Argonne National Laboratory

10 cool science and technology stories from Argonne in 2015

By Louise LernerDecember 23, 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, we’re looking back at just a few of the many cool stories that came out of research conducted by Argonne scientists and engineers this year. From bugs to batteries, these discoveries are just a tiny sample of how Argonne researchers help address energy challenges, preserve the environment, boost the economy, and expand scientific knowledge.

In 2015, Argonne researchers:

1. Discovered the secrets of "beetle juice."

A bombardier beetle shoots a noxious, boiling hot spray of chemicals at enemies when threatened. The process is incredibly fast—the beetle fires 600 times per second. This year, scientists got the first-ever look inside the beetle as it’s spraying, using powerful X-rays at  the Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Argonne.

The beetles store the chemicals in two separate compartments inside their bodies. When they fire, a valve opens and the two chemicals react to form a boiling high-pressure cloud that’s ejected with a bang. The technique could inspire technology in engines and propulsion, authors said. More »

2. Modeled the birth of the universe in one of the largest cosmological simulations ever run.

Over the course of 13.8 billion years, the matter in the universe clumped together to form galaxies, stars, planets and us—but we’re not sure exactly how. Using half a trillion particles, a team led by Argonne physicist Katrin Heitmann modeled the movement of matter. These kinds of simulations help us understand the mysterious forces of dark energy and dark matter; scientists will be poring over the data for years to come. More »

Elsewhere at Argonne, scientists and engineers are also modeling everything from explosives and car engines to how cells move together

3. Made skyrmion bubbles at room temperature.

Skyrmions are tiny bubbles of magnetism that have intrigued a lot of people as a basis for better memory in computers because you can make them move with electric currents. Argonne scientists figured out a way to make them very simply at room temperature with widely used materials. Watch a GIF of the bubbles and read more »

4. Worked to harness energy from the sun.

Argonne made plans to harvest the sun’s energy, winning a SunShot award to scale up a plant that uses special foams to capture solar energy as heat, shedding light on photosynthesis, and analyzing solar panels to find out how long different types take to “pay back” the energy required to make them.

5. Announced plans for a next-generation supercomputer called Aurora.

When commissioned in 2018, this supercomputer will run at at least 180 petaflops—more than 18 times faster than its predecessor. That’s 180 million billion operations per second! The machine, which will be open to all scientific users, will use Intel's HPC scalable system framework, and the system will be based on the next-generation Cray supercomputer code-named "Shasta." More »

6. Figured out how to curve nanoparticle sheets.

Nanoparticles are fascinating and useful for a range of technologies, but before this year, scientists had never figured out how to get a sheet of them to curve or fold into a complex 3-D structure. That changed early this year. More »

7. Opened two new centers for batteries and nanomaterials.

Nano Design Works (NDW) and the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) will provide central points of contact for companies—ranging from large industrial entities to smaller businesses and startups, as well as government agencies—to benefit from Argonne's world-class expertise, scientific tools and facilities. More »

8. Got a grant to study how to evacuate mass transit systems.

Argonne will work with bus and train systems in Chicago to analyze ways to improve the detection of and response to emergencies, as well as the best way to evacuate the city in a major emergency. The work should provide tools that can be used by transit agencies all around the country for emergency planning. More »

9. Demonstrated new processes to make medical isotopes.

Doctors use isotopes of technetium-99 to diagnose and take images of the bones, heart and other tissues. The isotopes come from molybdenum-99, which is traditionally made in reactors that run on highly enriched uranium—a proliferation risk (and there is no current production in the United States). Argonne is working with two companies, SHINE and NorthStar, to create alternative processes to produce and purify the isotope. More »

10. Illuminated the structure of key tuberculosis enzymes.

One third of all people worldwide are infected at some point in their lives by tuberculosis, which has proven incredibly stubborn even in the age of powerful antibiotics. Scientists at Argonne took an enzyme that could be a starting point for a drug and figured out how to image it in action—which could be an important step for new pharmaceuticals. More »

Notable mention: Students from 7th grade all the way up to practicing nuclear engineers attended Argonne programs to learn more about batteries, coding, and 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 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.