New faculty member Kent Irwin brings his expertise in quantum sensors to SLAC and Stanford. (Matt Beardsley/SLAC)Sensor expert Kent Irwin joins SLAC

Here's a physics riddle: What do hunting for dark matter, studying the universe's very beginnings and probing the behavior of exotic materials have in common?

One answer is Kent Irwin, who recently came to DOE's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), with joint appointments in the SLAC Particle Physics and Astrophysics and Photon Science directorates and on the Stanford University physics faculty. What Irwin has, aside from an inexhaustible supply of energy, is a fascination for fundamental cosmological questions and decades of experience building some of the most delicate sensors in the world – sensors capable of detecting single photons or the infinitesimal vibrations caused by a particle, possibly dark matter, striking a germanium crystal lattice.

Full Story


Courtesy of Ralf Kaehler and Tom Abel (visualization); John Wise and Tom Abel (numeric simulation)A toolbox to simulate the Big Bang and beyond

The universe is a vast and mysterious place, but thanks to high-performance computing technology scientists around the world are beginning to understand it better. They are using supercomputers to simulate how the Big Bang generated the seeds that led to the formation of galaxies such as the Milky Way.

A new project involving DOE’s Argonne Lab, Fermilab and Berkeley Lab will allow scientists to study this vastness in greater detail with a new cosmological simulation analysis toolbox.

Modeling the universe with a computer is very difficult, and the output of those simulations is typically very large. By anyone’s standards, this is “big data,” as each of these data sets can require hundreds of terabytes of storage space. Efficient storage and sharing of these huge data sets among scientists is paramount. Many different scientific analyses and processing sequences are carried out with each data set, making it impractical to rerun the simulations for each new study.

Full Story

See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 399  |
  • October 14, 2013
  • Analyzing the chemical composition of uranium samples

    Greg Klunder, a chemist in LLNL's Forensic Science Center, examines a uranium ore concentrate sample with the aid of a near-infrared spectrometer. A team of researchers at DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)  has pioneered the use of a long-standing technology for a new application — analyzing the chemical composition of uranium samples.

    In a paper published as the cover story in the September edition of Applied Spectroscopy, the Laboratory scientists describe the first reported use of near-infrared spectrometry to study the chemical properties of uranium ore concentrates (UOC), also called yellowcake.

    Near-infrared spectrometers were first used in industrial applications in the 1950s and have been utilized for medical diagnostics, combustion research, pharmaceuticals and other uses, but not for studying uranium ore concentrates. The instrument measures the color, intensity and wavelength of light or reflected light.

    Full Story

  • Sorbents capturing CO2 will make power plants cleaner

    Scientist holding sorbents (pellets) in gloved hands. When coal is used to generate electricity in power plants, carbon from the coal bonds with oxygen from air to make carbon dioxide (CO2). Due to concerns about how CO2 impacts global climate, scientists at DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory are developing materials and processes to separate and capture it from power plants for permanent disposal. Ideally, the capture process will not create new waste materials, is quick and efficient, and the CO2 ends up as a high-pressure gas that can be transported in a pipeline to be injected into an oil field or a deep geologic formation.

    Researchers at NETL are developing chemicals called sorbents that absorb carbon dioxide after it is created in power plants. Some sorbents react with the CO2 to create solid materials; these solids can be easily separated from gases in the power plant. Once separated, the solid is chemically broken down into CO2 gas and the original sorbent chemical is recovered, and thus re-used to capture more CO2. Good sorbents have a high CO2 capture capacity and react relatively rapidly with CO2 at temperatures close to those in the power plant. Reversing the reaction to regenerate the sorbent and release the CO2 must also be efficient and the conditions cannot be too extreme.

    Full Story

  • Together at last: PPPL binds the heart of the NSTX-U into a complete whole

    PPPL technicians lower the fiberglass-wrapped bundle of 36 magnetic field conductors into the VPI mold.After some 18 months of painstaking preparation, a team of engineers and technicians has bound all 36 magnetic field conductors for the center stack of the National Spherical Torus Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) into a unified whole. Team members lifted the lid of the mold for the latest crucial stage of the process and found that the task of combining all four quadrants of 20-foot-long conductors into one nearly 20,000-pound cylindrical bundle had gone smoothly as planned.

    The bundle lies at the heart of the upgrade, which will double the power of the NSTX-U when the overhaul is completed in fall, 2014. The increased power will enable PPPL scientists to investigate the behavior of plasma, the hot, electrically charged gas that fuels fusion reactions, under higher temperature and magnetic field conditions, and for longer periods of time, than previously had been possible.

    Full Story

  • 3D dynamic imaging of soft materials

    This schematic of a graphene liquid cell shows multiple liquid pockets containing single nanoparticles, dimers composed of dsDNA bridges in different lengths, and trimers. In a new study led by DOE's Berkeley Lab, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and a unique graphene liquid cell were used to record three-dimensional motions of DNA connected to gold nanocrystals. This is the first reported use of TEM for 3D dynamic imaging of so-called “soft materials,” a category that includes DNA, proteins and other biological compounds, plastics, therapeutic drugs, flexible electronics, and certain types of photovoltaics.

    Full Story