Alexander F. Goncharov's analyzes materials under extreme conditions such as high pressure and temperature using optical spectroscopy and other techniques to understand how matter fundamentally changes, the chemical processes occurring deep within planets, including Earth, and to understand and develop new materials with potential applications to energy.

In one area Goncharov is pursuing the holy grail of materials science, whether hydrogen can exist in an electrically conducting  metallic state as predicted by theory. He is also interested in understanding the different phases materials undergo as they transition under different pressure and temperature conditions to shed light on how heat is conducted through the Earth. He also investigates different conditions under which superconductivity can be achieved. 

A superconducting material does not restrict electron movement, the essence of electricity. However, typically these materials have to be cooled below a very low, so-called, transition temperature, which often makes them impractical for widespread use. Goncharov was part of a team that found, for the first time that, in addition to chemical manipulation, the superconducting state can be induced by high pressure in so-called high-temperature superconductors, a potential boost to their eventual use.

Goncharov conducts his experiments using optical spectroscopy and advanced probes such as synchrotron micro-diffraction and Raman spectroscopy. Optical spectroscopy uses light to discern “fingerprints” of a sample’s chemistry.  Synchrotron micro-diffraction requires huge facilities that accelerate particles to convert energy to high-energy light beams, which is then broken up by a sample into a distinct pattern that tells researchers about many characteristics. Raman spectroscopy is used to observe features like the rotational and vibrational behavior of a material.  

Goncharove  received  a B.A. amd M.S. in physics from Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology in 1979 and a Ph. D. in physics from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1981. He was a research fellow at the Instituted of Crystallography, Academy of Science in Moscow from 1982 to 1989, and then a senior research scientist there from 1989 to 1993. He came to Carnegie as a fellow in 1993, became a senior research associate in 1995, then a senior research scientist in 1999. From 2002 to 2005 he was a staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He rejoined Carnegie as a staff scientist in 2005. For more information see here

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Artist's conception of lead selenide under pressure courtesy of Xiao-Jia Chen.
October 7, 2019

Washington, DC— Pressure improves the ability of materials to turn heat into electricity and could potentially be used to create clean generators, according to new work from a team that includes Carnegie’s Alexander Goncharov and Viktor Struzhkin published in Nature Materials.

Alternative energy sources are key to combating climate change caused by carbon emissions. Compounds with thermoelectric capabilities can convert thermal energy’s innate, physical need to spread from a hot place into a cold place into energy—harvesting electricity from the temperature differential. In theory, generators built from these materials could be used to recover electricity

Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters cover
September 9, 2019

Washington, DC— New materials can contribute potential solutions to many societal issues—from increasing access to clean drinking water to improving solar panel efficiency. But figuring out how to synthesize them can be a difficult process of trial and error.

Carnegie’s Li Zhu, Timothy Strobel, and Ronald Cohen have created a new tool for predicting pathways to novel materials that could speed this process up significantly. A paper demonstrating the method’s effectiveness is a cover story in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Called PALLAS after one of the nicknames for Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, their method creates a kind of

March 13, 2019

Carolyn Beaumont, a senior at the Potomac School in McLean VA, won 5th place in the 78th Regeneron Science Talent Search. During the summer of 2018, she worked with Geophysical Laboratory staff members George Cody and Bjorn Mysen on a project to shed light on the molecular details of how water interacts with silicate melts. During her time, she learned how to run all aspects of the experiment, including how to operate a piston cylinder pressure apparatus that generates pressures on the order of 1.5 GPa and temperatures in excess of 1400°C. She also used molecular spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to obtain detailed

September 20, 2018

A new Venture Grant has been awarded to the Geophysical Laboratory’s Dionysis Foustoukos and Sue Rhee of the Department of Plant Biology, with colleague Costantino Vetriani of Rutgers University for their project Deciphering Life Functions in Extreme Environments.

Carnegie Science Venture Grants ignore conventional boundaries and bring together cross-disciplinary researchers with fresh eyes to explore different questions. Each grant provides $100,000 support for two years with the hope for surprising outcomes. The grants are generously supported, in part, by trustee Michael Wilson and his wife Jane and by the Ambrose Monell Foundation.

Deep sea hydrothermal vents

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The Geophysical Laboratory has made important advances in the growth of diamond by chemical vapor deposition (CVD).  Methods have been developed to produce single-crystal diamond at low pressure having a broad range of properties.

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments.