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In this issue:
From the Director: SLAC's Time!
Fermi's Large Area Telescope Sees Surprising Flares in Crab Nebula
Word of the Week: Catalyst

SLAC Today

Friday - January 7, 2011

From the Director: SLAC's Time!

(Photo - Persis Drell)
(Photo by Harvey Lynch.)

2010 was a great year for SLAC. Working at the lab every day, we know that. Outstanding science came from all parts of the laboratory, and we continued to improve how we do business. What is nice to see is that others recognize our achievements as well. In late December, the Department of Energy Office of Science released annual performance assessments for the national labs, including SLAC, for fiscal year 2010. SLAC did very well!

You can see the 2010 performance grades for all Office of Science labs here. All of the labs performed well and SLAC was among the best. A table of SLAC grades over the past five years shows that the lab has improved greatly across a number of metrics. All laboratory staff should be extremely proud of this recognition of their hard work! 

Read more...

Fermi's Large Area Telescope Sees Surprising Flares in Crab Nebula

Fermi's Large Area Telescope has recently detected two short-duration gamma-ray pulses coming from the Crab Nebula, which was previously believed to emit radiation at very steady rate. The pulses were fueled by the most energetic particles ever traced to a discrete astronomical object. (Image courtesy NASA/ESA.)

The Crab Nebula, one of our best-known and most stable neighbors in the winter sky, is shocking scientists with its propensity for fireworks—gamma-ray flares set off by the most energetic particles ever traced to a specific astronomical object. The discovery, reported today by scientists working with two orbiting telescopes, is leading researchers to rethink their ideas of how cosmic particles are accelerated.

"We were dumbfounded," said Roger Blandford, who directs the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, jointly located at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. "It's an emblematic object," he said. The Crab Nebula, also known as M1, was the first astronomical object catalogued in 1771 by Charles Messier. "It's a big deal historically," Blandford continued, "and we're making an amazing discovery about it."  Read more...

Clusters of platinum atoms deposited in the pores of an aluminum oxide membrane are highly active and selective catalysts for propane reactions. (Image by Michael Sternberg and Faisal Mehmood, Argonne National Laboratory.)

Word of the Week: Catalyst

In chemical reactions, different elements or compounds react with one another to produce new materials. Throw in the right additional substance—a catalyst—and the reaction becomes more efficient, whether happening faster or at a lower temperature. What’s more, catalysts often remain unchanged during a reaction and so can be reused multiple times.

Some catalysts occur naturally, like the enzymes in saliva that help to break down molecules during digestion. Others are produced and added to commercial products such as fuels and fertilizers. In research efforts like SUNCAT, SLAC scientists are now trying to understand catalytic processes on the atomic level, and are developing synthetic catalysts that mimic natural ones. This is especially important for alternative energy technologies such as artificial photosynthesis, which would convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel.

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