SSRL Science Highlights Archive

Approximately 1,600 scientists visit SSRL annually to conduct experiments in broad disciplines including life sciences, materials, environmental science, and accelerator physics. Science highlights featured here and in our monthly newsletter, Headlines, increase the visibility of user science as well as the important contribution of SSRL in facilitating basic and applied scientific research. Many of these scientific highlights have been included in reports to funding agencies and have been picked up by other media. Users are strongly encouraged to contact us when exciting results are about to be published. We can work with users and the SLAC Office of Communication to develop the story and to communicate user research findings to a much broader audience. Visit SSRL Publications for a list of the hundreds of SSRL-related scientific papers published annually and to add your most recent publications to this collection.

While we continue to refine our science highlights content you may access older science summaries that date between 04/2001 to 06/2010 by visiting We will be offering science summaries that date from 06/2012 to the present soon.

October 2015
Aina Cohen, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource
Goniometer image

Scientists have developed a goniometer-based system to study radiation-sensitive macromolecular complexes.

Macromolecular Crystallography
October 2015
Axel Brunger, Stanford University
SNARE structure

Scientists have determined the 3-D structure of a complex of synaptic proteins that controls the release of signaling chemicals from brain cells in less than one-thousandth of a second, which ultimately could help unlock a new realm of drug research targeting brain disorders.

Macromolecular Crystallography
September 2015
Donghui Lu, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource
Figure 3

A superconductor can carry an electrical current with no resistance, so no energy is lost. This quantum mechanical effect was first discovered in certain materials when cooled to very low temperatures, with the highest record at -250°C. In 1986, a class of high temperature superconductor (HTSC) materials was discovered called cuprates, which show superconducting properties at temperatures as high as -135°C. More recently, superconductivity was found in some iron-containing compounds known as iron-based superconductors (FeSCs).

Angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy
September 2015
Hendrik Ohldag

Conventional electronics encode information using the charge of electrons. Spin transport electronics, or spintronics, seeks to encode information using the spin of electrons, up or down. Spintronics has the potential to be more efficient and more reliable, especially as electronic components become smaller. To advance the field, the mechanics of spin transport from one material to another needs to be understood. In a study that develops methods for studying spin transport, a team of scientists looked at how spin information travels between a spin signal source (a ferromagnet) and a non-magnetic material that transports the signal.

August 2015
Courtney M. Roach (Krest),
Figure 1

Bonds between carbon and hydrogen atoms are ubiquitous in organic molecules important for life.  Generally considered to be unreactive, C-H bonds are not easily activated so that the hydrogen can be replaced with a different chemical group. A mechanism that would allow chemists to selectively activate C-H bonds to become reactive would open up numerous new possibilities for synthetic chemistry and is the subject of intense studies.

July 2015
Olav Hellwig, HGST, Hermann Dürr, SIMES
Figure 1

Magnetic data storage devices are ubiquitous in our modern, data-rich world.  Computer hard disks, magnetic recording tape, and magnetic strips on credit cards use such devices, creating pressure to engineer ever greater data density on smaller surfaces.

June 2015
Junfeng He, Boston College, Rui-Hua He, Boston College
Lay Summary Image

The heat that builds up in the shuttling of current in electronics is an important obstacle to packing more computing power into ever-smaller devices: Excess heat can cause them to fail or sap their efficiency.

Angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) measurements taken at Beam Line 5-4 at SSRL and at the Advanced Light Source have observed an exotic property that could warp the electronic structure of a material in a way that reduces heat buildup and improves performance in ever-smaller computer components.

Angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy
June 2015
Steve Conradson, LANL/Synchrotron-SOLEIL, Sam Webb, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource
EST Cover Image

When a geographical area is contaminated with radioactive elements, time and heat can cause them to combine with other atoms to form a variety of compounds. Knowing what compounds form and when they form is important for containing and cleaning contaminated sites. Computer models can make predictions but are limited to the currently known reactions and compounds that can be described in the laboratory.  A collaboration of scientists has taken samples from the fields of six different contaminated sites to discover which chemical species are formed from uranium and plutonium. The sites studied released these elements under different circumstances and into different environments.

X-ray diffraction, MEIS X-ray absorption spectroscopy
BL2-3, BL11-2
May 2015
Mathew Sajish, The Scripps Research Institute, Paul Schimmel, The Scripps Research Institute

Famous for its presence in red wine, the molecule resveratrol is present in many foods, including grapes, blueberries, and peanuts. Studies showing that resveratrol can elicit health benefits, including longevity in animals, have generated much interest in its effects on humans and its mechanisms of action. These are partly unknown but, recently, scientists found resveratrol can affect a stress response pathway associated with longevity.

Macromolecular Crystallography
April 2015

Creating novel enzymes to perform specific chemical reactions is a field of great promise, but it is still in its early stages. Efforts usually involve using well-studied protein structural and functional domains to create new active sites. Scientists have recently developed a different approach, creating the active site in the interface between proteins in a multi-protein complex. They started with a well-researched, natural protein that, in its natural state, does not form complexes with other proteins, and nor does it catalyze the desired reaction.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL9-2, BL14-1


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