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 http://www-ssrl.slac.stanford.edu/science/sciencehighlights.html. We will be offering science summaries that date from 06/2012 to the present soon.

January 2015
Scott Bailey, Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health
CRISPR figure

With more viruses that infect bacteria than any other type of biological entity, bacteria have developed a sophisticated means of defending themselves. At the heart of their defenses is a system called CRISPR.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL12-2
January 2015
Blake Wiedenheft, Montana State University, Ryan N. Jackson, Montana State University
CRISPR figure

With more viruses that infect bacteria than any other type of biological entity, bacteria have developed a sophisticated means of defending themselves. At the heart of their defenses is a system called CRISPR.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL12-2
January 2015
David Barbero, Umeå University
Figure 1

Graphene – a one-atom thick sheet of carbon – shows great promise for future electronics. With its desirable electrical properties, flexibility and strength, the material could enable powerful capacitors, high-quality protective coatings and flexible transparent electronics.

BL11-3
January 2015
Makoto Hashimoto, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource
Figure 1

For years, scientists have chased after the promise of high-temperature superconductors – materials that carry current through a material with 100% efficiency. Yet the closest they have come to creating such a material still requires temperatures more than 100 degrees Celsius below freezing.

Angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy
BL5-4
November 2014
Yoshikazu Kurosawa, Fujita Health University, Ian A. Wilson, The Scripps Research Institute

Influenza viruses infect millions of people each year, cause severe illness, and present a significant health challenge. Vaccines are effective in preventing the flu but they require almost yearly reformulation to keep up with the constantly changing viruses. The highly variable hemagglutinin (HA), the major surface glycoprotein on influenza viruses, binds host cells to initiate infection. Scientists have identified a broadly neutralizing antibody, F045-092, that can inhibit this binding.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL11-1
October 2014
Ritimukta Sarangi, SSRL, Wonwoo Nam, Ewha Womans University, Shunichi Fukuzumi, Osaka University/Japan Science and Technology Agency
Fig 1

Understanding the global process of photosynthesis is not only of fundamental interest in biology but is also relevant to attempts in the energy sciences to copy nature’s ability to turn light into chemical energy. With a recent study an international research team has come a step closer to understanding a key chemical reaction in the photosynthetic process – the splitting of water and the production of oxygen gas, O2, at the oxygen-evolving complex (OEC) in photosystem II. The OEC is known to be a tetrameric manganese cluster, Mn4CaO5, but its exact mechanism remains a mystery. The new study sheds light on the role of the cluster’s calcium, suggesting that it critically fine-tunes the OEC’s ability to produce oxygen.

BL7-3, BL9-3
October 2014
Kelly N. Chacón, Oregon Health and Science University, Ninian J. Blackburn, Oregon Health and Science University
Fig 1

Copper is an essential element for many organisms, however, it becomes toxic to cells at high concentrations. Therefore, organisms have developed ways to tightly regulate cellular copper levels. An example of such a regulatory mechanism is the CusCBFA efflux pump in the bacterium Escherichia coli – a multi-protein system that removes toxic copper (Cu+) and silver (Ag+) ions from the space between the bacterium’s inner and outer cell membranes known as the periplasm. Researchers have recently obtained new insights into the mechanism of this system. This information may prove beneficial for the future development of antimicrobial drugs that shut down bacterial efflux pumps.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
BL7-3, BL9-3
September 2014
Philip J. Kranzusch, HHMI/UC-Berkeley, Jennifer Doudna, HHMI/UC-Berkeley/LBNL

Sensor proteins that detect bacteria and viruses are key players of the human immune system. Despite their notable importance, little is known about how these sensors emerged in humans, and the way they work often remains a mystery. An x-ray study at SSRL has now shed light on the mechanism of the recently discovered human sensor protein cGAS and provided unexpected evidence that it may have evolved from related proteins in bacteria. The researchers were also able to reprogram cGAS and alter its mechanism – an approach of potential therapeutic interest.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL11-1, BL12-2
August 2014
Feifei Yang, University of Science and Technology of China, Yijin Liu, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Joy C. Andrews, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Jagjit Nanda, ORNL
figure

Responsible, eco-friendly and sustainable use of energy is one of the biggest challenges in today’s world. Current rates of energy consumption demand the development of efficient ways to store energy, for instance in safe and durable rechargeable batteries. However, repeated charge cycles degrade batteries over time, eventually leading to their failure. Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, SSRL and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have recently developed a new approach to visualize and quantify changes in battery materials during electrochemical cycling – providing crucial information for a better understanding of battery failure and potential improvements of energy storage materials.  

BL6-2c
August 2014
Johanna Nelson Weker, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Michael Toney, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are widely used in a variety of applications, ranging from consumer electronics to electric vehicles. Their breadth of use makes the development of new, high-capacity battery materials highly desirable. Yet, the progress of lithium-ion technology has been rather slow over the past decades. One promising approach to enhancing the capacity of lithium-ion batteries is to use silicon or germanium anodes that form alloys with lithium during cycling. Unfortunately, these electrodes fail after a few charge cycles for reasons that had not been fully understood. A recent study has now revealed that fracturing of the anode material during battery operation causes the anodes to malfunction.

BL6-2c

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