Our Science Highlight articles cover the diverse research that takes place at our facility. Browse all science highlights articles from ISIS Neutron and Muon Source below. Alternatively you can browse Science Highlights by subject area or Science Highlights by instrument or view our news and Science Highlights RSS feed here.
#10YearsOn - Tom Headen
To continue our series of articles celebrating the new decade, Tom Headen looks back on the progress made in aromatic hydrocarbon research, and beamline technology, since we published his science highlight in 2010.
#10YearsOn - Luke Clifton
To celebrate the start of the new decade, Luke Clifton reflects on the progress made in his research field since we published his science highlight in 2010.
Cereal research takes roots on IMAT
Neutrons have been used to map the root structure of wheat plants in life-like soil conditions for the first time, and the researchers have returned to study rice, with the help of a new research greenhouse on the IMAT beamline.
Testing solar cells for space travel
A group from UCL and ISIS have been testing solar cells made from perovskite materials to see how resilient they are to the neutron irradiation they would be exposed to in space.
Surface-active agents, surfactants, are crucial to many industries including healthcare, cleaning and petrochemicals. Here we explain what they are and how research at the ISIS Neutron and Muon source plays a vital part in developing their applications.
Double-faced hydrogen bonding in ionic liquids
Neutron diffraction and molecular dynamics simulations have shown that in some cases ions of the same charge actually form stronger hydrogen bonds to one another that oppositely charged species, despite the repulsion of their charges.
Probing the strange properties of hydrothermal water
A team of scientists using ISIS are investigating these fluids in the hope that as well as shedding light on the mechanisms that power the planet, we might learn how to exploit them in the fight against climate change.
Iron Selenide: not as unique as expected
Previously thought of as a distinctive superconductor, researchers have used ISIS and other international facilities to show that iron selenide operates in the same way as other iron-based superconductors.
Biodiesel under high pressure
High-pressure studies of one of the main components of biodiesel, methyl stearate, have shown the different crystal structures adopted by the compound. This has implications for the use of biofuels in modern diesel engines.
Rethinking lipid transfer in bacteria
Research carried out at ISIS has played a key part in a large research study that challenges the thinking about how bacteria maintain the structure of their outer membrane.
Neutrons for Organic Solar Energy Technologies
Scientists from The University of Sheffield are studying the layered structure of highly efficient organic thin films for cheaper, more environmentally friendly, solar energy technologies.
Neutron Power: Finding useful oxygen atoms and ions
The unique properties of neutrons have enabled the study of potential fuel cell materials to understand the transport of oxygen within them and the contribution of ionic charge carriers to the total electrical conductivity.
ISIS ice research is a hot topic
A publication based on experiments at ISIS has been selected by the journal editors as a ‘hot article’ to appear in their online rolling collection of featured articles.
Cobham use ChipIr to bring product to market
Cobham RAD Europe Ltd have brought a new product to market thanks to STFC’s Bridging for Innovators (B4I) programme, which enabled them to access the unique capability offered by the ChipIr beamline for cosmic radiation testing.
Watching hydrogen flip its spin
A conversion that happens inside a hydrogen molecule has been studied with an unprecedented level of detail, giving an insight into how this conversion can be maximised, with implications for neutron sources, engineering and industry.
Breaking the limit of breaking down lignin
Scientists from the University of Manchester, the East China University of Science and Technology and ISIS Neutron and Muon Source have worked together on one of the hardest tasks in biomass conversion: breaking the limit of lignin monomer production.
Scientists develop a well-good way to extract oil
Scientists from Swansea University have used ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to investigate a new and, potentially, ‘greener’ way to extract oil that might otherwise remain trapped deep within rocks.
Secrets of Peptide Assembly unzipped at ISIS
Researchers from China, Manchester and ISIS have used neutrons to gain new insights into peptide self-assembly and the ‘polar zipper’ mechanism, which could improve the development of future peptide-based materials.
Neutrons probe chemical and enzymatic organic removal methods
The study of bone tissue by vibrational spectroscopy may have a high impact in several areas from bioarcheology to regenerative medicine; Adriana Mamede and a team of researchers have been analysing human bone aiming at the development of biomaterials
Neutrons and muons: history, mystery and science meet
It seems strange to consider that neutrons and muons, discovered in the 1930s, should be used to investigate artefacts dating as far back as 10,000 BCE, however such work has been done here at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.
What makes a good fire-fighting foam?
Researchers at the University of Bristol are using neutrons to investigate fluorocarbon surfactants (soap-like molecules) used in fire-fighting foams to uncover more efficient and environmentally friendly formulations.
Neutrons: an unexpected engineering tool
What do you associate the word “engineering” with? Construction? Electronics? Maths? The list could go on and on, but in all likelihood it would be some time before you’d arrive at “neutrons”.
Simulated moon dust on ChipIr
Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) and DLR-Cologne are using ChipIr to study lunar soil analogues to investigate their potential use for radiation shielding of future lunar habitats.
Neutrons fill in the gaps in our knowledge of dental cements
With tooth decay impacting 60-90% of schoolchildren and the majority of adults it’s no surprise most of us dread the dentist. Our poor oral health is costing us too, with dental repair one of the most significant healthcare costs in developed countries.
Examining the lifetime of Laundry Detergent Pods
An Industrial-Academic collaboration of scientists have been using neutron reflectometry at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to investigate surface segregation in water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol films found in common household laundry detergent pods.
Inhibiting the growth of the world’s largest gas resource
Natural gas hydrates may be a vast untapped energy resource but they cause severe problems in oil and gas pipelines and are potent greenhouse gases. To improve our understanding of these problematic compounds methane hydrate was studied using neutrons.
New insights into planet formation using NIMROD
Scientists from The Open University and Technical University Braunschweig are using NIMROD to study the structural properties of micrometer-sized icy particles – analogues of interstellar ice – to gain insight into processes that lead to planet formation.
Neutrons reveal secret to sweetness
Scientists have used neutron diffraction to study hydrogen bonding between monosaccharides and water to investigate the link between hydration and sweetness.
Majorana fermions in α-Ruthenium(III) chloride
There’s considerable interest in fundamental magnetism at the moment, with the use of topological concepts (mathematical techniques which won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics) allowing us to study unusual phases, or states, of matter.
Testing samples for Rolls Royce
Nickel based superalloys are a class of material designed for high-temperature applications, such as turbine blades for jet engines. During the manufacturing process single crystal turbine blades are subject to a series of heat treatments.
In a spin: uncovering a nematic transition
Researchers conducting a fairly routine systematic investigation of spinel materials have made a serendipitous discovery that could well be the first experimental proof of part of a long-standing and well-used theory.
The past, present and future of inelastic neutron scattering
The use of electron-volt neutron spectroscopy in materials research is a growing area of neutron science, capitalizing upon the unique insights provided by epithermal neutrons on the behaviour and properties of an increasing number of complex materials.
Evidence of topological excitations in a quantum magnet
Condensed matter physics is the study of how matter can organise itself. The different forms a material can take are called phases, and these phases determine the properties of the material – for example metals, magnets, insulators or superconductors.
New insights into nanoceria synthesis using SANDALS
Scientists from Universities of Bath and Cambridge have developed a new, green synthetic route for cerium oxide – an important component in catalytic converters and solid oxide fuel cells – using neutron diffraction to determine the mechanism of reaction.
Water: the liquid of life
Neutrons, such as those produced at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, are an ideal tool for investigating water because of how clearly they can see hydrogen atoms.
Solitary magnons in calcium ferrate
Materials that display localised electronic or magnetic behaviour are of wide interest in physics. One reason is that they can provide insights into unusual quantum phenomena, as seen in single molecular magnets for example.
Fish-eye view into cryopreservation
Scientists from the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source have solved the mechanism behind the long-term freeze storage technique ‘cryopreservation’ that is used to preserve the embryos of species that are in danger of extinction.
Anthrax toxin: a new tool in the fight against cancer?
For the first time, scientists have disarmed the anthrax toxin and converted it into a positive tool for delivering drugs for a specific form of gene therapy, an experimental technique that treats disease by replacing or inactivating faulty genes.
Detecting hidden patterns on ancient swords
Hidden ‘Damascus’ patterns in the steel used to make ancient Indo-Persian swords and daggers are being uncovered by collaborators from London’s Wallace Collection and CNR, Italy, during neutron diffraction experiments at ISIS.
Staying safe in the skies
It may surprise you to learn just how much ISIS has contributed to airline safety over the last few years, so here are some examples of how science is helping to keep us safe.
PEARL Science Highlights
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Helping the hunt for lead-free piezoelectrics
Piezoelectrics are a class of material that generates an electric charge when subject to mechanical stress. Discovered by Pierre and Jacques Curie in 1880, an early application of the phenomenon was in sonar during the First World War.
Testing a “model” magnetic system
Many real magnetic materials are called “model” systems, meaning they are believed to be good test candidates for understanding new physical phenomena.
Breaking the Barriers to a solar Future
Researchers at the University of Sheffield, University of Durham and ISIS in collaboration with Start-up Company Ossila are using neutron reflectometry to look the formation of plastic solar cell films.
Going to the extreme
For most of us, temperatures around the mid-twenties and a light breeze, sounds like the ideal environment - anything over or under this happy medium and we start to feel a little under pressure.
An antibody with a twist
In recent years a swarm of new antibody-based drugs have hit the market, offering treatment for cancer, autoimmunity, and infectious diseases.
TOSCA Science Highlights
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MARI Science Highlights
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Might muons and a microwave make marvellous materials?
Captured in stars like the sun, energy has been stored since the formation of the universe itself. This solar power lies amongst all kinds of energy stores such as wind, plant and tidal sources that help feed our global appetite for energy.
Trapping magnetic monopoles in spin ice
Electrically isolated charges are common in nature, most notably in the form of individual electrons. However the equivalent in magnetism, the magnetic monopole, has proved far more elusive.
Muons make the most of waste heat
Approximately 90% of the world’s electricity comes from heat energy generated by fossil fuels. These power stations operate at about 30 – 40% efficiency, with the remaining heat being lost to the environment.
Shining the beam on anti-cancer drugs
Platinum-based drugs are known for their anticancer ability. Cisplatin, the most famous and most widely prescribed drug of this kind, offers treatment for several types of cancer such as testicular, lung, bladder and ovarian cancers.
Helping make hydrogen cars a reality
Toyota, who hope to release a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2015, have been working with ISIS scientists to address a key challenge: hydrogen loss during cycling.
New insights into high temperature superconductors
Superconductors are materials where below a certain critical temperature (Tc) all electrical resistance disappears. Discovered in 1911, superconductors have the potential to revolutionise the ways in which we store and transport electricity.
ISIS ‘oils the wheels’ in the study of lubricant additives
In times where cracking down on energy consumption, cutting emissions and saving resources are central environmental concerns – enhanced lubricants, with the potential to increase operating efficiency in many systems, are attracting global interest.
The role of water in protein folding
Proteins are large macromolecules that are required by almost all living organisms in order to function. Every protein is composed of a long chain of amino acids which fold into a particular shape that allows the protein to do its work.
When is a ferroelectric not a ferroelectric?
Ferroelectrics are insulating materials with an electrical polarisation that can be switched by an applied voltage. Ferroelectricity cannot occur in metals because polarisation would be screened by the conduction electrons.
Passing the Electron Baton.
Scientists have used to neutrons to discover how an enzyme involved in drug metabolism, Cytochrome P450 Reductase (CPR), performs like a runner in a relay race.
New capabilities for catalysis studies at ISIS
Catalysis is big business, and industry is keen to understand and improve catalytic processes. An estimated 80% of all man-made materials use catalysts during manufacturing, and as a result up to 35% of the world’s GDP relies on catalysis.
Every cloud has a lipid lining
Floating on ships in the Indian Ocean, researchers noticed that clouds drifting downwind of a city had different reflectivity to clouds which didn’t come downwind of a city.
Neutrons could help us to breathe more easily
Coughing, wheezing and tightening of the chest. Asthma sufferers can relate, particularly in cities during the summer time when asthma symptoms are exacerbated. One of the causes? Ozone.
Vesuvio Science Highlights
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Drug delivery stays on target
Imagine. You are a tiny, injectable ball. Within your core you carry a drug designed to treat a specific diseased tissue.
First steps to a brainy computer
The brain, at the centre of the nervous system, is the most complex organ in the body. A vast neural network of around 100 billion neurons makes connections via synapses and is thought to be the basis of memory
Nanoparticles, small but mighty
Nanoparticles, defined as being between 100 and 1 nanometers in size, stir excitement amongst researchers due to a wide variety of potential applications in biomedical, optical and electronic fields.
Watering the plants - neutron insights into cellulose
People with a self-confessed sweet tooth add sugar to their tea or coffee, and when stirred, the sugar dissolves. But cellulose, a plant sugar that is found in the primary cell wall of green plants, does not readily dissolve in water.
Capturing a cleaner future
Greenhouse gases and their effects are looming over us like a ticking alarm clock. The attention of UK scientists has been drawn to combating global warming through a technique which captures these harmful gases.
Tough Bioglass could banish bone replacements
New research from the ISIS Neutron and Muon source is being used to extend the potential range of uses for bioglasses without compromising their ability to stimulate new bone growth.
SXD Science Highlights
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MAPS Science Highlights
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POLREF Science Highlights
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Argus Science Highlights
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Engin-X Science Highlights
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Merlin Science Highlights
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Mystery of car battery material solved
ISIS has helped chemists to solve the 150 year-old mystery of what gives lead oxide, the main component of the lead-acid battery that is found under the bonnet of most cars, its unique properties.
Ecoli packs a punch
Neutron scattering experiments have given a new insight into how E. coli bacteria, often associated with food poisoning, kill each other in the evolutionary competition for food and space.
Low energy spin-gap studies of LiErF4
The high resolution of the new LET instrument enables scientist to investigate materials in order to answer fundamental questions in quantum physics.
Magnetic imaging using a time of flight neutron beam
The recent development of fast, highly pixelated neutron detectors capable of performing transmission radiography at a pulsed source, along with 3He spin filters, has opened up a number of interesting new possibilities in polarised neutron imaging.
Neutron Compton scattering in moderate-mass systems
This study suggests for the first time that the technique of Neutron Compton scattering (NCS) may be extended beyond the study of the lightest elements (such as H or He isotopes) to give additional information about the profile widths of heavier nuclei.
Let probes excitations in a quantum Ising chain
The newly commissioned Let spectrometer on the ISIS Second Target Station, combined with the vertical-opening 9 T magnet and dilution refrigerator insert, offers unparalleled opportunities for probing atomic dynamics with high resolution and wide coverage
Nanostructured ionic liquids
Neutron diffraction and computer simulation are used to study the structure of ionic liquids, which are widely used to conduct chemical reactions.
Polymers in prison
High-resolution inelastic neutron scattering experiments reveal that the polymer, poly(ethylene oxide), under extreme confinement adopts a conformation different to that of the bulk crystal.
Butterflies and bridges
While covalent bonds are usually formed by sharing two electrons between two atoms, some compounds contain B–H–B bonds in which an electron pair is distributed over three sites.
Protein motion in red blood cells
Neutron scattering experiments help to reveal the motion of haemoglobin in red blood cells, enabling scientists to gain a better understanding of protein dynamics at the molecular level.
Spreadable polymer solar cells
Neutron reflectivity studies provide insights into the manufacture of cheap solar cell panels, which could provide a solution to the world's growing energy demands.
Dynamics in lipid vesicles
Using Iris at ISIS and IN6 at ILL,structural properties of lipid-based systems have been investigated, which could prove useful in some major applications.
Muonium and hydrogen centres in sulphur
Muon level-crossing resonance and supercell calculations show how ion-implanted muons and protons create molecular radicals that can switch conformation on subnanosecond timescales and initiate polysulphide generation.
Unravelling elastin, nature’s ‘nanospring’
Using neutron experiments and other state-of-the-art techniques, scientists have revealed the shape of the protein that gives human tissues their elastic properties. This discovery might lead to the development of new synthetic ‘elastin-like’ materials.
SANS2D Science Highlights
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LET Science Highlights
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CRISP Science Highlights
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INES Science Highlights
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Quantum mapmakers complete first voyage through spin liquid
Scientists from two of Oxfordshire’s leading research centres have completed the painstaking and careful mapping of the features of one of the most exotic states of matter in the universe found close to absolute zero in a particular example of a chemicall
From outer space volcanoes to nanotechnology
Neutron scattering conducted at ISIS and the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) has discovered that methanol crystals that may be found in outer solar system ‘ice lavas’ have unusual expansion properties.
ISIS helps extend the life of oil reserves
A research team led by the University of Bristol has used STFC’s ISIS Neutron Source to come up with a new way to treat carbon dioxide (CO2), so that it can be used in efficient and environmentally friendly methods for extracting oil.
Superconductivity research at ISIS
Superconductors have two remarkable properties: they conduct electricity without resistance and they expel magnetic fields from the bulk of their interior.
Getting on top of calcite
Calcite is an extremely important mineral in sedimentary deposits and in many industrial processes. This is particularly evident in water heating where it forms ‘scale’ in hard water areas due to its retrograde solubility (solubility falls on heating).
Optimising polymer solutions for printed electronics
The development of polymer-based optoelectronic devices (or ‘plastic solar cells’) that could deliver electricity at a competitive cost is a key area of research. Solutions of conjugated polymers can be ‘printed’ to produce the active layer of low-cost s
Magnetic excitation spectrum of Fe1+yTe1-xSex
The recent discovery of superconductivity with Tc up to 55 K in Fe-based materials has generated much excitement, yet the mechanism underpinning superconductivity in these ‘unconventional’ superconductors remains elusive.
The transport of electrically charged quasiparticles (based on electrons, holes or ions) plays a pivotal role in modern technology as well as determining the essential function of biological organisms.
Magnetism research at ISIS
We can determine the magnetic field strength, direction and order in a material – for example, antiferromagnetism - even in layers only a few nanometres thick.
Structure research at ISIS
The structure of materials takes a vital role in determining their properties. We investigate how atoms and molecules bind to each other to determine atomic and molecular structures. We can find where the atoms sit and the bond strengths between them.
Zoom Science Highlights
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LOQ Science Highlights
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Managing nanoparticle waste in sewage
A new discovery about nanoparticle behaviour in sewage treatment plants could improve the environmental management of nanoparticle wastes from foods, cosmetics, medicines, cleaners and personal care products.
Dynamics of nanoparticles for drug delivery
Nano- and micro-particles that are composed of saccharide (sugar-like) and lipid (molecules such as fats and oils) components can be produced for potential applications as highly-biocompatible drug carriers.
Heterogeneous catalysis (catalysis where the catalyst is in a different phase from the reactants – e.g. a solid catalyst and gaseous reactants) is a key economic driver in advanced nations.
Spinning a story: silk at the molecular level
Spiders and insects have achieved what many industries and labs yearn to accomplish: the controlled assembly in water of large proteins into high performance fibres, all at ambient temperature and pressure.
‘Magnetricity’ measured for the first time at ISIS
A magnetic charge can behave and interact just like an electric charge in some materials, according to new research conducted at ISIS and which could lead to a reassessment of current magnetism theories, as well as significant technological advances.
Soft Matter: Insights from QENS
Quasi-elastic neutron scattering plays a key role in the study of soft matter systems, ranging from polymers to complex biological systems.
Controlling residual stresses in friction stir welds
Aluminium is very difficult to weld; that is why aircraft are traditionally riveted. Friction Stir Welding (FSW) is a new method by which panels can be joined together by passing a rotating tool down the weld-line.
Water diffusion in drug delivery microgels
Polymeric microgels consist of nanometer-sized spheres. The spaces inside the spheres can be filled with a pharmacologically-active material – a drug – suspended in water. Such microgels are biocompatible, and so they have promising applications as injec
Dihydrogen complex or classical dihydride?
The structure of compounds containing more than one H atom bonded to a transition metal may layon a continuum between two extremes: separatebonds between the metal (M) and each H atom with no direct H-H bonds (classical polyhydride), and a dihydrogen co
Nano-structures in surfactant mixtures revealed
In many commonplace surfactant-based formulations (comprising ionic/nonionic surfactant mixtures) the addition of cosurfactants such as straight-chain alkanols and more complex alcohol structures (such as perfumes) can have an impact upon the solution.
Sorting out the structure of multiferroic BiFeO3
Multiferroics are technologically-important materials which simultaneously exhibit electric order (alignment of electric dipoles in an electric field) and magnetic order (alignment of magnetic spins in a magnetic field).
How do molecular crystals form?
How does the ordering in a crystal arise from the interactions present? Solving the structure shows what the structure is, but not how it arises.
Dopant atoms strain perovskites
A variety of interesting and potential useful materials are produced when a perovskite crystal structure is distorted by the presence of dopant atoms.
Iron pnictide superconductors: the impact of ISIS
The recent discovery of superconductivity in several iron- and arsenic-based compounds with critical temperatures as high as 55K has caused great excitement because they are the first non-copper-based high-temperature superconductors.
A clear view through muddy water
In recent years water quality scientists have become increasingly aware of the significance of nanoparticles (defined as <100 nm in size) in the transport of pollutants and their potential impacts on the ecology and health of streams and rivers.
Superconductors take a spin
Experiments at ISIS suggest that magnetic interactions may be the cause of high-temperaturesuperconductivity.
Probing the past
The study of ancient artefacts is complicated by the desire not to change or damage the objects in any way.
The secrets of storing hydrogen
Concern over climate change and a dwindling supply of fossil fuels mean that there is increasing interest in alternative forms of energy.
Welding the unweldable
Neutron diffraction is helping aerospace engineers perfect ways of welding advanced alloys that are difficult to join.
Magnetism in thin films revealed
Data storage has improved in leaps and bounds over the last 30 years – consider the size of music storage devices, which hold hundreds of CDs and can fit in the palm of your hand.
Peering into polymers
Virtually every day we benefit from products made from thin film polymers. These special layers are used for everything from time release medications to anti-reflective coatings.
Neutron studies uncover the liquid structure of an important industrial solvent.
Stopping pollution in its tracks
When we bury our waste in landfill sites, the site often has a clay liner to prevent toxic chemicals from escaping and contaminating groundwater.
Ice cold in Titan
Neutrons explore the materials thought to makeup the mantles of the icy moons of the Solar System.
The many forms of ice
You might think that the ice on Earth would be the same as that on Iapetus, Saturn’s icy moon, but new research suggests they maybe quite different.
Minerals prefer to form a perfectly ordered crystal structure when they are cooled, but for some this is a hard task.
Hotter means smaller!
Most materials expand when they are heated, but a few do exactly the opposite and contract. Recent work at ISIS has helped to explain this puzzling phenomenon by studying the way that the atoms move.
MuSR Science Highlights
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ISIS Second Target station - protons on target.
The ISIS Second Target Station Project at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire achieved a major milestone on Friday 14 December 2008, at the first attempt and two days ahead of schedule.
Investigation into super-critical carbon dioxide as a potential ‘green’ replacement for volatile organic solvents.
The binding of H2 in zeolites
Understanding the microscopic mechanisms of hydrogen interactions with zeolite materials to develop their storage potential.
ChipIr Science Highlights
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