Jigang WangMore is different

“If there’s a theme to my research, it’s small things and complex things,” says Jigang Wang, a physicist at DOE's Ames Laboratory.

Wang’s fascination with the small started as an undergraduate physics student.

“I was interested in the scientific philosophy of reductionism: that to understand phenomena, we have to go to the small, smaller and smallest until we find and understand the most fundamental particles. That by understanding one small piece, we can better understand the whole,” says Wang.

The interest led him to study very small semiconductor nanostructures in graduate school and carbon nanotubes as a postdoctoral researcher. But, along the way, Wang turned to physicist Philip Warren Anderson’s concept of “more is different,” which emphasizes the importance of complexity – how small particles organize themselves and how the organization creates different levels of principles that help explain the whole.

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Beth Papanek, working with nutrients for bacterial growth, and Adam Guss are among the ORNL authors of a paper published in Metabolic Engineering.Microbe bolsters isobutanol production

Another barrier to commercially viable biofuels from sources other than corn has fallen with the engineering of a microbe that improves isobutanol yields by a factor of 10.

The finding of DOE’s BioEnergy Science Center, published in the journal Metabolic Engineering, builds on results from 2011 in which researchers reported on the first genetically engineered microbe to produce isobutanol directly from cellulose.

Isobutanol is attractive because its energy density and octane values are much closer to gasoline and it is useful not only as a direct replacement for gasoline but also as a chemical feedstock for a variety of products. For example, isobutanol can be chemically upgraded into a hydrocarbon equivalent for jet fuel.

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See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 446  |
  • August 24, 2015
  • Battery second use offsets electric vehicle expenses, improves grid stability

    NREL researchers Ahmad Pesaran, left, and John Ireland work on a cell calorimeter at the Battery Testing Laboratory. Photo by Dennis Schroeder Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have the potential to dramatically drive down consumption of carbon-based fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the relatively high price of these vehicles—due in large part to the cost of batteries—has presented a major impediment to widespread market penetration. Researchers at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are playing a crucial role in identifying battery second use (B2U) strategies capable of offsetting vehicle expenses while improving utility grid stability.

    Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, the energy storage technology of choice for PEVs, are typically the most expensive components in those vehicles, and their disposal presents environmental challenges. Second-use options support a broad spectrum of sustainable energy strategies, as they increase the potential for widespread PEV adoption by eliminating end-of-life automotive service costs, in addition to helping utilities support peak electricity demands while building a cleaner, more flexible electricity grid. NREL research confirms that after being used to power a car, a Li-ion battery retains approximately 70% of its initial capacity—making its reuse a valuable energy storage option for electric utilities, before battery materials are recycled.

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  • Stress strategies for sustainable fuels

    Algal cells of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii grown under nitrogen starvation conditions to produce lipids. The red is the autofluorescence from the chlorophyll of the cells while the green indicates the lipid bodies following lipid staining with Lipidtox Green. (Image prepared by Rita Kuo, DOE JGI.) Some algae like Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (or “Chlamy,” as it’s known to its large research community) produce energy-dense oils or lipids when stressed, and these lipids can then be converted into fuels. However, bioenergy researchers walk a fine line in stressing the algae just enough to produce lipids, but not enough to kill them. Published ahead online July 27, 2015 in the journal Nature Plants, a team led by scientists from DOE's Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, analyzed the genes that are being activated during algal lipid production, and in particular the molecular machinery that orchestrates these gene activities inside the cell when it produces lipids.

    “We know how to stress the algae,” said the study’s first author Chew Yee Ngan of the DOE JGI. “What we don’t know is how to keep the algae alive at the same time, until now.”

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  • New experimental research exposes the strength of beryllium at extreme conditions

    In a recent paper published on the cover of the Journal of Applied Physics, an international team of scientists showed that beryllium has very little strength at extreme conditions and most models over-predict its material strength. Until recently, there were very little experimental data about the behavior of beryllium (Be) at very high pressures and strain rates, with existing material models predicting very different behaviors in these regimes. In a successful example of international research collaboration, a team of scientists from DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and the Russian Federal Nuclear Center-All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) changed this field of knowledge.

    In a recent paper published on the cover of the Journal of Applied Physics, the team showed that at extreme conditions, beryllium has very little strength and most models over-predict its material strength.

    “This finding has important implications for scientists working with technology where beryllium is subject to extreme pressures and strain-rates,” said Marc Henry de Frahan, lead author of the paper. Henry de Frahan began conducting this research as a summer student with LLNL’s NIF and Photon Science Directorate and is now a graduate student at the University of Michigan.

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  • NETL's kick detection system provides early warnings for safer drilling

    A kick within the wellbore, pictured on the right, can damage equipment and endanger workers and the environment. The perception of oil and gas well control has evolved over the last century. In the late 1800s and early1900s, blowouts were held in high esteem, with “gushers” romanticized as a symbol of prosperity. Over time, however, these gushers became associated with the destruction of materials, human and environmental impacts, and a loss of marketable resources, leading to development of well control technologies.

    Kicks provide the first indication that a well is becoming unstable. A kick can start as a slow leak from a pressured formation into the wellbore, but the flow increases as the influx of lower density reservoir fluid reduces the hydrostatic pressure exerted by the drilling fluid at the source of the flow. This causes the well to become underbalanced, requiring intervention for the operator to regain control. Failure to regain control usually results in a blowout.

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