Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne among 10 recipients of competitive grant for ultrafast science

By Jo NapolitanoAugust 2, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has named its Argonne National Laboratory as one of 10 recipients of a multi-million dollar grant in support of its research in ultrafast chemistry and materials science.

The selected projects will take advantage of new and emerging capabilities to probe materials and chemical processes on time scales of a quadrillionth of a second or less.

Each of the projects will be funded for three years. While the exact amount of each award has not yet been announced, they will total $30 million. 

“Discoveries in materials science and chemistry have long been critical drivers of technological innovation and economic growth.” — Rick Perry, U.S. Secretary of Energy

The competition was sponsored by the DOE Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences Program. The goal is to help speed up the discovery of new materials and chemical processes through better step-by-step observation and control of matter’s behavior at atomic and molecular scales.

“Discoveries in materials science and chemistry have long been critical drivers of technological innovation and economic growth,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “These projects will keep American scientists on the cutting edge of one of today’s most promising and potentially productive areas of research.”

Lin X. Chen, senior chemist in the Chemical Science and Engineering division at Argonne and a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University, will lead the laboratory’s efforts.

"This is outstanding news for Argonne and our collaborators at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Washington," said Cynthia Jenks, director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering division. "We are thrilled for the chance to bolster our efforts in this critical area of research by studying these systems at the sub-picosecond timescale. The DOE funding will help us to conduct research never before possible."

Chen said researchers will use the latest technology to better understand complex chemical processes.

“When light shines on molecules and materials, it jiggles electrons and atoms, which can result in the creation of new chemicals,” she said. “But this jiggling takes place so quickly — much faster than a trillionth of a second — that scientists don’t yet know much about how these electrons and atoms move.”

Chen and her team will use emerging X-ray sources called X-ray free-electron lasers to take snapshots or molecular movies of the electrons and the atoms in motion to learn more about how they move.

Their findings will help enhance energy efficiency and has applications in optoelectronics (LED display), solar energy conversion and artificial photo synthesis, among other areas of study.

“This is incredibly exciting for us,” Chen said. “It’s wonderful to see the DOE so invested in our work.”

Other team members are David Tiede, Karen Mulfort and Ksenija Glusac from Argonne, Amy Cordon-Hahn from DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Xiaosong Li from University of Washington.

Projects were chosen by competitive peer review under a DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement.

The resulting discoveries can enhance a wide range of technologies throughout the U.S. economy.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy'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, visit the Office of Science website.

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