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Anatoly Frenkel

From left, Dmitri Denisov and Anatoly Frenkel (Brookhaven National Laboratory)

       Honor recognizes distinguished contributions to particle physics, chemistry, and materials science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has recognized two staff scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory with the distinction of Fellow: Deputy Associate Laboratory Director for High Energy Physics Dmitri Denisov and Senior Chemist Anatoly Frenkel. Each year, AAAS bestows this honor on select members whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science, or its applications, are scientifically or socially distinguished.” Marking the 150th anniversary of the program, new fellows will be honored at a forum on September 21, 2024, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals. The tradition of naming Fellows stretches back to 1874. AAAS Fellows are a distinguished cadre of scientists, engineers, and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines ranging from research, teaching, and technology, to administration in academia, industry, and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public. Denisov and Frenkel are two of 502 scientists, engineers, and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines who are being recognized as members of the 2023 class of AAAS Fellows.

Dmitri Denisov

Denisov has been a long-time leader in particle physics, a field in which experiments often run for decades and a discovery can rewrite an entire science program — and therefore, it can be challenging to plan ahead. Denisov’s strategic guidance and many advisory roles have significantly shaped the future of particle physics in the U.S. and around the world.

He was recognized by AAAS for “distinguished contributions to particle physics through experiments at high energy colliders, and for guidance of the field through numerous management and advisory roles.”

“Research in particle physics advances our understanding of the universe at every level, from its smallest particles like quarks and leptons to its largest objects like galaxies,” Denisov said. “My experience leading institutions and experiments that help uncover these mysteries has been deeply rewarding. In addition to developing the unique facilities, accelerators, detectors, and computational techniques that enable this research, I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate with many international partners — and those team efforts are a critical component of the field’s success. I am flattered to be recognized with AAAS fellowship and looking forward to continuing my contributions to the particle physics community and AAAS.”

Currently overseeing Brookhaven’s world-leading high energy physics program as a deputy associate laboratory director, Denisov is responsible for the Lab’s strategic plan for exploring the universe at its smallest and largest scales. Central to the program is close cooperation with other U.S. laboratories, the international particle physics community, and funding agencies. By balancing those complex collaborations with available funding and international priorities set forth by the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel’s P5 report, Denisov ensures Brookhaven contributes its expertise and cutting-edge capabilities to the world’s most pressing particle physics questions in the most valuable ways.

Under Denisov’s leadership, Brookhaven Lab continues the important role as the U.S. host laboratory for the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s highest energy particle accelerator. The Lab participates in many areas of the ATLAS experiment, such as construction, project management, data storage and distribution, and experiment operations. Brookhaven is leading the U.S. contribution to a major upgrade to the ATLAS detector and construction of superconducting magnets in preparation for the LHC’s high-luminosity upgrade.

Denisov also oversees Brookhaven’s important roles in the upcoming Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) based at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and the Sanford Underground Research Facility, from design and construction to operations and analyses. DUNE scientists will search for new subatomic phenomena that could transform our understanding of neutrinos.

Denisov provides crucial support for other international experiments that the Lab’s high energy physics program actively participates in. These include the Belle II experiment at Japan’s SuperKEKB particle collider, for which Brookhaven provides critical computing and software, and the Rubin Observatory that is currently under construction in Chile. Once the Rubin Observatory begins capturing the data from the cosmos, physicists in Brookhaven’s high energy program will take on roles involving operations, scientific analysis, and computing.

At home at Brookhaven, Denisov oversees the Physics Department’s contributions toward a new collaborative effort between DOE and NASA that aims to land and operate a radio telescope on the lunar far side. Called LuSEE-Night, the project marks the first step towards exploring the Dark Ages of the universe, an early era of cosmological history that’s never been observed before. LuSEE-Night’s goal is to access lingering radio waves from the Dark Ages — a period starting about 380,000 years after the Big Bang — by operating in the unique environment of radio silence that the lunar far side offers.

All the while, scientists in the Lab’s high energy physics program under Denisov’s leadership are regularly pioneering new detector technologies, software, and computing solutions that could be used for future particle physics facilities and experiments — and other scientific efforts beyond the field of high energy physics.

“We are thrilled by Dmitri’s distinct recognition by the AAAS Fellowship and look forward to his continuing leadership of Brookhaven’s high energy physics program in the coming years following the 2023 P5 recommendations,” said Haiyan Gao, Brookhaven Lab’s associate laboratory director for nuclear and particle physics.

Before arriving at Brookhaven Lab, Denisov contributed 25 years to the high energy physics program at Fermilab. There, he was most prominently known for serving as the spokesperson for the DZero experiment, which used Fermilab’s Tevatron collider to study the interactions of protons and antiprotons. Denisov led the collaboration of scientists from 24 countries and oversaw publication of over 300 scientific papers written by the collaboration. Strong contributions from Brookhaven’s DZero group were critical for the success of the experiment.

Denisov earned his master’s degree in physics and engineering from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1984 and a Ph.D. in particle physics from the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino in 1991. Before joining Fermilab in 1994, he was a staff scientist at the Institute for High Energy Physics and the SSC Laboratory.

Anatoly Frenkel

Anatoly Frenkel is a senior chemist in the Structure and Dynamics of Applied Nanomaterials group of Brookhaven Lab’s Chemistry Division and a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University (SBU). He is also an affiliated faculty member in SBU’s Department of Chemistry and Institute for Advanced Computational Science.

He was recognized by AAAS for “distinguished contributions to the development and applications of in situ and operando synchrotron methods to solve a wide range of problems in chemistry and materials science.”

“It is an honor to have been nominated and elected to be an AAAS fellow,” Frenkel said. “This recognition reflects on more than two decades of work, going back to the time we first learned how to analyze nanostructures, then properties, and, finally, mechanisms in different types of functional nanomaterials.”

Frenkel’s research focuses on understanding the physicochemical properties of nanocatalysts — materials with features on the scale of billionths of a meter that can speed up or lower the energy requirements of chemical reactions. He’s particularly interested in understanding how materials’ physical structure and other properties relate to their functional performance, the mechanisms of catalytic reactions, and the mechanisms of work in electromechanical materials. He is a long-time user of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven Lab that produces bright beams of X-rays and other forms of light that scientists use to learn about material properties.

Over the course of his career, Frenkel has developed new approaches for studying materials while they are operating under real-world conditions — known as in situ/operando research. In this work, he uses synchrotron techniques, such as X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), X-ray imaging, and X-ray diffraction — all at NSLS-II — as well as advanced electron microscopy techniques at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), another DOE Office of Science user facility. These studies provide detailed insight into materials’ performance and may guide the design of new materials with improved functionality for a wide range of applications. Frenkel has also advanced the use of machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence to discover important material properties purely from their experimental X-ray signatures. Recent examples include studies to understand how catalysts change as they operate under harsh conditions and to discover ones that could potentially convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful products.

“Anatoly’s work to probe how catalysts convert waste products, such as the greenhouse gas CO2, into useful products is important to our efforts in clean energy research at Brookhaven, and it is well deserving of this award,” said John Gordon, chair of the Chemistry Division at Brookhaven Lab.

“Anatoly has been a valued member of our faculty,” said Dilip Gersappe, Stony Brook University Materials Science and Chemical Engineering department chair. “We are thrilled that his pioneering work in developing multi-modal methods for nanomaterial characterization, and the use of novel approaches to identifying spectroscopic signatures through machine learning, has been recognized by this honor.”

Frenkel earned a master’s degree in physics from St. Petersburg University in Russia in 1987 and his Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University in Israel in 1995. He pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Washington, Seattle, and then joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a research scientist from 1996 to 2001. He served on the faculty of Yeshiva University as a Physics Department chair from 2001 to 2016 and was a visiting scientist (sabbatical appointment) at Brookhaven Lab in 2009. He’s been a joint appointee at Brookhaven and Stony Brook University since 2016.

At Brookhaven, Frenkel has served as spokesperson and co-director of the Synchrotron Catalysis Consortium since 2004, and he’s arranged a series of courses on X-ray absorption spectroscopy held at Brookhaven Lab continuously since 2005 and at various institutions around the world. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society (2017) and has held a series of visiting professor fellowships at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Brookhaven National 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, visit science.energy.gov.

From left, Deyu Lu (sitting), Anatoly Frenkel (standing), Yuwei Lin and Janis Timoshenko. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

What changes and how it changes from moment to moment can be the focus of curiosity — or survival. A zebra in Africa needs to detect subtle shifts in the environment, forcing it to focus on the possibility of a nearby predator like a lion.

Similarly, scientists are eager to understand, on an incredibly small scale, the way important participants in chemical processes change as they create products, remove pollutants from the air or engines or participate in reactions that make electronic equipment better or more efficient.

Throughout a process, a catalyst can alter its shape, sometimes leading to a desired product and other times resulting in an unwanted dead end. Understanding the structural forks in the road during these interactions can enable researchers to create conditions that favor specific structural configurations that facilitate particular products.

First, however, scientists need to see how catalysts involved in these reactions change.

That’s where Anatoly Frenkel, a professor at Stony Brook University’s Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering with a joint appointment in Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Chemistry Division, and Janis Timosheko, a postdoctoral researcher in Frenkel’s lab, come in.

Working with Deyu Lu at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and Yuwei Lin and Shinjae Yoo, both from BNL”s Computational Science Initiative, Timoshenko leads a novel effort to use machine learning to observe subtle structural clues about catalysts.

“It will be possible in the future to monitor in real time the evolution of the catalyst in reaction conditions,” Frenkel said. “We hope to implement this concept of reaction on demand.”

According to Frenkel, beamline scientist Klaus Attenkofer at BNL and Lu are planning a project to monitor the evolution of catalysts in reaction conditions using this method.

By recognizing the specific structural changes that favor desirable reactions, Frenkel said researchers could direct the evolution of a process on demand.

“I am particularly intrigued by a new opportunity to control the selectivity (or stability) of the existing catalyst by tuning its structure or shape up to enhance formation of a desired product,” he explained in an email.

The neural network the team has created links the structure and the spectrum that characterizes the structure. On their own, researchers couldn’t find a structure through the spectrum without the help of highly trained computers.

Through machine learning, X-rays with relatively lower energies can provide information about the structure of nanoparticles under greater heat and pressure, which would typically cause distortions for X-rays that use higher energy, Timoshenko said.

The contribution and experience of Lin, Yoo and Lu was “crucial” for the development of the overall idea of the method and fine tuning its details, Timoshenko said. The teaching part was a collective effort that involved Timoshenko and Frenkel.

Frenkel credits Timoshenko for uniting the diverse fields of machine learning and nanomaterials science to make this tool a reality. For several months, when the groups got together for bi-weekly meetings, they “couldn’t find common ground.” At some point, however, Frenkel said Timoshenko “got it, implemented it and it worked.”

The scientists used hundreds of structure models. For these, they calculated hundreds of thousands of X-ray absorption spectra, as each atom had its own spectrum, which could combine in different ways, Timoshenko suggested.

They back-checked this approach by testing nanoparticles where the structure was already known through conventional analysis of X-ray absorption spectra and from electron microscopy studies, Timoshenko said.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to understand the relationship between the structure of a material and its useful properties. The new method, combined with other approaches, can provide an understanding of the structure.

Timoshenko said additional data, including information about the catalytic activity of particles with different structures and the results of theoretical modeling of chemical processes, would be necessary to take the next steps. “It is quite possible that some other machine learning methods can help us to make sense of these new pieces of information as well,” he said.

According to Frenkel, Timoshenko, who transferred from Yeshiva University to Stony Brook University in 2016 with Frenkel, has had a remarkably productive three years as a postdoctoral researcher. His time at SBU will end by the summer, when he seeks another position.

A native of Latvia, Timoshenko is married to Edite Paule, who works in a child care center. The scientist is exploring various options after his time at Stony Brook concludes, which could include a move to Europe.

A resident of Rocky Point during his postdoctoral research, Timoshenko described Long Island as “extremely beautiful” with a green landscape and the nearby ocean. He also appreciated the opportunity to travel to New York City to see Broadway shows. His favorite, which he saw last year, is “Miss Saigon.”

Timoshenko has dedicated his career to using data analysis approaches to understanding real life problems. Machine learning is “yet another approach” and he would like to see if this work “will be useful” for someone conducting additional experiments, he said.

At some point, Timoshenko would also like to delve into developing novel materials that might have an application in industry. The paper he published with Frenkel and others focused only on the studies of relatively simple monometallic particles. He is working on the development of that method to analyze more complex systems.

This work, he suggested, is one of the first applications of machine learning methods for the interpretation of experimental data, not just in the field of X-ray absorption spectroscopy. “Machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence are very hot and rapidly developing fields, whose potential in experimental research we have just started to explore.”


By Daniel Dunaief

First responders, soldiers or those exposed to any kind of chemical weapons attack need a way to remove the gas from the air. While masks with activated carbon have been effective, the latest technological breakthrough involving a metal organic framework may not only remove the gas, but it could also disarm and decompose it.

That’s the recent finding from research led by Anatoly Frenkel in a study on a substance that simulates the action of sarin nerve gas.

Frenkel, who is a senior chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University, worked with metal organic frameworks, which contain zirconium cluster nodes that are connected through a lattice of organic linkages.

Anatoly Frenkel with his son, Yoni, at Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey. Photo by Mikhail Loutsenko.

These structures would “do the job even without any catalytic activity,” Frenkel said, because they are porous and capture gases as they pass through them. “It’s like a sponge that can take in moisture. Its high porosity was already an asset.”

Frenkel and his colleagues, which include John Morris and Diego Troya from Virginia Tech, Wesley Gordon from Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and Craig Hill from Emory University, among other contributors, suspected that these frameworks might also decompose the gas.

Theoretically, researchers had predicted this might be the case, although they had no proof. Frenkel and his team used a differential method to see what was left in the structure after the gas passed through. Their studies demonstrated a high density of electrons near the zirconium atoms. “These were like bread crumbs congregated around a place where the zirconium nodes with the connecting linkers were,” Frenkel said.

While this work, which the scientists published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, has implications for protecting soldiers or civilians in the event of a chemical weapons attack, Frenkel and his colleagues, who received funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, can share their results with the public and scientific community because they are not working on classified materials and they used a substance that’s similar to a nerve gas and not sarin or any other potentially lethal gas.

“This knowledge can be transferred to classified research,” Frenkel said. “This is a stepping stone.” Indeed, Frenkel can envision the creation of a mask that includes a metal organic framework that removes deadly nerve gases from the air and, at the same time, disarms the gas, providing a defense for first responders or the military after a chemical weapons attack. Even though he doesn’t work in this arena, Frenkel also described how manufacturers might use these frameworks in treating the fabric that is used to make clothing that can prevent gases that can be harmful to the skin from making contact.

A physicist by training, Frenkel’s work, which includes collaborations on five other grants, has a common theme: He explores the relationship between structure and function, particularly in the world of nanomaterials, where smaller materials with large surface areas have applications in a range of industries, from storing and transmitting energy to delivering drugs or pharmaceuticals to a targeted site.

Eric Stach, a group leader in electron microscopy at BNL, has collaborated with Frenkel and suggested that his colleague has helped “develop all these approaches for characterizing these materials.” Stach said that Frenkel has “an outstanding reputation internationally” as an expert in X-ray absorption spectroscopy, and, in particular, a subarea that allows scientists to learn about extremely subtle changes in the distance between atoms when they are subjected to reactive environments.

Frenkel said some of the next steps in the work with metal organic frameworks include understanding how these materials might become saturated with decomposed gas after they perform their catalytic function. “It’s not clear what can affect saturation,” he said, and that is something that “needs to be systematically investigated.” After the catalyst reaches saturation, it would also be helpful to know whether it’s possible to remove the remaining compound and reuse the catalyst.

“The next question is whether to discard” the framework after it’s trapped and deactivated the chemicals or regenerate it, Frenkel said. He is also exploring how temperature ranges might affect the performance of the framework. Ideally, it would function as well in an arctic environment as it would in a desert under extreme heat. A commercial application might require the synthesis of a material with different physical characteristics for a range of temperature conditions.

Frenkel has been working on this project for about one and a half years. A colleague approached him to become a part of this new collaboration. “My role was to bring this work to a national lab setting,” where the scientists could use the advanced tools at BNL to study the material as it was working, he said.

A resident of Great Neck, Frenkel, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, lives with his wife Hope Chafiian, a teacher at the Spence School in Manhattan for almost 30 years. He has three children: Yoni lives in Manhattan and works at JP Morgan Chase, Ariela is a student at Binghampton and Sophie is in middle school in Great Neck.

Frenkel appreciates the opportunity to explore the broader world of nanomaterials, which, he said, are not constrained by crystal structures and can be synthesized by design. “They show a lot of mysteries that are not understood fully,” he said. Indeed, Frenkel explained that there are numerous commercial processes that might benefit from design studies conducted by scientists. As for his work with metal organic frameworks, he said “there’s no way to overestimate how important [it is] to do work that has a practical application that improves technology, saves costs, protects the environment” and/or has the potential to save lives.