Ancient metal objects are illuminated by neutrons at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI. This enables researchers to discover what is hidden inside them, how they were made and how they can be preserved.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 has been awarded to Jacques Dubochet of Switzerland, U.S.-based German scientist Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson of the United Kingdom for the development of structural analysis of single biological molecules by means of cryo-electron microscopy. The awarding of the prize underscores the fundamental significance of structural analysis of biomolecules for modern biology – a research area where the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI plays a leading role in Switzerland.
PSI researchers have developed an experimental chamber in which they can recreate atmospheric processes and probe them with unprecedented precision, using X-ray light from the Swiss Light Source SLS. In the initial experiments, they have studied the production of bromine, which plays an essential role in the decomposition of ozone in the lower layers of the atmosphere. In the future, the new experiment chamber will also be available for use by researchers from other scientific fields.
Federica Marone illuminates objects with high-intensity X-ray beams, Eberhard Lehmann with neutrons. Both have used their methods to give palaeontologists and archaeologists a new view into the past.
For Aldo Antognini, physics and conviviality are in the bloodPSI researcher Aldo Antognini has received more than 2.2 million Swiss francs from the EU for his latest experiment. He wants to find out how magnetism is distributed in the proton. The particle physicist will be able to apply not only his scientific and technical talents, but his social flair as well.
Using the large research facilities at PSI, Helena Van Swygenhoven-Moens examines the inner workings of metals. The watch industry needs small, robust springs and engineers are interested in turbine blades made of stress resistant materials.
Because of their high nitrogen content, spent coffee grounds are a popular garden fertilizer. Recycled in this manner, they already contribute to an environmentally friendly waste management. But they have the potential to deliver much more: a new procedure developed at the PSI allows high quality methane to be formed from spent coffee grounds. PSI researchers involved in a pilot project carried out in cooperation with the Swiss food producer Nestlé were able to show that spent coffee grounds left over during the production of instant coffee can be efficiently re-used elsewhere.
Proton therapy is already a success story at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI but researchers remain dedicated to making treatment faster and safer.
For the first time, scientists have made visible the directions of the magnetisation inside a 3D magnetic object. The smallest details in their visualisation were ten thousand times smaller than a millimetre. Among others, the magnetic structure contained one outstanding kind of pattern: magnetic singularities called Bloch points, which up to now were only known in theory.
Efficient electrolysers are needed in order to store sun and wind energy in the form of hydrogen. Thanks to a new material developed by researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Empa, these devices are likely to become less costly and more efficient in the future. Researchers were also able to demonstrate that this new material can be reliably produced in large quantities, showing its performance capability in an electrolysis cell—the main component of an electrolyser.
An X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) is capable of visualizing extremely fast structural and electronic processes. Pilot experiments will take place at the PSI's Swiss Free-Electron Laser (SwissFEL) from the end of 2017 on. Two current publications in Science and Nature Communications demonstrate the kind of outstanding scientific work that is enabled by such facilities. The work was carried out at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) in California. Two of the leading authors behind these studies have now relocated to the PSI in order to share their expertise as SwissFEL expands its capabilities.
Lignin, as a constituent of many plants, accumulates in large quantities and could theoretically be used as a precursor material for production of fuels and chemicals. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have developed a method with which the processes that take place in the catalytic breakdown of lignin can be observed in detail. The knowledge thus gained could enable targeted improvement of production methods in the future.
As fundamental building blocks of matter, protons are part of all the things that surround us. At the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, though, they step out of their usual role and are deployed to generate other particles, namely neutrons and muons, which are then used to study materials. But for that, the protons first have to be accelerated. An important role in this is played by a three-stage accelerator facility, in the middle of which stands the accelerator known as Injector 2.
In 1999, PSI researchers founded the spin-off firm SwissNeutronics. Today the company has a staff of 15, sells high-precision components to research institutions all over the world, and still is based in the small town of Klingnau – not far from PSI.
When small children develop cancer, the whole family is affected. Staff at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI’s Centre for Proton Therapy combine target-oriented proton beam irradiation and a caring, warm-hearted atmosphere to help these children.
The company Daetwyler made the undulators for the X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, to a precision of one-tenth of the width of a hair.
PSI materials researchers have developed a method that provides crucial insights into the charging and discharging processes of lithium-sulphur batteries. And the method revealed: with quartz powder added to the battery, its available energy increases and the gradual loss of capacity is much weaker.
In oil extraction sites, gaseous methane is simply burned, even though it could actually be a useful precursor material for fuels and products of the chemical industry. One way to make methane usable is to convert it to methanol. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have now developed a new chemical process that allows this conversion in an efficient and inexpensive way.
Proton beams don’t just cure cancer. They can also damage healthy tissue. To make sure that this doesn’t happen, PSI’s Centre for Proton Therapy carries out over 350 safety tests a year. The results speak for themselves: several thousand patients have undergone proton irradiation treatment here in Villigen. There’s never been an accident.
Whether they study materials for the electronics of the future, batteries, or swords from the Bronze Age — for 20 years researchers from a range of disciplines have been using the Swiss Spallation Neutron Source SINQ of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI for their investigations. At a symposium on 18 April, researchers looked back on the facility's successes and presented plans for modernisation.