Users' Meeting Workshops Touch on Past, Present & Future

By Laura Mgrdichian

The six daylong workshops conducted in the two days bracketing the 2013 NSLS/CFN Joint Users’ Meeting plenary session represented the full spectrum of synchrotron history at Brookhaven: the beginnings of the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), the ongoing science programs at NSLS and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), and the promise of future research at NSLS-II. They also expanded upon the meeting's theme of “Telling Our Story, Sharing Our Science.”

For many attendees, the highlight of the meeting, held May 20-22, 2013, was a special workshop to tell the story of NSLS itself, “Forty Years of the NSLS: From Conception through Commissioning and Becoming a World Leader in Synchrotron Radiation Science.” Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) Director Doon Gibbs welcomed attendees and provided some interesting background. Before NSLS existed, he said, synchrotron radiation researchers were regarded as “pirates” who took over abandoned high-energy facilities for their own purposes. Yet they managed to change not only synchrotron radiation research and BNL history but also science itself by fostering new kinds of interactions between lab, university, and industry scientists.

The speakers who followed elaborated on the director’s introduction. BNL historian Robert Crease called the birth of NSLS “a true drama of postwar science.” It was, he said, a tale of a group of underdogs who pieced together the idea for a new kind of facility, managed to get it approved but with insufficient funding, and were forced to scrounge parts because of a tight Lab budget and the downturn of the national economy. This all took place in a challenging scientific environment: Brookhaven was trying to build a much bigger and flashier accelerator called ISABELLE, which had top priority and on which the Lab was banking its identity. Fortunately, Brookhaven scientists Renate Chasman (one of the very few women working in the field of instrumentation) and George Green conceived the Chasman-Green lattice, a brilliant design for an accelerator lattice that became the backbone of NSLS and was incorporated into the design of future synchrotron facilities – and even today, is the basis of most existing synchrotron lattices.

When construction started on October 1, 1977, the mood was bittersweet. Green had passed away that summer; Chasman was sick and succumbed later in October. Neither of these two giants of accelerator design lived to see the fruits of their best work.

Additional speakers spoke further about NSLS research and its contributions to science. Erik Johnson, deputy associate laboratory director for programs in Photon Sciences, described the development of new kinds of insertion devices. Gwyn Williams, who oversaw the development of the infrared program, discussed pioneering efforts to exploit infrared radiation for scientific purposes. And many of those in attendance credited Sam Krinsky, NSLS accelerator physics group leader, for defining what a great synchrotron should give to its users: “stability, reliability, availability.” This mantra has steered the NSLS through more than 30 stellar years.

Another special workshop was conducted by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, located at Stony Brook University. It was extremely interesting and fun for the users who participated, and was the first of its kind at an NSLS-CFN users’ meeting. Essentially a mini-version of the longer programs the center offers, it was an introduction to how scientists can improve how they talk about and communicate their research, in two parts. In “Distilling Your Message,” the researchers were asked to summarize what they study and why they study it, and were gradually guided by the instructors and their peers into coming up with simpler, more understandable language. During “Improvisation for Scientists,” attendees were encouraged to loosen up through on-the-spot performances and activities, which are ultimately designed to break down barriers to effective communication.

More stories were told during the science workshops, titled “Single Molecule Microscopy Tools for Life Science and Materials Science,” “Frontiers of X-ray and Electron Imaging,” “Charge Transfer on the Nanoscale,” and “Applications of Soft X-ray for Critical Energy Science and Technology.” Brookhaven scientists and many colleagues from other institutions and facilities shared their research.

For example, Brookhaven's George Sterbinsky gave a talk during “Applications of Soft X-ray for Critical Energy Science and Technology” on NSLS x-ray studies of cobalt-carbide nanoparticles, which are permanent magnets. Permanent magnets are found in many technologies, particularly “green” energy solutions such as electric motors and wind turbines. His group is studying the basic structural and magnetic properties of the particles.

During “Single Molecule Microscopy Tools for Life Science and Materials Science,” Dirk Englund of the MIT School of Engineering discussed the field of quantum optics, which is allowing scientists to use quantum states to develop new ways of computing and communicating. His group is studying how to store information using electron spins in diamond.

In the “Charge Transfer on the Nanoscale” workshop, Mike Thieren of Duke University talked about his group's efforts to study polymer-wrapped single-walled carbon nanotubes using visible and infrared light, as well as atomic-force and transmission-electron microscopy. They have found that the polymers allow the nanotubes to organize into complex “superstructures.”

Although the first experiments that will be conducted at NSLS-II, which will aid commissioning efforts, have yet to be chosen, some scientists who gave talks during the workshops expressed interest in continuing their projects at the new facility.

For example, in “Frontiers of X-ray and Electron Imaging,” Daniel Steingart of Princeton University discussed bismuth composite materials, such as zinc-bismuth. His group is studying them with several possible applications in mind, from sensors to energy storage. At NSLS-II, he said, the higher-flux beamlines will allow them to better study how zinc and bismuth mix.

In that same workshop, Wilson K.S. Chiu of the University of Connecticut talked about “heterogeneous functional materials,” which are combinations of materials that have different structures, atomic and molecular ordering, shape, etc. His group is studying examples that may be useful in energy applications, such as solid oxide fuel cells, which contain a porous anode and porous cathode with a dense solid electrolyte in between. At NSLS-II, his group hopes to better understand how the electrode materials degrade over time as the fuel cell goes through many charge-discharge cycles.

The presentations mentioned above are a small slice of the many stories told and science shared at the meeting, which together, help illustrate the breadth and depth of the research studied at synchrotrons. Let us look forward to more stories as NSLS-II hums to life and CFN becomes ever more productive.

2013-4098  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom