SSRL Science Highlights Archive

Approximately 1,700 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. Contact us to add your most recent publications to this collection.


April 2022

Since the groundbreaking discovery of copper oxide (cuprate) high-temperature superconductors in 1986, the quest to raise the superconducting transition temperature (Tc) in these systems never stopped. However, since the realization of the 135K Tc in Hg-containing cuprates in 1993, the record has remained off-limits to ensuing efforts under ambient conditions. Understanding the mechanisms that limit the superconducting Tc in cuprates has become an imperative task in order to effectively engineer Tc.

Angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy
February 2022
Joseph Wedekind, University of Rochester

RNA biologists have discovered that RNA, the chemical cousin of DNA, can bind two metabolites (small molecules) at the same time in a single binding pocket, causing those molecules to interact. This discovery, published in Nature Communications, could lead to new antibacterial drugs while helping to fill a gap in the controversial “RNA world” theory, which suggests that RNA molecules enabled life to evolve on Earth 3.5 billion years ago

Macromolecular Crystallography
February 2022
Qizhang Yan, University of California San Diego, Jian Luo, University of California San Diego

Increasing the power density of reusable batteries will allow electric vehicles to travel farther and cell phones and portable electronics to be used longer on a single charge. Scientists are interested in using higher power density lithium alloy materials as the battery anode instead of the commonly used graphite. Although these materials have higher power density, their capacity degrades quickly after a few recharging cycles. This is due to fractures caused by large increases in material volume when charged. A team of scientists has discovered a way to suppress fracturing and improve charge cycling stability in lithium alloy anodes by enriching the material with bismuth.

December 2021
Natalie Geise, Stanford University, Johanna Nelson Weker, SSRL

Gasoline cars are able to travel further between fill-ups than electric cars before recharge, which is a limiting factor for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and utilization of renewable energy sources for transportation. Improving the energy density of the batteries could solve this problem, so researchers are developing lithium metal batteries to replace lithium-ion batteries. Lithium metal batteries can hold more charge per volume. However, they are not as stable and degrade over time. A team of researchers has studied the ways that the lithium metal electrode material degrades to cause capacity loss.

X-ray diffraction
BL7-2, BL11-3
September 2021
Jizhou Li, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

Lithium ion batteries (LIBs), which are widely used in consumer electronics ranging from mobile phones to electric cars, have enabled our electronics to become smaller and last longer on a charge. However, their functionality is limited by environmental conditions.

X-ray diffraction, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
BL6-2c, BL7-3, BL14-1
July 2021
Caleb R. Glassman, Stanford University, K. Christopher Garcia, Stanford University

Cytokines are small proteins that communicate messages between cells of our immune systems.  Secreted from one cell and recognized by other cells through membrane receptors, cytokines carry information about pathogens, cancers, or other problems that concern the immune system. Interleukin 12 (IL-12) and interleukin 23 (IL-23) are cytokines that help to activate lymphocyte immune cells, like T cells and NK cells.

Macromolecular Crystallography
July 2021
Daniel Herschlag, Stanford University, Filip Yabukarski, Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, Tzanko Doukov, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

Enzymes’ ability to speed biochemical reaction rates is the core of life processes, and much of molecular life science research involves understanding how an enzyme’s structure (often found through x-ray crystallography or NMR) is related to its function (biochemical analyses of the reaction). Pinpointing the 3D arrangement of atoms in the active site of an enzyme gives insight into the reaction intermediates and energetics, but may be conceptually misleading since enzymes, like all molecules, are constantly in motion

Macromolecular Crystallography
June 2021
Pierre Lefebvre, CNRS-Sorbonne Université-MNHN-IRD

Uranium contamination in our environment is a serious threat to public health. Successfully managing the problem to mitigate health impacts requires an understanding of how environments affect the different forms of uranium, the chemical reactions at work, and the molecular species that are created over time.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
June 2021
Marios Georgiadis, Stanford University

Made of a repeated structure of proteins and fats, myelin insulates our nerve cells, allowing signals to travel quickly and efficiently. If myelin is damaged, nervous system signals will not transmit as well. The degree of myelination could be an important diagnostic for brain health because it is disrupted in almost all known brain diseases. Yet current technologies to observe and measure myelin are inadequate for diagnostic applications.

Biological Small-angle X-ray Scattering (BioSAXS)
June 2021
Ritimukta Sarangi, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Stephen Ragsdale, University of Michigan

The biosynthesis of methane is significant because this molecule is both a good source of energy and a greenhouse gas. Despite its importance, the processes by which methane is made is not well understood. Methane is synthesized by methanogens, archaea found in anaerobic conditions like bogs and the guts of mammals. Only these microbes are able to perform the tricky reaction of turning hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide into methane and water.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy


Subscribe to SSRL Science Highlights
Find Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource on TwitterFind Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource on YouTubeFind Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource on Flickr