A Message from Chuck Black

insights from the CFN Director

Photo of Chuck Black

Chuck Black

A small, favorite part of the holiday season is taking car rides together with my family. I look forward to that time spent together, talking, listening to music, and enjoying the peace of being away from everything else. In our house, we celebrate Christmas, and every year right after Thanksgiving, we pile in the car to get our tree. In December, we make the usual frantic shopping trips to stores, looking for just-right, last-minute gifts to give. On Christmas Day, we drive to New Jersey to deliver food and presents to our relatives. Most years, we stay to visit and share a meal, before driving back home late in the evening.     

Sometimes, near the end of our long drive home after our holiday outing, someone in the car will mention the truism that most traffic accidents occur within only a few miles of home. It’s a reminder for the driver to stay alert, even though we’re tired and nearing our journey’s end.  

With the start of the new year and all the promise it holds, I’ve been thinking about how that saying speaks broadly to the importance of staying focused on an objective, especially when nearing the completion of a difficult challenge. And it’s through this lens that I’ve been reflecting on the past year and anticipating the year ahead.  

Last January, the CFN was off to its most productive year, with more users than ever before making use of the facilities and staff expertise. However, by late March everything changed. Users and staff went home in order to stay safe while we devised plans for adjusting to a world with SARS-CoV-2. By the summertime, the CFN had implemented new safe workplace practices and reopened our facility to staff and users, working together to create the culture needed to keep each other healthy while pursuing our important work.

I’ve been so inspired working with CFN staff to develop and implement our resumption-of-operations plan, and, more recently, observing the spirit with which users and staff have embraced our workplace safety culture. Together, we are diligently practicing social distancing, face-covering, and handwashing procedures with pervasive cooperation. We’re innovating ways of conducting instrument and safety trainings, keeping ourselves safe during these activities that require close contact to be effective.  

CFN staff and users have so many accomplishments to be proud of during the difficult year just completed: 

  • CFN staff supported the research of 546 users.
  • Use of CFN facilities was cited in 350 peer-reviewed scientific publications—the most ever in a single year.
  • CFN and NSLS-II users and staff held a remote Users’ Meeting with more than 1,000 attendees—nearly three times more participants than in a typical year.
  • CFN and NSLS-II staff recently held a weeklong workshop and open house for industry researchers, featuring live demonstrations of scientific instruments and attracting more than 500 registrants from around the world.
  • CFN staff installed more than $3M in new nanoscience instruments.
  • CFN welcomed several new talented members to the scientific and operations staff.
  • And most importantly, the CFN has continued to carry on the important traditions that are the foundation of our collaborative culture.

Since the fall, the CFN has been operating with approximately 50-percent facility occupancy, supporting on-site access for as many as 16 users each day. Most days, the CFN has more requests for user access than we can accommodate. While this limited availability is frustrating, the demand for on-site access shows that staff and users trust that the workplace practices we have implemented will keep us healthy and safe. The demand for on-site facility access also shows the urgency that staff and users have to continue their important work.  

As happens for me every January and especially this one, I’m filled with excitement and optimism for the upcoming year. The scientific triumph of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines promises to restore a safe and healthy world during the months ahead. However, we remain anxious as New York, the United States, and the entire world struggle with new waves of COVID sickness. I’m reminded of how I feel at the end of a long car ride. We’ve all just finished a long and hard year. We’ve made a huge, prolonged effort to stay safe and healthy. We’re near the finish line of this difficult race, and now it’s more important than ever for us to remain focused. We must continue to practice our safety culture, both at work and at home. We must keep exercising, eating right, getting rest, and keeping our brains engaged in the world. Let’s take care of each other and ourselves.

Remember, most accidents happen close to home. We’re almost home, but we can’t afford to relax just yet. We have important work still to do. 

— Chuck Black
CFN Director

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