ImageKarl A. Gschneidner Jr., senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, was presented the 2014 Acta Materialia Materials and Society Award on February 18. The award honors scientists who have made a major positive impact on society through materials science.

Gschneidner, known as “Mr. Rare Earth,” is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science of rare earths, a group of elements that are necessary ingredients in clean-energy technologies, including electric-drive car motors, and direct-drive wind turbines; personal electronics, such as color televisions, computers, cell phones, and sound systems; and military applications.

ImageThrough his long scientific career and expert testimony before Congress in 2010 and 2011, Gschneidner has been instrumental in bringing attention to the importance of rare earths for the nation’s energy and security future. Earlier this year, Gschneidner was named the chief scientist for the Critical Materials Institute, a $120 million DOE Energy Innovation Hub led by Ames Laboratory that will find innovative technology solutions to help avoid a supply shortage that would threaten the U.S. clean energy industry and security interests.

Gschneidner is also the co-discoverer, with Ames Laboratory scientist Vitalij Pecharsky, of the giant magnetocaloric effect in a gadolinium-silicon-germanium alloy, which can be used to create magnetic cooling devices. These devices will offer significant energy and environmental benefits as they begin to replace conventional refrigeration technology.

Gschneidner, who is also an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of materials science and engineering at Iowa State University, started his career at Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University in 1952-1957 as a graduate student. After working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he returned to Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University in 1963. In 1966, Gschneidner established the Rare Earth Information Center and was its director for 30 years. He’s published a series of handbooks on rare earths, with volume 44 currently in press. Gschneidner has published more than 510 scientific journal articles, 173 book chapters, conference proceedings and reports, and 204 phase diagram evaluations. He holds 15 patents (with four more pending) and has given 324 invited talks.

Among many other honors, Gschneidner was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2007, received the Acta Materialia Gold Medal in 2008, and the Frank H. Spedding Award (named for Gschneidner’s mentor and the first director of Ames Laboratory) from the Rare Earth Research Conferences in 1991.

“Karl has been an outstanding member of the Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University research community. His enthusiasm for the rare earths is contagious and he is an inspiration to his colleagues and students,” said Thomas Lograsso, Ames Laboratory Interim Director. “Many of the technological advances we enjoy today are based on Karl’s work or work of his well trained students.”

Gschneidner was selected for the Materials and Society Award by an international panel of judges appointed by the Acta Materialia board of governors.

Contacts:                                                                    For Release: Feb. 28, 2014
Jigang Wang, Material Sciences and Engineering, 515-294-5630
Breehan Gerleman Lucchesi, Public Affairs, 515-294-9750

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory are revealing the mysteries of new materials using ultra-fast laser spectroscopy, similar to high-speed photography where many quick images reveal subtle movements and changes inside the materials. Seeing these dynamics is one emerging strategy to better understanding how new materials work, so that we can use them to enable new energy technologies.

Physicist Jigang Wang and his colleagues recently used ultra-fast laser spectroscopy to examine and explain the mysterious electronic properties of iron-based superconductors. Results appeared in Nature Communications this month.

Superconductors are materials that, when cooled below a certain temperature, display zero electrical resistance, a property that could someday make possible lossless electrical distribution. Superconductors start in a “normal” often magnetic state and then transition to a superconducting state when they are cooled to a certain temperature.

What is still a mystery is what goes on in materials as they transform from normal to superconducting. And this “messy middle” area of superconducting materials’ behavior holds richer information about the why and how of superconductivity than do the stable areas.

Ames Laboratory scientists use ultra-fast laser spectroscopy to "see" tiny actions in real time in
materials. Scientists apply a pulse laser to a sample to excite the material. Some of the laser light
is absorbed by the material, but the light that passes through or reflected from the material can be
used to take super-fast “snapshots” of what is going on in the material following the laser pulse.

“The stable states of materials aren’t quite as interesting as the crossover region when comes to understanding materials’ mechanisms because everything is settled and there’s not a lot of action. But, in this crossover region to superconductivity, we can study the dynamics, see what goes where and when, and this information will tell us a lot about the interplay between superconductivity and magnetism,” said Wang, who is also an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University.

But the challenges is that in the crossover region, all the different sets of materials properties that scientists examine, like its magnetic order and electronic order, are all coupled. In other words, when there’s a change to one set of properties, it changes all the others. So, it’s really difficult to trace what individual changes and properties are dominant.

The complexity of this coupled state has been studied by groundbreaking work by research groups at Ames Laboratory over the past five years. Paul Canfield, an Ames Laboratory scientist and expert in designing and developing iron-based superconductor materials, created and characterized a very high quality single crystal used in this investigation. These high-quality single crystals had been exceptionally well characterized by other techniques and were essentially "waiting for their close up" under Wang's ultra-fast spot-light.  

Wang and the team used ultra-fast laser spectroscopy to “see” the tiny actions in materials. In ultra-fast laser spectroscopy, scientists apply a pulsed laser to a materials sample to excite particles within the sample. Some of the laser light is absorbed by the material, but the light that passes through the material can be used to take super-fast “snapshots” of what is going on in the material following the laser pulse and then replayed afterward like a stop-action movie.

The technique is especially well suited to understanding the crossover region of iron-arsenide based superconductors materials because the  laser excitation alters the material so that different properties of the material are distinguishable from each other in time, even the most subtle evolutions in the materials’ properties.

“Ultra-fast laser spectroscopy is a new experimental tool to study dynamic, emergent behavior in complex materials such as these iron-based superconductors,” said Wang. "Specifically, we answered the pressing question of whether an electronically-driven nematic order exists as an independent phase in iron-based superconductors, as these materials go from a magnetic normal state to superconducting state. The answer is yes. This is important to our overall understanding of how superconductors emerge in this type of materials.”

Aaron Patz and Tianqi Li collaborated on the laser spectroscopy work. Sheng Ran, Sergey L. Bud’ko and Paul Canfield collaborated on sample development at Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University. Rafael M. Fernandes at the University of Minnesota, Joerg Schmalian, formerly of Ames Laboratory and now at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Ilias E. Perakis at University of Crete, Greece collaborated on the simulation work.

Wang, Patz, Li, Ran, Bud’ko and Canfield’s work at Ames Laboratory was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, (sample preparation and characterization). Wang's work on pnictide superconductors is supported by Ames Laboratory’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) funding (femtosecond laser spectroscopy).

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit the Office of Science website at

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.


Contacts:                                                                 For Release: Feb. 26, 2014
Alex King, Critical Materials Institute, (515) 296-4500
Laura Millsaps, Public Affairs, (515) 294-3474

Rare-earth metals and other materials critical to existing and emerging technologies are facing global shortages now and in the future.

That was the urgent message Alex King, director of the Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy research hub at the Ames Laboratory, presented to a committee of the Parliament of Canada on Tuesday.

ImageKing was asked to testify as a witness to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Commons in an ongoing study of the rare earths industry in Canada.

Rare-earth elements possess unique properties, King explained to committee members, and are used in a wide variety of essential technologies, including high performance magnets, highly efficient light sources, and in catalysts for the production of petrochemicals.

“And there are no easy substitutes for them in most of their applications,” said King. “Rare earths are among the most difficult elements to process, and are the hardest to do without.”

King leads the newly created Critical Materials Institute, tasked with finding solutions to rare earth and other critical materials shortages by addressing supply chain weaknesses in three ways:  developing technologies that diversify and expand availability; reducing waste; and reducing demand by finding substitutes. King said over 35 research projects at CMI target specific problems in the supply chain.

Aside from research and development needs, King also identified a lack of processing facilities in North America for rare earth materials.

“Time is our major challenge. We have issues today but it can take 10 years or more to start a mine, and it can take 20 years to invent a new material,” said King. “Shortage situations develop within a matter of months, solutions take a decade, or at best years. We need a better ability to anticipate which materials will become critical and we need increased speed of response.”

King was joined by three other witnesses representing Canadian mining interests: Al Shefsky, president and CEO of Pele Mountain Resources; Peter Cashin, president and CEO of Quest Rare Minerals, and André Gauthier, president and CEO of Matamec Explorations.

The Critical Materials Institute, is an Energy Innovation Hub led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and it seeks ways to eliminate and reduce reliance on rare-earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies. DOE Energy Innovation Hubs are integrated research centers that bring together scientists and engineers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds to accelerate scientific discovery in areas vital to U.S. energy security.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.



ImageIgor Slowing, a scientist at the Ames Laboratory and adjunct professor of chemistry at Iowa State University, keeps a genealogy tree on the wall of his office—with names, dates, and pictures.

Only it’s not family history; it’s academic heritage.

In academia one can also trace lineage. In the family, each generation nurtures the next.  In academia, each generation of professor nurtures the student, imparting knowledge and encouraging original thought as they earn their doctoral degree.

With pages of paper hanging in a line towards the ceiling, Slowing can trace his academic heritage starting with his research in nanostructured materials for catalysis at Ames Laboratory, and his doctoral research at Iowa State under the late Victor Shang-Yi Lin. From there, his academic heritage goes back on this office wall a few hundred years, to early American academics like Amos Eaton (1776-1842), who co-founded what is now the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

“I’ve always loved history in general and the history of science in particular,” said Slowing. “When I began to study chemistry, I was curious to know how I was related to these people that I was reading about.”

And Slowing’s historical research has taken him back even further, to the flowering of scientific thought that occurred in Western Europe during the Renaissance at universities in Padua, Basel, and Paris.

“And before the printing press, it was monasteries that were the centers of academic thought,” said Slowing.

He can trace his academic genealogy over 600 years, to a time when the modern concept of what we now would call “science” was just beginning to emerge from the study of natural philosophy and mathematics.  Down through the centuries, fields of science emerge: astronomy, physics, medicine, chemistry, botany, zoology and more.

Many of his scientific ancestors are a history book unto themselves, like Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a physician who pioneered concepts in public hygiene and modern psychiatry; or Justus von Liebig, a 19th century German chemist and inventor who is credited with the development of modern organic chemistry.

“It is also interesting to trace the emigration of scientists. From Europe, then to the West, and then back again as researchers from the Americas go to Europe and elsewhere for their education,” said Slowing, as his hand traces more recent branches and decades of the tree. It’s a dissemination of knowledge over time that has been affected by culture and geography, politics and war.

Slowing said he’d like to learn more about the scientists in his family tree that are still alive and actively researching—his academic great-grandfathers, as it were. Among them is Harry Gray, a pioneering bioinorganic chemist at the California Institute of Technology whose work Slowing finds fascinating.

“These are scientists actively working in areas very different from mine, and yet their accomplishments keep inspiring my work. The influence of ideas across the years and across scientific disciplines is a great history lesson.”

Igor Slowing, Chemical and Biological Sciences, (515) 294-6220
Laura Millsaps, Public Affairs, (515) 294-3474

-30- ran a feature about Ames Lab senior metallurgist Karl Gschneidner's selection for the 2014 Acta Materialia Materials and Society Award. The award honors scientists who have made a major positive impact on society through materials science.

Contract:                                                                 For Release:  Feb. 24, 2014
Steve Karsjen, Public Affairs, 515-294-5643

Ames Middle School made a clean sweep of the 2014 Ames Laboratory Regional Middle School Science Bowl here Saturday. They won all three of their morning qualifying matches, then won four matches in the championship round to take the title. They will also join the Ames High School team in representing the Region at the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C. April 24-27.

The Ames team of Isak Werner-Anderson, Stephen McKown, Benjamin Moats, Hector Arbuckle and Will Tibben cruised through the championship match, defeating Council Bluff St. Albert 70-4. The St. Albert team of Maggie King, Gabby Burke, Kyle Barnes, Jackson Dunning and Isaiah Moore gained the final match by battling back after first-round loss to defeat Sacred Heart, Chariton, Adel-DeSoto-Minburn #2, Boone, Central Lee and Union.

The Ames team was coached by Collin Riechert.  Tarra Wiederin coached St. Albert.

Union Middle School of Dysart was third. Twenty-four teams competed in the day-long science and math quiz-bowl style event. Full results of the competition are posted here.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.


Ames Middle School

Front (l-r): Stephen McKown, Isak Werner-Anderson, Benjamin Moats;
Back (l-r): Tom Lograsso, Ames Lab Director, Will Tibben, Hector Arbuckle,
Coach Collin Reichert.


2014 Middle School Science Bowl Results

News Release

Results Bracket (pdf)


First Place:

Ames Middle School

Students participating in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI), Community College Internship (CCI) and Faculty and Student Teams (FAST) programs at Ames Laboratory are using that hands-on laboratory research experience to advance their careers.

To find out about their successes, check out this feature story that appeared in Inquiry magazine 2013, Issue 2. Because of the detailed map graphic, the story is available as a pdf file.


Cutting-edge NMR technology headed for Ames Lab

A manufacturer’s image of the new DNP NMR equipment that’s headed to Ames.


Ames Laboratory will take a giant step forward in world-class solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance capabilities with its new equipment acquisition, a Dynamic Nuclear Polarization-NMR spectrometer. The instrument will be the first of its kind to be focused on materials and materials chemistry in the United States.

The acquisition was announced in August, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Using NMR technology, researchers are able to discover physical, chemical, electronic, and structural information about materials, based on the way atomic nuclei in the sample absorb electromagnetic radiation in a strong magnetic field. NMR technology is similar to that used for magnetic resonance imaging in medicine.

Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP)-NMR uses microwaves to polarize electrons, and then transfer that polarization from the electrons to the nuclei of the sample being analyzed.

ImageThe concept of DNP-NMR was first theorized and demonstrated in the 1950s at the University of Illinois, but it took decades of progress in microwave and NMR technology, mainly at MIT, to make a commercially produced instrument possible, only in the last three years.

“It’s essentially a combination of two techniques, electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy and NMR, which yields an amazing increase in sensitivity,” says Cynthia Jenks, assistant director for scientific planning at Ames Laboratory and director of the Lab’s Chemical and Biological Sciences division. “In the types of materials we study, we’ve been able to demonstrate 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.”

The increased capabilities of the DNP-NMR instrument will be in the hands of the Lab’s six world-leading solid-state NMR scientists, and opens up possibilities for research that didn’t previously exist.

“Needless to say, we are all very pleased with this acquisition,” says Marek Pruski, the principal investigator of the research team. “The Ames Laboratory has an elite group of scientists specializing in the development and applications of solid-state NMR techniques. During the last two years we have conducted exploratory studies to demonstrate the critical importance of DNP-NMR to our materials chemistry research, using the existing instrument in Lausanne, Switzerland, and at the Bruker facility in Billerica, Massachusetts. All these factors, and the critical support from the Ames Laboratory leadership made this outcome possible.”

The instrument will be installed next summer in Spedding Hall.

Laboratory scientists expect the instrument to greatly expand and accelerate the progress of research efforts in many areas, including catalysis, nanocomposites, fuel cell membrane materials, soil organic matter, carbon electrode materials, plant cell walls, hydrogen storage materials, and other complex materials.

“Our acquisition of this instrument is creating a buzz in the scientific community. Already we are receiving inquiries about potential collaborations from researchers worldwide. This adds to the unique set of material characterization capabilities available at the Ames Laboratory,” says Cynthia Jenks.

~ by Laura Millsaps


Ames Lab has a reputation for leadership in NMR
technology, thanks to researchers Klaus Schmidt-
Rohr (left), Marek Pruski (center) who is heavily
involved in the DNP NMR project, and Yuji Furu-
kawa (right).

Diamond defects probe magnetic properties


Diamonds have the reputation as flawless, sparkling gems. In scientific applications, their hardness is used to test the highest pressure levels. But researchers at the Ames Laboratory plan to exploit defects in diamond’s crystal structure, known as nitrogen vacancy centers, to build a device that will give them the ability to visualize magnetic fields produced by magnetic nanostructures.

While the technology is relatively new, the physics behind the phenomena is fairly well-established. In fact, some major contributions in this area have come from Ames Lab theorist, Viatcheslav Dobrovitski and his colleagues.

“The nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond are quite unique, combining long quantum spin lifetimes with unusual coupling between spin state and the optical properties of the center,” Dobrovitski says. “This opens the way to using them as very sensitive and efficient detectors of classical magnetic field and surrounding quantum spins, as well as detectors for electric field, temperature, etc. Nowadays, many groups are pursuing the possible application of the NV centers for nanoscale magnetometry.”

According to Dobrovitski, researchers at several institutions, such as Harvard, Berkeley, and Delft, have this technology, but are taking different approaches. Ames Lab’s Ruslan Prozorov, an experimentalist and leader of Ames Lab’s nanoscale efforts, plans to create another group here by building a magnetic nanoscope to study magnetic materials at the nanoscale.

“The fundamental physics is the same, but there’s no single recipe for how to do it,” Prozorov says. “So it comes down to an actual task at hand and the scientific goals. Most groups are interested in pushing the technology to the limit for the sake of engineering progress.”

"Our goal is different – we need a versatile instrument to study various magnetic nano- and meso-structures produced at the Ames Lab and by our collaborators elsewhere,” Prozorov explains. “In particular, we plan to study magnetic ‘nanoislands’ that fellow Ames Lab physicist Michael Tringides has grown on graphene as well as bio-inspired magnetic nanoparticles similar to those grown in vivo by magnetotatic bacteria that are being studied and grown in vitro by Ames Lab scientist Surya Mallapragada’s research group.”

“In simple terms, if you shine a laser light on a NV-center defect, it will induce photoluminescence whose intensity depends on the magnetic field at the location of the defect,” says Prozorov. “The defects are very small – just a few angstroms across and are extremely sensitive to the magnitude of the magnetic field. It is possible to detect signals at the levels of a single electron.”

While other techniques have yielded many important results, the sensitivity of the new equipment would provide a much better look at what’s taking place. Dobrovitski’s theoretical expertise will prove very useful in designing Ames Lab’s new equipment.

“During the last few years, I have been working on controlling the dynamics of the NV centers, and harnessing them for quantum spin detection,” Dobrovitski says. “Some of my previous results, and the work planned in the future, will be useful for designing different modes of operation of the NV microscope. When the microscope is built, this theoretical work will provide guidance for Ruslan, and supply him with the tools for the planned future work.”

Measuring the magnetic field of
nanoparticles produced by magneto-
tatic bacteria (left) and dysprosium
nanoislands (right) are just two
potential uses for new equipment
that Ames Lab physicist Ruslan
Prozorov plans to build.

Ultimately, Prozorov hopes to develop a dedicated nano- and meso-scale magnetic imaging research facility that combines existing capabilities, such as magneto-optics and magnetic-force microscopy with this new state-of-the-art nitrogen-vacancy magnetoscope and other techniques, such as magnetic-force resonant imaging.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to probe very small magnetic fields at the length scales from nanometers to millimeters,” Prozorov says. “It won’t happen overnight, but our goal is to have first data to show by the next DOE (program) review.”

“The critical element will be to find good postdocs to carry out the work,” Prozorov concludes. “Currently, we’re looking for one experimentalist and one theorist to make it happen and Ames Lab has already allocated space and resources to build the device.”

~ by Kerry Gibson

Ames Lab physicists Ruslan Prozorov (left) and Viatcheslav Dobrovitski are involved in developing new, sensitive instrumentation that will allow the visualization of magnetic fields produced by nano-scale particles. Dobrovitski has been involved in the theoretical work behind nitrogen-vacancy centers, a defect in the crystal structure of diamond that Prozorov hopes to be able to use to measure minute magnetic fields of nanomaterials.