If you have ever been to a nitrogen ice cream shop or seen a demonstration of someone freezing something with liquid nitrogen, you might have thought “cool!” but then never really gave it a second thought. While liquid nitrogen undeniably makes some of the smoothest ice cream on the planet, nitrogen is far more important than you might realize. Nitrogen is so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s in everything, from the core of your DNA to the majority of the air you breathe.
Malgorzata (Gosia) Chwatko
In recent news headlines, plastic materials—especially single-use items—have been declared an enemy of the planet. Images of plastic waste covering our beaches or hurting animals are commonly showcased. In response to these stories, politicians are arguing for bans on various plastic items, such as bags or straws. With so much bad press, it is easy to express our outrage and wish for a plastic ban or a world with less plastic, but it is harder to remember why we even started using plastic materials and how much plastic has significantly improved our world.
Catherine F. Wise
Established in 2009 by Basic Energy Sciences at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) have taken innovative approaches to addressing challenges in energy conversion. With a focus on performing fundamental science, each center strives to tackle at least one of the “Grand Challenges” set forth by DOE, which range from manipulating the movement of individual atoms and electrons to understanding the properties and interactions of complex, multi-scale materials.
The clock is counting down. Humanity is counting on the Star Trek Enterprise's science officer, Spock, to save them by inventing new physics and performing some quick calculations. Is this what scientists really do? Real life as a scientist is not like this (although we do experience eureka moments and do make cool things). Science is a process for encountering and understanding the unknown. Think processes are boring? Science definitely isn’t!
Synchrotron light sources are giant particle accelerators that produce intense radiation that can be millions of times brighter than the light that reaches the Earth from the sun. Synchrotron radiation is electromagnetic radiation that is emitted when charged particles, moving near the speed of light, have their direction changed by bending magnets.
Walk into an Apple store and you’ll see that the newest phones now incorporate an extra camera to provide wide-angle capabilities, allowing us to capture both the sand we’re standing on as well as the waves crashing on the rocks in the distance together, all in gorgeous resolution.
Just as the Industrial Revolution sparked the beginning of industrial chemistry in the West and textile chemistry influenced the development of chemical engineering in India, the petroleum industry set in motion the foundations of chemical technology in the Middle East.
Understanding mass transport in nanopores is critical in a wide variety of emerging energy and environmental technologies, such as water desalination and supercapacitors. Not all nanopores are created equal. For starters, their diameters vary between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). The smallest of these nanopores, called single digit nanopores (SDNs), have diameters of less than 10 nm, and have only recently been accessible experimentally for precision transport measurements.
What happens when you bring two negatively charged objects really close to each other? Repulsion would be the obvious answer, but what if there were positive charges in between? Recently, MIT researchers as part of the Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport (CENT) published a theory in Langmuir which offered a comprehensive mathematical description for this fundamental problem. Their answer? It depends.
Quantum dots have recently made the leap from the lab to your local Best Buy in QLED TVs. These new TVs boast brighter colors due to a grid of quantum dots—tiny nanoparticles that are really good at emitting one color of light—incorporated into the display. To know how well a quantum dot works, we need to know how efficiently it emits light.
New Centers on the Horizon
Funding for 15 of the 46 active EFRCs is set to expire in July 2020, but the good news is that DOE recently announced a competition for another round of EFRC funding. A proposed $40 million dollars will support new and potentially renewing centers.
In this round of funding, DOE is seeking proposals in four areas of strategic interest: quantum information science, microelectronics, environmental management and polymer upcycling—that is developing the chemistry needed to convert plastic waste into fuels and other high-value products.
The centers selected from the current competition will help lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in these areas which were outlined as Priority Research Directions in workshops and identified as Primary Research Opportunities in one or more of the four resulting reports prepared by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
Universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms are eligible to compete for funding, and are encouraged to form multi-disciplinary research teams that likely will include partnerships with other institutions.
This ‘team science’ approach is exemplified in each of the stories you’ll read in this issue. One scientist is tackling energy challenges as part of two EFRCs! And a feature story outlines the scientific method and how fundamental science can underpin applied technologies.
For researchers, at existing and future EFRCs, that scientific method flourishes in these dynamic, innovative teams. To quote Undersecretary of Energy, Paul Dabbar, as he announced the funding opportunity for new centers, “Together these researchers will be laying the groundwork for America’s next generation of technologies for both energy and the environment.”
I hope you enjoy reading about how several centers are doing that already, today!
Susan Bauer, Editor-in-Chief
- Eric Assaf, Alliance for Molecular PhotoElectrode Design for Solar Fuels (AMPED)
- Malgorzata (Gosia) Chwatko, Center for Materials for Water and Energy Systems (M-WET)
- Sally Jiao, Center for Materials for Water and Energy Systems (M-WET)
- ChoongSze Lee, Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI)
- Anh Tuan Pham, Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport (CENT)
- Elizabeth Pogue, Institute for Quantum Matter (IQM)
- Cora Went, Photonics at Thermodynamic Limits (PTL)
- Catherine Wise, Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis (CME)
- Ben Xinzi Zhang, Bioinspired Light-Escalated Chemistry (BioLEC)
Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.