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Director's Message 2013-2

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Materials characterization has always been a hallmark of the Ames Laboratory. Determining a material’s specific properties – its crystal structure, electrical and magnetic properties, how it moves through various phases – gives scientists a better understanding of why it performs or behaves in a certain way and allows them to predict how other materials may behave in similar or different manners.
Obviously, the better we’re able to measure those characteristics, the more accurate and predictive our theoretical descriptions can be. And while Ames Lab scientists have excelled at characterizing new materials and developing new techniques, the Lab is on the  verge of taking a giant step forward in its characterization capabilities.
One cutting-edge advancement will be the construction of the new Sensitive Instrument Facility. Scheduled to be built beginning the spring of 2014, the SIF will be a state-of-the-art building designed specifically to provide an isolated environment for atomic-scale electron microscopes so sensitive that the breathing or heartbeat of the operator can distort the image of the specimen under study. You can read about this unique facility on page 8 of this issue.
Ruslan Prozorov is spearheading an effort to enhance our capabilities for studying the magnetic properties of nanoscale materials. As you might imagine, as the sample size diminishes, greater sensitivity is required of the equipment used to characterize its properties.  Prozorov is developing a new piece of equipment that utilizes a defect in the crystal structure of diamond to create a highly sensitive probe for measuring the magnetic field of nano-particles down to the level of a single electron. Find out more about this work on page 14.
Similarly, Marek Pruski is leading an effort to enhance the Lab’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) with the addition of a dynamic nuclear polarization-NMR spectrometer. DNP-NMR uses microwaves to polarize electrons, and then transfers that polarization from the electrons to the nuclei of the sample being analyzed, an enhancement of anywhere from eight to 30 times in signal sensitivity. Results that used to take a week to obtain will now take hours or minutes.  Turn to page 16 to find out more about this effort.
The Lab has also excelled at producing some of the best single crystals, in part because the Materials Preparation Center provides the best raw materials. But the recent acquisition of a new crystal-growth furnace now allows us to grow crystals at elevated pressure, letting us incorporate materials that were too volatile for traditional methods. Take a closer look on page 12.
Finally, we hosted the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Critical Materials Institute in September. As one of DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs, the CMI marks a major effort to reduce or eliminate material criticality for our nation. By establishing a team comprised of top researchers from national labs, research universities and industry, the CMI hopes to focus the combined resources to quickly and efficiently solve the problem of potential shortages of the materials vital to high-tech, clean-energy technologies. We hope that our efforts will soon bear fruit as we strive to quickly move solutions from the lab bench to the marketplace.

 

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Tom Lograsso, Interim Director