Elke Arenholz Named Director of the National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven Lab

Elke Arenholz enlarge

Elke Arenholz (Andrea Starr/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

UPTON, N.Y. — Elke Arenholz, a renowned scientist known for her expertise in magnetic materials and X-ray spectroscopy, scattering, imaging, and instrument development, has been named director of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, effective August 2024.

Arenholz’s appointment comes following a search that began in summer 2023 after John Hill, the previous director of NSLS-II, was named Brookhaven Lab's deputy director for science and technology. During this transition, Erik Johnson, deputy director for construction and manager of the Project Management group at NSLS-II, graciously took on the responsibilities of interim director. Johnson has played a major role in the design and planning of NSLS-II and its current operations.

“We are excited to have Elke join us as the next director of NSLS-II,” said Brookhaven Lab Director JoAnne Hewett. “Elke’s scientific accomplishments and management experience will provide the backdrop to enable the vision to lead NSLS-II into the next era. I thank Erik Johnson with sincere gratitude for the outstanding leadership he has shown during this transition.”

As one of the most advanced synchrotron light sources in the world, NSLS-II enables its growing research community to study materials with nanoscale resolution and exquisite sensitivity by providing cutting-edge capabilities. Together with visiting researchers from all around the world, interdisciplinary teams at NSLS-II uncover the atomic structure, elemental makeup, and electronic behavior of materials. Research at NSLS-II covers a wide range of scientific disciplines such as life sciences, quantum materials, energy storage, advanced materials science, physics, chemistry, and biology.

As NSLS-II director, Arenholz will lead a team of about 350 staff, including scientists, engineers, technicians, and professionals in several fields. While maintaining and improving the 29 beamlines that are currently in operation and keeping them competitive for a growing user community, she will also be instrumental in completing the construction of the three new NSLS-II Experimental Tools II project beamlines and embarking on the next generation of beamlines being designed as part of the NSLS-II Experimental Tools III project. Arenholz will work closely with the accelerator division to fulfill their current mission to deliver a performance of 500 milliamps for user operations before planning starts for a highly anticipated accelerator upgrade. 

“Throughout my career, I have always felt a close connection to synchrotron facilities. I believe that they offer a very impactful way to do science,” said Arenholz. “NSLS-II is a state-of-the-art synchrotron that offers visiting researchers specialized tools and opportunities for unique collaborations with NSLS-II scientists and others. I am looking forward to contributing to the incredible work being done there, to supporting the synchrotron community and the broader scientific community in this new role.”

A passion for synchrotron science

Arenholz comes to Brookhaven from DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where she was director of the Physical Sciences Division. In that role, she led a large, diverse scientific portfolio, encompassing fields like catalysis, chemical physics, geochemistry, and materials science. Prior to the division director role, Arenholz co-led the Interconnected Science Ecosystem initiative at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she developed computational and experimental capabilities to enable autonomous experimentation.

Throughout her career, Arenholz has amassed a wide range of experience in synchrotron science and management. She held the position of associate director at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), where she helped the facility adapt to remote experiments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to her role at CHESS, Arenholz held several positions at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), a DOE Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, starting as a postdoctoral research fellow and reaching the position of photon sciences operation group deputy. She described her research at ALS as “very hands-on,” covering a range of techniques that included spectroscopy, scattering, imaging, and time dependent studies.

“The first time I was able to work in a synchrotron facility was during my Ph.D. in Germany, and I fell in love with it,” remarked Arenholz. “I was impressed by the unique experimental capabilities these facilities offer scientists and the productive interactions and collaborations that happen within the diverse light source community. This includes everyone: the team in the user’s office, tradespeople, technicians, engineers, scientists, and so many others who are instrumental in facilitating the powerful discoveries that happen at these facilities.”

With a career spanning over 400 publications, Arenholz has delved into the diverse aspects of magnetism and magnetic materials, magnetization dynamics and applications in spintronics, quantum phenomena, and the characterization of novel materials and their potential applications. She has vast interest and experience in X-ray spectroscopy, resonant X-ray scattering, X-ray microscopy, and the development of new instruments for X-ray characterization. While she is eager to explore the scientific research and technical work being done at NSLS-II, she is also eager to learn more about the staff community and its culture.

“I’m excited to get to know everyone, because it’s really all about the people,” said Arenholz. “We interface with visiting researchers, we interface with each other, and those interactions drive what we do. I want everyone at NSLS-II to know that they are making a meaningful contribution to something big. I’m looking forward to learning what everyone is working on and how I can help them.”

In 2024, Arenholz was named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for her contributions to X-ray magnetic spectroscopy. In 2014, she was named a fellow of the American Physical Society. At ALS, she was presented with the Klaus Halbach Award for Innovative Instrumentation for the design and implementation of a versatile vector magnetometer for soft X-ray studies in 2005 and the Tim Renner Award for untiring efforts in the assistance of users in generating high profile research results with the elliptically polarizing undulator in 2001. She is very active in the scientific community, serving on several proposal review panels, scientific and technical advisory committees, and conference organizing committees. She is also the editor-in-chief and founding editor of the journal npj Spintronics.

Arenholz earned her Ph.D. in physics, summa cum laude, from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in condensed matter physics from the University of Regensburg, Germany.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.

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