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The illustrations show how the correlation between lattice distortion and proton binding energy in a material affects proton conduction in different environments. Mitigating this interaction could help researchers improve the ionic conductivity of solid materials.

Ionic conduction involves the movement of ions from one location to another inside a material. The ions travel through point defects, which are irregularities in the otherwise consistent arrangement of atoms known as the crystal lattice. This sometimes sluggish process can limit the performance and efficiency of fuel cells, batteries, and other energy storage technologies.

Two neutron diffraction experiments (represented by pink and blue neutron beams) probed a salty solution to reveal its atomic structure. The only difference between the experiments was the identity of the oxygen isotope (O*) that labeled nitrate molecules

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used neutrons, isotopes and simulations to “see” the atomic structure of a saturated solution and found evidence supporting one of two competing hypotheses about how ions come