Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: X-ray microscope


Evidence of life on Earth is manifestly preserved in the rock record. However, the microfossil record only extends to ∼3.5 billion years (Ga), the chemofossil record arguably to ∼3.8 Ga, and the rock record to 4.0 Ga. Detrital zircons from Jack Hills, Western Australia range in age up to nearly 4.4 Ga. From a population of over 10,000 Jack Hills zircons, we identified one >3.8-Ga zircon that contains primary graphite inclusions. Here, we report carbon isotopic measurements on these inclusions in a concordant, 4.10 ± 0.01-Ga zircon. We interpret these inclusions as primary due to their enclosure in a crack-free host as shown by transmission X-ray microscopy and their crystal habit. Their δ(13)CPDB of -24 ± 5‰ is consistent with a biogenic origin and may be evidence that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged by 4.1 Ga, or ∼300 My earlier than has been previously proposed.

Concepts: Crystal, Earth, Carbon, X-ray microscope, Jack Hills, Zircon, Biosphere


Magnetic skyrmions are topologically protected spin textures that exhibit fascinating physical behaviours and large potential in highly energy-efficient spintronic device applications. The main obstacles so far are that skyrmions have been observed in only a few exotic materials and at low temperatures, and fast current-driven motion of individual skyrmions has not yet been achieved. Here, we report the observation of stable magnetic skyrmions at room temperature in ultrathin transition metal ferromagnets with magnetic transmission soft X-ray microscopy. We demonstrate the ability to generate stable skyrmion lattices and drive trains of individual skyrmions by short current pulses along a magnetic racetrack at speeds exceeding 100 m s(-1) as required for applications. Our findings provide experimental evidence of recent predictions and open the door to room-temperature skyrmion spintronics in robust thin-film heterostructures.

Concepts: Scientific method, Electron, X-ray, Spin, Zinc, Hypothesis, X-ray microscope, X-rays


The Paleocene-Eocene boundary (∼55.8 million years ago) is marked by an abrupt negative carbon isotope excursion (CIE) that coincides with an oxygen isotope decrease interpreted as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. Biogenic magnetite (Fe3O4) in the form of giant (micron-sized) spearhead-like and spindle-like magnetofossils, as well as nano-sized magnetotactic bacteria magnetosome chains, have been reported in clay-rich sediments in the New Jersey Atlantic Coastal Plain and were thought to account for the distinctive single-domain magnetic properties of these sediments. Uncalibrated strong field magnet extraction techniques have been typically used to provide material for scanning and transmission electron microscopic imaging of these magnetic particles, whose concentration in the natural sediment is thus difficult to quantify. In this study, we use a recently developed ultrahigh-resolution, synchrotron-based, full-field transmission X-ray microscope to study the iron-rich minerals within the clay sediment in their bulk state. We are able to estimate the total magnetization concentration of the giant biogenic magnetofossils to be only ∼10% of whole sediment. Along with previous rock magnetic studies on the CIE clay, we suggest that most of the magnetite in the clay occurs as isolated, near-equidimensional nanoparticles, a suggestion that points to a nonbiogenic origin, such as comet impact plume condensates in what may be very rapidly deposited CIE clays.

Concepts: Oxygen, X-ray, Magnetism, Carbon, Erosion, Magnetite, X-ray microscope, Magnetotactic bacteria


Soft X-ray microscopy (SXM) is a minimally invasive technique for single-cell high-resolution imaging, as well as the visualization of intracellular distributions of light elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. We used SXM to observe photosynthesis and nitrogen-fixation in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120, which can form heterocysts during nitrogen starvation. Statistical and spectroscopic analyses from soft X-ray microscopic images around the K-absorption edge of nitrogen revealed a significant difference in the carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio between vegetative cells and heterocysts. Application of this analysis to soft X-ray images of Anabaena revealed inhomogeneous C/N ratios in the cells. Furthermore, soft X-ray tomography of Anabaena revealed differing cellular C/N ratios, indicating different C and N distributions between vegetative cells and heterocysts in three dimensions.

Concepts: Cyanobacteria, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, X-ray, Medical imaging, Radiography, Nitrogen fixation, X-ray microscope


Collective modes in three-dimensional crystals of stacked permalloy disks with magnetic vortices are investigated by ferromagnetic resonance spectroscopy and scanning transmission X-ray microscopy. The size of the arrangements is increased step by step to identify the different contributions to the interaction between the vortices. These contributions are the key requirement to understand complex dynamics of three dimensional vortex crystals. Both vertical and horizontal coupling determine the collective modes. In-plane dipoles strongly influence the interaction between the disks in the stacks and lead to polarity-dependent resonance frequencies. Weaker contributions discern arrangements with different polarities and circularities that result from the lateral coupling of the stacks and the interaction of the core regions inside a stack. All three contributions are identified in the experiments and are explained in a rigid particle model.

Concepts: X-ray, Fundamental physics concepts, Particle physics, Dimension, Euclidean space, Magnetism, X-ray microscope, Standard Model


Synchrotron-based X-ray tomography offers the potential for rapid large-scale reconstructions of the interiors of materials and biological tissue at fine resolution. However, for radiation sensitive samples, there remain fundamental trade-offs between damaging samples during longer acquisition times and reducing signals with shorter acquisition times. We present a deep convolutional neural network (CNN) method that increases the acquired X-ray tomographic signal by at least a factor of 10 during low-dose fast acquisition by improving the quality of recorded projections. Short-exposure-time projections enhanced with CNNs show signal-to-noise ratios similar to long-exposure-time projections. They also show lower noise and more structural information than low-dose short-exposure acquisitions post-processed by other techniques. We evaluated this approach using simulated samples and further validated it with experimental data from radiation sensitive mouse brains acquired in a tomographic setting with transmission X-ray microscopy. We demonstrate that automated algorithms can reliably trace brain structures in low-dose datasets enhanced with CNN. This method can be applied to other tomographic or scanning based X-ray imaging techniques and has great potential for studying faster dynamics in specimens.

Concepts: Brain, X-ray, Medical imaging, Radiography, Tomographic reconstruction, Human brain, Tomography, X-ray microscope


We have imaged Néel skyrmion bubbles in perpendicularly magnetised polycrystalline multilayers patterned into 1 µm diameter dots, using scanning transmission x-ray microscopy. The skyrmion bubbles can be nucleated by the application of an external magnetic field and are stable at zero field with a diameter of 260 nm. Applying an out of plane field that opposes the magnetisation of the skyrmion bubble core moment applies pressure to the bubble and gradually compresses it to a diameter of approximately 100 nm. On removing the field the skyrmion bubble returns to its original diameter via a hysteretic pathway where most of the expansion occurs in a single abrupt step. This contradicts analytical models of homogeneous materials in which the skyrmion compression and expansion are reversible. Micromagnetic simulations incorporating disorder can explain this behaviour using an effective thickness modulation between 10 nm grains.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Magnetism, Ferromagnetism, Materials science, Permeability, Hysteresis, X-ray microscope


Magnetic skyrmions are topologically protected spin textures with attractive properties suitable for high-density and low-power spintronic device applications. Much effort has been dedicated to understanding the dynamical behaviours of the magnetic skyrmions. However, experimental observation of the ultrafast dynamics of this chiral magnetic texture in real space, which is the hallmark of its quasiparticle nature, has so far remained elusive. Here, we report nanosecond-dynamics of a 100nm-diameter magnetic skyrmion during a current pulse application, using a time-resolved pump-probe soft X-ray imaging technique. We demonstrate that distinct dynamic excitation states of magnetic skyrmions, triggered by current-induced spin-orbit torques, can be reliably tuned by changing the magnitude of spin-orbit torques. Our findings show that the dynamics of magnetic skyrmions can be controlled by the spin-orbit torque on the nanosecond time scale, which points to exciting opportunities for ultrafast and novel skyrmionic applications in the future.

Concepts: Electron, X-ray, Energy, Electromagnetic radiation, Torque, Force, Dynamics, X-ray microscope


Full-field transmission X-ray microscopy has been used to determine the 3D structure of a whole individual fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) particle at high spatial resolution and in a fast, noninvasive manner, maintaining the full integrity of the particle. Using X-ray absorption mosaic imaging to combine multiple fields of view, computed tomography was performed to visualize the macropore structure of the catalyst and its availability for mass transport. We mapped the relative spatial distributions of Ni and Fe using multiple-energy tomography at the respective X-ray absorption K-edges and correlated these distributions with porosity and permeability of an equilibrated catalyst (E-cat) particle. Both metals were found to accumulate in outer layers of the particle, effectively decreasing porosity by clogging of pores and eventually restricting access into the FCC particle.

Concepts: Iron, Hydrogen, Petroleum, Chemical element, Metal, X-ray microscope, Nickel, Oil refinery


We present a detailed study on the static magnetic properties of individual permalloy (Py) nanotubes (NTs) with hexagonal cross sections. Anisotropic magnetoresistance (AMR) measurements and scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) are used to investigate their magnetic ground states and its stability. We find, that the magnetization in zero applied magnetic field is in a very stable vortex state. Its origin is attributed to a strong growth induced anisotropy with easy axis perpendicular to the long axis of the tubes. AMR measurements of individual NTs in combination with micromagnetic simulations allow determining the magnitude of the growth-induced anisotropy for different types of NT coatings. We show that the strength of the anisotropy can be controlled by introducing a buffer layer underneath the magnetic layer. The magnetic ground states depend on the external magnetic field history and are directly imaged using STXM. Stable vortex domains can be introduced by external magnetic fields and can be erased by radio frequency (rf) magnetic fields applied at the center of the tubes via a strip line antenna.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Magnetic field, Magnetism, Magnetic moment, Anisotropy, Permeability, Field, X-ray microscope