent Office honored her with the 2018 innovation prize at a ceremony in Paris. Numerous high-level scientists and public officials attended the award presentation, including former French Minister of the Economy Thierry Breton, who is currently the CEO of Atos, and the Secretary General of the International Organisation of Francophony Michaëlle Jean. 

Takeuchi was the only American to win this innovation award this year.

Takeuchi’s work is “the epitome of innovation, as demonstrated in this breakthrough translational research for which she was recognized,” Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the president of Stony Brook and board chair of Brookhaven Science Associates, which manages Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Her star keeps getting brighter, and I’m proud that she is part of the Stony Brook University family.”

As a winner of this award, Takeuchi joins the ranks of other celebrated scientists, including Shuji Nakamura, who won the European Inventor Award in 2007 and went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics, and Stefan Hell from Germany, whose European Inventor Award predated a Nobel Prize in chemistry. 

Among the over 170 innovators who have won the award, some have worked on gluten substitutes from corn, some have developed drugs against multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, and some have developed soft close furniture hinges.

“The previous recipients have had substantial impact on the world and how we live,” Takeuchi explained in an email. “It is incredible to be considered among that group.” Nominated for the award by a patent examiner from the European Patent Office, she described the award as an “honor” for the global recognition.

The inventor award is a symbolic prize in which the recipients receive attention for their work, explained Rainer Osterwalder, the director of media relations at the European Patent Office.

Takeuchi was one of four women to receive the award this year — the largest such class of women innovators.

“It was very meaningful to see so many accomplished women be recognized for their contributions,” she explained. “I was delighted to meet them and make some additional contacts with female innovators as well.”

About half the researchers in her lab, which currently includes three postdoctoral researchers and usually has about 12 to 16 graduate students, are women. Takeuchi has said that she likes being a role model for women and that she hopes they can see how it is possible to succeed as a scientist.

Implantable cardiac defibrillators are so common in the United States that an estimated 10,000 people receive them each month.

Indeed, while she was at the reception for an awards ceremony attended by over 600 people, Takeuchi said she met someone who had an ICD.

“It is very rewarding to know that they are alive due to technology and my contributions to the technology,” she explained.

Takeuchi said that many people contributed to the battery project for the ICD over the years who were employed at Greatbach. These collaborators were involved in engineering, manufacturing, quality and customer interactions, with each aspect contributing to the final product.

The battery innovation stacks alternating layers of anodes and cathodes and uses lithium silver vanadium oxide. The silver is used for high current, while the vanadium provides long life and high voltage.

Takeuchi, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her doctorate from Ohio State University, has received over 150 patents. The daughter of Latvian emigrants, she received the presidential level National Medal of Technology and Innovation from Barack Obama and has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Takeuchi continues to push the envelope in her energy research. “We are now involved in thinking about larger scale batteries for cars and ultimately for the grid,” she wrote in an email. “Further, we have demonstrated methods that allow battery components to be regenerated to extend their use. This could potentially minimize batteries going into land fills in the future.”

Takeuchi is one of a growing field of scientists who are using the high-tech capabilities of the National Synchrotron Light Source II at BNL, which allows her to see inside batteries as they are working.

“We recently published a paper where we were able to detect the onset of parasitic reactions,” she suggested, which is “an important question for battery lifetime.”

In the big picture, the scientist said she is balancing between power and energy content in her battery research.

“Usually, when cells need to deliver high power, the energy content goes down,” she said. “The goal is to have high energy and high power simultaneously.”

HXN team members, from left, Evgeny Nazaretski, Ken Lauer, Sebastian Kalbfleisch, Xiaojing Huang, Yong Chu, Nathalie Bouet and Hanfei Yan. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

There’s precision in measurements and then there’s the world of Yong Chu. The head of a beamline that’s housed off to the side in a separate, concrete structure from similar efforts at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Chu led the design, construction and commissioning of a sophisticated beamline with a resolution of as low as 3 nanometers, which he hopes will get down to 1 nanometer within a year.

Just as a measure of contrast, a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide. Why so fine a resolution? For starters, seeing objects or processes at that high level can offer insights into how they function, how to improve their manufacture or how to counteract the effects of harmful processes.

With a battery, for example, the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe, or HXN beamline, could help reveal structural weaknesses in the nanostructure that could cause safety issues. In biology, numerous functions involve sub-cellular organelles that respond to proteins. Proteins are typically smaller than the HXN beamline can image, although researchers can tag the proteins with metals, which allows Chu, his colleagues and visiting scientists to see an aggregate of these proteins.

The HXN beamline can also help explore environmental problems, such as how plants transport harmful nanoparticles to their fruits or how artificial compounds absorb nuclear waste. Imaging beamlines that use micro-focused beams typically offer spatial resolution of 10 microns, 1 micron or even 100 nanometers, according to Ryan Tappero, the head scientist at the X-ray Fluorescence Microprobe at BNL, who has used the HXN for his research. Using the NSLS II source properties and a new x-ray optics development routinely offers resolution of 10 nanometers, which pushes the spatial resolution down by another factor of 10, which makes the HXN, according to Tappero, a “game changer.”

Tappero described Chu as a “rock star” and suggested he was an “exceptional beamline scientist” who is “very knowledgeable about X-ray optics.”

BNL houses 19 beamlines at the National Synchrotron Light Source II, a state-of-the-art facility large enough that scientists ride adult tricycles inside it to travel from one beamline to another and to transport supplies around the facility. BNL is building another nine beamlines that it hopes to have operational within the next 18 months. Each of these beamlines offers a different way to explore the world of matter. Some beamlines do not use a focused beam, while others produce beams with high angular or high energy resolution. Imaging beamlines such as the HXN produce a small beam size.

The HXN beamline has the highest spatial resolution of any beamline at the NSLS-II. Scientists building the HXN grew a nanofocusing lens with a dedicated deposition system that was constructed at the NSLS-II Research and Development lab. The system grew a nanofocusing lens a layer at a time, alternating materials and controlling the thickness at better than 1 nanometer, Chu explained.

The beamline where Chu works has padded walls, a door separating it from the rest of the light source and a monitor that records the temperature to the thousandths of a degree. “We are constantly monitoring the temperature around the X-ray microscope and inside of the X-ray microscope chamber,” he said. Around the microscope, he can keep the temperature stable within 0.03 degree Celsius. In the chamber, the scientists maintain the temperature at better than 0.003 degree Celsius.

So, now that Chu and his colleagues built their beamline, have the scientists come? Indeed, the interest in using the HXN has been well above the available time slots. For the three cycles each year, BNL receives about four requests for each available time. This reflects the unique qualities of the instrument, Chu said, adding that he doesn’t expect the rate to drop considerably, even as the HXN continues to operate, because of the ongoing demand.

Researchers have to go through a peer review process, where their ideas are graded for the likelihood of success and for the opportunity to learn from the experiments. All beam time proposals are reviewed by external expert panels, which examine the scientific merit, appropriateness of use of the facility, capability of proposers and quality of prior performance and the research plan and technical feasibility.

Chu fields about 10 calls per month from scientists who want to speak with him about the feasibility of their ideas. He may suggest another station at the NSLS-II or at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, where he was a beamline scientist starting in 1999.

“I know many of the beamlines” at the Advanced Photon Source, he said. “I recommend some of the potential users to perform experiments at the APS first before coming to the HXN.” By the time scientists arrive at his beamline, Chu said he’s gotten to know them through numerous discussions. He considers them “as a guest” at the HXN hotel. “We try to make sure the experimental needs for the users are met as much as possible,” he said.

The HXN beamline has three staff scientists and two postdoctoral fellows who remain in contact with scientists who use the facility. “For most of the users, at least one of us is working throughout the weekends and late evenings,” said Chu.

Not just a staff scientist, Chu is also a user of the HXN, with currently one active general user proposal through a peer review process in which he is collaborating with Stony Brook University and BNL scientist Esther Takeuchi to explore the nanostructure of metal atoms during phase separation in batteries.

Chu and his wife Youngkyu Park, who works at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a research investigator in basic and preclinical cancer research, live in Northport. The couple’s 22-year-old son Luke is attending Nassau Community College and is planning to transfer to Stony Brook this fall to study engineering. Their daughter Joyce is 18 and is enrolled in the Parsons School of Design in New York.

Chu grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and came to the United States when he was 18. He attended Caltech. While Chu’s parents wanted him to become a doctor, he was more inspired by a cartoon called Astro Boy, in which a scientist, Dr. Tenma, is a hero solving problems. As for the work of the scientists who visit his beamline, Chu said the “success of individual users is the success of the beamline.”

Rainbow over NSLS-II: Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source II is a state-of-the-art 3-GeV electron storage ring. Photo from BNL

Budget season brought good news for the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which may receive $291.5 million from the government to help sustain and improve two of its facilities as part of President Barack Obama’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year.

The president requested $179.7 million of that money to go toward BNL’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider facility and the remainder to the National Synchrotron Light Source II facility. The proposed amount is $9.5 million more than what the lab received last year for the two facilities combined.

According to Brookhaven Lab spokesperson Peter Genzer, the money won’t only help the Lab’s RHIC and NSLS-II facilities run, but also help fund new experimental stations at NSLS-II. The president’s financial inquiry also includes $1.8 million for the Core Facility Revitalization project.

The project will provide the infrastructure and facilities to store data to support the lab’s growing needs, the press release said.

U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have worked to maintain America’s science presence — and securing more federal funds for the lab helps maintain it. Schumer said he was pleased with the president’s request to increase funding for the lab, saying that an increase in funding will help keep BNL and our nation at the forefront of innovation and boost Long Island’s economy.

“We appreciate the President’s continued support for science and, in particular, Brookhaven Lab’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and National Synchrotron Light Source II,” BNL Director Doon Gibbs said. “ We are also extremely grateful for the ongoing efforts of Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand — and the entire N.Y. Congressional delegation — on behalf of the Lab and its research mission.”

According to RHIC’s website, scientists study earth in its infancy and other areas that will help people better understand how the world works. The approximate 16-year-old ion collider is also the first machine in the world that can support colliding heavy ions.

The NSLS-II allows scientists to examine high-energy light waves in a variety of spectrums, including x-ray, ultraviolet and infrared. The RHIC and NSLS-II are BNL’s two largest facilities Genzer said.

He added that the “president’s budget request is the first step in the budget process for the fiscal year 2017.” The process begins on Oct. 1. In the best-case scenario, the government will agree on and vote to approve the final budget before the end of the end of September.

The senators will continue their fight to get increased funding for BNL as the lab “is a major economic engine for Long Island,” Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand said she was also pleased with the administration’s request for increased funds. Construction of NSLS-II began in 2009 and cost around $912 million. BNL expected construction to end last year.

Other members of BNL were unavailable for comment prior to publication.

Juergen Thieme stands near the beginning of the beamline and is pointing in the direction the light travels to the end station, where scientists conduct their experiments. Photo from BNL

He’s waited six years. He left his home country of Germany, bringing his wife and children to Long Island.

Now, months after first light and just weeks before the first experiments, Juergen Thieme is on the threshold of seeing those long-awaited returns.

A physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and adjunct professor at Stony Brook, Thieme is responsible for one of the seven beamlines that are transitioning into operation at the newly minted National Synchrotron Light Source II. The facility allows researchers to study matter at incredibly fine resolution through X-ray imaging and high-resolution energy analysis.

“We have invested so much time and so much energy into getting this thing going,” Thieme said. “When you open the shutter and light is coming to the place where it’s supposed to be, that is fantastic.”

The beamline is already overbooked, Thieme said. Scientists have three proposal submission deadlines throughout the year. The most recent one, which ended on June 1, generated over 20 submissions, which Thieme and the beamline team read through to check their feasibility and then send out for a peer review.

The proposals include studies in biology, energy, chemistry, geosciences, condensed matter and materials science.

One of the drivers for the construction of the $912 million facility was developing a greater understanding of how batteries work and how to store energy.

“Although batteries are working very well already, there is room for improvement,” Thieme said. The importance of energy storage suggests that “even a small improvement can have a huge impact.”

Indeed, when he returns to Germany and drives through the countryside, he sees thousands of windmills creating energy. Wind speed and energy demands are not correlated, he said. “There is a need for an intermediate storage of energy.”

The NSLS-II also has the potential to improve commercial industries. Mining rare earth elements, which have a range of application including in cell phones, is a potentially environmentally hazardous process. By using the NSLS-II, scientists can see how bacteria might change oxidation states to make the materials insoluble, making them easier to obtain.

For years, Thieme was on the other side of this process, sending proposals to beamlines to use his training in X-ray physics and X-ray optics to conduct environmental science projects, including analyzing soils.

Six years ago, Qun Shen, the Experimental Facilities Division director for the NSLS-II, asked Thieme if he would consider joining BNL. The two had met when Thieme brought students to the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, where Shen was the head of the X-Ray Microscopy and Imaging Group.

Thieme said he presented the opportunity to his family. His three children voted with a clear yes, while his wife Kirsten was hesitant. Eventually, they decided to go.

Following that offer, Thieme looked at the future site of the facility and saw a green lawn. “I was asking myself, ‘What do I do for the next six years?’” he recalled. “I can tell you I was extremely busy.”

He said he worked on design, planning and evaluations, which included numerous calculations to decide on what to build. “One of the big aspects of constructing a facility at NSLS-II is to reach out to the broader community and try to solicit input from them and try to develop the scientific capabilities to meet their needs,” said Shen. “He has certainly done very well.”

Thieme’s beamline will accelerate the process of collecting information for scientists, Shen said. For some projects, the existing technology would take a few days to produce an image. The beamline Thieme oversees will shorten that period enough that researchers can “test out and revise their hypothesis during the process,” Shen added.

Thieme is eager not only to help other scientists unlock secrets of matter but is also hungry to return to his environmental science interests.

Thieme and Kirsten live in Sound Beach with their 16-year-old son Nils, who is in high school. Their daughters, 23-year-old Svenja, who is studying English and history, and 21-year-old Annika, who is studying to become a journalist, have returned to Germany.

Thieme is inspired by the NSLS-II. “We are building a state of the art experimental station” he said. “To be competitive with other upcoming facilities, we have always to think about how to improve the beamline that we have right now.”