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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Nine ways Argonne advanced science and technology in 2017

The scientists and engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory conduct groundbreaking research in a wide variety of fields to address the nation’s scientific challenges.

The laboratory’s unique combination of facilities — including the Advanced Photon Source and multiple supercomputers at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), both of which are DOE Office of Science User Facilities — make Argonne a hub for impactful interdisciplinary research that paves the way for new discoveries and technologies.

As 2018 approaches, we look back at nine cool stories that came out of research projects and collaborations at the laboratory.

In 2017, Argonne scientists:

Invented a sponge that could revolutionize oil spill cleanup.

A team of Argonne researchers discovered a way to attach oil-loving molecules to polyurethane foam — the same foam commonly used in furniture and insulation — by priming” it with a metal oxide glue.” The new and reusable material, called the Oleo Sponge, can absorb oil from an entire water column — not just the surface. The sponges will be used to clean up oil spills, as well as diesel and oil buildup in ports and harbors. Read more

Hosted a Cyber Defense Competition for the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

As the threat of cyber attacks on our nation’s infrastructure continues to grow, Argonne has made it a priority to promote student interest in, and knowledge about, the field of cybersecurity. This year, high school students, early career professionals and students from 15 colleges and universities participated in Argonne’s annual Cyber Defense Competition, an all-day competition in which individual cyber defense teams defend their electricity and water grid networks from attacking teams. The competition familiarizes students with cybersecurity concepts and provides them with direction as they pursue cybersecurity careers. Read more

Studied a brain-mimicking material that could help us build smarter computers.

Combining supercomputer simulation and X-ray characterization, Argonne scientists studied a non-living material that, like the human brain, forgets” old information to focus on the new. The scientists observed how the response of the material’s atomic structure diminished over time as they exposed it to repeated stimuli. They then modeled this behavior using computer simulations that have inspired new algorithms for more efficient neural network learning. Read more

Helped launch an intellectual hub to explore the potential of quantum information.

Argonne collaborated with the University of Chicago and DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to explore the field of quantum information and develop new applications to dramatically improve technology for communication, computing and sensing. The collaboration, called the Chicago Quantum Exchange, also aims to rally support from other academic, industrial and governmental institutions to advance the science and engineering of quantum information. Read more

Mapped every cell in a mouse’s brain.

Argonne researchers are merging neuroscience and computational science to study the intricacies of brain function in greater detail than ever before. Using electron microscopes and X-rays from the Advanced Photon Source, the scientists are identifying the locations of and connections between every neuron in the brain of an adult shrewmouse. By employing Argonne’s new supercomputer, Theta, the team is building the infrastructure necessary to house and make sense of one billion gigabytes of data from the mouse’s brain. This study may provide new understanding of the complexities of the brain and help solve big data problems for future research. Read more

Began coding a neural network to personalize cancer treatment.

In hopes of understanding the nature of cancer and personalizing cancer treatment, scientists are melding medical research and high-performance (exascale) computing in a project that will analyze all of the known data on how cancer reacts to drugs and behaves in individuals. The neural network code will use a powerful machine learning technique called deep learning to predict the most effective treatment approach for patients based on their genetics, environment and history. Read more

Modeled the Big Bang using two powerful supercomputers.

Scientists created a virtual cosmological laboratory to simulate the early universe by combining the capabilities of two supercomputers. One computer performed simulations capturing the dynamics of trillions of particles moving through space and time, and the other completed exhaustive analysis of the simulated data. Read more

Examined challenges to making electric vehicles efficient and accessible.

Argonne researchers participated in a study to characterize the specific economic, logistical and chemical problems slowing the development of efficient electric vehicle batteries. By testing batteries during and after discharge and examining the infrastructure required to facilitate use of plug-in electric vehicles, the scientists aim to expand the potential for their widespread use. Read more

Helped to make exascale computing a reality.

As collaborators in DOE’s Exascale Computing Project, Argonne scientists are helping to solve the challenges of developing exascale computers. These high-performance computing systems, capable of a billion billion calculations per second, will be used to tackle complex problems by modeling large-scale systems. Read more

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.