Spotlight on Brookhaven's Young Researchers

Lab Leaders and Up-and-Coming Researchers Meet for 2012 Young Researcher Symposium

The spotlight shone on Brookhaven Lab’s youngest and brightest researchers during the 2012 Young Researcher Symposium on November 30. Approximately 200 people collaborating on groundbreaking research at the Lab—nearly all them postdoctoral researchers, or “postdocs” who earned a Ph.D. within the past five years, and students working toward a master’s degree or Ph.D.—attended the inaugural event. These researchers participated in presentations and poster sessions, and attended talks from both established and fellow up-and-coming professionals.

Doon Gibbs—who was the Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the time—kicked off the day by welcoming attendees. Gibbs provided an overview of both the Lab and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) missions and scientific research. He also explained that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of postdocs at Brookhaven since the time Brookhaven Science Associates began managing the Lab for DOE in 1998—from about 40 to 45 postdocs to 150 today.

“You are the people we look to for the next generation of researchers—you are the future for us,” Gibbs said.

An Unusual Day in the Life of a Postdoc

Next, in rooms outside Berkner Hall, a number of postdocs gave presentations about their research. Then, all returned to the auditorium for Shirley Johnson’s talk, titled “A Day in the Life of a Nuclear Watchdog.” Johnson worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for 25 years before retiring in 2007 and starting her own business, Tucker Creek Consulting, dealing with nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues.

During her talk, Johnson spoke of her experiences working for the IAEA and provided attendees with career-advancing advice: always have a mentor; take education very seriously; get good, relevant work experience; and build a good network of people by attending conferences, presenting papers, and even joining a sports team or chorus with people from work.

Watch Johnson’s talk

Career Panel Discussion

Next, BNL alumni Carl Andre, Mark Doherty, Tianna Hicklin, Mathew Maye, and Yolanda Small—each a former researcher, postdoc, or intern at the Lab—fielded questions from the audience about work experience in different science-related careers. Topics they discussed included transitioning from work in fundamental research to work in a company that designs products, useful career resources at Brookhaven, and what to highlight in job applications.

Watch the career panel discussion

Keynote Talk on the Future of Nuclear and Particle Physics at Brookhaven

Following a poster session, more research presentations, and lunch, attendees returned to the auditorium for the keynote talk by Steve Vigdor, who was the Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear and Particle Physics at the time of the symposium. His talk was titled “Forging a Vision for the Future of Nuclear and Particle Physics at BNL.” Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University’s Esther Takeuchi was scheduled to give the keynote speech, but was ill and could not attend.

“Brookhaven has a very long tradition of national leadership in both nuclear and particle physics and the goal is to extend that into the future,” Vigdor told the attendees.

Even in the face of projected budget constraints, Vigdor discussed exciting plans for the next two decades of particle collisions at Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Some of these goals focus on shedding light on the unknown characteristics of quark-gluon plasma—a perfect liquid of subatomic quarks and gluons that was discovered at RHIC—and reinventing the facility as an electron-ion collider, eRHIC, to probe further into interactions between quarks and gluons. Vigdor also cited several of the RHIC program’s many achievements, one of which being that 350 up-and-coming researchers earned Ph.D.s through the RHIC research program.

Watch Vigdor’s talk

Message From the Director

Sam Aronson, who was Laboratory Director at the time, then took to the stage to speak to symposium attendees.

“The contributions of postdocs to research are often just as important and fundamental as those of other researchers involved in the various collaborative efforts we sponsor and support here,” he said. “It’s been important to find a way to celebrate that and today is an example of how this can be done.

“I certainly would like to see this kind of activity incorporated into the scientific culture of the Laboratory and carried on into the future,” Aronson added.

Watch Aronson’s talk

Presentation of Awards

The leaders of the organizing committee, Suzanne Golisz and Jonathan Hull, announced the oral presentation and poster contest winners as the day drew to a close. BNL scientists, including department chairs, selected the awardees for their impactful, well-communicated science. They were:

Oral Presentations

  • Salvatore Fazio, Physics Department: Physics at the Future eRHIC
  • Jonathan Halverson, Center for Functional Nanomaterials: Programmable Self-Assembly of DNA-Nanoparticle Mesostructures
  • Yu Zhang, Chemistry Department: Well-defined Core-shell Nanocatalysts for Renewable Energy


  • Richard Anger, Center for Functional Nanomaterials: Materials Characterization for Displacement of Heating Oil Usage in Legacy Fuel Pumps
  • Nathan Cook, Collider-Accelerator Department: Investigating the Response of Scintillators for the Detection of Laser Accelerated Protons
  • Salvatore Fazio, Physics Department: Physics at the Future eRHIC
  • Jasmin Hume, Center for Functional Nanomaterials: Materials Characterization of Novel Nanoscale Coiled-coil Protein Fibers
  • Feifei Li, Photon Sciences Directorate: Single Crystal Spectroscopy Correlated with Macromolecular Crystallography at Beamline X26C for the Study of a Photoreceptor
  • Christian Roessler, Photon Sciences Directorate: Touchless Sample Preparation Using Acoustic Energy for Structure-based Drug Discovery
  • Susanne Schubert, Instrumentation Division: XPS and AFM Analysis of the K2CsSb-Photocathodes Growth
  • Yixiong Yang, Chemistry Department: Cu-based Nanocatalysts for the Production of Methanol

The 2012 Young Researcher Symposium was organized by Brookhaven’s Association of Students and Postdocs. In addition to Golisz and Hull, the organizing committee included Ashleigh Baber, Joseph Brady, Jordan Hay, Zeynep Isvan, Lokesh Kumar, Seetha Lakshmi Lalitha, Qin Liu, Ofei Mante, Jake Schneider, Ramesh Sharma, Vladimir Skokov, Liu Yang, and Diane Zhong.

Symposium Sponsors

The Director’s Office at Brookhaven Lab was the founding sponsor for the 2012 Young Researcher Symposium.

Gold-level sponsors for the symposium were:

The American Nuclear Society, Long Island Section
International Atomic Energy Agency
Tosoh Bioscience
TA Instruments
Piezosystem jena

Silver-level sponsors for the symposium were:

Blake Industries
Princeton Instruments

“The day was an incredible success!” organizer Golisz said. “It came together so smoothly because of the support from everyone at the Lab, especially the postdoc community. I am very much looking forward to next year.”

2013-3526  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom