Los Alamos physicist Michelle Espy demonstrates use of a magnetic field detector to screen carry-on liquids at airports.Michelle Espy: Detecting dangers to support health and security

In high school, Michelle Espy became fascinated by science after discovering that rules governed how the universe worked and things weren’t totally random. After receiving her Ph.D. in physics in Minnesota, she joined DOE's Los Alamos National Lab as a young postdoc in 1996 to investigate brain imaging, cardiac and cancer research. 

Espy applied physics methods to the noninvasive study of the human brain, and she and her team applied similar methods to a whole host of different kinds of problems, too, including work on detection of liquid explosives hidden inside carry on luggage at the airport.

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Liquid battery electrolytes make this view of an uncharged electrode (top) and a charged electrode (bottom) a bit fuzzy. Image courtesy of Gu et al., Nano Letters 2013.Batteries as they are meant to be seen

Researchers at three national laboratories and three universities together have developed a way to microscopically view battery electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries. While life sciences researchers regularly use transmission electron microscopy to study wet environments, this time scientists have applied it successfully to rechargeable battery research.

The ACS Publication results are good news for scientists studying battery materials under dry conditions. The work showed that many aspects can be studied under dry conditions, which are much easier to use. However, wet conditions are needed to study the hard-to-find solid electrolyte interphase layer, a coating that accumulates on the electrode’s surface and dramatically influences battery performance.

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See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 407  |
  • February 17, 2014
  • Idaho scientists discover clue in the case of the missing silver

    Micrograph of an irradiated fuel pellet containing TRISO particles, which have layers of carbon and carbide that serve as the primary containment for radioactive material. A safer, next-generation fuel is on its way. Scientists at DOE's Idaho National Laboratory recently found the location of silver precipitate in tristructural-isotopic (TRISO) fuel particles, a key in ensuring safe use of the fuel.

    The poppy-seed-sized TRISO particles consist of a uranium center, coated by a layer of silicon carbide and a layer of carbon. These layers are meant to contain the radioactive products of fission, which includes little bits of silver. Sometimes (1-2 percent of particles) silver fission products escape from the center and can even escape the particle entirely. How this happens was mystery spanning 40 years.

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  • Bioenergy technology converts wastewater byproducts to hydrogen

    Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Florida-based Chemergy Inc. plan to demonstrate an innovative bioenergy technology that converts wastewater treatment plant byproducts into hydrogen gas to produce electricity. The demonstration will be conducted at the Delta Diablo Sanitation District facility in Antioch, Calif. Researchers from DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Florida-based Chemergy Inc. plan to demonstrate an innovative bioenergy technology that converts wastewater treatment plant byproducts into hydrogen gas to produce electricity.

    The $1.75 million project will demonstrate an integrated system on a limited industrial scale at the Delta Diablo Sanitation District (DDSD) facility in Antioch, Calif.

    "Our job is to lend our multi-disciplinary expertise in chemistry, engineering and materials science to model and optimize the efficiency of this new technology," said chemist Bob Glass, the LLNL project leader. "We want to use this demonstration project as a model to encourage the widespread use of biosolids for energy production."

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  • X-ray laser maps important drug target

    This illustration shows a man suffering from a migraine, overlain with a rendering of the human serotonin receptor bound to ergotamine, an anti-migraine drug. Also shown is a rendering of a neuron network. Scientists used SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser to explore crystallized samples of the serotonin receptor, which is a type of G protein-coupled receptor. GPCRs regulate many important functions in human physiology; serotonin, for example, is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite and sleep. (Katya Kadyshevskaya/The Scripps Research Institute)Researchers have used one of the brightest X-ray sources on the planet to map the 3-D structure of an important cellular gatekeeper known as a G protein-coupled receptor, or GPCR, in a more natural state than possible before. The new technique is a major advance in exploring GPCRs, a vast, hard-to-study family of proteins that plays a key role in human health and is targeted by an estimated 40 percent of modern medicines.

    The research, performed at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser at DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, is also a leap forward for structural biology experiments at LCLS, which has opened up many new avenues for exploring the molecular world since its launch in 2009.

    “For the first time we have a room-temperature, high-resolution structure of one of the most difficult to study but medically important families of membrane proteins,” said Vadim Cherezov, a pioneer in GPCR research at The Scripps Research Institute who led the experiment. “And we have validated this new method so that it can be confidently used for solving new structures.”

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  • A cool glass of clean drinking water

    On the left, a graphic demonstrating how droplets of oil move through ScanDrop’s microfluidic chip. On the right, the arrows indicate single bacteria cells inside a droplet of oil.Researchers from DOE’s Berkeley Lab, the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and the Joint Genome Institute and Northeastern University (NEU) and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School (MGH/HMS) have developed a portable, network-enabled system for testing drinking water contamination that could revolutionize how pathogens in drinking water are identified. The system, called ScanDrop, developed by Tania Konry’s group at NEU/MGH/HMS, uses droplet-based microfluidics technology and bead-based assay technologies with integrated portable optics to detect bacteria in water.  This ScanDrop system was combined with automated microscope control software (PR-PR) and cloud-based networking, developed by Nathan Hillson’s group at JBEI/JGI, to scan water samples for pathogens and transmit the data remotely Currently, it takes several days in the laboratory to test drinking water supplies for disease-causing pathogens. ScanDrop serves as a proof-of-concept for a method of testing for pathogens in drinking water that is faster than current options and cheap enough that it could be deployed in many poor countries.

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