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Scientists Take Key Step Toward Custom-made Nanoscale Chemical Factories

The shell of a bacterial microcompartment (or BMC) is mainly composed of hexagonal proteins, with pentagonal proteins capping the vertices, similar to a soccer ball (left). Scientists have engineered one of these hexagonal proteins, normally devoid of any metal center, to bind an iron-sulfur cluster (orange and yellow sticks, upper right). This cluster can serve as an electron relay to transfer electrons across the shell. Introducing this new functionality in the shell of a BMC greatly expands their possibilities as custom-made bio-nanoreactors. (Credit: Clément Aussignargues/MSU, Cheryl Kerfeld and Markus Sutter/Berkeley Lab)

Scientists have for the first time reengineered a building block of a geometric nanocompartment that occurs naturally in bacteria. The new design provides an entirely new functionality that greatly expands the potential for these compartments to serve as custom-made chemical factories.

Nature’s Microscopic Masonry: The First Steps in How Thin Protein Sheets Form Polyhedral Shells

This illustration shows how hexagonal bacterial proteins (shown as ribbon-like structures at right and upper right) self-assemble into a honeycomb-like tiled pattern (center and background). This tiling activity, seen with an atomic-resolution microscope (upper left), represents the early formation of polyhedral, soccer-ball-like structures known as bacterial microcompartments or BCMs that serve as tiny factories for a range of specialized activities.

Scientists have for the first time viewed how bacterial proteins self-assemble into thin sheets and begin to form the walls of the outer shell for nano-sized polyhedral compartments that function as specialized factories. The research provides new clues for scientists seeking to use these 3-D structures as “nanoreactors” to selectively suck in toxins or churn out desired products.

Newly Discovered ‘Design Rule’ Brings Nature-Inspired Nanostructures One Step Closer

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Scientists aspire to build nanostructures that mimic the complexity and function of nature’s proteins, but are made of durable and synthetic materials. These microscopic widgets could be customized into incredibly sensitive chemical detectors or long-lasting catalysts, to name a few possible applications. A discovery by Berkeley Lab scientists is a step in that direction.

A Different Type of 2D Semiconductor

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Berkeley Lab researchers have produced the first atomically thin 2D sheets of organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites. These ionic materials exhibit optical properties not found in 2D covalent semiconductors such as graphene, making them promising alternatives to silicon for future electronic devices.

New Support for CAMERA to Develop Computational Mathematics for Experimental Facilities Research


With the advent of new technology, scientific facilities are collecting data at increasing rates and higher resolution. However, making sense of this data is becoming a major bottleneck. To address these growing needs, the Department of Energy has announced approval of a grant of $10.5 million over three years to expand the Center for Advanced Mathematics for Energy Research Applications at Berkeley Lab.

Soaking Up Carbon Dioxide and Turning it into Valuable Products

Structural model showing a covalent organic framework (COF)  embedded with a cobalt porphyrin.

Berkeley Lab researchers have incorporated molecules of porphyrin CO2 catalysts into the sponge-like crystals of covalent organic frameworks (COFs) to create a molecular system that not only absorbs CO2, but also selectively reduces it to CO, a primary building block for a wide range of chemical products.

New Mathematics Advances the Frontier of Macromolecular Imaging

Structures to the left are models of the pentameric ligand-gated ion channel (pLGIC), which mediate fast synaptic communication by converting chemical signals into an electrical response. The structures on the right are reconstructions of pLGIC from FXS data using M-TIP. (Image Credit: Jeffrey J. Donatelli, Berkeley Lab)

A comprehensive understanding of complex nanostructures—like proteins and viruses—could lead to breakthroughs in some of the most challenging problems in biology and medicine. But because these objects are a thousand times smaller than the width of human hair, scientists can’t directly see into them to determine their shape and function.

Berkeley Lab Researchers Observe Shortest Wavelength Plasmons Ever in Single Walled Nanotubes

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Working at the Advanced Light Source, Berkeley Lab researchers have observed “Luttinger-liquid” plasmons in metallic single-walled nanotubes. This holds great promise for novel plasmonic and nanophotonic devices over a broad frequency range, including telecom wavelengths.

Orange is the New Red

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Berkeley Lab researchers discovered that a photoprotective mechanism in cyanobacteria is triggered by an unprecedented, large-scale movement from one location to another of the carotenoid pigment within the Orange Carotenoid Protein.

New Magnet Center Brings Together Research and Development

This undulator is an insertion device as used in storage-ring-based synchrotron light sources like the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab.

Initiative taps magnet expertise from across Berkeley Lab to develop state-of-the art magnetic systems.