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Feature Stories

  • Fragile Magnets. Superconductors. Quasicrystals. Materials that are so unusual, unknown, new and puzzling that scientists want to get to know them and their properties better.

  • How do small defects in the surface of solar cell material affect its ability to absorb and convert sunlight to electricity? How does the molecular structure of a porous material determine its ability to separate gases from one another? Understanding the structure and function of materials at the atomic scale is one of the frontiers of energy science.

  • Refrigeration has been such an integral part of our everyday lives for so long that we rarely think of it. Our food is fresh and our offices and living rooms temperature-controlled thanks to the vapor compression technology developed over a century ago, and it is an integral part of medical care, transportation, military defense, and more.

    At Ames Laboratory a new research consortium called CaloriCool launched in 2016 with the idea that refrigeration could be radically better—cheaper, cleaner, more precise and energy-efficient—by abandoning vapor compression for something entirely new: a solid-state caloric system. And this research team plans to do it—including adoption into manufactured systems and products—within a decade.

  • Nature provides myriad examples of unique materials and structures developed for specialized applications or adaptations. An interdisciplinary group of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory is trying to unlock the secrets that organisms use to build such complex structures so that power can be used to create materials not found in nature and not capable of being synthesized by conventional means.

  • Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve, but Elizabeth Wille -- who spent the last four months learning crystal growth techniques from Ames Laboratory senior physicist Paul Canfield --  took it skin deep, tattooing her affection for the crystal ruthenium on her bicep.

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