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Awards and Recognition | Argonne National Laboratory

Sneak preview: New platform allows scientists to explore research environments virtually

The digital twin program will allow researchers to try out their experiments in a simulated version of scientific facilities, before ever setting foot in the real thing.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) operates some of the most in-demand research facilities in the country. The resources of these facilities are open to scientists from around the world, but the high demand often means that they are booked far in advance, and research teams have limited time to familiarize themselves with the available equipment and conduct their experiments.

Now a new initiative led by DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory is aiming to fix that problem by creating a digital twin — essentially a virtual mirror of the research environment scientists will find at DOE facilities. Researchers will be able to log on and explore those environments, and even obtain preliminary results, before coming to the facilities themselves.

This virtual platform will open the door to many worthwhile studies that might not otherwise have the opportunity to be completed.” — Subramanian Sankaranarayanan, Center for Nanoscale Materials, Argonne National Laboratory

At Argonne, the digital twin program will be applied to experimental work at both the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) and the Advanced Photon Source (APS). Both are DOE Office of Science User Facilities. The technology will also be used to complement experimental work at facilities at two other DOE labs: Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Given the large number of scientists interested in our user facilities and the intense competition for instrument times, researchers can only perform a small number of actual experiments while on-site,” said Subramanian Sankaranarayanan, a group leader at CNM and the principal investigator of this project. This virtual platform will open the door to many worthwhile studies that might not otherwise have the opportunity to be completed.”

Scientists who use the digital twin to get preliminary results of their experiments will be able to focus their on-site experimental efforts on areas of their research that proved most promising, Sankaranarayanan said. The digital twin platform will make use of advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, coupled with improved automated workflows and exascale computing to make its virtual research environments possible.

DOE has pledged $1.68 million to Argonne over three years to develop the digital twin program. It is part of an effort launched by DOE to revolutionize experimental platforms at its user facilities in the coming years.

We are excited by the opportunity to realize the digital twin platform for accelerating scientific discoveries,” Sankaranarayanan said. This will no doubt lead to groundbreaking efforts across many disciplines.”

The digital twin team includes Sankaranarayanan, Maria Chan, Mathew Cherukara, Pierre Darancet and Jiangao Wen of CNM; Ross Harder and Haidan Wen of APS; Tom Peterka of Argonne’s Mathematics and Computer Science (MCS) Division; Remi Dingreville of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) at DOE’s Sandia National Laboratory; Bobby Sumpter of the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Mallikarjun Shankar of the National Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Stephen Whitelam of the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Qin Wu of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

About Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials
The Center for Nanoscale Materials is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers, premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale supported by the DOE Office of Science. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit https://​sci​ence​.osti​.gov/​U​s​e​r​-​F​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​/​U​s​e​r​-​F​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​-​a​t​-​a​-​G​lance.

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

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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 https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.