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
The structure of hemagglutinin, a molecule on the flu virus, lets it invade your body’s cells.  It mutates frequently, so vaccines trying to block the protein only work on a few strains—for now. Image by the Wilson Lab/The Scripps Research Institute.
Universal influenza vaccine potentially in sight

The fall ritual of getting an annual influenza shot could join castor oil on the list of bygone remedies within a decade, some scientists say. During research over the last several years at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne, two teams of scientists closed on what they suspect is the virus’s Achilles’ heel.

September 13, 2013
Argonne nanoscientist Seth Darling is using a new 95-kilowatt array at Argonne to study how various types of solar panels perform in the Midwest region.
Something new under the sun: Argonne makes sustainability strides

Argonne grew a fine crop of solar panels last summer.

September 13, 2013
This visualization, part of a 1.1-trillion-particle simulation run on Argonne’s supercomputer Mira, shows the complexity of cosmological structure formation. (Image by H. Finkel, S. Habib, K. Heitmann, K. Kumaran, V. Morozov, T. Peterka, A. Pope, T. Williams, M. E. Papka, M. Hereld, and J. Insley, Argonne National Laboratory; D. Daniel, P. Fasel, N. Frontiere, Los Alamos National Laboratory; Z. Lukic, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.)
Exploring the dark universe at the speed of petaflops

An astonishing 95% of our universe is made of up dark energy and dark matter. Understanding the physics of this sector is the foremost challenge in cosmology today. Sophisticated simulations of the evolution of the universe play a crucial role.

September 13, 2013
Argonne scientist Anil Mane inspects a microchannel plate developed by Argonne and Incom, Inc. Microchannel plates are used in many imaging and sensing technologies.
Argonne in the marketplace: Microchannel plates with ALD

Think of an eight-inch square honeycomb structure made of glass whose pores are just a few tens of microns thick—the size of a single bacterium. In your mind’s eye, you hold the beginnings of a breakthrough technology.

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
Argonne engineer Mike Kern works in the lab's transportation center by day, but on weekends, he's a crew chief for the National Hot Rod Associaton. Image: Image: Mark Rebilas / Zizzo Racing.
The secret lives of scientists & engineers: Mike Kern

Meet scientists from Argonne with unusual hobbies and interests—and how they bring science to bear on them. Mike Kern is an Argonne engineer by day, but on weekends, he's a crew chief for the National Hot Rod Association.

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
Special bacteria can turn biological waste into fuel by converting pigments in their cells into a type of biofuel called phytol—which separates out into the colorless top layer on the left.
New tech could be “Mr. Fusion” for biofuel

A new technology from Argonne may remind viewers of Mr. Fusion of Back to the Future fame, only with a biofuel twist: put in your waste and out comes diesel fuel.

September 13, 2013
50 years ago this December, Argonne physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer became the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on atom structure. (Click to view larger.)
Science History - 2013

Milestones in science 100, 50, and 25 years ago.

September 13, 2013