Valerie Gray pauses for a moment between studies at The College of William and Mary and work at Jefferson Lab. She is the chair-elect for the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs.Young scientist develops research, outreach and leadership skills

Valerie Gray always had a knack for math and science, as well as a busy outlook. Now, the young researcher is pursuing her Ph.D. in physics with research at DOE's Jefferson Lab, while also encouraging next-generation students to pursue STEM careers and taking on leadership roles in her field.

Gray was born in the small town of Baileys Harbor, Wis., and grew up a self-described “farm kid,” with two brothers and a slew of cousins who all worked on the family farm. “Cows, chickens, hay…a farm needs manpower,” Gray recalled with a laugh. She was the third generation of her family to graduate from the only school in the northern part of the county, which housed kindergarten through 12th grade in the same building. In addition to her farm chores, Gray made money babysitting, working as a waitress at a pizza place, as a sales clerk in an ice cream shop, and handing out putters to tourists at the local mini-golf enterprise. She also played basketball and softball and ran cross country.

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The Critical Materials Institute is using unique tools like a 3-D metals printer to produce inventions that help address shortages of materials critical to clean energy technologies.First anniversary gift for Critical Material Institute? Inventions. Eleven of them.

The Critical Materials Institute celebrated its first anniversary with eleven invention disclosures, all research milestones in a mission to assure the availability of rare earths and other materials critical to clean energy technologies. CMI is a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, led by Ames Laboratory, brings together scientists at Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a number of industrial and university partners.

CMI’s inventions include improved extractive processes, recycling techniques, and substitute materials-technologies designed to increase production and efficiency of, and reduce reliance on, the use of rare earths and other critical materials.

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See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 430  |
  • January 12, 2015
  • PPPL, Princeton launch hunt for Big Bang particles

    Chris Tully adjusts the PTOLEMY prototype. (Photo credit: Elle Starkman/PPPL) Billions upon billions of neutrinos speed harmlessly through everyone’s body every moment of the day, according to cosmologists. The bulk of these subatomic particles are believed to come straight from the Big Bang, rather than from the sun or other sources. Experimental confirmation of this belief could yield seminal insights into the early universe and the physics of neutrinos. But how do you interrogate something so elusive that it could zip through a barrier of iron a light-year thick as if it were empty space?

    At DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), researchers led by Princeton University physicist Chris Tully are set to hunt for these nearly massless Big Bang relics by exploiting a curious fact: Neutrinos can be captured by tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and provide a tiny boost of energy to the electrons — or beta particles — that are emitted in tritium decay.

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  • “Atomic mismatch” creates nano “dumbbells”

    This picture combines a transmission electron microscope image of a nanodumbbell with a gold domain oriented in direction. The seed and gold domains in the dumbbell in the image on the right are identified by geometric phase analysis. Image credit: Soon Gu Kwon. Like snowflakes, nanoparticles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The geometry of a nanoparticle is often as influential as its chemical makeup in determining how it behaves, from its catalytic properties to its potential as a semiconductor component. 

    Thanks to a new study from Argonne National Laboratory, researchers are closer to understanding the process by which nanoparticles made of more than one material – called heterostructured nanoparticles – form. This process, known as heterogeneous nucleation, is the same mechanism by which beads of condensation form on a windowpane.

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  • X-ray laser reveals how bacterial protein morphs in response to light

    This illustration depicts an experiment at SLAC that revealed how a protein from photosynthetic bacteria changes shape in response to light. Samples of the crystallized protein (right), called photoactive yellow protein or PYP, were jetted into the path of SLAC's LCLS X-ray laser beam (fiery beam from bottom left). The crystallized proteins had been exposed to blue light (coming from left) to trigger shape changes. Diffraction patterns created when the X-ray laser hit the crystals allowed scientists to recreate the 3-D structure of the protein (center) and determine how light exposure changes its shape. (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) Human biology is a massive collection of chemical reactions, from the intricate signaling network that powers our brain activity to the body’s immune response to viruses and the way our eyes adjust to sunlight. All involve proteins, known as the molecules of life; and scientists have been steadily moving toward their ultimate goal of following these life-essential reactions step by step in real time, at the scale of atoms and electrons.

    Now, researchers have captured the highest-resolution snapshots ever taken with an X-ray laser that show changes in a protein’s structure over time, revealing how a key protein in a photosynthetic bacterium changes shape when hit by light. They achieved a resolution of 1.6 angstroms, equivalent to the radius of a single tin atom.

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  • Electron-rich ions retain charge when softly landed

    Scientists determined that negatively charged Keggin ions, shown resting atop carbon-based surfaces, do not lose their charge when softly landed. Creating extended range electric cars and high-capacity flash memory for portable electronics requires scientists to delve into the behavior of anions, negatively charged molecules, that can store extra electrons needed to get the job done. For the first time, scientists at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) determined how carefully prepared electron-rich anions interact with three well-known carbon-based surfaces. Unlike positively charged ions, anions retain their charge and fail to transfer electrons to the surface. The Keggin anions refuse to release their electrons to the surface because of the substantial force holding the electrons to the molecule.

    "In contrast with positive ions, charge retention by negative ions is less surface dependent," said Dr. Julia Laskin, a PNNL Laboratory Fellow who led the research. "In this case, the properties of the ion determine whether it retains its charge on the surface."

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