Argonne National Laboratory

Feature Stories

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Scientists wanted to discover why some bird feathers look blue—without any blue pigments. Instead, X-rays at the Advanced Photon Source helped reveal they use tiny nanoscale-level structures on the feathers that only reflect light in the blue wavelength. 

The top image is what we see: a Plum-throated Cotinga.

The second image is what an electron microscope sees.
Electron microscopes shoot a beam of electrons at the feather and measure how they interact with them to get an image of the structure. But electron microscopes can only see down to the nanometer level. To go even further, to the atomic level, you need X-rays.

The bottom image is what the X-rays see. 
Scientists focus an X-ray beam on one tiny spot. When it hits, the photons scatter symmetrically around the beam (highlighted in different colors). Then they can piece together the scattering information to reconstruct how the feather’s atoms are arranged.

Collage by Vinod Saranathan (University of Oxford); X-ray scattering at the Advanced Photon Source; photo of Plum-throated Cotinga by Thomas Valqui. From V. Saranathan et al., J. R. Soc. Interface. ©2012 The Royal Society.
7 things you may not know about X-rays

At Argonne's massive synchrotron, X-rays are used for a lot more than checking for broken bones.

September 13, 2013
How your smartphone got so smart

The breakthroughs that let you fit a computer in your pocket, and where we're going from here.

September 13, 2013
Scientists created this image of a G-protein-coupled receptor perched on a cell membrane. They used the Advanced Photon Source to capturing the elusive receptor, an extremely common drug target, and earned themselves a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Image by Kobilka et. al, Nature 447, 549 (2011).
Argonne X-rays point way to Nobel Prize, better medicine

You may not know what research earned the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But chances are that it will impact your life or that of someone you know.

September 13, 2013
Illustration of the nano-layer at the liquid interface between the salt solution and mercury. Physicists from Kiel University discovered the formation of an ordered crystal of exactly five atomic layers between the two liquids with brilliant X-rays. To view a larger version of the image, click on it. Image courtesy Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel.
Nanocrystals grow from liquid interface

An international collaboration of scientists has discovered a unique crystalizing behavior at the interface between two immiscible liquids that could aid in sustainable energy development.

May 16, 2013
An international team of scientists using Argonne's Advanced Photon Source (above) has devised a way to overcome the distortion caused by sample environments used with the X-rays to improve spatial resolution imaging by two orders of magnitude. To view a larger version of the image, click on it.
High-pressure imaging breakthrough a boon for nanotechnology

The study of nanoscale material just got much easier, and the design of nanoscale technology could get much more efficient, thanks to an advance in X-ray analysis.

April 9, 2013
A look at the structure of the HNF-4A protein, which plays a critical role by binding to specific DNA sequences and regulating the production of a number of key proteins for normal cellular processes. To view a larger version of the image, click on it.
Argonne researchers uncover structure of new protein implicated in diabetes

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with researchers from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, recently determined and analyzed the three-dimensional structure of a protein found in the nuclei of liver and pancreatic cells.

April 4, 2013
The SCU installed at the straight section of Sector 6 of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory. To view a larger version of the photo, click on it.

Photo courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.
First light from the first high-energy superconducting undulator

More than eight years of effort by Advanced Photon Source physicists, engineers, and technicians culminated on Jan. 21, 2013, with the production of the first X-rays from the prototype of a novel superconducting undulator.

February 1, 2013
This illustration of a metal-organic framework, or MOF, shows the metal center bound to organic molecules. Each MOF has a specific framework determined by the choice of metal and organic.
New nano trap protects environment

A new type of nanoscale molecular trap makes it possible for industry to store large amounts of hydrogen in small fuel cells or capture, compact and remove volatile radioactive gas from spent nuclear fuel in an affordable, easily commercialized way.

October 31, 2012
A rendering of the human adenovirus, showing the outer capsid proteins (shown in multiple colors).
Chasing a common cold virus

As the cold and flu season makes its annual visit, a team of researchers, using Argonne's Advanced Photon Source, continue to complete a detailed map of the human adenovirus—one of several viruses responsible for the common cold.

October 19, 2012
These drops of solution remain suspended for a long period of time, thanks to the vibrational force of sound waves that keep them stationary in an air column. (Photo by Dan Harris)
No magic show: Real-world levitation to inspire better pharmaceuticals

It’s not a magic trick and it’s not sleight of hand – scientists really are using levitation to improve the drug development process, eventually yielding more effective pharmaceuticals with fewer side effects.

September 12, 2012