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The Lead

Automated sorting through metagenomes

September 30, 2014 8:05 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Microbes have an amazing ability to feed on plant biomass and convert it into other chemical products. Tapping into this talent has the potential to revolutionize energy, medicine, environmental remediation and many other fields. The success of this effort hinges in part on metagenomics, the emerging technology that enables researchers to read all the individual genomes of a sample microbial community at once.

Simulations reveal an unusual death for ancient stars

September 29, 2014 11:01 am | by Linda Vu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Certain primordial stars—those between 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our sun, or solar...

Unlocking enzyme synthesis of rare sugars to create drugs with fewer side effects

September 29, 2014 8:57 am | by Katie Bethea, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory team has unlocked the enzymatic synthesis process of rare...

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New imaging capability reveals possible key to extending battery lifetime, capacity

September 29, 2014 8:37 am | by Tona Kunz, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

A novel x-ray technique used at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source has revealed surprising dynamics in the nanomechanics of operating batteries and suggests a way to mitigate battery failures by minimizing the generation of elastic energy. The method could open a path to wider use of these batteries in conjunction with renewable energy sources.

NIST awards contract to MITRE to support cybersecurity center

September 26, 2014 9:26 am | News | Comments

In support of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, NIST has awarded a contract its first Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). The contract, which includes three initial tasks totaling about $29 million, was awarded to The MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that operates six other FFRDCs.

NASA finds clear skies and water vapor on exoplanet

September 26, 2014 8:42 am | News | Comments

Astronomers using data from NASA's space telescopes Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.

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Researcher works to predict electric power blackouts before they happen

September 26, 2014 8:34 am | by Katie Jones, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

The largest power outage in U.S. history, the 2003 Northeast blackout, began with one power line in Ohio going offline and ended with more than 50 million people without power throughout the Northeast and the Canadian province of Ontario. Despite the apparent failure of the electric grid during such cascading events, blackouts aren’t necessarily grid failures.

On the road to artificial photosynthesis

September 26, 2014 8:04 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

The excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide that is driving global climate change could be harnessed into a renewable energy technology that would be a win for both the environment and the economy. That is the lure of artificial photosynthesis in which the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is used to produce clean, green and sustainable fuels. 

World’s smallest reference material is a big plus for nanotechnology

September 25, 2014 9:44 am | News | Comments

If it's true that good things come in small packages, then NIST can now make anyone working with nanoparticles very happy. The institute recently issued Reference Material (RM) 8027, the smallest known reference material ever created for validating measurements of man-made, ultrafine particles between 1 and 100 nm in size.

Research pinpoints role of “helper” atoms in oxygen release

September 25, 2014 8:59 am | by SLAC Office of Communications | News | Comments

Experiments at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory solve a long-standing mystery in the role calcium atoms serve in a chemical reaction that releases oxygen into the air we breathe. The results offer new clues about atomic-scale processes that drive the life-sustaining cycle of photosynthesis and could help forge a foundation for producing cleaner energy sources by synthesizing nature's handiwork.

New tool predicts economic impacts of natural gas stations

September 25, 2014 8:47 am | by Louise Lerner, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE)’s Argonne National Laboratory announced a new tool for analyzing the economic impacts of building new compressed natural gas fueling stations. Called JOBS NG, the tool is freely available to the public. Mostly made up of methane, compressed natural gas is an alternative fuel for cars and trucks that can offer greenhouse gas benefits over gasoline.

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Report quantifies financial impacts of customer-sited photovoltaics on electric utilities

September 25, 2014 8:39 am | by Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new report prepared by analysts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examines the potential impacts of customer-sited solar photovoltaics on electric utility profitability and rates. The report shows that these impacts can vary greatly depending upon the specific circumstances of the utility and may be reduced through a variety of regulatory and ratemaking measures.

Researchers develop simple, one-step method to synthesize nanoparticles

September 24, 2014 12:01 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory have introduced a new one-step process using, for the first time in these types of syntheses, potassium superoxide to rapidly form oxide nanoparticles from simple salt solutions in water. An important advantage of this method is the capability of creating bulk quantities of these materials, more than 10 g in a single step.

2-D materials’ crystalline defects key to new properties

September 24, 2014 11:13 am | News | Comments

using an aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope, researchers have recently understood how defects in 2-D crystals such as tungsten disulphide can move, or dislocate, to other locations in the material. Understanding how atoms "glide" and "climb" on the surface of 2-D crystals may pave the way for researchers to develop materials with unusual or unique characteristics.

New properties found in promising oxide ceramics for reactor fuels

September 23, 2014 2:14 pm | News | Comments

Nanocomposite oxide ceramics have potential uses as ferroelectrics, fast ion conductors, and nuclear fuels and for storing nuclear waste, generating a great deal of scientific interest on the structure, properties, and applications of these blended materials. Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have made the first observations of the relationship between the chemistry and dislocation structures of the nanoscale interfaces.

Sandia magnetized fusion technique produces significant results

September 23, 2014 9:34 am | News | Comments

Inertial confinement fusion creates nanosecond bursts of neutrons, ideal for creating data to plug into supercomputer codes that test the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Down the road, it could be useful as a source of energy. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories’ Z machine have produced a significant output of fusion neutrons, using a method fully functioning for only little more than a year.

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Smallest possible “diamonds” help form ultra-thin nanothreads

September 22, 2014 2:52 pm | Videos | Comments

For the first time, scientists led by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State Univ., have discovered how to produce ultra-thin "diamond nanothreads" that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest nanotubes and polymers. The core of the nanothreads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure.

NASA's Maven spacecraft enters Mars orbit

September 22, 2014 10:26 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

The robotic explorer Maven successfully slipped into orbit around Mars late Sunday night. Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission, the first dedicated to studying the Martian upper atmosphere and the latest step in NASA's bid to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s. Researchers hope to learn where all the red planet's water went, along with the carbon dioxide that once comprised an atmosphere thick enough to hold moist clouds.

SpaceX launches space station supplies, first 3-D printer bound for orbit

September 22, 2014 9:01 am | by Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press | News | Comments

A SpaceX cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday, carrying more than 5,000 pounds of supplies, including the first 3-D printer for astronauts in orbit. The printer, developed by Made in Space, is sturdier than Earthly models and is a technology demonstrator. . But NASA envisions astronauts one day using one to crank out spare parts as needed.

Team improves solar cell efficiency with new polymer

September 19, 2014 4:49 pm | by Emily Conover, Univ. of Chicago | News | Comments

A collaboration between scientists in the Univ. of Chicago’s chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory has produced the highest-ever recorded efficiency for solar cells made of two types of polymers and fulllerene. Researchers identified a new polymer that improved the efficiency of solar cells and also determined the method by which the polymer improved the cells’ efficiency.

A nanosized hydrogen generator

September 19, 2014 1:54 pm | by Justin Breaux, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale “hydrogen generator” that uses light and a 2-D graphene platform to boost production of the hard-to-make element. The research also unveiled a previously unknown property of graphene. The 2-D chain of carbon atoms not only gives and receives electrons, but can also transfer them into another substance.

Sandia pioneers software for smart, sustainable institutions

September 18, 2014 8:13 am | by Stephanie Holinka, Sandia National Laboratories | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories’ Institutional Transformation (IX) model helps the federal laboratory reduce its energy consumption and could help other large institutions do the same. The IX model allows planners to experiment with energy conservation measures before making expensive changes. It also models operations-oriented conservation methods.

Team aims to improve plant-based battery with neutrons, simulation

September 18, 2014 8:02 am | by Morgan McCorkle, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

When Orlando Rios first started analyzing samples of carbon fibers made from a woody plant polymer known as lignin, he noticed something unusual. The material’s microstructure—a mixture of perfectly spherical nanoscale crystallites distributed within a fibrous matrix—looked almost too good to be true.

Studies find declines in price of rooftop and utility-scale solar

September 18, 2014 7:51 am | by Allen Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

The price of solar energy in the U.S. continues to fall substantially, according to the latest editions of two annual reports produced by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). A third Berkeley Lab report, written in collaboration with researchers at Yale Univ., the Univ. of Texas at Austin and the DOE, shows that local permitting and other regulatory procedures can significantly impact residential photovoltaic prices.

NASA's Maven spacecraft reaches Mars this weekend

September 17, 2014 3:37 pm | by Marcia Dunn - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Mars, get ready for another visitor or two. This weekend, NASA's Maven spacecraft will reach the red planet following a 10-month journey spanning 442 million miles (711 million km). If all goes well, the robotic explorer will hit the brakes and slip into Martian orbit Sunday night.

Novel capability enables first test of real turbine engine conditions

September 17, 2014 7:46 am | by Tona Kunz, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Manufactures of turbine engines for airplanes, automobiles and electric generation plants could expedite the development of more durable, energy-efficient turbine blades thanks to a partnership between Argonne National Laboratory, the German Aerospace Center and the universities of Central Florida and Cleveland State. The ability to operate turbine blades at higher temperatures improves efficiency and reduces energy costs.

Lockheed Martin conducts flight tests of aircraft laser turret

September 16, 2014 11:35 am | News | Comments

An interdisciplinary development team that includes Lockheed Martin, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Univ. of Notre Dame has demonstrated the airworthiness of a new beam control turret being developed for DARPA to give 360-degree coverage for high-energy laser weapons operating on military aircraft. An aircraft equipped with the laser has already conducted eight test flights in Michigan.

Elusive quantum transformations found near absolute zero

September 16, 2014 8:13 am | by Justin Eure, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Heat drives classical phase transitions, but much stranger things can happen when the temperature drops. If phase transitions occur at the coldest temperatures imaginable, where quantum mechanics reigns, subtle fluctuations can dramatically transform a material. Scientists have explored this frigid landscape of absolute zero to isolate and probe these quantum phase transitions with unprecedented precision.

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