Argonne National Laboratory

The Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), a U.S. Department of Energy user facility at Argonne National Laboratory, leverages world-class tools and capabilities to unlock new science and technological frontiers. Take a look back at our milestones and game-changing innovations.


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2023 – An Argonne team, led by CNM researchers, is developing digital twin software that will help the thousands of users of Department of Energy facilities employ their experiment time there wisely.
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2023 – The CNM has a new tool combining artificial intelligence with robotics, called Polybot. It could speed up the discovery of wearable biomedical devices and materials for better batteries.
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2023 – An Argonne team, led by CNM scientists, discovered a method for introducing spinning electrons as qubits in a host nanomaterial, which achieved record long coherence times.
Illustration of car, truck, and plane alongside cube illustration representing battery layers.
2023 – CNM researchers characterized the cathode microstructure in a newly developed lithium-air battery, which was operated for a 1000 cycles in a test cell.


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2022 — Researchers used CNM to discover new properties of tiny magnetic whirlpools called skyrmions. This could lead to a new generation of microelectronics for memory storage with vastly improved energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is essential to the next generation of microelectronics.
Woman seated at lab desk smiling at camera.
2022 — CNM’s Polybot drives scientific discovery with little to no human intervention by bringing together the power of robotics with high-performance computing and AI/ML. It’s capable of self-driving materials synthesis and fabrication, sample transfer, characterization, testing and data analysis.
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2022 — Researchers at CNM developed a new superconducting qubit for quantum computing based on a single electron. The new qubit platform could transform quantum information science and technology.


Silver and red molecular model.
2021 – CNM and Northwestern University scientists create stable nanosheets containing boron and hydrogen atoms with potential applications in nanoelectronics and quantum information technology.
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2021 – Scientists used CNM to discover a method for wireless modulation of neurons with X-rays that could improve the lives of patients with brain disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s, among others. The X-ray source only requires a machine like that found in a dentist’s office.
Masked and goggled woman working over table full of equipment, with many emitting green light.
2021 — Using CNM’s Ultrafast Electron Microscope—the 1st at a national lab—Argonne scientists discovered that gold nanoparticles act unusual when close to the edge of graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of carbon. This could have big implications for the development of new sensors and quantum devices.


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2020 — Scientists used CNM to engineer nanodevices to disrupt processes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s. The device prevents plaque formation in the brain by capturing dangerous peptides before they can self-assemble.
Red illustration of brain on blue background.
2020 — Researchers used CNM to develop a new material that can sense glutamate in the brain, and that may lead to new tools to combat neurological disorders.
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2020 — Researchers at CNM invented a machine-learning based algorithm for quantitatively characterizing, in three dimensions, materials with features as small as nanometers. Researchers can apply this pivotal discovery to the analysis of most structural materials of interest to industry.
Hands over work surface full of many cloth swatches, sewing tools, and mask sample.
2020 — University of Chicago researchers used CNM to identify which types of common cloth are most effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Because N95 and surgical masks were scarce and reserved for health care workers at the start of the pandemic, many people made their own face coverings.


Graphical diagram showing recycling intent.
2019 — Researchers used CNM to discover how to upcycle plastic (single-use polyethylene) into high-quality liquid products such as lubricants.
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2019 —Argonne scientists used CNM to harness sunlight with a catalyst largely made of copper to transform carbon dioxide to methanol. A liquid fuel, methanol offers the potential for industry to find an additional source to meet America’s energy needs.
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2019 — Argonne scientists used CNM to harvest energy from light using bio-inspired artificial cells.
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2019 — CNM researchers found the cause behind a key quantum property of donut-like nanoparticles called semiconductor quantum rings. This property may find application in quantum information storage, communication, and computing in future technologies.


Large telescope in snowy landscape.
2018 — Researchers used the CNM to develop and fabricate sensors for the South Pole Telescope which is used to detect signals emitted by the earliest light in the universe — the cosmic microwave background, also known as the echo of the Big Bang.
Skyscraper windows in golden sunlight.
2018 — Researchers used CNM to develop nanoparticles for improving smart-window energy efficiency.
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2018 — Argonne scientists used CNM to invent a membrane that, when exposed to sunlight, can clean itself and also actively degrade pollutants.
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2018 — Scientists used CNM to identify a new catalyst that uses only about a quarter as much platinum for fuel cells as current technology by maximizing the effectiveness of the available platinum. Platinum is a finite and expensive critical resource.


Black sponge in blue water.
2017 — CNM researchers invented the Oleo Sponge, a reusable material that can soak up spilled oil. The technology was tested by the U.S. Coast Guard at a facility in New Jersey and has drawn more than 200 inquiries from companies for possible commercialization.
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2017 — In conjunction with researchers from the University of Chicago and MIT, CNM scientists discovered a way to grow some of the world’s thinnest wires, with widths less than 100 atoms thick.
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2017 — Argonne partnered with United Scientific Supplies, Inc. to develop a hands-on kit that introduces high school students to nanoscience by growing copper wires at the nanoscale right in the classroom.


Two blue-gloved people reaching forward touching equipment.
2016 — CNM researchers developed nanomaterials that can help make windows more efficient.
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2016 — Research into photonic crystals at CNM and the Advanced Photon Source revealed what gives butterfly wings their color.
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2016 — Scientists at CNM discovered a new way in which water impacts the assembly of biofibers, paving the way for their use in combination with light-harvesting molecules for solar energy applications.


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2015 — Argonne nanoscientists developed a breakthrough for fighting friction, creating a mix of graphene and tiny diamonds that leads to a phenomenon called superlubricity. The discovery went on to win a 2016 TechConnect Award.
Grayscale closeup of 3 views of curling particles.
2015 — Working in concert with scientists from the University of Chicago and University of Missouri, CNM researchers used electron beams to curve nanoparticle sheets, opening the way for the creation of new membranes with tunable electronic, magnetic and mechanical properties.
Gold, red, and teal molecular model.
2015 — Scientists at the CNM used copper nanoclusters on an aluminum oxide substrate to convert carbon dioxide into methanol, a usable fuel.
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2015 — CNM researchers created the world’s first borophene, a form of atomically thin metallic boron, an analogue of graphene with interesting electrical and mechanical properties.


Closeup of rust.
2014 — By combining CNM research with the high-performance Mira supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, Argonne researchers performed a molecular-level study of corrosion, helping materials scientists to find new ways to prevent rusting.
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2014 — Researchers at CNM created the world’s thinnest flexible 2-D transistors, a major breakthrough towards the creation of flexible screens.
Silver-toned molecular model.
2014 — CNM researchers created a one-atom-thick graphene film as an exceptionally wear-resistant lubricant.
Blue and white sound waves.
2014 — Working with scientists from the University of South Florida, CNM researchers developed an acoustic sensor for identifying trace biological or chemical signals, such as those emitted by cancer proteins or particular gases.
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2014 — CNM won two R&D 100 Awards for Sequential Infiltration Synthesis Lithography and for technology used in the Nanofab Lab in a Box, a nanofabrication kit tailored to high-school students.
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2014 — The Electron Microscopy Center became integrated with the CNM, greatly expanding CNM’s capabilities and expertise in electron microscopy research.


Juxtaposition of Picasso woman in green with antique paint can.
2013 — Researchers from the Art Institute of Chicago teamed up with researchers at the CNM’s Hard X-ray Nanoprobe to investigate the molecular structure of some of Picasso’s paints, determining that Picasso used house paint to create some of his masterworks.
Closeup of solar panels with sun flare.
2013 — Scientists at the CNM detected tiny residual impurities responsible for impairing the performance of solar cells.
Closeup of coral-colored crystals.
2013 — CNM researchers combined bacterial proteins with nanoparticles to create a possible new path to creating hydrogen fuel.
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2013 — CNM researchers won an R&D 100 Award for the Miraj Diamond technology, which uses nanocrystalline diamonds for semiconductor applications.
View of Capitol Building from across Reflecting Pool.
2013 — CNM participated in the National User Facility Organization Exhibition on Capitol Hill, educating legislators and staffers about the groundbreaking user science taking place at the nation’s user facilities.


LEED silver medallion
2012 — The CNM facility achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. The facility uses water efficient fixtures, natural light and local/regional recycled content materials. Heat generated by scientific equipment is also reused to heat the facility.
Two men wearing safety goggles surrounded by equipment.
2012 — In a joint study between the CNM and Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, scientists were able to perform 3-D reconstructions of the surface layer of nanomaterials without damaging the sample.


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2011 — Researchers at the CNM invented sequential infiltration synthesis (SIS), a less expensive and more efficient form of etching and lithography. SIS went on to have major energy applications, including in Argonne’s Oleo Sponge.
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2011 — Nanoscientist Elena Shevchenko won a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award.


Closeup of red nanoparticles.
2010 — In two separate studies, researchers observed the birth and the crystallization of nanoparticles in real time, providing secrets into long-range nanoparticle ordering that yields information on defect structures, key to data storage and memory applications.
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2010 — CNM hosted workshops on Raman Microscopy and on Magnetism in MEMS/NEMS, participated in the NanoBusiness Alliance High School Talent Fellowship Program, and began annual joint user meetings with Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source.


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2009 — Using CNM fabrication technologies and electron microscopy, researchers discovered a way to control magnetic tornadoes — magnetic vortices found in some nanoparticles that can be controlled by annealing a magnetic layer to an antiferromagnetic one.
Beige, coral, indigo, and white imaging model.
2009 — Research at the CNM yielded new catalysts for turning propane into propylene, a major ingredient of plastics.
Woman in front of computer screen adjusting microscope lens.
2009 — Researchers from Argonne and the University of Chicago teamed up to devise a new cancer treatment at CNM, combining titanium dioxide nanoparticles with biological materials to create a targeted nanobio therapy that targets cancer cells with high precision.
Goggled man peering through opening in equipment.
2009 — The Hard X-ray Nanoprobe won an R&D 100 Award for unprecedented image resolution of the internal structure and composition of materials.


Closeup of man in safety goggles holding chips with large tweezers.
2008 — Argonne scientists, including researchers at the CNM, discovered that networks of metal nanoparticles lead to corrosion in certain alloys, as they allow carbon to sneak through protective oxide scales. Based on the study, researchers helped to develop and scale up batches of chromium alloys.
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2008 — CNM hosted a DOE Nanoscale Science Research Center Workshop on the Safe Handling of Nanoscale Materials, pioneering safety guidelines in this area.


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The Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) began full operations in 2007. We provide free access to expertise, instrumentation and infrastructure for interdisciplinary nanoscience and nanotechnology research by the general scientific community.
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September 27, 2007 — Center for Nanoscale Materials full operations began under CNM Director Eric D. Isaacs.
Two men wearing safety goggles working on microscopes.
CNM co-developed with the Advanced Photon Source the first-ever Hard X-ray Nanoprobe, allowing for strain measurements and chemical mapping with unprecedented resolution. It is one of the world’s most powerful X-ray microscopes.
Smiling man in blue shirt and safety goggles amidst equipment.
CNM scientists discovered that chirality — a kind of handedness” — in nanoscale magnets may play a crucial role in data transmission and manipulation in electronic devices that use an electron’s spin rather than its charge to store data.
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2007 – CNM's supercomputer, Carbon,> made the Top 500 list of the world’s fastest computers.


White and glass building exterior.
May 2006 — The Center for Nanoscale Materials opened for research.
Six people cutting yellow ribbon.
September 18, 2006 — CNM opened early user operations with a dedication event. Left to right: Congresswoman Judy Biggert, Robert Rosner, Patricia Dehmer, Eric Isaacs, Kristi LaFleur and Thomas F. Rosenbaum.


Man holding plaque.
May 6, 2005 — U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman attended the Center for Nanoscale Materials’ cornerstone laying ceremony.